Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Buccaneers in 2012.
Dream scenario (10-6): This will only happen if coach Greg Schiano makes the transition from college to the NFL more like Jim Harbaugh than Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino. Harbaugh isn’t the norm in this category, but it’s possible Schiano could follow in his tracks. The cupboard isn’t bare, it just needs organizing. The Bucs have assembled a lot of young talent in recent drafts -- Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Adrian Clayborn, Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David -- and Schiano showed he can build during his time at Rutgers.
The key to it all is Freeman. Is he the quarterback who threw 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in a 10-6 season in 2010 or the guy that threw 22 interceptions and looked awfully anxious last season? Schiano and his staff firmly believe the 2010 version was the real Freeman and they’ve done everything possible to upgrade his supporting cast. They brought in Vincent Jackson to be the No. 1 receiver and guard Carl Nicks to bolster an offensive line that has a chance to be very good. They also drafted Martin and plan to use him as an every-down running back.
If Freeman is for real, he should bounce back strong from last year’s debacle. Lots of coaches and scouts around the league still believe in Freeman, but we’ll soon find out if he still believes in himself or if last year forever shattered his confidence. But even if Freeman improves, the Bucs must be a lot better on defense than they were last season when they allowed more points (494) than any team in franchise history.
Nightmare scenario (4-12): As demonstrated by the likes of Saban and Petrino, NFL players don’t always respond well to hard-charging college coaches. There’s no doubt this team needs some order after the Wild West days of Raheem Morris, but Schiano must get his players to buy into the new order in their worlds or he could be in for trouble. Although ownership showed a willingness to spend in free agency and the Bucs have had some early draft picks in recent years, this job is far from paradise.
Few, if any, of those early draft picks have shown that they are the real deal. Maybe all they need is better coaching, but maybe the Bucs just haven’t drafted very well. If Freeman struggles again, the Bucs suddenly have a quarterback quandary on their hands. If they struggle on offense, there’s no way they can win games in the NFC South. You don’t win a lot of games with defense in the modern NFL and, at least on paper, Tampa Bay’s offense is much more talented than its defense.
If Freeman doesn’t take a step forward and the defense doesn’t show improvement, it will become last season all over again. This is not a franchise that can handle a lot more misery. Attendance has been lacking in recent years, and the Bucs aren’t going to fill up their stadium until they escape obscurity and win consistently.