The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up a 1-3 record during the 2013 exhibition schedule with a 30-12 defeat by the Washington Redskins on August 29. Though few starters received significant playing time in the preseason's final game, several indicators throughout the summer reveal substantial challenges await in coach Greg Schiano's second campaign with the club.
While last year delivered definite positives through the emergence of play-makers, such as Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson, many larger hurdles stood in the way of improving a 7-9 record, which kept the Bucs absent from the NFL playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. If a single theme can be derived from this year's preseason, it is that those same questions have resurfaced with a reshaped 2013 team.
Here is a look at three things learned during the Tampa Bay Bucs preseason.
Josh Freeman Remains Bucs Quarterback by Default
Though the fifth-year starter enters a critical season without a contract for next year, it is hard to be fired up for Freeman's potential based on an underwhelming preseason. Seeing only limited use in the first three contests, the 25 year-old was a combined 12 of 26 for only 101 yards and no touchdowns. Despite a lack of injury, Schiano largely choose to sit Freeman, and failed to let him establish chemistry with new weapons like Kevin Ogletree, Brian Leonard, and Tom Crabtree. Even more discouraging, the mobile quarterback was sacked 9 times, despite a lack of time on the field.
That form hardly resembles the quarterback who became the Bucs' first-ever 4,000 yard passer in 2012, while tossing an impressive 27 touchdowns. Freeman's preseason instead largely resembled the signal-caller who collapsed at the end of last season, becoming a turnover machine in critical defeats.
Nevertheless, it was easy for Schiano to avoid potential controversy by quickly establishing the incumbent as his starter. A third-round pick was spent on Mike Glennon, but the rookie looked raw in substantial preseason action. Some highly-touted rookies can enter the NFL and make a quick impression. Glennon is not that quarterback and disappointingly put forth his weakest showing in the final game against the Redskins.
Despite Spending, Secondary Faces Many Questions
One of the greatest concerns for Bucs' fans is something we did not even see. Sitting Darrelle Revis for the entire preseason, the team failed to show off its prized acquisition. Tampa Bay traded a first round pick for 4-time Pro Bowl cornerback. With arguably no greater deficiency than last year's woeful pass defense, it is hoped that Revis' presence will transform the secondary.
While the additional recovery time from last year's knee surgery may prove prudent, it is disappointing that Revis was unable to dress for any of the preseason games. Tampa Bay believes the former New York Jets player will be ready for the season opener against his old team, but the surgically-repaired knee has yet to be tested under game conditions.
Further additions to the secondary include second-round pick Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State at corner and free-agent safety Dashon Goldson, who received a massive 5 year, $41.25 million deal to leave the San Francisco 49ers. Though Goldson appears primed to add a hard-hitting presence to the backfield, Banks suffered through a rough initial preseason and did not display capability of blanketing receivers in man-on-man coverage.
The unit was further rocked by unfortunate injuries. Valuable reserve Anthony Gaitor will miss the entire campaign and Danny Gorrer is currently sidelined by a groin injury. These losses not only force Banks to step up, but require second-year corner Leonard Johnson to emerge as a viable option opposite Revis. Tampa Bay's secondary may yet be substantially improved, especially if Revis is healthy. However, large questions remain and again demonstrate that quick spending rarely solves such problems.
Long-Absent Pass Rush Still Missing
Tampa Bay has lacked a successful pass rush since the glory days of Super Bowl XXXVII and few things have greater marred a once feared defense. Though last year's defensive line emerged as the best run-stop unit in the NFL, the Bucs again could not put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With only 27 sacks, the club ranked third-worst in the league, and those results only minimally improved 2011's league-worst 23 sacks.
Indeed, the lack of a pass rush suggests that run-stop prowess may be misleading. Unless the Bucs can better collapse the pocket against signal-callers, teams will simply abandon the run and hope to pick apart an otherwise beleaguered secondary.
During the four preseason games, the Bucs only accrued a combined five sacks. In contests against the Redskins and New England Patriots, the squad failed to take down a quarterback even a single time. And that included an entire half spent opposing Tim Tebow, who otherwise was haunted by being dragged to the turf throughout the preseason. Despite the former University of Florida quarterback completing just 1 of 7 passes, the Bucs frustratingly could not wrap-up Tebow in the backfield.
Three of the Bucs' five total sacks occurred in the Miami Dolphins game and were delivered by new defensive end Trevor Scott. Though his addition to the d-line looks promising, fans are losing faith in former second-rounder Da'Quan Bowers, who is unlikely to replace Michael Bennett adequately. While a potential pass rusher in Adrian Clayborn must overcome last year's injury, the Bucs simply need more players who can reach the quarterback. Count on this year's draft picks, including Akeem Spence, William Ghoston, and Steven Means, getting a chance in 2013.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Greg Schiano
- Washington Redskins
- Darrelle Revis
- Josh Freeman