1) Under the microscope: Josh Freeman came into last season with many fans thinking that a good year may well equal a new contract. A year later, little has changed. Freeman set a franchise record for passing yardage and got back to the plus side of the TD/INT ratio. He scrambled even less than he did in 2011 and his completion percentage went down (in part, due to a new system). The tale of Freeman’s 2012 can be told in three distinct segments. Those segments were new, brilliant, terrible. The 2012 season wound up being a microcosm of Freeman’s previous three, and curiously, the results fell in exactly the same order.
2) Fresh meat: Mike Glennon comes in as a third round pick and a bit of a project. At best, he’s a year or two away from being able to contend for a starting role. The fact that the Bucs invested a third is a pretty clear indicator that they want an exit strategy if Freeman continues to flail.
3) Lingering pain: The question this season appears to be little different from last season’s: “Which Freeman is the real Freeman?” The answer, however, may have been provided in 2012. That answer may well be that Josh Freeman will be consistently inconsistent. He has a year to prove that’s not true.
4) Wildcard: If Glennon is a quick study and shows that he can conduct the team with poise, he could insert himself into the discussion. Unfortunately, Glennon has shown the same prototypical inconsistency, in his college career. The real wildcard for this unit is what happens if Glennon is forced into the starting role early.
5) What to expect: I look for Freeman to have the same up and down year he had last season and I think the front office is going to have a very difficult decision to make going into next season. What’s really important with Freeman is not figuring out which Freeman is the real Freeman. What’s important, is realizing what he is not. He is not a guy you can hide or win in spite of. He is not a guy you can trust as a care taker. Finally, he is not a guy you can trust come playoff time when leadership and accountability are most important.
1) Spotlight: If you select Doug Martin first overall in your fantasy football draft, you may be called a homer. If you select him as the third overall, nobody is likely to bat an eye. That has never been true of a Tampa Bay player in the almost 20 year history of fantasy football. There’s nothing that guy doesn’t do well.
2) Fresh meat: Mike James out of Miami was one of only two offensive draft picks. Brian Leonard comes over from the Bengals. Jeff Demps comes our way as a kicker in the Blount trade with the Patriots and the tiny Matt Brown comes in as a FA signee. James likely has the inside track on shoring up the backup role and Demps could find his way onto the roster if he gets into camp in time.
3) Weak link: Last season the weak link was the short yardage run game. James is capable of solving that and Leonard may get a look in that role, as well. This year the weak link is finding a way to save some tread on Martin. It’s hard to take a guy like that off the field, but it’s especially hard when the dropoff is so steep.
4) Wildcard: Jeff Demps would be an easy name to throw into this spot and one that would tickle Gator fans, but the more likely wildcard player at this position is last year’s late round project, Michael Smith. Smith is built a lot like Doug Martin. He was very raw last season, so raw in fact, he couldn’t even find his way onto the active roster despite the fact that we were horrible on special teams and he got a lot of work in that role during preseason and camp.
5) What to expect: Martin’s role on this team is a no-brainer. Every article you see on the topic points to the likelihood that he’ll be even better this season behind a healthy Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks, so I won’t regurgitate that here. I see the Bucs going toward James and Smith to relieve Martin of some reps. I wouldn’t get overly excited about Leonard. If he makes the roster, that’s not a good sign about the development of one of the other two. Don’t let the 6th round pick fool you. Mike James is a very solid running back and while he may not blow your hair back, he’ll be consistent and reliable.
It would be a shame to pass this position by without mentioning Erik Lorig. As tremendous as Muscle Hamster was last season, Erik Lorig’s play at the FB position was only a tick or so less remarkable. The guy has absolutely stuffed the naysayers and we enter this season with his position being a point of both strength and flexibility.
1) Under the microscope: Beyond Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams things are very thin at this position. There are worst case scenarios at any position on a an NFL squad. At this position, that worst case scenario is very dire, not alone for what it means to the position itself, but also for what it means to Josh Freeman. Last season, Jackson and Williams bailed out GHB on countless occasions snaring balls that were thrown high, fending off defenders and outright fighting to keep the QB from embarrassing himself. That portion of this WR unit that lies south of the X and Z, is simply not capable of doing that.
2) Fresh meat: Kevin Ogletree comes in from Dallas to compete with Tiquan Underwood at slot. Jheranie Boyd (UNC), Tim Wright (Rutgers) and Jerry Johnson (UCLA) come in as UDFA long-term projects.
3) Weak link: The 3-spot on this roster. The 3-spot will go to either Ogletree or Underwood, with the loser sticking on the roster, by default. Underwood came in last season and seemed like he was on track to earn a roster spot. Shoddy play toward the end of camp saw him miss the 53-man roster. He made his way back onto the roster when Preston Parker’s fumbles and Sammy Stroughter’s injury cleared up some space. From there, Underwood seized the opportunity and turned in some impressive performances and some key catches to propel him into this camp as a sure bet to make the roster. Obviously, his play wasn’t flawless or we wouldn’t be debating who will play slot. Ogletree was on a Dallas roster stocked with pretty good talent at the top. He took advantage of early season opportunities to turn in some good performances, most notably in the season opener against the Giants.
4) Wildcard: The 5-spot on this roster will have plenty of wildcards to choose from. The roster is stacked with young guys with a very similar size/speed combination. Unfortunately, they are all very raw and the entire group can best be viewed as developmental projects. The 5-spot is a complete crap shoot (double entendre intended).
5) What to expect: Ogletree is a capable receiver and of the two contenders for the slot he’s the most likely to start in place of either Jackson or Williams if one of them goes down. That said, I don’t see Ogletree distancing himself from Underwood in the race for the slot. Both players had the best season of their career last year, but Underwood fits very well with what Sullivan wants to do in this scheme. When the season rolls around, you’ll get a mixed bag of both men depending on situation. In the five spot, look for David Douglas or Chris Owusu to pull ahead of the others. Douglas is the most well-rounded of the group, but Owusu’s speed is awfully hard to let go. All else are simply too raw to make a 53-man.