Last season there were times when the Buccaneers passing game was anemic at best. Receivers failed to get separation, pass protection was poor and the offense didn’t seem to have any potency until the end of the game when the no-huddle came out.
This year things are looking to be a lot different, starting with the line and the run game, and extending into the receiving corps where the addition of Vincent Jackson and the growth of Preston Parker look to give Tampa as deep a rotation at receiver as its had in years.
We’ll have plenty of time to dissect the Bucs run-game, which will likely be the offense’s bread and butter while the passing game meshes, but the true high-end potential on the Bucs offense now lies with the receivers. Last year Tampa had a group of developing guys, likely more number-two receivers, trying to make a go of it. Whereas that worked two years ago, in 2011 that approach caught up with the Bucs.
It’s not that Mike Williams and the rest of the group digressed last season. Statistically, they were right on pace with what they did in 2010. The trends just adjusted, they weren’t as lucky in 2011. Williams for instance caught the same percentage of his targets as he did as a rookie, he was no worse with drops or misses, he was right in line with the year before, the ball just bounced differently for him.
It was like that across the board, you saw a Buccaneers team, specifically on offense, that got away with a ton of mistakes in 2010 (face it, they got a lot of breaks), didn’t have the benefit of off-season coaching, and frankly just didn’t learn from the mistakes they made the year before.
Josh Freeman was throwing into triple coverage in 2010 when he had 25 TD’s to 6 picks. He did it all year, and miraculously it almost never bit him in the rear end. In 2011 he made the same kinds of decisions he had made when he played so well the year before, and why wouldn’t he? He had no reason to learn from plays that didn’t end up being mistakes. Last season though, the football gods held him accountable.
There wasn’t a drop-off, there just was no progression.
And with the rest of the league having had a year to scout them, teams caught up in 2011 and took advantage of an overmatched receiving corps and a very green offense.
This year, the off-season work should correct some of the mistakes of the two years past and help get the offense moving in the right direction in terms of progression, but it’s the additions of Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark that will arguably help the most.
You see, now in Tampa things fit. You aren’t pressing developing guys into service before they’re ready. Mike Williams is immensely talented, but the average NFL receiver doesn’t really start to blossom until year three and Williams was facing double teams regularly as a second year guy who left college early.
Ideally, right now where he’s at in the course of his development, Mike Williams is a number two receiver. Last year as a one, he was often overmatched and over the course of a long season that can begin to corrode a player’s psyche.
This season, with Vincent Jackson lining up as the Buccaneers’ alpha receiver and forcing defenses to account for him you’ll get to see Mike Williams put in a situation where he’ll get to flourish. One-on-one with a team’s second corner, for instance, is a good place for Williams to find himself, and he’ll have a lot more success with that than drawing the kind of coverage he faced last year.
Of course that’s provided Williams wins the job as the team’s number two.
With the assumption that Preston Parker will be the slot guy, there are three extremely viable candidates for the two-role. Williams, Dezmon Briscoe and Arrelious Benn. And the Bucs will have the luxury of picking the best of the bunch.
Parker is quickly rooting himself in Tampa with solid special teams work and rapid improvement in his work at receiver. As we’ve discussed before, this really shouldn’t be shocking about PP. Originally a stand-out at Florida State, Parker was the lone bright spot on some truly bad Jeff Bowden offenses before getting kicked off the team for repeated off-the-field infractions.
Had he not been booted, he’d have worked with Jimbo Fisher (who was previously the OC at LSU) his senior season and likely would have been taken in the first few rounds of the draft. He’s got potential, the question was just whether he’d put it all together which, to his credit, he seems to have done.
With Jackson as your alpha and Parker in the slot, you’ve got the three guys vying for the number two role.
I’ve said before I love what Briscoe brings to the table and entering 2012 with a level playing field he’s the wild card of the bunch. Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams had the benefit of being drafted and starting with Tampa from day one. Dezmon Briscoe was poached off the waiver wire in Cincy when they tried to stash him on the practice squad and has been playing catch-up ever since.
With a new coaching regime in place, Briscoe gains the most because there’s now a clean slate.
Arrelious Benn needs to prove he can stay healthy before he sees his career take that next step. He’s got speed and plenty of potential, but injuries and some inconsistency have limited him so far in his first two years.
Odds are it’s between Briscoe and Williams with 19 taking a slight edge. Either way, the Bucs win. Competition is healthy, it’s good for the offense.
An improved receiving corps, also featuring the seasoned Dallas Clark and second-year Luke Stocker at tight end should actually warrant other defense’s attention this season. There is speed to stretch the field, toughness to go over the middle and quickness in the flats and in space. This is a unit that should pressure defenses, loosen the box for the run-game and give the Bucs the kind of balance that teams need to win in the NFL.
The Buccaneers receiving corps is shaping up.