This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: Let's see. The offensive coordinator was not fired. The only quarterback controversy is whether Josh Freeman can flex his thumb. And there are promising new players on the defensive line and at receiver. Things are looking far better than they were at this time last season. So what do you say, Gary? Do the Bucs break loose in 2010? Do I smell a five-win season in the air?
GS: You are a giddy optimist, aren't you? You're one of those guys who sees the glass 3/16ths full rather than 13/16ths empty. Seriously, I've called it at six victories. For now, I'm sticking with that. You?
JR: I can't see them winning less than four or more than seven, so five or six wins sound like pretty safe bets. So if we both agree that playoff games are not in Tampa Bay's immediate future, what would be the most positive accomplishment of the 2010 season?
GS: On this team, you measure growth by Freeman. If Freeman can turn this into a springboard year, a year in which most of his fans would say, "Yeah, that guy's going to be special," then it's a good year. That's true for the Bucs as a whole, too. If nothing else, you want to think of this season as a bridge to better seasons.
JR: Yes, all things will be measured by Freeman's growth. But that's not the same thing as saying this is a make-or-break year for Josh. He's still young enough — and the team has invested enough in him — that he could survive a disappointing season. That may not be true for Raheem Morris. Or Mark Dominik. Or Barrett Ruud. Or Cadillac Williams. If I dress you up as Goldilocks, could you tell me who is sitting in the hottest seat?
GS: When you think about the lack of ticket sales, it should be thrilling for the Bucs to know someone is sitting in any seat. I think the hottest seat is probably Raheem's, but I'm not sure it should be. How about putting the hot seat in the owner's box? As for the Goldilocks reference, frankly, your fantasies are starting to frighten me. Then again, I do love porridge.
JR: Is it possible for an owner's seat to get hot when it's stuffed with cold cash?
GS: I think empty seats make any owner sweat. Every unsold ticket is like an old cartoon, where dollar bills sprout wings and fly away.
JR: Do you get the feeling the Glazers have been biding their time, waiting for the work stoppage next spring? That would explain the lack of long-term contracts around One Buc Place.
GS: Maybe. If I were a business owner, I would want to know the rules before signing too many contracts, too. But who wants to talk about business. We need to be talking about quarterbacks with broken thumbs and receivers who are all thumbs. What is going to bother Freeman worse? The limited work in the preseason or the soreness of his digit?
JR: I'm all for a young quarterback getting as many snaps as possible, but in the grand scheme of things, the thumb injury cost Freeman about three periods of playing time in the preseason. I'd worry about that a lot more if he were a rookie who did not already have nine NFL starts under his belt. What Josh needs more than playing time is a running game. And I'm just not sure I see it.
GS: I agree with you about the running game. The Bucs finished 23rd in the league in rushing last year, which is usually the position where teams start hiring other backs. If the Bucs are going to be better, they do need more than one way to win a game. Still, I wouldn't lessen the importance of the time Freeman has missed. He needs snaps as bad as anyone, and he missed practice time, too. He hasn't had a lot of work heading into the opener, and that's never a good thing. Still, if having a good thumb made you a quarterback, then Roger Ebert would be Johnny Unitas.
JR: I've got two good thumbs. Who does that make me?