Are Bucs 'Cinderella team' of 2012?

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
1:30
PM ET
Check out this Insider post by Gary Horton, which explores how much the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved in the first week of free agency.

Horton goes as far to suggest the Bucs could be the “Cinderella team" of 2012. I think that’s at least possible. There’s no doubt the Bucs improved themselves with the signing of receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright.

As we’ve discussed before, Jackson should help quarterback Josh Freeman and the rest of the receiving corps with his proven ability to stretch the field. Horton also suggests Jackson might be the best seam-route runner in the NFL.

Horton said Nicks is the most dominant inside player in the NFL and I agree with that. I think Nicks can be even more dominant in Tampa Bay than he was in New Orleans because he’ll get to do a lot more run blocking. That’s what Nicks really likes to do, although he’s just fine as a pass-blocker. With Nicks joining guard Davin Joseph and center Jeremy Zuttah, Horton suggests the Bucs could become the best interior line in the NFL. That’s entirely possible. Nicks is outstanding and Joseph is very good, but I think if the Bucs really are going to be dominant in the middle, they’ll need Zuttah to elevate his game. There are indications he can do that. He’s played mostly guard in the past, but has experience at center. He’s just entering his prime and he’ll be playing for his former college coach, Greg Schiano.

On Wright, Horton said he’s a cornerback who can play man or zone. That’s good because, with the new coaching staff, the Bucs may be playing more of a combination of defensive coverage schemes than they have in the past. I also like the signing of backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky. I’m not saying he’s anything special, but I think he’s the kind of traditional drop-back passer who could go in and give the Bucs a chance to win if he has to play in place of Freeman. Former backup Josh Johnson was a nice player to use in gimmicks, like the Wildcat formation, but he was not the kind of quarterback you wanted to see taking snaps under center for any extended period of time.

You could make a case that the Bucs’ moves have closed the gap between them and the rest of the NFC South. There’s no doubt they’ve improved their personnel, but there’s still more work to be done (mainly at running back and linebacker) in the later waves of free agency and the NFL draft.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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