1) Under the microscope: Love him or hate him, this roster is now 100% Mark Dominik’s. Only five players (Joseph, Penn, Zuttah, Economos, Hayward) remain from the Bruce Allen era, and all of those have signed new deals under Dominik. Year-over-year turnover has been high in the offseason periods since Allen was dismissed with more than half the roster from one training camp to the next being comprised of new bodies. This roster is entirely Mark Dominik’s doing and the time has long passed to judge the team, and the “Rockstar GM”, based on that fact.
2) Fresh meat: Most of the offseason tweaks were geared more toward contributors than super stars. The biggest moves, retooling the secondary with Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, were loud bangs on the NFL free agency scene, but all else was eerie silence. Goldson was spirited away from San Francisco on a private jet and never visited elsewhere. The Revis trade filled the airwaves in Tampa, New York and the rest of the NFL’s domain. Both were good moves and while both had a tinge of desperation to them, the fact is, we were desperate.
3a) Lingering pain: We roll into 2013 with the infirmary full, but manageable. The most popular question mark is Revis’s knee. Everyone in the NFL wants to know whether he’s fully healthy. If he is, the trade will look more like a coup. Beyond Revis, we have Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph and Adrian Clayborn coming back from significant injury and they all seems to be on track. Clayborn coming back at 100% is absolutely critical for reasons we’ll discuss in the DL segment.
3b) Weak link(s): We’ve shored up most of the major holes we had when Raheem and his crew were given their walking papers. In other words, most of the sucking chest wounds on this roster have been addressed. What we’re left with is a couple of very significant stitched up gashes, hoping to avoid gut shots, and the potential of death by paper cut.
First, the stitched up gashes: There are a couple of roster spots where we have no real answer. At TE, NT and SLB we’re in a situation where we’re left throwing bodies at a problem. We’ve got no clear cut starter at any of those positions. It’s almost as if we’ve reached midseason and Dallas Clark, Roy Miller and Quincy Black all went down to DCL injuries. The “D” in that highly localized injury being “Dominik.”
Second, the paper cuts: This roster is really missing some beef right in its midsection. Depth has been a problem since about 2004 around OBP and roller coaster results have been the result. The OL, DL and WR corps are a hodge-podge of UDFAs and journeymen. There’s simply nobody on those treadmills that we’ve invested a draft pick or a higher than minimum FA contract toward. That’s not only unfortunate, it’s downright reckless.
4) Hot seat: I certainly hope so.
5) What to expect: This roster is fairly stable at the top. There are a few big question marks even there, but it’s a collection of bodies that can win games. There are a few spots where platoon tactics and creative scheming from the coaching staff will be required. That’s suitable for a team that is already at midseason and enduring the normal spin an NFL season imparts to a roster. It’s not acceptable for a team just about to begin training camp.
Mark Dominik has a lot riding on this roster. I’d submit, however, that it isn’t in the places you normally hear about. Sure, the names Freeman, Revis, Clayborn, McCoy, and Bowers are important. But I’m here to tell you that when the shit hits the fan (the ones with big foam fingers and popcorn, not the ones with blades) the names Landri, Neblett, Morgan, Ogletree, Casillas and Crabtree are going to figure prominently.
1) Spotlight: Greg Schiano is coming off a successful remake of this team. Last season, he was out to instill a new work ethic, mental toughness and accountability on this team. That was largely successful, but brought up some key questions about the applicability of a “toes on the line” mentality in the NFL. The real question Buc fans want answered is whether Schiano will wind up being more akin to Tony Dungy or Ray Perkins. How Schiano responds and what changes from Season One to Two will go a long way toward answering that question.
2) Fresh meat: Dave Wannstedt (ST), who spent last season as the DC for the Bills and was dismissed along with Chan Gailey and the rest of the coaching staff, comes in to replace Bob Ligashesky (terminated). John McNulty (QBs), a former Rutgers assistant for Schiano, rolls in to replace Ron Turner (Head Coach FIU). John Garrett (WRs), who spent the last six seasons with the Cowboys, comes in to replace P.J. Fleck (Head Coach W.Michigan). Robb Smith (LBs), who served as DC at Rutgers, replaces Bob Fraser who has been moved up to Assistant DC. Tony Oden (CBs) comes over from the Saints to pair with Jeff Hafley (Safeties) replacing the departed Ron Cooper.
3) Upward mobility: About two thirds of the way through last season, it looked like Mike Sullivan (OC) was on his way up the ladder. Then came a five gamer and his hopes of a head coaching gig sank with his starting quarterback’s rating. If the offense gets on track again, Sullivan’s name will bubble to the top of lists.
After the job he did holding our OL together last season, Bob Bostad’s name should’ve come up for King of the World. If the OL has success this season, I can’t imagine his name not climbing the charts.
4) Hot seat: I’d like to tell you that Bill Sheridan (DC) or Randy Melvin (DL) are on the hot seat. I thought they should have been last season. It appears, for Sheridan, at least, that he’s merely the signalman and chief note-taker for Schiano’s defense.
5) What to expect: We’ve already seen a difference in Schiano and the season hasn’t even started. He showed last year that his approach is as measured as it is bull-headed. In the offseason, he spent a good deal of time reviewing what went on last season, and I can’t see that being a bad thing. I like the guy’s approach and I like his style. Most Buc fans do, as well, but they’ll grow very impatient very quickly if this team starts or ends flat like they did last season. I think we’ll see a well-conditioned team that shows signs of being very good. This staff certainly has the right experience level, across the board, to hide our flaws with schematics and to derive competitive advantage from our strengths. Still, Schiano’s future rests on the maturation of the culture he set out to create last season. I think it will stick and I think Buc fans will be happy with the results.