An offseason progress report
You've probably been wondering where we've been around here. Well, when you cover the NFL 24/7, you have to take a break at those precious few times when things slow down. When you start sleeping with a BlackBerry under your pillow, you're really overdue for some time off.
But I digress. Let's talk football.
We are pretty much done with free agency, for all intents and purposes. The draft also is in the books. So, now seems like a good time to ask: where did the Bucs improve most this offseason?
They addressed several areas of the team, notably the defensive line, running back (Warrick Dunn), tight end, offensive line and receiver (sort of). There's no obvious answer because what the Bucs did this offseason was more tweaking than overhauling. But it's still worth considering.
I would argue the Bucs did their best work on the offensive line, where they scooped up the top free-agent center, Jeff Faine, and added what I think could be a very valuable third-round draft pick, do-it-all Jeremy Zuttah of Rutgers. Faine should be a substantial upgrade over former center John Wade and don't be surprised if Zuttah sees the field a lot this fall. Hard to say where because he plays all over the place, but he's learning center and is quite adept at playing guard and tackle, too.
While all that is very nice, it probably doesn't excite you a whole lot. I'm with you. But I can't make a case that the Bucs are a whole lot better at tight end because Ben Troupe is a couple years removed from a half-decent season and, well, what do we really know about John Gilmore?
I would try to argue the running back corps is substantially better with the addition of Dunn, but the jury is still out, if you ask me. Dunn is at a stage of his career where the potential for a dropoff is huge. Plus, he'll be best utilized in small doses, which might limit his overall impact.
On the defensive line, the Bucs obviously felt they needed to upgrade, thus their interest in defensive end Jared Allen, who was traded from Kansas City to Minnesota. What they did was cut Greg Spires, bring back Kevin Carter, signed Marques Douglas and Jimmy Wilkerson and drafted fourth-rounder Dre Moore. I'm certainly not ready to proclaim that a better lineup than last year, though I suspect it'll be something of an upgrade.
And then we come to receiver, where we must reserve judgment until the season starts. There are too many questions. The newcomers are the embattled Antonio Bryant and second-round pick Dexter Jackson. Bryant has to keep his nose clean and return to form after a year off while Jackson must prove he can have an impact beyond special teams. Plus, the Bucs are relying somewhat heavily on Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall having bounce-back seasons, which is a bit of a risky proposition.
As a side note, I think we can all agree that the secondary is better with the addition of first-round pick Aqib Talib. It's just that no one was losing sleep over that area of the team to begin with. I did, however, think it was a good pick, even if it didn't address an immediate need.
So, the Bucs clearly have tightened some screws this offseason, which probably makes them a better team. How much better? That's up for debate.