By Steven Levy
So the Greg Schiano has now officially begun. What to make of it? In brief I think the arrow is pointing up. Yes, I realize that’s definitely a glass half full observation after only training camp and one preseason game, but if we’re going to evaluate, which we are, that’s all we have to go on thus far.
Let’s briefly run down some of the positives and negatives.
To begin with the offense, I would say that so far so good. Josh Freeman looked comfortable, fluid and confident in the pocket. And as advertised he looked far svelter. The Freeman of the last few years has been a promising, raw athlete covered with a generous coating of baby fat. The baby fat is now gone (ditto the afro) and Freeman has a more mature look because of it. Of course comfortable and confident might also have something to do with his dropping back behind what can be, health notwithstanding, a physical, dominant offensive line.
Speaking of the offensive line, Demar Dotson deserves some credit for holding down the fort for Donald Penn. Carl Nicks looked as advertised and the rest of the line looked solid as well.
As for the running game, so far so good. Lagarette Blount looked reenergized and ran the ball well, only missing one gaping hole courtesy of Carl Nicks, but he made up for it next play with a nice dive into the end zone. Rookie Doug Martin ran hard and showed some shiftiness and good use of his low center of gravity with a nice run when it looked like he was down. Also his blocking and pass catching was highlighted. Mike Smith had a great night in the return game and also had a nice run.
The wide receivers looked good. Mike Williams had a nice catch early and Tiquan Underwood played well all game long, making the most of his opportunity. Vincent Jackson didn’t catch a ball but that’s no cause for concern. Preston Parker did not have a great game though with a fumble lost and a penalty. Also Arrelious Benn needs to get healthy soon or others will pass him by on the depth chart. The forgotten man, Sammy Stroughter also needs to make a move in the next game or two, though reportedly he is having a good camp and his special teams experience is beneficial. Dallas Clark did not play and Luke Stocker looked good catching a nice pass over the middle.
Onto the defense. The defensive line, probably the most maligned squad on this team (or is it the linebackers?) played hard. Obviously there was an issue with offsides penalties but those should be cleaned up pretty quickly. Once again it all comes down to health. If McCoy, Clayborn, Bennett and Miller/Okoye can stay healthy, I think the pressure will come. This is also contingent on the play of the secondary of course.
With the exception of one player, a “David Lavonte” according to some local media (it’s apparently preseason for the pro football sports media as well), the Bucs linebackers played solidly if unspectacularly. But rookie Lavonte David played very well. An interception, several tackles including a special teams tackle, and great movement up and down the field as advertised, David has the look of a very good player.
The secondary. Well, Aqib Talib had the night off as did Mark Barron apparently. This left Eric Wright and Ronde Barber (one series) as the only regulars to get some action. To his credit Eric Wright, who has endured his share of criticism this off season, played well. He showed flashes several times. Hopefully this is a harbinger of the season to come.
Special teams looked good with the training camp kicker (forgive me if I don’t recall his name at the moment) making his FG attempts and the coverage teams generally looking solid. And of course Mike Smith looked great. He had two good kick returns, showing enviable escapability on his longer return.
As a purely superficial observation I thought that Greg Schiano looked very much like an NFL coach on the sideline. It’s clear he has head coaching experience, something I could not say for Joe Philbin, the new accountant, er head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Schiano looks very much in control. No one on the roster will call him ‘Greg’, that’s for sure.
Well, 1 down and 3 to go. We’ll know a lot more in 3 weeks and even more in 4. But football is here! Finally.