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NFL camp preview: Buccaneers seek consistency behind rebuilt secondary

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. -- After putting together the best defensive secondary that money can buy, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open training camp Wednesday and begin practice Thursday with a team ready to compete for a playoff spot -- at least.

In their first year under coach Greg Schiano, a defensive-minded coach from Rutgers, the Bucs were first in the NFL against the run and dead last against the pass.

The Bucs attempted to address that in the offseason.

Tampa Bay signed 49ers free-agent All-Pro safety Dashon Goldson and traded for Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, considered the best in the game when his is healthy. However, he is coming off knee surgery.

If defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan is going to insist on playing a lot of single safety, man-under looks, he needs the personnel to do so. Now he has it. The theory is that the improved secondary will give pass rushers another tick to reach the quarterback.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy took a big step by playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career last season and was rewarded with a start in the Pro Bowl. But McCoy needs help.

The Bucs will go with Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers at defensive end and both are largely unproven due to injuries. There's not much behind them. Tampa Bay has had less than 30 sacks as a team in each of the past five seasons.

The goal of training camp will be to get Revis ready to start against his former Jets team in Week 1 while improving pressure on the quarterback.

Offensively, the Bucs aren't a finished product. Quarterback Josh Freeman needs to show a mastery of the offense in his second year under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. But there are questions at tight end and slot receiver that need to be settled as well as right tackle.

Freeman has been at the helm of the Bucs for four seasons, but may be gone if he doesn't lead his team to the playoffs in the final year of his rookie contact.

His eventual replacement may already be in the fold after the Bucs drafted North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round.

However, in his first season under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, Freeman set single-season club records in 2012 for passing yards (4,065) and touchdowns (27) while throwing 17 interceptions. But Year Two under Sullivan promises to be an even better one for Freeman and the Bucs offense.

"I think our comfort level is so much higher, and really, I speak for the entire offense," Freeman said. "It's just the communication, just going in each down ... it's all functioning at a higher level. That comes with experience. Everybody is going to be on the same page and we're not going to hinder ourselves."

Schiano says it's hard to quantify how much the changing supporting cast, systems and terminology have affected Freeman's development.

"It's all relative, right? If you could've been the same system all five years, it certainly would've helped," Schiano said. "How much it hurts? I can't quantify that. It helps to stay in the same system, particularly if it is a good system. I think he's been in some good systems where the downside is a lack of continuity, the upside is he learned a lot of football."

Kicker Connor Barth suffered a torn Achilles' tendon playing in a charity basketball game July 12 and will be sidelined for the season. The team signed former New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, a 35-year-old free agent who made 33 of 39 field-goal attempts and was second in the NFL with 145 points last season.
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