2012 NFL RANKINGS
Total offense: 9th (363.8 yards per game)
Rushing offense: 15th (114.8 ypg)
Passing offense: 10th (248.9 ypg)
2012 TEAM LEADERS
Passing: Josh Freeman (81.6 rating)
Rushing: Doug Martin (1,454 yards)
Receiving: Vincent Jackson (72 catches, 1,384 yards)
QB Mike Glennon, WR Kevin Ogletree, TE Tom Crabtree, RB Brian Leonard, T/G Gabe Carimi
Although Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks never took a snap together, the Bucs finished the 2012 season with the highest offensive ranking in franchise history, setting Tampa Bay records for points (389) and total yards (5,820). Doug Martin set a dynamic tone as a rookie back, ranking third in the league in yards from scrimmage while providing enviable balance. QB Josh Freeman set franchise marks for passing yards (4,065) and touchdown passes (27) but slumped in December as the Bucs won only once in the final six weeks.
Freeman has big-play targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, but the tight end tandem of Luke Stocker and newcomer Tom Crabtree has much to prove. Although the offensive line looks powerful on paper, left tackle Donald Penn struggled in the preseason and Nicks has been sidelined for weeks with a MRSA infection in his left foot. With a poor finish last season and listless play this summer, Freeman is the obvious focal point of this talented unit. Saddled with a 24-32 record, he enters the final year of his rookie contract with coaches and fans wondering whether he can recapture the 2010 form that stamped Freeman as a young quarterback on the rise.
Glennon, a third-round draft pick with a strong arm, is unpolished and prone to rookie mistakes. Saddled with a 24-32 record, Freeman faces this crossroads season surrounded by quality weapons. Look for second-year offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to play to Freeman's strengths as a big mobile passer who throws well on the run. A stellar season by No. 5 is likely to earn Freeman a lucrative deal, but it won't take long for frustrated Buc fans to turn on him en masse if he struggles early.
Martin, who didn't play much on third down last year, won't come off the field very often, though there's depth in the backfield with Brian Leonard and rookie Mike James. Tampa Bay is hoping new wide receiver Kevin Ogletree can sharpen his focus and develop into a dependable slot target.
2012 NFL RANKINGS
Total defense: 29th (379.9 yards per game)Rush defense: 1st (82.5 ypg)Pass defense: 32nd (297.4 ypg)
2012 TEAM LEADERS
Tackles: LB Lavonte David (139)Interceptions: S Ronde Barber (4)Sacks: DE Michael Bennett (9.0)
CB Darrelle Revis, S Dashon Goldson, LB Jonathan Casillas
Everything the Bucs did this past offseason was designed to improve a pass defense that last year came within 38 yards of matching the NFL record for most yards allowed in a season. They went about it, though, in a rather curious way, focusing largely on the secondary instead of a pass rush that ranked 30th in the league with 27 sacks.
The Bucs are counting on a pair of Pro Bowl newcomers — CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson — to force opposing passers to spend more time looking for targets, which should give their front four more time to get to get into the backfield. But just how good that front four will be is uncertain. The Bucs have high hopes for right end Adrian Clayborn and left end Da'Quan Bowers, their 2011 first- and second-round draft picks, respectively. But Clayborn is coming off a season-ending knee injury and Bowers has yet to prove he's more than a situational pass rusher.
If 2012 Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and rookie nose tackle Akeem Spence can draw the requisite double teams, the pass rush and, therefore, the pass defense should be better. The Bucs would like to be better against the run, too, and despite ranking first overall in the league a year ago, that could happen. Linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster are excellent fits for the Bucs' seek-and-destroy defensive style and should be among the NFL's leaders in tackles and tackles for loss again this year.
Key players: K Rian Lindell, P Michael Koenen, LB Adam Hayward
Michael Koenen's net average of 37.4 yards per punt was disappointing and he placed only 22 of 64 punts inside the 20. Koenen excels on booming kickoffs into the end zone, but he needs more hang time on punts. Opponents averaged 11.0 yards per punt return and Koenen suffered one blocked punt last season. In 2011, Koenen's first season with the Bucs, opponents averaged only 7.4 yards per return. The Bucs would like to see a little more height on Koenen's punts to help out the coverage units.
The Bucs suffered a blow in the offseason when kicker Connor Barth was sidelined for the season with a torn Achilles. Barth had extended his range in recent years and converted 54 of 61 field goal attempts the past two seasons. Tampa Bay quickly signed veteran Lawrence Tynes and untested Derek Dimke, then brought in Rian Lindell, who had just been released by Buffalo. Lindell has converted 81.3 percent of his field-goal attempts during a 13-year career, but his leg can't match Barth's for long-range accuracy. Adam Hayward is the veteran leader of Tampa Bay's coverage units and has a knack for being around the football.
Key player: Eric Page
With the departure of 2012 punt returner Roscoe Parrish, WR Eric Page has emerged as a young unproven player with an opportunity to upgrade Tampa Bay's return units. Page was a record-setting receiver at Toledo, where he also showcased his return skills. In 2010, Page averaged 31.1 yards per kickoff return and scored three touchdowns for Toledo. After a torn ACL last summer undermined his season with the Broncos, the Bucs signed him two weeks before the 2013 draft. Tampa Bay ranked 29th in the league with a 20.3-yard kick return average, and Page has the burst of speed to provide the offense with some short fields. He excelled in the preseason and had a 105-yard kickoff return nullified by a holding penalty. Page has also displayed reliable hands, a key factor when it comes to head coach Greg Schiano trusting him to handle the punt-return chores.