Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs Beat: Lessons learned from a difficult year
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The 2011 season is drawing to a close, though it may not be closing fast enough for some. Either way, the third year of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rebuilding project was an eye opener. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the things we've learned during this trying season: Too much confidence can be a bad thing. QB Josh Freeman was brimming with it earlier this season, and it led to a string of interceptions on throws he thought he could squeeze into closing windows. RB LeGarrette Blount's lack of versatility hurts the offense. Blount can run between the tackles as well as anyone, but his inability to catch the ball or get outside on runs makes it too easy for defenders.The Bucs need help at safety. When healthy, Tanard Jackson and Cody Grimm can deliver the pop the team needs against the run, but upgrades in depth are needed. DT Gerald McCoy is much better than some people think. When he left the lineup because of injuries, the defense sagged noticeably. Sacks dropped and opponents' yards per carry increased by more than a yard. If he returns, head coach Raheem Morris has to get tougher. His team has a discipline problem on and off the field, and it's affecting game-day results. Morris has to put the hammer down more often. The Bucs don't have enough speed at receiver. They consider Arrelious Benn their downfield deep threat, but Benn isn't the kind of burner that draws double teams to open up the short and intermediate areas. Ronde Barber can still play. Barber was arguably the best and most consistent player on the team. He's playing more man coverage than ever, but continued to show, even at age 36, he can handle it. The Bucs need veteran leadership in key areas. The lack of veterans to show the kids the way at receiver, linebacker and the defensive line proved damaging in the end. Adrian Clayborn is the real deal. He's not built like an elite edge rusher but makes up for that with tenacity and drive. He's a determined football player who should only get better. The Bucs need help at cornerback. E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis have not proven themselves as starting caliber corners, so even if Barber and Aqib Talib are back, upgrades are needed behind them. Tampa Bay needs to make greater use of a quick passing game. When Blount is on the field, it needs to spread the defense out and open room in the box for Blount to move. To take advantage of LB Quincy Black's athleticism, the team should consider putting him at one position and leave him there. Black played middle, strongside and weakside – none with great success. The Bucs appear to be set in the kicking game. PK Connor Barth is one of the more reliable kickers in the league and Mike Koenen has the leg to drive kickoffs out of the end zone and place punts in deep corners. The Bucs need a third-down back. This would have been a much better team with Cadillac Williams, Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush. The Bucs need an upgrade behind Blount. Blount takes a beating and, while he seems capable of handling it, you just never know how long a back of his type can last. The Bucs appear set at defensive end. Clayborn looks like a star on the rise and LDE Da'Quan Bowers may be right behind him. Even Michael Bennett is solid, with Tim Crowder in reserve. Mason Foster looks like a top-level middle linebacker. He's already pretty good and he's playing mostly on instinct. Just wait until he has a better understanding of the defense and the league. WR Mike Williams needs to compete more. Williams has loads of potential, but a lack of focus led to too many dropped passes, poorly run routes and wasted opportunities.