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Quarterback is the most important position on the field and right now, I just don't see a great option for the Buccaneers in 2009. Of course, Josh Freeman could grab this job by the throat and go on to have a long, successful career, but right now he is a very raw prospect in terms of footwork, decision-making and ability to read and manipulate defenses. A year on the bench would do Freeman -- and the Buccaneers -- a lot of good for the long term.
That leaves Byron Leftwich (whom I expect to win this job), Luke McCown, Josh Johnson and Brian Griese, who probably will be the odd man out before getting involved in the preseason competition. There is plenty for new coach Raheem Morris to choose from, but none of these quarterbacks gets me excited for the immediate future.
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|Veteran Byron Leftwich is the likely front-runner to be the Bucs' starter at quarterback.|
To the Bucs' credit, they have an excellent offensive line. It rarely gets mentioned as one of the best lines in the league, but I expect that to change this season. This young and very talented group is on the verge of coming together and excelling as a unit. That and the addition of running back Derrick Ward will provide Tampa Bay with a formidable rushing attack. The running game should take plenty of pressure off whoever wins the quarterback job.
Not only should there be a strong running game in place, but the short-to-intermediate pass options also should be formidable. Ward excels in this department, and adding Kellen Winslow, a big, sure-handed target, also should help the starting quarterback quite a bit.
Still, you can't hide the quarterback in the NFL, and for Tampa Bay to compete in a very difficult division, one of these quarterbacks has to play well. I am betting on Leftwich to win the job. McCown has tools, but he is more inconsistent, takes too many risks and is lacking on game experience, with only 238 passing attempts.
Leftwich has a big arm and is very tough. He takes care of the football much better than McCown and obviously has more experience. But his faults are substantial as well. Leftwich has a very long delivery that allows opposing defensive backs time to get to the ball and exposes the ball during his delivery to pass-rushers much more than the ordinary quarterback's release. He also is immobile and takes an awful lot of big hits in the pocket. Leftwich has never played 16 games in a season. Lastly, his accuracy is far from ideal; he has eclipsed a 60 percent completion percentage (60.5 percent in 2004) only once in his career. There is a reason why few teams knocked on his door the past two times he was on the open market.
While Winslow is a fine addition for what he can bring on the field, the mixture of him and Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay's top wide receiver, is potentially combustible if the quarterback play is substandard. While wildly talented, both of these players have been known to publicly voice their displeasure about how things are going on the field. And both players want the ball in their hands.
Who knows? Maybe Freeman pulls a Joe Flacco and manages the offense in his rookie year while displaying physical tools that few quarterbacks in this league have. But Flacco had an elite defense to keep every game close. I have little faith in Tampa Bay's once-very proud defense to keep just about every contest close. The Buccaneers' offense is going to have to score points and a fair amount of those points are going to be attributed to who is delivering the football. Therein lies the problem.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.