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Tampa Bay Buccaneers still thinking of ways to improve offense

ONE POSSIBLE WAY TO GO: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (94) reaches to make a tackle in a game this season at Ohio State. Kerrigan is one candidate to be drafted No. 20 overall by the Bucs in April, according to at least one mock draft.

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ONE POSSIBLE WAY TO GO: Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (94) reaches to make a tackle in a game this season at Ohio State. Kerrigan is one candidate to be drafted No. 20 overall by the Bucs in April, according to at least one mock draft.

TAMPA — Raheem Morris knows what you're thinking. The Bucs' focus in the draft and free agency needs to be on improving a defense that couldn't stop the run or rush the passer.

Tampa Bay finished 28th in rushing defense (131.7 yards per game) and was 30th in sacks with only 26.

Morris, who doubles as defensive coordinator, can be greedy since that's the side of the ball where the Bucs are so needy.

But Morris says the name of the game is to build around QB Josh Freeman.

While it's true the Bucs have some explosive new weapons in RB LeGarrette Blount, WRs Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and reliable TE Kellen Winslow, keeping the ball in Freeman's hands as much as possible is the goal moving forward.

"It's hard to say because Indy has had what, (11) winning seasons (in the past 12 years)?" Morris said last week while watching practice for the East-West Shrine game in Orlando. "Everybody keeps saying, they need to improve defense, they need to improve defense. Okay, they go draft the two running backs and then they win 12 games. Then they are like, 'All right, here we go. We're going to do defense, then they draft (receivers).

"That's the beauty of myself and (general manager) Mark (Dominik). We understand that we are going to go draft some guys that are going to help us win. If you get the ball back to Free, then we are drafting you for Free. If you catch touchdowns for Free, we are drafting you for Free. It's all about revolving what we do around him."

Morris knows what can happen when teams reach for players on one unit or the other.

He remembers picks like Dexter Jackson (second round in 2008) and S Sabby Piscitelli (second round in '07).

"We don't need any more 'need' drafts," Morris said. "When you go to 'need' drafts, you get bad draft picks. … You want to get dynamic players and try to put those guys in position to win. What did we finish last year against the run (28th)? And we finished 10-6?"

All that said, the Bucs know that early in the draft they will be in position to address their two biggest needs: defensive end and linebacker. Tampa Bay selects 20th overall, and some early mock drafts have them taking Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan, who led the nation in tackles for loss (26) and had 121/2 sacks, Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn or OLB Akeem Ayers of UCLA.

Keep in mind that Morris experimented with multiple 3-4 fronts and mixed coverages. So he says players with traditional Tampa Bay body types are no longer the only ones to consider.

"All the normal thoughts of defense have changed," Morris said. "It's just a matter of who are the best players and who gives you the best chance to win."

GOING DEEP: Regardless of what the Bucs do in the offseason, they feel pretty good about the experience their young players received in 2010. The Bucs went 10-6 despite some of their biggest cogs on defense missing multiple games and finishing on injured reserve: DTs Brian Price and Gerald McCoy, CB Aqib Talib and S Cody Grimm.

"Last year with all of the injuries, it was kind of a blessing because you developed some great, quality depth," Morris said. "We don't have a bunch of guys where we go back to One Buc Place and we say, 'I wonder if (DT Frank) Okam can play? I wonder if (DT) Al Woods can play?' … We know. Okam and Al Woods and those guys can play. Larry Asante and Cody Grimm — we know Cody Grimm can play."

Grimm, who broke his leg blocking for Talib after an interception at Baltimore, should be ready for team workouts. Despite missing the season's final month, he finished with 61 tackles and two interceptions, including one for a touchdown against Cincinnati.

S Tanard Jackson, suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, won't be eligible for reinstatement until after the second week of the regular season. But Morris daydreams about getting Jackson back.

"I'm already thinking about my three-safety defense if it happens," Morris said. "I'm excited about it, though. Actually we did it against New Orleans that last game. We put (Asante) right in the middle. We had Asante in the hole. (Corey) Lynch was the Robber, and we had Sean Jones on the tight end. That tight end was a giant. It was like, 'How do we stop this guy?' I'm excited about it."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers still thinking of ways to improve offense 01/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 9:07pm]

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