It was an ugly and disappointing season in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers got off to a slow start and then completely collapsed, largely throwing in the towels late in the year.
But the cupboard is not completely bare. With Josh Freeman and several skill position players to build around on offense, this team could rebound in 2012 with the right new coach and some defensive pieces.
Zoneblitz: Was firing Raheem Morris the right move one season after nearly making the playoffs and earning consideration for being coach of the year?
Patrik Nohe: Yes. Morris was a very likable guy and a great interview but unfortunately he lost the team. When you lose ten straight and cease being competitive the writing is on the wall. The Bucs did Morris few favors, handing him the league’s youngest roster for two years running and letting the majority of the veteran leaders walk in free agency. Still, the Bucs have a lot of talent and while Morris will one day be a good head coach, the team can’t afford to let him grow into the role. Without any real locker-room leaders, the next head coach needs to be able to rule with an iron fist.
Zoneblitz: No team I had higher expectations for in 2011 fell apart more than Tampa. What happened that caused this team to struggle so greatly the last half of the season?
Nohe: Injuries, a lack of confidence and a lack of an off-season all combined to really tank the Bucs season. There were really too many problems to list. Everything from the tackling to the offensive play-calling was off over the final weeks of the season. Believe me, the Glazers didn’t want to fire Raheem Morris but there was so little positive to take from each game by the end of the year that they had no other choice.
Zoneblitz: From afar one of the things that happened was young, offensive talent like Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount seemed to regress. Was this the case and what do you see happening with them going forward?
Nohe: They really didn’t, they both played at about the same level they did last year, the problem was they didn’t develop. Blount eventually fell out of favor because of fumbling, but before that the team was trying to force him into a role as an every down back. Unfortunately, without an off-season to work on a lot of those skills, Blount had to cram it all into a condensed camp. It was too much to ask, I don’t think Blount will ever be an every down guy, I think he’s best used as a power runner who comes out on passing downs, but regardless asking him to learn passing routes and blitz pick-ups while progressing as a runner was a lot. He still showed flashes, but he didn’t have the big year fans were hoping.
Mike Williams was the same guy, last year he caught about half of his targets (just a shade over 50 percent) and struggled with drops and fumbling. Fortunately, last year Williams covered that up by catching a number of his longer targets and making some pretty impressive plays to get into the highlights. This year Williams did the same thing, he just didn’t have as many of the big catches or grab those balls in the end zone. He still caught just over half his targets, he still had issues with drops and fumbles. The issue was more production than progression. I really wouldn’t be worried about either. The bigger issue was play-calling and coaching (or lack thereof).
Zoneblitz: With Blount, Aqib Talib and Albert Haynesworth, there are some guys on the roster who have dealt with character concerns over the years. Did that play a role? Will they be back?
Nohe: Haynesworth may be, I would be surprised if Talib is. The issues isn’t guys with spotty histories, it’s selfish guys. This is a very selfish team, they are not developing the sort of winning culture you see in the locker rooms of the league’s perennial contenders, and it’s a me-first type of culture. That’s something the next head coach and GM Mark Dominik need to get a hold of. Haynesworth really hasn’t been an issue in Tampa, Talib will likely not be back.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see in a new coach?
Nohe: A disciplinarian, a guy who has experience, who brings in good coordinators and will at least bring back an air of professionalism and accountability to the team. This team needs to learn what it means to be pros, once they get into that mindset, I think a lot of the other issues will iron themselves out. There isn’t a lack of talent on the Bucs, there is a culture issue and a lack of focus.
Zoneblitz: Is Josh Freeman the answer at quarterback?
Nohe: Yes, he had a bad year under a bad coordinator but make no mistake about it, Freeman is the guy. He has all the tools, but more than that he has a ton of moxie. He gets better as the game goes on, he’s relatively fearless and as soon as he learns to reel in some of the bravado (he takes a lot of chances), he’s going to be a very good QB.
Zoneblitz: What’s going to happen this offseason with likely future Hall of Famer Ronde Barber?
Nohe: I wouldn’t be surprised one way or another with Barber, he can still play but he’s also really getting up there in age. He’ll always be welcome in Tampa, and the Bucs are thin at corner so they could use him back. But ultimately he may decide more rebuilding is not what he wants to come back for.
Zoneblitz: What do you think the Bucs should do in the draft and free agency to improve the team?
Nohe: The team needs help at outside linebacker, safety, corner and defensive tackle, not to mention they could upgrade at left tackle and center. You can’t get all that in the draft, but I don’t expect the Bucs to be big spenders either. The new salary floor doesn’t kick in until 2013 and if you read between the lines with the Glazers and Dominik, I doubt they’ll be spending until they are required to.
If I’m Tampa, I’m taking that fifth pick and grabbing Morris Claiborne or trading down. A lot depends on what happens at the top with QB’s, if Robert Griffith falls to five then you’ll see a bunch of QB-hungry teams start looking to move up and Tampa should be able to leverage that pick into three or four. They aren’t going to sign one guy, or draft one guy and get over the hump, so it makes more sense to accumulate picks.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything you would like to add?
Nohe: The Bucs are actually a lot better than 4-12, this year was a perfect storm or circumstances which rendered the young team a huge setback, but I think they’ll be better off for this. I don’t think any team in football suffered more from the lockout than the Bucs, who, as the youngest team in the NFL, could have really used the extra coaching, but they are set up well for 2012.
They have a valuable draft pick, a last place schedule, they have a young team and they have a newfound sense of humility that comes from thinking you’ve accomplished something one year before getting smacked around the next. This team ought to be eager to improve, they have a lot to prove and they really do have a number of very talented young players on the roster.
For instance, with a little bit of protection from the O-Line you’d be shocked how much better the receiving corps will look next year.
Don’t sleep on the Bucs 2012.