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Bucs offense on a record pace

Even if they fall short of earning a spot in the postseason, this could become a record-breaking season on offense for the Bucs.

Doug Martin already has broken the franchise rookie rushing record with 1,234 yards, surpassing the 1,178 of Cadillac Williams in 2005.

If Martin averages 103.7 yards over the final three games, he will run down the overall franchise record of 1,544 yards set by James Wilder in 1984.

Vincent Jackson leads the Bucs with 56 catches for 1,145 yards and is taking aim at the franchise yards record held by Mark Carrier, who had 1,422 in 1989. He must average 92.7 yards to break it.

Finally, the Bucs have never had a 4,000-yard passer. Josh Freeman, currently at 3,192, can do so by averaging 269.3 yards against the Saints, Rams and Falcons. He must average 206.7 to surpass Brad Johnson's franchise record of 3,811 set in 2003.

THIRD AND MISSING: Watching the Bucs struggle during the first half against the Eagles last week, including going 1-for-8 on third down, you had to wonder if Freeman could use a more physical slot receiver than Tiquan Underwood.

Freeman missed some receivers, and he must improve on short and intermediate throws.

But coach Greg Schiano said the Bucs present other inside options for Freeman in those situations, including Jackson and Mike Williams.

"Tiquan lines up in there, but Vince lines up in there. Mike lines up in there and (TE Dallas Clark)," Schiano said. "So we can format it any way we want. And the things we ask Ti to do in there lend towards his skill set.

"I don't think we're asking him to do any of the things that a traditional slot might do — muscling guys — because that isn't his game. But he is fast, and he's elusive. So we try to utilize his skills when he is in there and also when he is outside."

RED BARRON: The Bucs remain happy with the play of rookie S Mark Barron, the seventh overall pick in April. He has been a big reason why Tampa Bay's defense is first in the NFL against the run.

However, Barron has struggled, at times, in coverage. He blew an assignment against the Eagles and failed to make plays on the ball during critical situations.

But Schiano preaches patience.

"He's also making some plays that not many rookies make," Schiano said. "You're going to make some mistakes. There are some veteran guys that will make mistakes.

"He's learning that this is different and the skill people you have to cover at this level, they're the elite people in the world at what they do. But overall, I think he's good. He's a level-as-you-go guy, and he'll keep getting better."

HAWAIIAN PUNCH: DE Michael Bennett isn't bashful about letting everyone know he would like to earn a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. After recording his ninth sack of the season against the Eagles, Bennett did a hula dance. The Pro Bowl is played in Honolulu.

"He's just letting everybody know what his goal is," Bucs DT Gerald McCoy said. "I think he's just having fun. He put in a lot of hard work.

"It's not easy to get to a quarterback in this league. So when you do and you've had the success he's had this year, just have fun with it. I think it's cool."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

Bucs offense on a record pace 12/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 3:31am]

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