Few would argue that the Bucs have had a good pre-season. The offense, which was impressive last year and featured the all-time passing season by a Bucs’ QB, has sputtered. QB Josh Freeman has looked inconsistent, failing to find the rhythm in his three games that shows he is back to his 2012 form.
In the Redskins game last night, Mike Glennon looked like a rookie QB, completing 7 passes from 16 attempts for 63 yards. As the QBs have struggled, the passing game has disappeared. At the end of the preseason, Tampa Bay is ranked last in the league in yards gained through the air. They rank 22nd in the league in rushing and 28th overall in scoring.
So what does all this mean? Not much. While the NFL likes to call these games preseason games and hates the old “exhibition” tag, no fan can mistake these impostor contests for the real thing. These games are about questions and answers, not wins and losses. Coaching staffs use training camp and the preseason for so many things that, just like your broker tells you, history is no predictor of future performance. Coach Schiano and his staff are only in their second season.
Last year they spent the offseason and preseason installing their schemes and instilling their ethic and philosophy into this team. The results were mixed, but definitely gave cause for optimism. This year, the staff has focused on refining their approach and adjusting their attacks on offense and defense, small details that if not grasped lead to big mistakes. Not only that, but the team had to answer some questions at key positions where last year they had more certainty and depth. Who will be the top RB behind Martin? Who will step into the slot WR role? Who will step up the pass rush for departed DE Michael Bennett?
The preseason has given us some answers. Brian Leonard (16 carries, 61 yds, 2 TDs) looks like he will spell Martin. I would be surprised if Peyton Hillis (38-147-0) does not make the team, but he is definitely on the bubble. Mike James (32-130-0) posted similar numbers and it seems likely the Bucs will keep all of these players. Kevin Ogletree, who the coaches got a lot of work this preseason, and though he went without a catch against the ‘Skins, his work (10 catches, 114 yards, 1 TD and 2 catches over 20 yds) is proof that he has nailed down the third receiver role and will work in the slot.
On the defensive side we all heard too much about twists and stunts and not enough pass rush. The Bucs ended the four game frame by allowing the most points of any team (115 if you care to know), and while the passing totals are not atrocious (869 total yards, 217 per game), they don’t tell us much since CB Darrelle Revis did not play and the Bucs, like every team, did not game plan and stuck to a vanilla defense most of the time.
What is a little more telling is the emergence of Akeem Spence, who looked solid and like somebody who can provide nice depth, something everyone was concerned about for this defensive line. Veteran Trevor Scott had four sacks, mostly in garbage time, but he should make the final cut. Steven Means and William Gholston performed well-enough to provide backup bookends at DE. We’ll see if the coaches agree.
Finally, to help keep the Bucs’ 1-3 record in perspective, remember this: last year the Eagles went undefeated in the preseason, Pittsburgh finished atop the NFC North in exhibition games, and along with Chicago and San Diego went 3-1. None of them made the playoffs.