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Promise showing in Tampa Bay Buccaneers' young weapons

GLENDALE, Ariz. — They are too young for their highlights. They are newcomers in an old man's league. Logic tells you they cannot keep it up.

And then Josh Freeman conquers another fourth quarter, and you can see the future.

They just got here. They do not know all the things they do not know. History suggests there are dues to be paid.

And then LeGarrette Blount stampedes another safety, and you see greatness in them.

Every week, there is another weapon, and every week, there are more highlights, and every week, the offense of the Bucs dares you to think about how good these kids can be when they grow up. They are Freeman's arm and Blount's thighs and Mike Williams' electricity and Arrelious Benn's hands. And together, they might just blossom into the finest offense the Tampa Bay Bucs have ever produced.

Yes, there is much to discuss about the Bucs' latest victory. There was the silly sack taken by Freeman, and there was the silly decision to kick a field goal late when it only would have put the Bucs ahead by six, and there was a defense that threatened to turn Derek Anderson into Dan Marino.

Between the collapse and the comeback, there were a dozen moments when it seemed the Bucs had the game wrapped up and a dozen more when it seemed they had given it away.

Still, the underlying message in the Bucs' 38-35 victory over the Cardinals was this:

Man, what kind of offense might the Bucs have once the kids grow up?

Never has there been this kind of explosion, this kind of weaponry, on a Tampa Bay football team. This is a franchise of Lars Tate and Michael Clayton, of Alvin Harper and Randy Hedberg, of second and 9 and third and 11. Throughout the history of the franchise, there have been great defenses, and from time to time, there have been great players scattered across the offense.

But not this many.

And not this good.

And not this young.

Take Sunday's game, for instance. Freeman had a quarterback rating of 121.8, and he had yet another fourth-quarter comeback. Blount ran for 120 yards, including a highlight-reel run when he vaulted a defender and rambled for 48 yards.

Williams had 105 yards receiving, including a 47-yard score. Benn caught a ball that seemed to be overthrown for a 53-yard reception to set up the winning touchdown. The Bucs had five plays of 20 yards or more; there have been months when the Bucs did not have five plays of 20 yards or more.

In other words, there are shooting ranges that don't have this many weapons. And the best thing is you get the feeling they are just getting started.

If you catch yourself thinking about the plays to come, don't worry. Raheem Morris thinks about it, too.

"Every day," the coach said. "Every day we think about this. Hopefully, we can continue to keep this going and ride this wave. These young guys can play together for a long time."

Of course, there remains a lot of growing to do. Old people always say that about young people, don't we? Blount is still learning as he goes. Benn is still catching up. Even Freeman is new. He started his 16th game — the equivalent of one season — Sunday. In those games, the Bucs are 8-8, but 7-3 in Freeman's past 10 starts.

"We're a ways away," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "There isn't one member of our offense that would say we have a great offense. But we have potential. If these guys keep growing, you can't help but think about what they could be in 2-3 years."

Or, perhaps, in next week's game against Atlanta. That's the best part of these kids. They aren't just about the future. They're good enough to compete right now. They're a lot of the reason the Bucs have cobbled together a 5-2 start. (For the record: No, I still don't think the Bucs are the best team in the NFC, as Morris repeated Sunday. But I'll go this far: It sounded less outlandish this week than it did last week.)

How good are these kids? For the answer, ask yourself a few questions.

For instance: When have the Bucs ever had a quarterback such as Freeman? Doug Williams? Maybe. Who else?

He is still only 22, and yet, there is something very old and very wise behind his eyes. He finished off his sixth official fourth-quarter comeback Sunday. That doesn't count, however, last year's games against Miami and Atlanta, when Freeman led his team back into the lead in the final moments then watched as the other team drove for the win against the Bucs defense. Think about that. In half of his games, Freeman has given his team the lead in the fourth quarter.

And while you're asking, when have the Bucs ever had a receiver such as Williams? Keyshawn Johnson? Joey Galloway? Even if they were still in their primes, would you trade Williams for either?

And while we're on the subject, when have the Bucs had a running back with the combination of skills of Blount? Granted, the Bucs have had fine some backs, Dunn and Alstott and Bell and Wilder, but no one combined speed and power as much as Blount. Once he gets to the last half of his playbook, the guy could be something.

"If we keep working, this can be crazy," Williams said.

"The question is what can we not do," Blount said.

"Great," Benn said. "We can be great."

"If I can grow with these guys, we can be something special," Freeman said.

It is too soon, of course.

They are too new for too much praise. Other players have faded after quick starts. And, yes, that could happen with these guys, too.

Still, you will be watching tomorrow, won't you?

Me, too.

Promise showing in Tampa Bay Buccaneers' young weapons 10/31/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 6:06am]
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