As promised, we’re rolling out our predictions for the 2012 NFL season today.
Here’s what I wrote about the Bucs:
Five things you need to know about the Buccaneers:
1. The real Josh? Quarterback Josh Freeman has to get back to playing like he did in 2010 for this team to have a chance. Freeman can't have another season in which he is anywhere near the league lead in interceptions. He took a lot of blame for last season, when everything was breaking down around him. But there are no excuses this time around. The Bucs acquired Vincent Jackson to be a true No. 1 receiver and guard Carl Nicks to help protect Freeman, and they drafted an all-purpose back in Doug Martin. There's a decent supporting cast in place, and the Bucs believe that will get Freeman back on track.
2. The rookie will get the ball: Although LeGarrette Blount has done everything right through the offseason, I still think Martin gets the bulk of the playing time. When he was at Rutgers, the best running back Greg Schiano ever coached was Ray Rice. Schiano has compared Martin to Rice several times and raves about his ability as an all-around back. There will be a role for Blount, likely as a power runner, but I'm guessing Martin will be on the field the bulk of the time.
3. Clark ready to bounce back: The Bucs unloaded tight end Kellen Winslow, who already was clashing with Schiano. They replaced him by signing veteran Dallas Clark, who has had injury problems in recent seasons. But Clark appears to be healthy and in great shape. The Bucs are hoping he can give them about 70 catches. They also think he'll bring a positive influence to the locker room. Clark played for a lot of good teams in Indianapolis and might be able to show the younger players how to win.
4. McCoy's health: Aside from Freeman, the player with the most pressure on him is third-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He's suffered significant injuries in each of his first two seasons. When he has been healthy, it's obvious McCoy can be an impact player. But this front four, and really the entire defense, needs a 16-game season out of McCoy if it's going to be any good.
5. Problem spot? I'll wait until the regular season to decide for sure, but I'm not sold on Tampa Bay's linebackers. I think second-round pick Lavonte David is going to be very good. But I can't say the same about middle linebacker Mason Foster and outside linebacker Quincy Black. Foster struggled in the middle last season, and maybe he'll get better with experience. But Black has been around longer and never has been anything but ordinary.