Not much went right for the Bucs in 2009 as they lost 13 games and were pretty dreadful on both sides of the ball. But they weren't without their highlights: Two of their three wins last season were against playoff-bound teams, including one over the Super Bowl champion Saints, and the team gained confidence in their young quarterback, Josh Freeman. Having Cadillac Williams survive the season without injury also was a positive.
The Bucs followed that up with a tremendous draft, addressing two huge needs with quality selections at defensive tackle (first-round pick Gerald McCoy and second-round pick Brian Price) and wide receiver (second-round pick Arrelious Benn and fourth-round pick Mike Williams). The young talent provides them with capable players who should develop into legitimate starters as soon as ... well, this season. The Bucs need to lean on these guys now.
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There's a lot of young talent on this team, and it's probably by design. That said, expectations are fairly low in Tampa Bay because the young talent is just that: young. There will probably be a couple more exciting wins for the Bucs this season than last, but growing pains are to be expected.
Late-round flier ... Mike Williams, WR
Arrelious Benn might have been the receiver taken earlier in the NFL Draft by the Buccaneers, but Williams has garnered the praise -- and first-team reps -- this past spring. Williams had a falling out in college that led to a shortened senior year, but he's apparently past that and adjusting to his new life in the NFL. He's learned the offense quickly and has shown it in on-field drills, he's staying late to polish his game and his big frame doesn't hurt things either. Rookie receivers are considered no-no's in Fantasy, but Williams should see lots of playing time in an offense that doesn't have anything close to a reliable wideout. Maybe he'll become that reliable option.
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Keeper-league target ... Arrelious Benn, WR
Benn hasn't impressed like Williams has this offseason, meaning that he's probably a receiver who will progress at a slower pace and probably not produce big stats anytime soon. But Benn has good size and was a capable playmaker in college without the benefit of a quality quarterback. Because he'll adjust on a different clock than Williams, Benn's a better pick in dynasty and keeper leagues than in standard formats.
Bust ... Josh Freeman, QB
What makes Freeman compelling is his big size, his strong arm and his ability to rely on his feet when a play breaks down. What makes him nerve-racking is his lack of accuracy (54.5 percent of his passes completed last season) and lack of reliable receivers. So while Freeman has the potential to be a 3,000-yard passer and, say, 500-yard rusher with around 20 total touchdowns, he also has the potential to turn the ball over a couple of times per week. He's got talent, that much is for sure, but there are still questions about how polished he is and whether or not he's in an offense that can rack up yards and points. Figure him to be a breakout candidate in 2011, not 2010.
This isn't a great schedule for the Bucs, especially for Cadillac Williams and the run game. It starts easy enough but then three straight games against the Steelers, Bengals and Saints don't provide much optimism. Midseason dates with other potentially stingy run defenses makes matters worse -- and two of those matchups West Coast tilts. If there is a bright side for this team, it's that their schedule from Week 14 on isn't that bad. If the team stays competitive and focused there is the potential for a breakout or two just in time for the Fantasy postseason.
Training camp topics
Would you believe that Cadillac Williams and Kellen Winslow are the old men on offense? Granted, they might have the durability of legitimate old men, but they're both fairly young -- Williams will be 28 when the season starts and Winslow will be 27. Obviously, injury concerns surround both players and likely will until they can prove durable. To be fair, Williams didn't miss a game last season after two patellar tendon injuries in a calendar year, and Winslow has been in 16 games three of the last four seasons. Also, only Winslow had offseason surgery on his knee; Williams has been healthy and an active participant in all of the Bucs' spring practices.
Among the receivers, Williams seems like an odds-on favorite to land a starting role. But head coach Raheem Morris said earlier this offseason that he'd almost prefer to have several good receivers than one reliable star. The reason: It would keep everyone fresh and keep defenses guessing. It sure sounds nice but we bet if you offered Morris the chance to have Roddy White or Marques Colston on his roster he'd take you up on it. Expect the Bucs to make the most of the receivers they have, but only Williams has serious upside. Training camp could reveal another option, though.
There's also a holdout worth watching: Left tackle Donald Penn wasn't with the team this offseason, and while he's not quite as high-profile of a player as Chris Johnson or Vincent Jackson, Penn is a vital part of the Bucs. If he's out, the Bucs will have to go with second-year player Demar Dotson, an undrafted free agent and former basketball player. Yikes.
The Bucs' defense might be more improved than their offense this season, though the play of their rookie defensive tackles will play a huge role. This is a unit with good veteran talent -- guys like linebacker Barrett Ruud, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson will keep the Bucs defense competitive. But a lack of a pass rush and the unknown of their big men up front could turn Tampa Bay into doormats against overpowering run games -- at least early on in the year.
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