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4 Tampa Bay BUCCANEERS

Sept. 06, 2010
Sept. 06, 2010

Table of Contents
Sept. 6, 2010

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

4 Tampa Bay BUCCANEERS

It's the Dungy blueprint: Lay the foundation, and a title will come. Eventually

FIVE WORDS you never want to say to your team or to your fans: "This is a rebuilding year." Realistically, though, there's no other way the Bucs can present their 2010 season to the faithful. Far too often teams believe they're two players or a couple of breaks away from a Lombardi Trophy. But the Bucs, teamed in the NFC South with the Super Bowl champion Saints and playoff contenders in Atlanta and Carolina, realized after last year's 3--13 nightmare that they had some major repair work to do.

This is an article from the Sept. 6, 2010 issue

The Bucs have hung out the UNDER CONSTRUCTION sign. By sitting out free agency and becoming a major player in the April draft, they followed the blueprint Tony Dungy employed when he took over in Tampa in 1996 and said his team would sink or swim with the kids on the roster. The Bucs went 24--24 in Dungy's first three years, but the groundwork was laid for a Super Bowl championship in the 2002 season. For this team to have similar success down the road, two things are vital. Last year's first-round quarterback, Josh Freeman, must prove he's the real thing. And this year's draft class—from which three of the top five choices could wind up starting and another two seeing major minutes early on—has to be the kind of blockbuster that great teams produce every few years. "We don't have any room or any time for our rookies to think they're rookies," said third-year corner Aqib Talib. "This is the land of opportunity. They've got to come through."

The Bucs passed on some places of need, such as running back and pass rusher, to address two positions above all in the 2010 draft: defensive tackle and wide receiver. Tampa Bay allowed 158.2 yards per game on the ground last year, last in the NFL and third-worst in team history, so lively defensive tackles Gerald McCoy (selected third overall, out of Oklahoma) and Brian Price (35th, UCLA) will be counted on to resuscitate the line in a rotation with 2009 third-rounder Roy Miller. The 6'4", 295-pound McCoy will be expected to knife through gaps, push the pocket and pressure the quarterback, whether he gets sacks or not. Price, more squat at 6'1", 303 (he played the nose, rush end and tackle in college), will be relied on to hold the point on running downs. Price was a disruptive force during camp, more so than McCoy, and the Bucs think he can be the kind of tackle who won't have to leave the field on passing downs.

At receiver, general manager Mark Dominik made one logical pick and one risky one. Second-rounder Arrelious Benn of Illinois probably won't push incumbent Sammie Stroughter (a 2009 seventh-rounder) out of a starting job, but he looks to be a lock to play the third, or slot, receiver. The star of training camp, fourth-round pick Mike Williams from Syracuse, was one of the surprises of the summer in the NFL. Freeman says the 6'2", 212-pound Williams "allows me to just put the ball up there, and he makes the contested catch." Almost from the first practice coach Raheem Morris has called Williams a starter and talked about making him a major building block of the offense. "I want to be the steal of the draft," says Williams. "The teams that didn't pick me are gonna have to suffer."

That's pretty lofty stuff for a kid whose college career ended in controversy. In 2008 he was accused of cheating on a test and suspended from school. In '09 he was suspended from the team for two curfew violations, and coach Doug Marrone announced that Williams had quit the squad—a charge the receiver denies to this day. "My problems at Syracuse weren't character issues," he says. "They were school issues. I wasn't very good at school. I didn't quit there, and I won't quit here. Ask anyone here. I run extra routes after practice, I do whatever I'm asked to do and more."

"Everyone deserves a second chance," says Morris. "I don't know, maybe a third chance. I don't know what chance he's on, but we spent as much time on him before this draft as on anyone, and we believe in him."

So, in the last 18 months the Bucs set out to fix three critical units through the draft: quarterback (Freeman), defensive tackle (McCoy, Miller, Price) and wide receiver (Stroughter, Williams, Benn). Those seven players are all 24 or younger. Is the foundation for success established? We'll begin to learn this year.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH RAHEEM MORRIS

OFFENSE

2009 Rank: 28

QB JOSH FREEMAN

G 10

ATT 290

COMP 158

PCT 54.5

YARDS 1,855

TD 10

INT 18

RATING 59.8

RB CADILLAC WILLIAMS

G 16

ATT 211

YARDS 823

AVG 3.9

REC 28

YARDS 217

AVG 7.8

TTD 7

FB EARNEST GRAHAM

G 13

ATT 14

YARDS 66

AVG 4.7

REC 14

YARDS 109

AVG 7.8

TTD 0

WR SAMMIE STROUGHTER

G 13

REC 31

YARDS 334

TTD 1

WR MIKE WILLIAMS (R)

G 7

REC 49

YARDS 746

TTD 6

TE KELLEN WINSLOW JR.

G 16

REC 77

YARDS 884

TTD 5

LT DONALD PENN

G 16

HT 6'5"

WT 305

LG KEYDRICK VINCENT

G 16

HT 6'5"

WT 325

C JEFF FAINE

G 12

HT 6'3"

WT 291

RG DAVIN JOSEPH

G 16

HT 6'3"

WT 313

RT JEREMY TRUEBLOOD

G 16

HT 6'8"

WT 320

DEFENSE

2009 Rank: 27

DE TIM CROWDER

G 15

TACKLES 43

SACKS 3½

INT 0

DT GERALD MCCOY (R)

G 13

TACKLES 34

SACKS 6

INT 0

DT ROY MILLER

G 15

TACKLES 33

SACKS 2

INT 0

DE STYLEZ WHITE

G 15

TACKLES 43

SACKS 6½

INT 0

LB GENO HAYES

G 15

TACKLES 98

SACKS 3

INT 2

LB BARRETT RUUD

G 16

TACKLES 142

SACKS 0

INT 1

LB QUINCY BLACK

G 16

TACKLES 84

SACKS 1½

INT 1

CB AQIB TALIB

G 15

TACKLES 64

SACKS 0

INT 5

FS TANARD JACKSON

G 12

TACKLES 71

SACKS 0

INT 5

SS SEAN JONES

G 15

TACKLES 61

SACKS 1

INT 2

CB RONDE BARBER

G 16

TACKLES 77

SACKS 2

INT 0

SPECIAL TEAMS

P BRENT BOWDEN (R)

PUNTS 57

AVG 43.8

K CONNOR BARTH

FG 14--19

XP 12--12

POINTS 54

PR CLIFTON SMITH

RET 23

AVG 10.1

TD 0

KR CLIFTON SMITH

RET 31

AVG 29.1

TD 0

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 Record: 3--13

September

12 Cleveland

19 at Carolina

26 Pittsburgh

October

3 BYE

10 at Cincinnati

17 New Orleans

24 St. Louis

31 at Arizona

November

7 at Atlanta

14 Carolina

21 at San Francisco

28 at Baltimore

December

5 Atlanta

12 at Washington

19 Detroit

26 Seattle

January

2 at New Orleans

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: 25

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .480

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 5

ANALYSIS

To turn things around, the Bucs must start early. They have winnable home games against the Browns and the Steelers (without Ben Roethlisberger) at home in Weeks 1 and 3 before a dicey trip to Cincy and a home date with the defending champion Saints. The slate gets hard starting in Week 8 with a four-game stretch that includes two cross-country road trips, to Arizona and to San Francisco.

SPOTLIGHT

Josh Freeman, Quarterback

A FEW DAYS after the Super Bowl, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik looked out his office window and saw his quarterback involved in a throwing workout on the practice field with one of the team's young receivers. Dominik was so excited about Freeman's showing up to work out at 8 a.m. a month before the off-season program began that he talked to team cochairman Joel Glazer. "He said, 'Isn't that what quarterbacks are supposed to do?'" recalls Dominik. "I said they are, but not many of them do."

A bright-eyed leader at 22, Freeman has the off-the-field stuff to be a team's long-term quarterback. Now he must show he's accurate enough, smart enough and tough enough to become a quarterback the Bucs can win with. In three years at Kansas State he was a 59% passer with a plus-10 touchdown-to-interception differential. Good, not great. As a rookie last year Freeman was 30th among NFL starters in passer rating (ahead of only Jake Delhomme and JaMarcus Russell) and completed 54.5% of his throws. "I recruited him out of high school," says coach Raheem Morris, the Wildcats' defensive coordinator for a season. "His character, his will to be great, his leadership, all showed right away, and it's showing here."

Right. But can he play? At 6'6", 248 pounds, Freeman is an imposing presence, but he's working with two rookie receivers (Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams) and a second-year guy (Sammie Stroughter), and he'll have less preseason work after breaking the tip of his throwing thumb on Aug. 21 against Kansas City. (Morris expects Freeman to be ready for the season opener.) "With new receivers, there's going to be growing pains," Freeman said in camp, before the injury. "We've got a lot of timing routes, so that's tough. But this is what I signed up for. I want the ball in my hands. I can do this." All that's riding on Freeman is the Bucs' future.

PHOTOJASON PARKHURST/TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERSHOLD THE LINE McCoy should help the Bucs' defense get stouter up the middle.PHOTOGARY BOGDON