Following a 10-6 season in 2010, Raheem Morris nicknamed the Buccaneers “Youngry” because of their talented stock of up-and-comers.
That promise didn’t pan out in 2011, leaving Morris without a job and incoming head coach Greg Schiano with decisions on what to make of his young first-team (whose average age was less than 26 years old coming into the year).
The Bucs have a choice: bring in some veterans to lead the ship or restock through the draft and hope big names like Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams can relearn how to win on their own.
When you break down the Bucs on film, their struggles to both establish the run offensively (30th run O) and stop it defensively (32nd run D) posed a problematic combination during a 4-12 campaign.
Re-energizing the run O
When it comes to improving Tampa Bay’s ground game, the best route might be adding weapons to the pass game first.
Both Williams and Arrelious Benn proved last year they are not big-play threats who can scare a defense into dropping defenders out of the box. If the Bucs want to give Freeman every chance to show he is a franchise quarterback, and give Blount more room to run, they could draft a receiver like Justin Blackmon (if he falls past the Browns at No. 4). In the event the Oklahoma State star isn’t available, the Bucs could look to free agency, where Pierre Garcon and Robert Meachem offer the speed to stretch a defense.
In terms of the backfield, competition never hurts – and there isn’t much behind Blount at the moment. Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling is a restricted free agent, but he fits the mold of the type of scatback the Bucs might want to offset Blount’s powerful style.
Re-inforcing the run D
Tampa Bay has invested heavily in its front four – Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price are all first-day picks – but their linebackers have proved undisciplined and the Bucs might be in-store for a shakeup at the second level.
With Geno Hayes being an unrestricted free agent, the Bucs should look at adding a veteran linebacker who can still run in their Cover 2 scheme. How about London Fletcher?
He’s already been told he’s too small his entire career, and now that he’s 36 years old, he’ll probably be told he’s too old. Nevertheless, Fletcher has the legs to cover the middle of the field in pass situations and had the smarts to collect 166 tackles in ’11. Curtis Lofton and D’Qwell Jackson are two younger – but probably more expensive – options if the Bucs really want to invest in their linebacking corps.
Through the draft, the Bucs have shown a knack for taking the best player available, regardless of position. That being said, if corners Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick or safety Mark Barron are the right value for them at wherever they select, Tampa Bay could use another piece in their secondary.
Yet again, why go young when you can grab a veteran safety like Michael Griffin from Tennessee? Or Tyvon Branch from Oakland? The Bucs desperately need a defender who supports against the run and takes away the middle in coverage, and both players present an upgrade – in talent and, most importantly, experience – for a Bucs team in search of an upswing in 2012.
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