Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs on lookout for Freeman understudy
MINNEAPOLIS - Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik sat in the stands at Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., in January, watching a Senior Bowl workout and reveling in the fact he didn't have to focus on the quarterbacks. "It's nice to have that piece,'' Dominik said, referring to quarterback Josh Freeman. The Bucs will still have that piece come next January, but the chances of Dominik being able to all but ignore the quarterbacks participating in college All-Star games such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine game are slim. With current backup Josh Johnson slated to become an unrestricted free agent after this year, an understudy for Freeman figures to be one of the needs the Bucs will have going into the 2012 draft.And much like it was with Freeman three years ago and defensive linemen the past two years, the Bucs' timing should prove to be just about perfect. Dominik, who always keeps an eye on the upcoming draft, said recently that quarterback will likely be one of the deepest position groups in the 2012 draft class. It seems others agree with him. In a recent ranking of the top 115 players expected to be available, Optimum Scouting listed nine quarterbacks. Walter Football, meanwhile, had 19 quarterbacks listed as draft worthy. Tops in the group, of course, are Andrew Luck of Stanford, Matt Barkley of Southern California and Landry Jones of Oklahoma, all considered first-round talents. The Bucs, though, likely will set their sights a little lower. They'll look more at late-round talents such as Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois, Dominique Davis of East Carolina and Austin Davis of Southern Miss. All have a good blend of skills, as well as two or three years of starting experience. So, any of them could become the Bucs' next backup to Freeman. For starters Slow starts have plagued the Bucs offense for years. That unit has scored seven or fewer first-quarter points in 55 straight games. The problem with slow starts, though, is not unique to the offense. The defense has had trouble with slow starts, too. Against Detroit, the Bucs forced the Lions to go three plays and out just once in three first-quarter drives. A year ago, Tampa Bay forced opponents to go three and out in the first quarter just seven times in 34 opportunities, not including the two times they gave up a touchdown in three plays or less. "Yeah, we have to start faster on defense, too,'' coach Raheem Morris said. "It's about taking advantage of your opportunities. That's how you start faster. We said it to our players in our team meeting – just do your job. "That's what our guys have to do. They have to get out there and do their job and they have to do the job early and they have to do it often and then we have to finish.'' Opening day jitters When Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford carved up the Bucs secondary for 305 passing yards, he became the second quarterback in three years to throw for more than 300 yards against Tampa Bay on opening day. Tony Romo of Dallas did the same thing in the 2009 opener, throwing for 344 yards – the most passing yards against a Bucs defense in the Raheem Morris era. Stafford also became the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards against a Morris-run defense. The only other 300-yard passing game during the Morris era came while Jime Bates was the defensive coordinator when Tom Brady threw for 308 yards on Oct. 25, 2009.