Shiny new toys should make Tampa Bay Buccaneers more fun

Published Apr. 29, 2012


It is time for the marketing experts to go to work. It is time for an infomercial and a pitchman. Maybe a catchy slogan.

Why, the Bucs are new and improved. They will go faster, they will last longer and their games will leave you with a minty aftertaste. They have been repacked and redesigned, and they would like it very much if you would buy into their product. After all, they are stronger! They are faster! They are bolder!

They have had the best offseason in the NFL. They had a great free agent period. They completed a terrific draft on Sunday. The coach seems more organized, and the general manager seems more aggressive, and the ownership seems more serious about winning.

Yep, the Tampa Bay Bucs are better.

But are they good yet?

That's the money question, isn't it? Everyone seems to agree that the Bucs have been an extremely impressive team once the extremely unimpressive meltdown of 2011 was complete. They have added, minimum, five new starters. They have made improvements in almost every unit on the field. There seems to be a fresh urgency throughout the organization.

On the other hand, few teams in the NFL needed to improve more than the Bucs did. So how do all of the improvements translate?

Are the Bucs now a .500 team? A wild-card team? A contender in the NFC South? Can they win six games? Eight? 10? What should be the new expectations of these new Bucs?

"Work in progress," coach Greg Schiano said. "I don't know. I wish I had one of those big thermometers they use during fundraisers that say, 'we're this close.' We won't know until we get out there and play against other teams. But I feel, 'Hey, we're moving this closer.' "

Give the Bucs credit for this. They are light-years better than the miserable team that trudged off the field on Jan. 1 after losing their 10th straight game. It was a horrible stretch, one series of throwing-in-the-towel competitions, and it didn't surprise anyone when it ended the tenure of coach Raheem Morris.

Since then, the Bucs have rebuilt their franchise as if they were restoring a wrecked car, which, in a way, they were. They have knocked out a dent here, and repainted here, and replaced a handful of parts.

"Yes, we have gotten better," general manager Mark Dominik said, "from the new coaching staff and how they are interacting with the players on our roster. Our team is heading in the right direction."

Ask yourself this: Except for their kickers, where aren't the Bucs better? The quarterback should be better, because Josh Freeman is in better shape, because they have a backup who at least has won two NFL games (the departed Josh Johnson never won a start).

The receiving corps should be better, because Vincent Jackson is a playmaker. Not only that, but Mike Williams should flourish with less attention as the No. 2, and Arrelious Benn as the No. 3, and so forth.

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The running back position should be better, because Doug Martin will be a more complete back than LeGarrette Blount and Michael Smith has a chance to be a nice third-down back.

The offensive line, with the addition of guard Carl Nicks, should be better. The defensive line, with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price healthy again, should be better.

The linebackers, with Lavonte David (and possibly Najee Goode filling in), should be better. The secondary, with Mark Barron and Eric Wright, should be better.

And the coaching? Let's be honest. No one knows if Schiano will make a successful transition from the college game to the pro game. So far, however, there is a new energy. Schiano seems to have an idea of what he wants to do. He also has restored the line between coaches and players, a line that seemed blurred under Morris. At the end, Morris was that popular substitute teacher that the students eventually took advantage of, and as a result, the classroom turned to chaos.

So what does it all mean? Maybe not much.

"Even with the improvement, I think Tampa Bay is the fourth-best team in that division," oddsmaker Danny Sheridan said Saturday. "They're still among the seven worst teams of the league."

After last season, Sheridan suggested he saw the Bucs' over-under for this year at five wins. Now, he has upped that to 6½.

"I think they'll beat Minnesota, Kansas City, Carolina at home and St. Louis, and they'll win a couple of upsets," said Sheridan, who said he did like the team's free agent signings. "It's about time the Glazers stopped spending on Man U and bought American."

Again, the Bucs have fewer holes, and more hope, than they have had. They are better, and they may even be on their way to being good.

This year? Oh, 8-8 sounds about right.

If that sounds low to you, then the Bucs have made you believe again. In an offseason of renewed hope, that's not a bad move, either.