The Buccaneers' seemingly never-ending series of moves during the past year has prompted legitimate questions.
From the release of team icons to puzzling firings, the list is long and varied. So, when we solicited questions from our readers on tampabay.com, predictably, there was hardly a shortage.
We promised we would take a sampling of the more intriguing questions and address them in print. Today, we make good on that pledge.
With training camp getting under way this week, we take a look at some of the things that you, the fans, are curious about.
How come the Bucs haven't stockpiled some talented offensive linemen? Depth is necessary considering holdouts, injuries, poor play, etc.
There really isn't a simple answer. First, here's why the question is so relevant. The Bucs lost Arron Sears due to his personal issues last season, unexpectedly pushing Jeremy Zuttah into the starting lineup at left guard. Then, center Jeff Faine was lost for four weeks because of a triceps injury, delivering another blow. Cast-off Sean Mahan was re-signed to take his place because the team lacked other reliable options.
Though the Bucs have upgraded in other areas, this unit remains largely unchanged. In fact, it has been left a bit exposed again, with left tackle Donald Penn still in a contract holdout and leaning toward staying home when camp starts.
The only addition to speak of came when the team signed former Panthers starter Keydrick Vincent to add depth at guard, and coach Raheem Morris says Vincent will compete with Zuttah in camp. Elsewhere, project Demar Dotson is getting a long look at left tackle, but it's doubtful he's ready to play there full time.
The draft would have been a likely place to find some quality depth, but with so many other needs, the Bucs concentrated on other positions. The best they can hope for is the starters to stay healthy so the lack of depth isn't exposed.
How come the Bucs haven't signed a veteran quarterback, i.e. Jeff Garcia, to help mentor Josh Freeman?
What's odd about the quarterback lineup is that it lacks a passer with extensive NFL experience. In fact, Freeman, with all of 10 appearances, is the most accomplished quarterback on the roster. He's joined by Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter and Jevan Snead, with only Johnson having any experience.
Asked about the unusual approach not to back up a young, developing quarterback with a veteran, Morris maintains that position coach Alex Van Pelt, himself a longtime backup quarterback in the NFL, can provide the mentoring Freeman needs. Morris has also said he believes Johnson has the potential to be a longtime backup to Freeman (although he's only under contract through 2011) and is adept at performing the job despite minimal practice reps.
From the looks of things, don't expect the makeup of the team's quarterback ranks to change any time soon.
Why haven't the Bucs made a more aggressive effort to acquire a defensive end/speed edge rusher? There's no one on the roster (Stylez White isn't consistent) that's a proven or potentially consistent excellent pass rusher.
No, the Bucs did not address defensive end this offseason, with the lone exception of using a seventh-round pick on Erik Lorig from Stanford. But don't think they're oblivious to their lack of a pass rush.
In fact, the decision to use their first two picks in the draft on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price should help the pass rush immensely. Though both are interior linemen, theoretically they will help put more of a strain on the interior of opposing offensive lines, thereby collapsing the pocket from the inside. That means quarterbacks will be forced to move laterally, perhaps into an oncoming defensive end.
If it turns out that there's more of a push from the defensive tackles, White, Kyle Moore and whoever else lines up at defensive end will have more success as they'll see mostly one-on-one matchups. The ends, frankly, didn't benefit much last season from a starting tackle duo of Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan.
Why haven't the Bucs signed Donald Penn to a long-term deal? This will give Freeman stability on his weak side.
It's been a relevant question for a long time, and there still isn't an easy answer. There are probably a couple of reasons.
For one, the Bucs are within their rights to tender the restricted free agent offer of $3.1 million Penn was given. He is hardly the only RFA to be affected by the league's labor mess, one that has delayed unrestricted free agency for more than 200 players. The Bucs are leery about setting a precedent here. Also, general manager Mark Dominik is right to wonder whether Penn will continue to show his current dedication to keeping himself in shape rather than gain more than 40 pounds like last season.
Still, the Bucs are putting themselves in a tough position when you consider that arguably their best offensive lineman is 3,000 miles away in California and showing no intention of showing up any time soon. As the reader mentions, what about Freeman's weak side?
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]