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Bucs have a lot of offseason work lying ahead

Bucs sack leader Michael Bennett, pressuring Carson Palmer, is a free agent.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Bucs sack leader Michael Bennett, pressuring Carson Palmer, is a free agent.

TAMPA — The clock inside the locker room at One Buc Place that ticks down the days, hours and minutes to the next Bucs game was shut off Monday morning. But that doesn't mean the Bucs have all the time in the world to fix their problems before next season.

There's plenty to do when you go 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Know who else missed the playoffs the past five seasons? The Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders and Rams. That's the sorry company the Bucs are keeping these days.

So, yeah, the Bucs have work to do. The mission for GM Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano this offseason is to turn this mess into a playoff team.

"We got to be honest with ourselves and say, 'How are we going to get better?' '' Schiano said Monday. "And there are so many ways to do that. I think any organization that just resets the clock and starts again doesn't evaluate. Without evaluation there is no progress. We really have to do that and that's the big step that I'm really looking forward to.''

What exactly do Dominik and Schiano have to do in the offseason? Here are the first five things that come to mind.

1. Get the best cornerback available in the draft

The Bucs had one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history and it was headed in that direction well before they traded Aqib Talib and lost Eric Wright to injury and suspension. When you have a secondary with names like Gorrer and Gaitor and Biggers, you're going to give up 300-yard passing games as a matter of routine.

Getting cornerbacks through free agency can get rather pricey and this offseason's free-agent cornerback pool is not expected to be deep anyway. That means the Bucs need to address corner in the draft.

The Bucs have the No. 13 pick and early indications are that no cornerback is worth taking that high. Doesn't matter. The Bucs need to reach for a Dee Milliner from Alabama or a Johnthan Banks from Mississippi State or Xavier Rhodes from FSU.

Either that or go into next season relying on names such as Gorrer, Gaitor and Biggers again.

2. Re-sign defensive end Michael Bennett

Bennett led the Bucs in sacks this season with nine and has 13 in the past two seasons. He's a free agent, but because Da'Quan Bowers' health is always a question, the Bucs need to do what they can to re-sign their best pass rusher, as well as a player who takes pressure off defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

"I think that should be one of the first priorities,'' McCoy said about re-signing Bennett. "He was great for us this year. It would be huge to us getting to where we want to be.''

Bennett won't come cheap, but he sounds like he wants to be here.

"I want to be back,'' Bennett said. "I've been here a long time and I want to be back.''

3. Find a backup to challenge QB Josh Freeman

Dan Orlovsky was Freeman's backup this season and, let's face it, Orlovsky was never a threat to take Freeman's job. Considering Freeman's somewhat sluggish development, maybe it's time for the Bucs to consider bringing in a quarterback to give Freeman some competition.

No, not a Michael Vick or Alex Smith, neither of whom would be interested in starting off as a backup to Freeman. But maybe another veteran or perhaps a mid-round draft pick. This already seems like it could be in Schiano's plans.

"I do believe in competition at every spot including the quarterback,'' Schiano said. "I want to have as many good football players on our football team as we can at every single position. As much competition as we can create throughout the football team rises the level of everything. It's human nature when there is competition the level rises.''

4. Find a slot receiver

Tiquan Underwood played for Schiano back at Rutgers. He seems like a nice enough guy. And he has the coolest hair in Tampa Bay. But the Bucs need an upgrade here. Underwood, only 6-1 and 183 pounds, just didn't make enough big third-down plays in heavy traffic.

5. Spend some more money

Don't be afraid to spend up to the salary cap, Glazers. The Bucs won 10 games in 2010 and then spent zippo in the offseason. That turned into a four-win season in 2011. Then the Bucs spent more than $50 million in free agency last offseason and the result was seven wins.

Spend some dough this offseason, fix the defense, and maybe when you turn on the clock next fall, you'll be looking forward instead of dreading the moment it reaches all zeroes.

Bucs have a lot of offseason work lying ahead 12/31/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 9:49pm]
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