Ten games into the 2012 season and owners of a 6-4 record, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had seemingly put the previous season behind them. In 2011, the team dropped its final 10 games after a 4-2 start and it resulted in the dismissal of head coach Raheem Morris.
There was little doubt of an attitude change with the Bucs a year ago. But history nearly repeated itself as new head coach Greg Schiano watched his club drop five straight games before ending the season with a win at Atlanta. Still, a 7-9 record had to be disappointing considering the team's strong start.
However, it's a new year. And it is onto 2013 where we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
QB Josh Freeman: Last season, the former first-round selection posted highs in passing yards (4,065) and touchdown tosses (27). But a closer look also shows that Freeman's 54.8 completion percentage in 2012 was significantly lower than the previous season (62.8). And the Buccaneers quarterback threw just two touchdown passes and nine interceptions in his final three games, putting a damper on the season. With wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, who combined for 17 touchdown receptions in 2012, Freeman hopes to get back on track in a hurry.
RB Doug Martin: What a debut season for the former Boise State standout, who the Buccaneers moved up to grab with the 31st overall pick in 2012. Last season, Martin finished third in the NFL with 1,926 yards from scrimmage, running for a team-high 1,454 yards, finishing third on the team with 49 receptions (472 yards) and scoring a dozen touchdowns. Tampa's offense had few problems moving the football and scoring points a year ago and with Martin once again in the backfield, it could be even better this season.
DE Da'Quan Bowers: The Buccaneers haven't mounted much of a pass rush in recent seasons despite adding defensive end Adrian Clayborn (who missed 13 games with a knee injury in 2012) and Bowers in the draft in the first and second round, respectively, in 2011. While Clayborn racked up 7.5 sacks as a rookie, Bowers has totaled only 4.5 sacks in 26 games in two seasons. With former starter Michael Bennett off to Seattle via free agency, Bowers really needs to step to the forefront for a team that totaled just 27 sacks in 2012.
OLB Lavonte David: A year after fielding the NFL's worst run defense, the Buccaneers allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league in 2012. The reasons for the improvement were many but some credit must go to defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller, as well as David. The second-round pick of a year ago led the team in tackles as a rookie and added a pair of sacks as well as an interception. But with Miller gone via free agency (Jacksonville Jaguars), the Buccaneers may need an even bigger year from the young linebacker.
CB Darrelle Revis: When you field the NFL's worst pass defense last season, apparently there's only one thing to do; get arguably the league's best cover cornerback. The Bucs gave up a first-round pick and more to grab the former New York Jets standout that missed the final 13 games of 2012. Actually, the Buccaneers did at least two things when it came to the secondary, signing two-time Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson away from the San Francisco 49ers. We will see how it all comes together.
So what can we expect from the Buccaneers in 2013? Can the team bounce back from two straight last-place finishes in the NFC South? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? The Bucs hope to make things interesting in arguably the league's most competitive division.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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