The 2012 season was full of ups and downs for Tampa Bay. Josh Freeman was great at times but then had stretches of futility. The run defense was as good as any in the league, but the pass defense was equally as bad. The team won four in a row and five of six between mid-October and mid-November, but then lost five in a row after that stretch.
Overall, the 7-9 finish in Greg Schiano’s first season as head coach was an improvement over 2011 and it should provide Bucs fans with plenty of reasons for optimism heading into 2013, but there are enough questions left unanswered where there is some trepidation, as well.
The Bucs acted quickly in free agency, pouncing on San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson to start shoring up one of their main needs. Steve Isbitts, co-founder of JoeBucsFan.com, talked with Zoneblitz about that move and what he thinks the team has to do the rest of this offseason to take the next step forward.
Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on Greg Schiano after his first season in Tampa?
Isbitts: Schiano did a solid job launching his program, but the question is whether he’ll learn from his mistakes. Whether Schiano is a good game coach is still an unknown. The season finale victory at Atlanta left fans with a lot of hope.
Zoneblitz: There were games where Josh Freeman looked like a future hall of famer and games where he looked like he was mediocre. What’s your impression of his development as a quarterback?
Isbitts: Freeman has regressed mentally since his great 2010 season. The second season in this offense should help him. With his contract expiring after the 2013 season, this is his last chance to show he can be a consistent Buccaneer.
Zoneblitz: Doug Martin came in as a rookie and really caught on about mid-season. What is the ceiling for him? Can his game get better?
Isbitts: Martin actually should be even better this season with the return of Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Martin started slowly last season and I wouldn’t expect to see that again. He’s the real deal. Look for him to get more balls thrown his way in 2013.
Zoneblitz: How about the rest of the offense – what can be done to further augment that side of the ball?
Isbitts: It all comes back to Freeman being consistent. The Bucs have loads of weapons. No quarterback should need more to take a team to the playoffs. Tight end is a question mark. Dallas Clark might look to move on in free agency and third-year man Luke Stocker has only shown flashes in the passing game, but he hasn’t had a load of opportunities.
Zoneblitz: The pass defense was a disaster. What happened in 2012 and what needs to be done to fix it?
Isbitts: All-Pro Dashon Goldson signed at safety will have the Bucs more physical and versatile. Look for Goldson and Mark Barron to be interchangeable parts. The Bucs need cornerbacks in the worst way.
It’s dreadful right now. The Bucs will sign at least one legitimate starter and draft a corner. If Ronde Barber returns for his 17th season, he’ll compete for a starting cornerback job and/or play nickel back.
Zoneblitz: There have been rumors of interest in Darrelle Revis. Do you think he’s a possibility for the Bucs?
Isbitts: Revis is a real possibility, but giving up a first round pick for him is very risky given his knee is still recovering from ACL surgery. If the price is right, the Bucs will pull the trigger.
Zoneblitz: The run defense was pretty good statistically. Was it a truly top-ranked unit or was it ranked among the best in the league because the team was easy to pass against?
Isbitts: It was a legitimately stout run defense. They did a lot of run-blitzing, but defensive end Michael Bennett was an absolute beast against the run, as was nose tackle Roy Miller. And Gerald McCoy made his first Pro Bowler. Rookie linebacker Lavonte David was the X-factor. He’s not great in pass coverage, but is a very instinctive, quick tackler.
Zoneblitz: About halfway through the season I was thinking the Bucs were a dark horse playoff team. I whiffed on that call, but how far do you think they are from being a legit contender?
Isbitts: That depends what you mean by contender. This all comes back to the quarterback. The Bucs are a playoff team without question if Josh Freeman is consistent.
Zoneblitz: Who on the roster right now do you see as potential breakout candidates for 2013?
Isbitts: I think you’ll see vastly improved Mark Barron in 2013. If they keep LeGarrette Blount and commit to getting him involved, he could be a surprise contributor.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Bucs do in the draft and free agency?
Isbitts: I’m not a draft guy before free agency is finished. For me, the Bucs absolutely have to grab starting cornerbacks for the 2013 season in free agency. They can’t bank on scoring one in the draft. That’s potential suicide in the NFC South.