It's that time again! The Patriots are heading down to sunny Florida for a preseason matchup with the Bucs this week, and, as usual, we've gotten together with a blogger covering the Patriots opponent for a little Q&A session. This week we actually have a double-feature Q&A. Today we'll be running our interview with Patrik Nohe from Fansided's The Pewter Plank. Tomorrow, we'll be touching base with Bloguin's own source for Tampa Bay football, Buc Stop.
Let's hear what Patrik had to say about the Buccaneers...
1. Recap the Bucs offseason for us. How would you grade their draft? their free agency?
The Bucs had a solid off-season, though if you listen to ESPN they'll tell you they didn't do enough. Tampa prefers to build through the draft and to resign it's own guys. This year saw them add three potential defensive starters to the front seven. The team added defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers in the first two rounds before adding Mason Foster to play middle linebacker in round three.
Free agency wasn't splashy, with the Bucs opting to re-sign Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood and Quincy Black, while adding only a punter. A lot of people saw the Bucs cap figure and wondered why they didn't try to go after a big name, but GM Mark Dominik is also aware of the fact that he has the league's youngest team and a lot of the core players will be coming up for contracts soon. If I had to grade it I'd give the draft a B+ and free agency a C. It's not that they didn't handle business in free agency, they were fine, but there are a few issues that went unaddressed and the team did have the money to make another move or two and shore things up.
2. Josh Freeman was one of the top QB's in the 2010 season. How far will his progression go in 2011? Does he have the game to lift the Bucs to a NFC South title?
I can't think of too many players that had a better season in their first full year as a starter, second season as a pro. I mean outside of Dan Marino who started the pro-bowl as a rookie and had arguably the greatest passing season in NFL history in just his second year, there aren't too many young QB's who have had the kind of success Freeman did last season. Josh Freeman was a touchdown throw off the Bucs single season record (25 TD's, 6 INT), he went 10-6 and he lead six comeback victories, but what excites me most about Freeman is his ability to improvise. No play is ever dead due to Freeman's mobility and accuracy. And for all his ability, he's also good with ball security. Not a lot of turnovers from Freeman last season, just six picks and he lost three fumbles. I think he should improve a lot this season, you could literally see him grow throughout the course of last year and he enters this season the unquestioned leader in Tampa with a ton of confidence. I don't know he'll improve on the interception figure, six is low for even the best, but I do expect him to have a better season throwing the ball. Josh Freeman is for real.
3. Is LeGarette Blount a one year wonder or is he the running back of the future in Tampa?
It's tough to say, right now Blount is trying to be an every down back which is a mistake. LeGarrette Blount is a downhill power-runner, in the pros and college he has seven receptions combined and he was a liability last year in pass-pro. Putting him on the field every down is going to compromise the passing attack to some degree and wear down Blount a lot faster. LGB is at his best when you just ask him to carry the ball, he may be one-dimensional but that one dimension is very good. He is the type of bruising back who gets better throughout the course of a game and can just take over with a lead in the 4th. That's his best asset, a tired defense does not enjoy taking on LeGarrette Blount at the end of a game. Unfortunately, if Blount gets worn down from staying on the field on 3rd down, he's not going to be as effective. So I guess in answer to your question, if the Bucs play to Blount's strengths and don't ask him to be something he's not, he will have a great future in Tampa. He certainly has all the tools. Last year the Bucs ranked 28th in rushing when Blount entered the lineup and by season's end they had the 7th ranked rushing attack in the NFL. He ran for 1,007 yards despite getting just seven starts and he averaged over 100 yards a game the last five weeks of the season. Off the field he seems to have come into his own as well. I expect big things from him.
4. What do you think of Raheem Morris as a head coach? Where would you put him in terms of the top coaches in the NFC?
Raheem Morris is one of the best sound-bites in football, the best sound-bite if you're not into feet. I know Patriots fans are partial to the glib stylings of Hoody McTerse, but let me say having a coach that just blurts out whatever he's thinking is great. Maybe not from a competitive standpoint, but it also hasn't seemed to hinder him much either. Morris has this infectious enthusiasm that the young Bucs have really bought into. He's also probably the only coach in football who is younger than one of his captains, Ronde Barber is Raheem Morris' senior by a year. But rather than having a strange effect, that seems to have been a rallying cry for this Bucs team. Everyone is trying to prove themselves, the youngest team in the NFL has the youngest coach and it's them against the world. He's certainly a gifted motivator and his candor is a breath of fresh air when it comes to NFL coaches.
Now, do I put him up with the top coaches in the NFL? NO. He may be one day, but he's not even 35 years old and he's coached for just two seasons. That is not enough of a sample size to make that judgment on. Just like it would have been premature to call Bill Belichick a bad coach for tanking the Browns in the 90's, it's too early to call Raheem Morris a good coach for having a 10 win season in just his second year. He's got a lot of promise, but it's too early to put him up with the best in the business.
5. The starters won't play much in the 2nd preseason game, so give us something you are watching out for in Thursday's game?
Tampa's starters might play more than you think. The Bucs were very aggressive in their first preseason game, opting to call their offensive and defensive plays as if it were a game with real ramifications. Whereas the Patriots are an established dynasty, the Bucs are still green and this extra game experience could really prove beneficial. Also, young players like Adrian Clayborn and Mason Foster are just cutting their teeth, giving them a few extra series would help them a lot as they hurdle towards the start of the NFL season without the benefit of a full offseason to prepare under the auspices of their own coaching staff.
I'll let you in on another secret too. The Bucs are really trying hard to move their backup QB, Josh Johnson. Josh Johnson is an exceptionally capable quarterback whose route to the Bucs starting QB job was blocked by Josh Freeman, but make no mistake about it he will be involved in a QB competition somewhere next year, the guy can really play. The Bucs don't want to get Josh Freeman hurt so don't expect to see him too much, but I do think a lot of the other starters will stick around when Josh Johnson comes in. The Bucs would much rather get a pick back for him than let him walk at the end of the year without compensation. And showcasing the young man with some of the first-teamers is a good way to try and drum up some interest.
6. Prediction Time! Will the Bucs make the playoffs? If so, how far can this team go in 2011?
I'm going to be honest, I think the Bucs go 9-7 this season and find themselves just missing another Wild Card spot. The schedule is a lot more challenging this season and the division has gotten decidedly better. I do think the Bucs will be a much improved team this year, but their record may not indicate it.