It's a big offseason for these five Bucs
As the Bucs’ offseason program continues, it’s a key time for development both on the field and in the meeting room.
But there are some players in particular who stand to benefit from good efforts this offseason. While all players can make improvements during this period, there are some players for whom it’s an absolutely critical time.
Here are five players we think can make major improvements with a strong offseason:
* TE Luke Stocker: It remains to be seen how much the Bucs intend to use Stocker in their passing game. But unless newcomer Tom Crabtree, a free agent signing from the Packers is a quick study with a new offense and outperforms Stocker, the starting tight end duties likely will belong to this 2011 fourth-round pick.
Stocker’s resume’ is not impressive; he’s caught just 28 passes in two seasons (Crabtree has just 18 catches in three seasons). But two things have primarily held Stocker back: injuries and opportunity.
During his rookie season, he suffered a hip injury on the first day of training camp, missed the whole preseason and never truly got going. Also that year, he played behind Kellen Winslow, a favorite target of quarterback Josh Freeman. In 2012, Stocker was in a similar predicament, with Dallas Clark ahead of him on the depth chart. He battled injuries last year as well.
When OTAs begin next week, it’s presumed Stocker will have the chance to line up with the first offense. What he does with that opportunity is up to him.
* DE Da’Quan Bowers: Did you realize that despite entering his third season, this could be the first complete offseason of Bowers’ career?
His knee surgery before the draft in 2011 not only negatively impacted his draft status, it also limited him once he joined the Bucs (and the NFL lockout left him unable to rehab with the team, too). Keep in mind he played only sparingly at the outset of his rookie season because the team took a cautious approach with his knee.
And we all know what happened around this time last year. Bowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon in offseason conditioning drills, making him a shell of himself once he returned in October.
So, this is a chance for Bowers to consistently work with his coaches on the field and to engage in full-team offseason workouts, without impediment, for the first time. This offers a chance for real improvement, whereas Bowers for much of the past two seasons was playing catch-up.
* DT Gerald McCoy: McCoy’s situation resembles Bowers’ in that injuries have been a factor for him in the past two offseasons. He suffered torn biceps in 2010 and 2011 and in the following offseasons was limited by those injuries.
McCoy’s breakout season in 2012 suggests he’s poised for more success. And that starts now, in the heat and humidity.
And here’s another area in which McCoy can benefit from being involved more this offseason: He can further establish himself as a leader on the field and in the locker room. That’s a role he has embraced as he already is carrying himself with a more serious demeanor.
* QB Josh Freeman: You might assume Freeman’s appearance on this list is related to the pressure he’s under to perform more consistently in 2013, the final year of his contract.
But there’s a more specific reason. This year is Freeman’s second in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s intricate system. If you don’t think Freeman will benefit greatly from an offseason of work in this offense, then you don’t appreciate the difficult circumstances he’s faced in the past.
When Sullivan arrived last year, he was Freeman’s third offensive coordinator in four seasons. Continuity is important with any offense, but it’s vital in one like Sullivan’s because of the number of reads quarterbacks and receivers are required to make.
The numerous miscommunications and missed reads we saw from Freeman and his receivers last season should be reduced significantly in 2013.
* LB Dekoda Watson: Is he merely a solid special teams player and good backup linebacker or does Watson have what it takes to be a starter? We’ll soon find out.
The strong-side linebacker position needs to be filled and Watson will be one of the candidates. He’s entering his fourth season, and he clearly has talent. But if he’s not going to grab hold of his opportunity, one wonders if he’ll ever assume a larger role.
Watson is a true asset on special teams, with his knack for blocking kicks and making open field tackles greatly appreciated by coaches. But he’s got a chance to win this job, if he can beat out free agent signing Jonathan Casillas and a handful of others.
The notion that position battles begin in training camp is false. They are initiated, technically, during OTAs.