Tampa Bay Buccaneers, unit by unit, and what changes are necessary

We're more than a week into the busiest portion of the offseason, and the Bucs have done, well, very little. But keep in mind that free agency isn't just a 72-hour race. The majority of free agents — even if they are second-tier players — remain unsigned. And the Bucs have 10 draft picks at their disposal next month, meaning their roster likely will change drastically in the coming months. With that, let's take a look at the Bucs as they now exist, unit by unit, and project what modifications are most necessary.

Quarterback

The one guy whose position is probably the safest is Josh Freeman, right, who will be entering his second season. He has a lot of growing to do, but the 22-year-old has the foundation this club is going to build on. Josh Johnson had a handful of moments last season, and it seems the Bucs are comfortable with him being their primary backup. Byron Leftwich remains on the roster because he didn't trigger a $2 million-plus bonus, but his spot might eventually go to project Rudy Carpenter, whom Tampa Bay plucked off the Cowboys' practice squad in November.

There's an outside chance the Bucs could bring in a veteran to play a minor role.

Addressing this position in the draft seems remote, at best.

Running back

The backfield returns intact from last season, with Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham still under contract. Return man Clifton Smith can chip in, too, if necessary. Things don't figure to change much this season, especially considering Williams made it through an entire season without injury for the first time. One thing to watch is how FB B.J. Askew, right, responds after his season-ending car wreck last year. He had a neck injury that proved problematic, and it's unclear what his status is. Chris Pressley, an in-season acquisition last year, could play a role as a blocking back.

They probably won't sign a running back this offseason.

Teams often have success finding gems at this position in the later rounds.

Offensive line

The line hasn't lived up to its billing, but it's not certain how much of that was based on the shift from zone blocking early last season to man-to-man blocking later. Another factor was the loss of G Arron Sears because of his personal problems last summer. He's back but hasn't played football in a long time and has substantial weight to lose. LT Donald Penn, right, might be a no-show in the summer, frustrated over his contract status. Meanwhile, LG Jeremy Zuttah needs to play more consistently. C Jeff Faine, RG Davin Joseph and RT Jeremy Trueblood should reclaim their starting jobs.

If they make a move, it'll most likely be to sign a veteran backup.

A distinct possibility. There are some talented tackles available early. Picking one might be seen as a luxury, but that doesn't mean there isn't value there.

Wide receiver/tight end

Antonio Bryant is now a member of the Bengals. Beyond him, the cupboard is largely bare, with Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter the most accomplished returners. Journeyman Mark Bradley, right, has potential but no track record. The Bucs did pick up WR Reggie Brown from the Eagles for a sixth-round pick in 2011, but he's coming off a pair of disappointing seasons, and his value is yet to be determined. The Bucs are in dire need of someone who can stretch the field and open things up for QB Josh Freeman. At tight end, Kellen Winslow will continue to be a centerpiece of the offense. Jerramy Stevens can contribute sporadically while John Gilmore is a capable blocker. Each will see a slight jump in salary in 2010, but they're still affordable at less than $2 million each in base salary.

The answer to their problems likely can't be solved with anyone now available.

Wideout has to be a priority. It's almost certain that one of their first three or four picks will be at this position.

Defensive line

For two years running, the defensive line has been one of this team's most glaring weaknesses. There isn't enough pressure on quarterbacks, and the unit has seemed allergic to running backs who too often are tackled by linebackers and safeties. Both tackles, Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims, are under the microscope. DE Stylez White might have more impact playing next to a more disruptive tackle, but that remains to be seen. DE Jimmy Wilkerson is coming off surgery for a torn ACL in January and is a free agent. Kyle Moore, right, a rookie last season, needs to make a significant leap in 2010.

There haven't been a lot of options for tackles, but a trade is a possibility.

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. In the Bucs' dreams, they have their choice of Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, but they'll settle for either.

Linebacker

The play from this position last year wasn't All-Pro worthy, but this group was one of the better ones. WLB Geno Hayes, right, was a nice surprise in his first season as a starter, exhibiting excellent speed and playmaking instincts. MLB Barrett Ruud doesn't have much upside, but he's a solid tackler, which is his No. 1 responsibility. He'll be better playing an entire season in coach Raheem Morris' revamped system. SLB Quincy Black was quiet, but he found ways to be more effective. That's something the Bucs can build on. And they did make a move to add depth Friday, signing free agent Jon Alston.

Depth and special teams contributors could be on the radar.

They won't take a linebacker with their first pick, but if a standout falls later, they could use the depth.

Defensive backs

Two members of the starting quartet are among the better players in the league at their positions. CB Aqib Talib and FS Tanard Jackson had splendid seasons despite their respective off-field issues. Longtime CB Ronde Barber will be back, but who knows in what capacity. He'll be 35 next month, though the return to a Tampa 2 system works in his favor. A permanent move to nickel back is possible, but that's provided the Bucs can replace him, which hasn't happened. SS Sabby Piscitelli must earn his starting role. Free agent Sean Jones visited Friday for that reason. CB E.J. Biggers, right, missed his rookie season with an injury but might challenge nickel back Elbert Mack.

They are looking for help at safety to increase competition with Sabby Piscitelli.

University of Tennessee S Eric Berry will be considered, and the Bucs will look at cornerbacks in the later rounds.

Kicking game

Connor Barth, right, was the third kicker on the roster last season and gave the Bucs reason to be hopeful by converting 8 of 11 attempts beyond 40 yards. But that doesn't mean he won't find a little company in training camp to push him along. The Bucs released veteran punters Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson two weeks ago, leaving Sam Paulescu, who filled in for the final five games in 2009. He, too, could have competition. The return game is in good hands with Clifton Smith and Sammie Stroughter back.

They might look for an extra punter or placekicker.

This area isn't likely to be a consideration.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

The draft

Free agency

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, unit by unit, and what changes are necessary 03/12/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 8:22pm]

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