When all was said and done the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2009 NFL season with just three victories. In fact, they did not record their first win until Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers. The teams' spirited 38-28 upset of a playoff caliber team, on the road no less, gave fans a glimpse into what could be if Tampa Bay's young nucleus continues to develop and mature. However, the Bucs would not win again until they notched back to back victories against the Seahawks and Saints in Week 15 and 16.
On offense the bright spots included Cadillac Williams and Kellen Winslow, as well as the emergence of Josh Freeman. Williams proved that he could stay healthy and productive for an entire NFL season, while Winslow did nothing to diminish his status as one of the games most talented receiving tight-ends. Josh Freeman finished with a quarterback rating of just 59.8, but he displayed the raw ability that made him a first round selection and the franchise quarterback.
Defensively Barrett Ruud continued to excel, while Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber remain solid at the cornerback position.
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Tampa Bay addressed a huge need when they drafted Gerald McCoy third overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. McCoy was regarded as one of this year's top defensive tackle prospects, and he is expected to make an immediate impact on the Buccaneers defensive line.
While he possesses the strength to hold the point of attack against the run, he excels at using his quickness to penetrate into opponent's backfields. His size and athleticism should allow McCoy to terrorize opposing offenses for years to come.
Joining him on the interior of Tampa Bay's defensive line will be Brian Price from UCLA. He has all of the physical tools necessary to succeed, and he along with McCoy should make for an imposing duo in the middle of the Buccaneer's defense.
Hoping to shore up a lackluster receiving core, the team also drafted two wide-outs. They actually moved up to the 2nd round in order to select Arrelious Benn, a receiver known for his impressive size and the ability to run after the catch. His addition will give Freeman a reliable target who can go over the middle of the field.
In the 4th round they took a chance on Mike Williams, the troubled playmaker from Syracuse. Concerns over Williams' character caused a drop in his draft stock, despite his tremendous talent. If he comes in with a positive attitude, he should give them a viable deep threat.
Tampa Bay lost special teams captain Will Allen, and punter Josh Bidwell. The departure of these two important special teams players could have a negative impact on the unit's performance.
Number one wide receiver Antonio Bryant, has also left the club. Bryant was often productive during his stay with the team, but he suffered from the lingering effects of a knee injury in 2009. His declining production gave the team an opportunity to get younger at the position.
Also gone from the club are two starters from last season's defensive line, Chris Hovan and Jimmy Wilkerson.
2010 Questions and Answers
Will Barrett Ruud receive a long-term contract? Ruud was given a 1st and 3rd round tender this off-season, but the team has yet to sign the standout middle linebacker to a multi-year agreement. The 27 year old has certainly played well enough to earn a commitment from the Buccaneers, but the offer has yet to materialize. This could be his last season in Tampa Bay if the team does not step up to the plate and take care of Ruud.
Will Josh Freeman continue to progress? Perhaps no player will have a bigger influence on the future of the franchise than quarterback Josh Freeman. The nature of the NFL is such that you need a very good quarterback to have consistent success. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but Tampa Bay's best shot at becoming relevant in 2010 is for Freeman to have a breakout season.
Will Gerald McCoy and Brian Price shore up the Buccaneers porous run defense? Nobody could have been happier than MLB Barrett Ruud when the club selected not one but two top flight defensive tackle prospects with their first two selections in the 2010 NFL Draft. This was a huge weakness in 2009, and if these two rookies can live up to the hype you could see the entire defense improve as a consequence.
Can Cadillac Williams stay healthy for a second consecutive season? Williams has always been talented, and when he's been healthy he's been productive, but unfortunately his career has been marred by injury up to this point. If his body allows him, Williams should be a big part of a resurgent Buccaneers offense.
Tampa Ba y is not to be taken lightly, as they proved last season that they are capable of pulling the upset. However, this looks to me like a game the San Francisco 49ers should be able to win, especially at home.
The Buccaneers often struggled in pass protection last season, and if San Francisco's pass-rush by committee can return to it's 2009 form they should be able to get some pressure on the young Josh Freeman.
It will be interesting to see how Tampa Bay's rush defense improves, if Frank Gore and company are able to run wild in the secondary then this should be an emphatic victory for the home team.