Yardbarker Horiz

Friday, January 1, 2010

Buccaneer Building Blocks: Offense

The 2009 Buccaneers are one of the youngest teams in the NFL.  Twenty-seven players (a.k.a. half) of the Buccaneers 53-man roster has less than 3 years of NFL experience.  Tampa Bay also played a rugged schedule.  With a 10-player 2010 draft ahead the team figures to not age much during the upcoming offseason.  This means the inexperience will remain if the new draft picks are impact players and find their way onto the depth chart.

Although there are plenty of exceptions, young teams generally have to make the playoffs and lose before they make the playoffs and win.  Said another way, teams with veterans who have been to the playoffs do better in playoff games than young teams who have been to the playoffs.

Assuming all this it follows that a realistic target for a deep-playoff-run-caliber-team is probably 2012 or 2013 for this franchise.  The time to prepare for that run is now.

For the record, a winning record could happen next year and nothing says the team can't achieve ahead of schedule.  I'm just following the probabilities.

The average NFL career lasts just 3.5 years.  So three years from now (2012/2013) Tampa Bay will (probably) rely on players who have less than 5 years experience today.  It is important to note that a 5 year vet now (that is, after the 2009 season) could be an 8 year player with some nagging injuries in three years.  Also note this does not imply that all players over 5 years of experience in 2009 will be done and gone by 2012 (can Jeff Faine have an 11 year career?  Sure, but that's another 50 games playing on the interior line).  Again, it's just weighing the probabilities.

To build a crystal ball for a look three years ahead, I took the most recent Buccaneers team depth chart and roster (both of which have been a moving target all year) and added the players from IR since they are generally under contract.  I ignored players on the practice squad as they are under a less-binding contract structure.  This provides a glimpse of the "core" of the offense.  These are the players which will determine how quickly the Buccaneers get back to the playoffs:

WR - Maurice Stovall (4th year), Mario Urrita (1st year), Terrance Nunn (0th year/rookie)
LT - Donald Penn (4), James Lee (2)
LG - Jeremy Zuttah (2),  Arron Sears (3), Shawn Murphy (2)
C - Johnathan Compas (0)
RG - Davin Joseph (4)
RT - Jeremy Trueblood (4), Demar Dotson (0), Xavier Fulton (0)
WR - Sammie Straughter (0),  Brian Clark (3)
TE - Ryan Purvis (0)
QB - Josh Freeman (0), Josh Johnson (2), Rudy Carpenter (0)
RB - Clifton Smith (2), Kareem Huggins (1)
FB - Byron Storer (3), Chris Pressley (0)
PK - Conner Barth (2)

NOTE:  Tackle Demar Dotson has spent some time at TE but has yet to catch a pass and may only be getting used as an extra blocker at that position.

Big contributors which might be gone include:
Jeff Faine (C, 7th season(2009)) - some linemen have very long careers, but serious injury and wear and tear can catch up to you quickly on the line.
Kellen Winslow (TE, 6th season(2009)) - injured more than once before he got to Tampa, Winslow may have a long career by the fact of how much time was missed early in his career.  On the flip side, a re-injury could be devastating.
Carnell Williams (RB, 5th season(2009)) - Like Winslow, Williams has missed parts of more than one year.  However, two reconstructed knees can't hold up as long as two healthy ones.  Nevertheless, he could be around for several more years because he's splitting time in the backfield.
Derrick Ward (RB, 6th season(2009)) - He should be around for a while as he has pretty much split time for several years now.

Is that young core possibly a playoff-caliber offense?  If not, where does it need to be upgraded/updated with draft picks or free agents?
The offensive line is young, has been playing together for a couple years, and performs well.  It is certainly a playoff caliber unit and it certainly will be a strength going forward.  One hole in the armor was revealed when Jeff Faine went down early in the 2009 season.  The lack of depth required bringing in Sean Mahan to fill in.  Should the Buccaneers draft a center?  Should they find one in Free Agency?  Is Marc Dile (South Florida rookie), who has physical size similar to Faine, a future center prospect or has Compas progressed to a point where only additional depth is needed?  Can any of the reserve guards play center?  Finally, is Aaron Sears healthy and able to continue his football career?

Wide Receiver actually looks pretty good.  Straughter and Stovall have had good games and have become involved in many aspects of the game as the 2009 season has progressed.  Brian Clark has had some moments as well.  Only two questions here:  can they continue to improve?  Does Tampa Bay need more depth at this position?

Running Back is well stocked and young.  If just one of the current backs (Williams, Ward, or Graham) has a longer career it is certainly a playoff caliber unit and matches up perfectly with the young offensive line.

Quarterback also seems well stocked.  Both Joshes have both gotten playing experience and Josh Freeman has had full games where he played very well with numerous flashes of what is still to come.  Carpenter brings accuracy and removes all pressure to make moves at this position this offseason.

The tight end position is a big unknown.  Purvis spent all of 2009 on the practice squad and so is a complete unknown.  In 2009, Kellen Winslow set yardage and receptions records at this position.  This is a position of need -- possibly in need of two more players for the 2010 training camp.  This assumes that Demar Dotson has taken snaps at TE for blocking and not for pass catching.

Placekicker Conner Barth has shown a good leg but also some inconsistancy.  There will probably be routine competition at this position until someone can secure it hands down.  Veteran kickers are generally available year round in free agency so no depth is needed here nor does youth have to be served.

So, with a tip of the hat to the 2009 offseason acquisitions (Freeman, Winslow, Ward, Straughter), it appears that the offense has a strong nucleus of players to build around.  While there are not pressing needs, if a high caliber center, tight end (or two), or wide receiver is available in free agency (must be  young) or is the best player available at some point during the draft it would solidify the young offensive core of the Buccaneers.  This half of the team is well positioned to get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back into the playoffs in the near future.

See also:  Updated with 2010 Practice Squad Signings

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