TAMPA — The Bucs finished the season with 13 players on injured reserve, some of them among their most valuable. Eight were starters at the time they sustained their season-ending injuries, leaving the depth at key positions depleted.
As a result, this otherwise quiet portion of the offseason represents some of the most critical days of the 2011 season, which — dependent on the outcome of the league's labor squabble — is eight months away.
Getting those players healthy is one of the team's highest priorities, especially given the serious nature of some of the injuries.
The good news: General manager Mark Dominik, says everything is proceeding on schedule, with most of the hurt players on track to participate in offseason workouts to varying extents.
"I've been really encouraged by everything (head trainer) Todd Toriscelli's told me about the progression guys are making right now," Dominik said. "That's encouraging that all those guys will be back and participate as much as they can."
Remember, last offseason is when the team really began to jell. It's when WR Arrelious Benn (torn ACL) started getting in synch with his quarterback and S Cody Grimm (broken leg) began learning a defense in which he eventually excelled.
The remaining starters lost to injury: LB Quincy Black (broken arm), CB Aqib Talib (torn hip tendon), DT Gerald McCoy (torn biceps), C Jeff Faine (torn triceps), G Davin Joseph (broken foot) and DE Kyle Moore (shoulder).
Another critical injury is the one to reserve DT Brian Price. The 2010 second-round draft pick sustained a pelvic fracture that required surgery. After months of painful attempts to practice last offseason, Price had the problem discovered after the start of the regular season. He was robbed of nearly his whole rookie year.
Given the apparent delicate nature of the injury, Dominik was asked whether there is long-term concern for Price.
"We don't believe so," he said. "We think it's taken care of."
If all these players are on track to get back on the field in some capacity this offseason, the Bucs will benefit. Imagine Grimm spending a whole offseason with the first-team defense, something he did not do last year. Picture McCoy having a season's worth of film to assess before suiting up for workouts.
Benn, whose injury occurred in Week 16, is clearly behind the others. It seems unlikely he would see any action until training camp. But for the most part, the Bucs could soon have some key pieces back where they're needed most:
On the field.
JOSEPH'S FATE: Joseph, a first-round draft pick in 2006, will soon become an unrestricted free agent. But don't expect the Bucs to let him walk without making an effort to retain him.
Then again, we don't know how much flexibility is built into Dominik's philosophy of predetermining a player's value and proceeding accordingly.
"We have to look at each guy individually and kind of figure out what we're going to allocate for that position and for that player specifically," he said. "We're just at the start of that now."
Joseph's bargaining position won't be helped by him coming off a season that was not one of his best. Dominik applauded his performance, but it can be argued Joseph wasn't as dominant as he was in past seasons.
TANARD UPDATE: The Bucs aren't allowed to have contact with suspended FS Tanard Jackson, but word is Jackson is taking the necessary steps to be ready if commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates him in September. That's when Jackson's yearlong substance-abuse suspension is scheduled to end.
Dominik refuses to commit to anything, but don't be surprised if the Bucs extend open arms to Jackson, whose rights they own for another year.
FAMILIAR FACES: Former special teams coach Rich Bisaccia attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last week with his new team, the Chargers. He watched workouts from the stands with, among others, former offensive line coach Bill Muir (now with the Chiefs) and current Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
For the record, the Chargers called Bisaccia, not the other way around.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]