Continuing with this weekend’s feature, let’s look at four more issues the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must resolve on offense at the start of the Greg Schiano era. We just discussed the biggest issue on either side of the ball, how best handle the development of Josh Freeman, but there are plenty of other issues the Bucs must still resolve before fans are going to start feeling more confident about the offense.
Let’s jump right in.
1.) How do you improve the offensive line?
The only redeemable aspect of the Buccaneers offensive line last year was they didn’t give up a ton of sacks. They still weren’t amongst the best at protecting the quarterback and part of that success is born out of Josh Freeman’s athleticism and knack for extending plays, but they do deserve a little credit for being average at pass protection. That’s as nice as I can be.
Other than that the Bucs ranked 30th in rushing and were one of the most penalized lines in the entire league. That’s being generous too. This line was terrible and with the exception of Jeremy Zuttah and Davin Joseph, I’m not sure any of them deserves to stick around in Tampa next season. The line was the most veteran units on the team last year and also one of the most undisciplined. Now Greg Schiano needs to decide which, if any of these guys should stay.
As I said, Joseph and Zuttah are both fine, I wouldn’t worry about them. Jeff Faine may be brilliant but his football IQ is something I question on a weekly basis when I watch him fail to block anyone on some plays and block the wrong guy on others. Faine is dead weight in the same way that Donald Penn is, neither deserves their salaries or their rosters spots at this point. And while I do believe Faine just had a bad year last year (I’ve been high on him at times before), Penn is an outright fraud.
I’ve never seen a Pro Bowl left tackle who couldn’t block a speed rush off the edge. I said in the preseason when Andre Carter molested Penn for a couple sacks in the opening quarter that he was going to be a problem and he continued to be a pillow throughout the 2011 season. Penn is a below-average run-blocker and he’s incapable of handling any edge rusher that grades out above average. Yet he has a big-money contract and the Bucs are more or less saddled with him until they can get out from under his cap figure.
One option could be to move him to right tackle, move Jeremy Zuttah to center and draft or sign a left tackle and left guard. This would let Schiano put his thumb-print on the line and it would likely shore up the run-blocking. Penn wouldn’t be as in over his head on the right side and next to the Bucs’ best lineman could even be serviceable.
Regardless, whether it’s through the draft or through free agency, the Bucs need to improve this offensive line for Greg Schiano’s physical offensive philosophy to work.
2.) What to do with LeGarrette Blount
Last we saw Blount he was falling out of favor with Raheem Morris for fumbling, now Schiano needs to decide how best to use the third year running back. I believe the Bucs were wrong to try and make Blount into an every down back last year. That doesn’t play to his skill set, it doesn’t make the Bucs better.
Greg Schiano will likely have to draft a change of pace, third down back to help in the passing game, but I think he’ll know how to use Blount properly. Excuse the pun, but LeGarrette is best used a blunt force instrument. Let him crash into the line 25 times a game and watch how worn down a defense gets. If he can get a handle on the football (literally), Blount could be a 1,500 yard back under Schiano.
Talk about a brutal, downhill runner, that’s Blount in a nutshell. He punishes defenses, he wears down lines, he is an animal. Asking him to tire himself out by running pass patterns or blocking on passing downs diminishes his effectiveness. Remember early this year when he rumbled for nearly 75 yards closing out the Colts in the 4th quarter? That’s Blount being used optimally. That’s him at his best.
If you can keep him fresh for those ten 4th quarter carries, LeGarrette Blount is a closer. That’s how I’m hoping Schiano sees him too. Because he can be a very good back in Tampa, he just needs to be used right.
3.) Is Kellen Winslow still worth the trouble?
I like Kellen Winslow, I really do. I have since he was at Miami, I just think his time in a Bucs uniform might be at its end. Winslow is a divisive subject to say the least, some dislike him for letting his emotions spill over from time to time while others love him for just that. Frankly, I think a lot of his outbursts stem from the coaching style of Raheem Morris, and a guy like Greg Schiano would be able to stamp some of that out, but Winslow is always going to be his headstrong self.
The bigger issue is Winslow’s injury history and the fact he cannot go a whole season without missing games, because of that he’s regularly held out of practice. When you see Winslow not on the same page as the Bucs offense, you can typically attribute it to that, moreso than his emotions or unwillingness to be a team guy. The fact of the matter is Kellen Winslow misses enough time in games and at practice that it’s becoming a liability to count on him.
Luke Stocker didn’t give much of an indication that he would be any better, missing more time than Winslow did last year. Now Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik need to decide if it’s worth keeping the oft-injured tight end or if its time to move on. Winslow brings a high-end athleticism to the position and can be amongst the best in the league when he’s healthy, but blocking will always be an issue and he rarely ever is healthy.
So it’s a tough call.
4.) Objectively, what do the Bucs have at receiver?
I think one of the fatal flaws of the Raheem Morris era was that his evaluation of players was sometime colored by his personal affections towards his players. Case in point, I think Dezmon Briscoe might be the best receiver on the Bucs roster but he never got the playing time of a Mike Williams, even though he catches a higher percentage of his targets and his routes are about as crisp. Oftentimes under Morris playing time and starters didn’t seem to be based on rhyme or reason or rationale at all. It’s why Jeremy Zuttah didn’t start at center even though he grades out better than Faine. It’s why Briscoe rarely saw the field.
Hopefully under Schiano things improve in that department, and no where has there seemingly been less objectivity than in the receiving corps. Mike Williams is a very good receiver, but he has not improved since his rookie season. He still only catches about half his targets (just over 50 percent) and struggles with drops and fumbles. He does a lot of things well, but those are two of the most important and he’s not improving with regard to either.
Dezmon Briscoe on the other hand is a very good receiver. He needs work too, he needs to become a better professional, but he’s a gamer. When Briscoe gets into games he makes plays. The point is, we don’t really know what the Bucs have at receiver. It might not be a very good unit as some surmise, or it may be an exceptional unit that’s just very raw. Either way its going to be up to Schiano to assess the talent at the position, hire a good position coach and either stick with those guys or go add a playmaker.
Like I’ve said, I think there’s a lot of potential there already, it just needs to be developed. But ultimately it will be up to Greg Schiano to determine that.