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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams haven't improved

By now, you might have expected 20 touchdown passes out of Josh Freeman. You might have settled for eight interceptions.

By now, you might have expected 750 yards receiving by Mike Williams. You might have expected seven or eight touchdowns.

By now, you might have expected 800 or so yards rushing from LeGarrette Blount. You certainly would have expected him to carry the ball more than 138 times.

When it comes to the Bucs, you probably expected more. You probably expected better. You probably expected improvement.

For the Bucs, that might be the biggest disappointment of them all.

Who, exactly, is getting better on this team?

Last year, it seemed as if everyone was improving every game. The Bucs were in a race to the growth chart, and every week, the momentum seemed to build. The Bucs were better in Week 16 than in Week 12 and better than in Week 8.

You could see Freeman, passed over by 16 teams in the draft, develop. You could see Williams, the receiver from the fourth round, blossom. You could see Blount, the running back from the waiver wire, hurdle everything in his path. Squint, and you could imagine how these players would feed off of each other in the days to come.

This, however, has been the year of backing up. The Bucs don't look so dangerous, and a year later, the future no longer seems as clear.

As hard as five-game losing streaks are to handle, as difficult as it is for a team to fall short of its goal, this might be the most troubling aspect of all. There simply hasn't been enough delivery on all of the promise.

Start with Freeman. At this time last year, all anyone talked about was his poise and the way he protected the ball. In the preseason, the oddsmakers at Bodog suggested his over-unders should be 3,500 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10½ interceptions.

As predictions go, that has been something of a misfire, too. Freeman already has 16 interceptions and only 12 touchdown passes. His rating (74.6) is 26th among NFL quarterbacks.

Williams? He has caught 52 passes, but his touchdowns are down to two and his per catch average of 11.0 is tied for 182nd in the NFL. He has only 573 yards, far short of the over-under of 1,000 projected by the oddsmaker.

Blount? He has been hot lately, but at 644 yards, he's still 133 short of where he was at this time last season. And remember, he totalled only 30 yards in his first two games in 2010. When you see Blount rolling, doesn't it seem as if he should be higher in the NFL than 16th in rushing? (Bodog posted an over-under of 1,150 yards for Blount.)

Worse than the numbers, however, has been that sense of possibility the three of them brought last year. Remember Seattle, when Freeman threw for five touchdowns and Blount ran for 164 yards? Remember Arizona, when Freeman threw for 267, Blount ran for 120 and Williams caught four passes for 105? They looked young. They looked confident. They looked like they didn't think anyone could slow them down. This year, there hasn't been the same feeling. Or the same production.

Call me crazy, but there still seems to be talent there. I know, I know. When it comes to offense, Tampa Bay has had false sightings before. Remember 2005, when the Bucs went from five wins to 11 and a young trio of Chris Simms, Cadillac Williams and Michael Clayton looked as if they, too, could grow into something special? They didn't partly because of Simms' spleen, Caddy's knees and Clayton's hands.

This year's stalled momentum isn't just because of the triplets, however. The Bucs have tumbled in points allowed (from ninth to 29th), pass defense (ninth to 28th) and total defense (17th to 31st). They remain 30th in sacks.

Sure, there has been improvement here and there. Defensive tackle Brian Price has been better, largely because he was injured for most of last season. Rookie Adrian Clayborn is better than any defensive end the Bucs had a year ago. And cornerback Ronde Barber has been excellent again. You could quibble with another player or two.

Still, there hasn't been enough significant improvement by enough significant players, by enough units or in enough areas. Do the Bucs rush the passer better? Tackle better? Avoid penalties better?

In the games that remain, this needs to be almost as big a goal as winning. The Bucs need to restore the momentum of their young players. Once again, they need to look like a team that is on the verge of something special. They need to look fast. They need to look competitive.

Most of all, they need to look like a team that's going to get better by the next time you see them.

At 4-7, what else is there?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams haven't improved 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 7:05pm]
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