NFC South: Jonathan Casillas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Jonathan Casillas said Monday he violated a team rule, which resulted in him being held out of Saturday’s preseason game at Buffalo.

Casillas
Casillas
Casillas wouldn’t go into detail about the rule he violated. But he did imply that a miscommunication caused him to not be somewhere at the proper time.

"That’s basically what it was," Casillas said. "If anybody knows me you know my track record speaks for itself. I’m not a person that violates a code of conduct or anything like that. It’s something that happened. I take full responsibility for everything that I do on the field and off the field. I think it was handled appropriately. Me and (coach) Lovie (Smith) talked it out and I’m back to work and looking to get better."

Casillas did not make the trip to Buffalo, and Danny Lansanah started in his place at strongside linebacker.

"I don’t really think it was that big of an issue," Casillas said. "Of course, the team did. It’s understandable. I made a mistake, a bad mental decision on my behalf. It happens. I’m not perfect. I try to do things the right way here like I’ve always done in my career. I made a mistake and it got dealt with."

Observation Deck: Buccaneers

August, 23, 2014
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said earlier this week that he wanted to see more sacks and takeaways. Mission accomplished.

Tampa Bay’s first-team defense forced three turnovers in Saturday’s 27-14 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Lavonte David forced a first-quarter fumble by C.J. Spiller that was recovered by Mason Foster. Tampa Bay’s offense punched the ball in for a quick touchdown. Tampa Bay’s offense was far from spectacular, but the defense more than made up for it.

The defense produced a touchdown of its own. As Adrian Clayborn sacked Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel, Michael Johnson reached in and knocked the ball loose. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown with 8:21 left in the second quarter.

All of Buffalo’s points came in the second half after Tampa Bay’s starting defense had left the game. The Bucs held a 24-0 lead at halftime.

Some other observations:
  • Tampa Bay’s offense hadn’t been putting together long drives this preseason. That finally changed late in the second quarter. The Bucs had an 11-play drive that covered 82 yards and ended with a touchdown pass from Josh McCown to Mike Evans. That shows the Bucs can sustain a drive. But it’s important to remember that we’ve seen only a very small sampling of coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense. The Bucs are saving most of that for the regular season.
  • I’ve got a feeling what we saw Saturday will be repeated a lot during the regular season. The Bucs played fantastic defense and were rather ordinary (but opportunistic) on offense. That’s not flashy, but that fits Smith’s philosophy perfectly.
  • Smith said he wanted to take an early look at recently acquired defensive end Larry English. He did, putting English into the game early. He responded with two sacks. The former first-round pick by San Diego still faces an uphill battle to make the team but might be gaining ground on Da'Quan Bowers, who missed the game with a groin injury.
  • Smith said he wanted to play his starters into the third quarter. He did play his starting offense into the second half, with one notable exception. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon replaced McCown to start the third quarter. That was a smart move. With the offensive line still a work in progress, there’s no sense in exposing McCown to possible injury before the regular season starts.
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas did not play for the Bucs. He was held out for a disciplinary reason, according to a team official. Danny Lansanah got the start in his place and played well. Lansanah has had a strong preseason and appears to have secured a roster spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Jonathan Casillas has obviously liked what he’s seen so far from new quarterback Josh McCown. While praising McCown on a recent radio interview, Casillas compared him to former New Orleans Saints teammate Drew Brees.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaJosh McCown is turning heads in Tampa, as the offseason signee has already earned praise.
Casillas, who began his career with the Saints from 2009-2012, said repeatedly that he didn’t want to take anything away from second-year quarterback Mike Glennon. But he said on ESPN New York’s Dave Rothenberg Show that McCown is just “on another level right now, I believe.”

“McCown looks like he’s played a couple of years in this game,” Casillas said of the 12th-year veteran, who shined with the Chicago Bears last season as a replacement for injured starter Jay Cutler before signing with the Buccaneers as a free agent. “It’s a strong comparison, but he reminds me of Drew (Brees), not just the way he throws the ball, but his approach to the game. The first one in, the last one out, he’s always around. He’s very communicable, very personable. And you can tell he’s a born leader.

“You know, he’s not even trying to do much now, but people are following him, just his approach to the game. And like I said, Glennon is learning a lot from him. So, if Glennon can beat him out this year, that will be great. Because at the end of the day, if Glennon can beat McCown out, then we’re going to get a good quarterback.”

Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who played with McCown early in their careers, also praised McCown while participating in the Drew Brees Passing Academy, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Minicamp questions for the Bucs

April, 22, 2014
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As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a three-day minicamp Tuesday, let's explore some of the biggest questions facing the team.

Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.

Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Andre Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.

Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.

Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.

Projecting a lineup: Defense

March, 21, 2014
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We’ve given you projections on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive starters already. Now, let’s flip over to the other side and talk about the defense.

Defensive end: Michael Johnson was signed to a big contract to spice up the pass rush. He’ll start opposite Adrian Clayborn.

Defensive tackle: Gerald McCoy is an All-Pro and should thrive in coach Lovie Smith’s scheme. Free-agent pickup Clinton McDonald could end up starting next to McCoy.

Linebackers: Lavonte David is a certainty on the weak side. Beyond that, there are question marks. Mason Foster has been the starter in the middle the past couple years, but the Bucs signed free agent Dane Fletcher to provide some competition. Jonathan Casillas is the best bet on the strong side, but the Bucs might not be done with that position just yet.

Cornerbacks: Alterraun Verner instantly became the No. 1 cornerback when he was signed as a free agent. That leaves Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to compete for the other starting job, with the loser taking over as the nickel back.

Safeties: This is one area where there won’t be change. The Bucs are in good shape with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron as the returning starters.

What's next for the Buccaneers?

March, 17, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their free-agent frenzy Sunday by signing two players that are likely to fill roles as backups.

The Bucs signed former New England linebacker Dane Fletcher and former Cleveland guard Oniel Cousins.

Fletcher has been a backup middle linebacker and special-teams player for New England and is likely to play behind Mason Foster. Cousins was a part-time starter in Cleveland and he could factor into Tampa Bay’s overhaul of the offensive line. The Bucs previously released veterans Davin Joseph and Donald Penn and signed tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Cousins could get a chance to compete with Jamon Meredith and Jeremy Zuttah at guard.

The first wave of free agency is over and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been very active. They’ve filled a lot of needs, but the Bucs aren’t done yet.

Looking at the roster, I still see a fair amount of needs. Let’s take a look.

Wide receiver. The Bucs flirted with Emmanuel Sanders before he signed with the Denver Broncos. The Bucs need to add a speed receiver to go with starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

Return man. The Bucs need to get better on special teams. Veteran Devin Hester, who has ties to coach Lovie Smith, remains available as a free agent.

Cornerback. Even after signing Alterraun Verner, there still is a need here. The Bucs need a strong third corner to go with Verner and Johnthan Banks.

Guard. The Bucs have added guard Oneil Cousins, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackle Anthony Collins as they go about overhauling their offensive line. With Dietrich-Smith’s arrival, Jeremy Zuttah could move from center to guard. But Cousins has spent much of his career as a backup and the Bucs might want more of an upgrade at this position.

Outside linebacker. Jonathan Casillas was re-signed and he’s an option on the strong side. But the Bucs need depth and they’d be wise to bring in someone to compete with Casillas.
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.

Looking at playing time: Defense

January, 17, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We previously showed you the playing time for all of Tampa Bay's offensive players. Now, it's time to do the same for the defense.

The Buccaneers had 1,059 defensive plays. Here's the breakdown of the number of plays each defensive player participated in, followed by my quick take.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Gerald McCoy 962, Adrian Clayborn 933, Akeem Spence 694, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 602, William Gholston 312, Da'Quan Bowers 206, Gary Gibson 164, Derek Landri 123, Steven Means 77, Trevor Scott 54.

Quick take: Most teams rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh. But the Bucs didn't do that with McCoy and Clayborn. The theory behind that was that, even when a bit winded, they were substantially better than their backups. The rookie Gholston got a lot of playing time in the second half of the season.

LINEBACKERS: Lavonte David 1,022, Mason Foster 771, Dekoda Watson 257, Jonathan Casillas 197, Adam Hayward 187, Ka'Lial Glaud 6, Danny Lansanah 4.

Quick take: The Bucs played David as much as they possibly could because he might be the best player on the team. Some of Watson's snaps came at defensive end as the Bucs experimented with him at that position late in the season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Darrelle Revis 948, Johnthan Banks 939, Mark Barron 834, Dashon Goldson 807, Leonard Johnson 691, Keith Tandy 441, Ahmad Black 146, Kelcie McCray 101, Michael Adams 86, Danny Gorrer 83.

Quick take: Even though he wasn't 100 percent as he came back from knee surgery, the Bucs still used Revis a lot.

Locker Room Buzz: Buccaneers

November, 17, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 41-28 victory against the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Rainey
    Although he gave his life story the other day, running back Bobby Rainey had to do it again in the locker room Sunday. Rainey was swarmed by the media. That’s understandable, because he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught a touchdown pass. Rainey, who joined the team three weeks ago, was playing only because Doug Martin and Mike James have been lost to season-ending injuries. Coach Greg Schiano said part of the reason Rainey has fit in so well is because he played in a similar offense at Western Kentucky.
  • Linebacker Dekoda Watson has seen his playing time dwindle recently in favor of Jonathan Casillas. But that might change because of what Watson did Sunday as he drew strong praise from Schiano after the game. On special teams, Watson blocked a punt. On defense, he sometimes lined up as a rush end. Watson either hit Matt Ryan's arm or tipped the ball on Mason Foster's interception that was returned for a touchdown.
  • Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded sacks on back-to-back plays in the first quarter. McCoy said the last time he had sacks on back-to-back plays was in high school.

Surveying the Buccaneers' roster

September, 1, 2013
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After making their cuts Saturday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a roster that looks a lot like what I projected Friday.

I hit on 51 of 53 roster spots. Defensive tackle Gary Gibson and offensive lineman Cody Wallace were the two guys I had making the team who didn’t make the final cut. I didn’t have tight end Tim Wright and safety Keith Tandy making the roster, but they did.

Let’s take a brief overview of the composition of Tampa Bay’s roster:

QB (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Comment: The question is whether Glennon or Orlovsky will be the No. 2 quarterback. My thinking is the Bucs wouldn’t have held onto Orlovsky if he’s going to be No. 3.

RB (5): Doug Martin, Erik Lorig, Brian Leonard, Mike James and Peyton Hillis

Comment: Leonard, James and Hillis all looked good in the preseason. They all can be used to help keep Martin fresh.

WR (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Comment: The first four were pretty much set in stone. Page made the roster mostly because he’s going to be the return man.

TE (4): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Nate Byham and Tim Wright

Comment: Presumably, the Bucs kept Wright around because they expect Crabtree to miss some time with an ankle injury.

OL (8): Donald Penn, Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah, Davin Joseph, Demar Dotson, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith

Comment: By carrying only three backups, the Bucs appear to be optimistic that Nicks won’t miss too much time due to a staph infection.

DL (9): Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means, Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence and Derek Landri

Comment: McCoy, Spence and Landri are the only true defensive tackles. The Bucs must be planning to use at least one of their ends on the inside at times.

LB (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Jonathan Casillas, Dekoda Watson, Najee Goode and Adam Hayward

Comment: The starters have a chance to be one of the league’s best units, and the backups aren’t bad either.

DB (10): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Rashaan Melvin, Michael Adams, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Ahmad Black and Keith Tandy

Comment: This should be the most improved area on the team.

Specialists (3): Rian Lindell, Andrew Economos and Michael Koenen.

Comment: Lindell is the third projected kicker the Bucs have had. Connor Barth and Lawrence Tynes both are out with injuries.

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
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Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Ahmad Black.

Analysis: Melvin is very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.

Buccaneers to audition kickers

August, 20, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano touched on a variety of subjects after Tuesday’s practice. Let’s take a run through the highlights:

Kicking it. Schiano said the Bucs will bring in several veteran kickers for auditions. Lawrence Tynes has been slow to recover from a toe injury. That’s left Derek Dimke as the only kicker in camp. If Tynes can’t get healthy, the Bucs could end up going with a kicker who is not presently on the roster.

Track or football? The Bucs made a trade for return man Jeff Demps, knowing that his short-term future was in track and field. It sounds like Schiano is getting a little impatient that Demps has yet to join the team.

“Supposedly he’s coming,’’ Schiano said. “I don’t know. I don’t worry about guys that aren’t here. Guys that aren’t here, they can’t help us win right now. He’s not helping us get better right now. He’s running track somewhere. When he gets here, if he can help us win, he’ll be a part of it. If he gets here and he can’t help us win, he can go back and run track. We’re here to win games and that’s what we’re going to do.’’

Cluster at tight end. Schiano said the competition at tight end has been a little clouded because Luke Stocker has been bothered by an injury.

“It’s hard to tell because Stocker hasn’t practiced very much,’’ Schiano said. “It seems like every time he gets going, something happens. It’s not his fault. It’s bad luck or whatever you want to call it. That has hurt the position. [Tom] Crabtree has worked his tail off. Nate Byham has worked his tail off. It’s just going to have to sort itself out. One of the key guys that we were counting on hasn’t done much.’’

Room for two. Schiano said the competition for strongside linebacker is very close between Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas.

“They’ve taken turns going with the [first team],’’ Schiano said. “They’re driving each other. If we play two of them, that’s fine with me, too. They’re both key special-teams contributors. Jonathan does a little more in our sub package. I think there are going to be plenty of plays to go around for those guys, but they’re two key guys in our entire picture.’’

Checking in on position battles

August, 15, 2013
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As we approach the midway point of the preseason, let’s do a status check on some of the top position competitions from around the division.

Left tackle in New Orleans. Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that Charles Brown has pulled away from the competition. That could be a sign that Brown finally is playing up to his potential. It also could be a sign that Jason Smith and Terron Armstead aren’t very good. Either way, it looks like Brown will be protecting the blind side of Drew Brees. But that might not be a bad thing. Keep in mind, Jermon Bushrod wasn’t a stud when he first took over the position. New Orleans’ offensive line is built around guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and they have a way of making everyone else on the line look good.

Strongside linebacker in Tampa Bay. Dekoda Watson has been given the first crack at the job and he hasn’t disappointed. Newcomer Jonathan Casillas also has performed well, but Watson remains in the lead at this position. Barring a dramatic change as the preseason winds down, Watson will be the starter and Casillas will be a backup and special teams player.

Right tackle in Atlanta. The Falcons still are trying to figure out what to do after losing Mike Johnson to a season-ending injury. The team is hoping second-year pro Lamar Holmes can claim the position, but he needs to use the rest of the preseason to show he’s ready. Undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder has been a pleasant surprise. But the Falcons still could look to bring in a veteran from elsewhere if Holmes doesn’t distinguish himself.

Cornerbacks in Carolina. Veterans Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn got most of the first-team work in training camp. But second-year pro Josh Norman helped his case a lot by intercepting two passes in the preseason opener. The Panthers would like for Norman to continue to emerge so they can start him and move Munnerlyn to nickel back, where he’s suited to match up with slot receivers.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There’s a perception out there that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can’t wait to let quarterback Josh Freeman walk away after this season.

Trace it to coach Greg Schiano’s hesitance to firmly endorse Freeman at the end of last season or chalk it up to the quarterback’s lack of consistency or look at the fact that the Bucs are letting Freeman go into the last year of his contract without an extension. But nothing could be further from the truth.

“I have a lot of confidence in Josh," general manager Mark Dominik said. “I know Coach has a lot of confidence. That position is the position in the National Football League. Win or lose, regardless of if you get too much blame or not enough kudos when you do win and people take it for granted, the more time you have to evaluate that player at that position, the more of a chance you have to be correct. I think Josh is looking at it with a confidence and saying he believes in himself and there were some parts of last year he wasn’t happy with, but there were good parts last year. We’ve talked to Josh and his agent, and we feel like we’re at a good spot. Everybody feels comfortable with where we’re at."

Even though they used a third-round draft pick on Mike Glennon, the Bucs desperately want Freeman to succeed. If he plays well, that probably means the team will be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season. That would give Dominik and Schiano job security.

It also would give Freeman job security, because the Bucs probably would turn around and reward him with a big contract before free agency starts. That would fit the team’s plan of building from within. (If things go as expected, 18 of Tampa Bay’s 22 starters this year will have come through the draft, off the practice squad or through free agency.)

But it will all come down to Freeman’s performance. He needs to avoid slumps like the three-game stretch late last season when he threw 10 interceptions. He needs to play the way he did when the Bucs got off to a 6-4 start.

“He knows it," Dominik said. “We know it. But I think the thing that’s kind of been lost is some of the great things he did last year. Some of the big games where he played really well and showed he can do it. I think what he’s doing in camp right now is playing really smart with the football. You can’t underestimate the second year in a system. Continuity is so important. If you keep it together, that gives you a chance to have more success."

If Freeman plays well the Bucs will wrap him up, and they’ll have continuity at quarterback. If consistency continues to be an issue, the Bucs will have to start from scratch next year and Freeman will be playing for another team.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDashon Goldson
Mike Carlson/AP PhotoVeteran Dashon Goldson, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, should provide some depth at safety for the Bucs.
1. Secondary matters. The Bucs poured a ton of resources into their secondary in the offseason. They traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed safety Dashon Goldson as a free agent and used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. Those are the types of things you have to do when you’re coming off a season in which your pass defense ranked last in the league.

That should be enough to bring about some dramatic changes. All indications are that Revis is healthy and, if he is, he’s the best cornerback in the league. Banks could start immediately and, if he doesn’t, will be the third cornerback. Goldson’s arrival at free safety means strong safety Mark Barron, last year’s top draft pick, should be able to concentrate on playing more in the box -- where he’s at his best.

The Bucs believe in building from within. But they went outside to patch up the team’s biggest weakness.

2. The pass rush. This goes hand in hand with the secondary. If the defensive backfield really is going to shine, it’s going to need some help from the pass rush.

The Bucs let defensive end Michael Bennett, last year’s leading sacker, walk away in free agency. But that was a calculated move. The Bucs believed Bennett already had hit his full upside. But the team thinks third-year pros Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn are ready to blossom to heights that Bennett never approached.

That’s a leap of faith, because Clayborn is coming off a knee injury and Bowers wasn’t a full-time player in his first two seasons. However, if the Bucs are right about Bowers and Clayborn, the pass defense is going to rank a lot better than No. 32 in the league.

3. The tight ends have to come through. The Bucs have done a nice job of surrounding Freeman with plenty of talent at running back, receiver and offensive line. But at tight end, the cupboard looks close to bare. The team didn’t re-sign last year’s starter, Dallas Clark. Luke Stocker, who seemed to have the inside track to the starting job, has missed a lot of camp with a calf injury.

But the Bucs are quietly optimistic about Tom Crabtree, whom they brought in from Green Bay. The Bucs aren’t going to throw to their tight ends as much as Atlanta and New Orleans do, but they need Stocker or Crabtree to be a threat in the passing game to take some coverage away from the wide receivers.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs have done well stockpiling young talent such as running back Doug Martin.
The team has a surprising amount of individual talent. Revis, Goldson, guard Carl Nicks, guard Davin Joseph, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, running back Doug Martin and receiver Vincent Jackson have been to the Pro Bowl. Plus, the Bucs have plenty of other young talent -- guys like Freeman, Barron, linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster, and receiver Mike Williams.

Tampa Bay has been rebuilding ever since coach Jon Gruden was fired following the 2008 season. There’s no such thing as a finished product, because you’re always looking to upgrade your roster. But the Bucs no longer are in rebuilding mode.

They have enough talent to get to the playoffs.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Schiano still is somewhat new to the NFL and to his players. His hard-edged approach drew all sorts of attention last year, and he has said he’s relaxing things a bit now that he has changed the culture of the locker room.

But this team isn’t completely past the culture shock that came with Schiano. That’s why it’s critical for the Bucs to get off to a fast start. If they do, the players will fully embrace Schiano’s ways.

If the Bucs start poorly, players won’t buy into Schiano and things could fall apart in a hurry.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Bucs are ecstatic with what they’ve seen from McCoy this offseason. He earned a Pro Bowl trip last year, and that seems to have taken his motivation to another level. He worked out harder than ever and came to camp about 10 pounds lighter than last season. He’s emerging as a leader of the defense, and the Bucs think he can become one of the league’s most dominant interior linemen.
  • When the Bucs brought in Gabe Carimi, some fans thought he might end up starting ahead of Demar Dotson at right tackle. That’s not going to happen. Carimi is being looked at as an insurance policy behind Dotson and Penn at left tackle. Dotson is having one of the best camps of any Tampa Bay player, and the Bucs believe he’s only starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
  • Martin had a phenomenal rookie season, but I’m expecting him to be even better this year. Martin rushed for 1,454 yards with Joseph missing the entire season and Nicks missing half of it. With the two guards back, Martin should be an even better runner. Martin also caught 49 passes as a rookie, and I can see that number going up because the Bucs have been throwing to him a lot in camp.
  • The Bucs brought in veteran Peyton Hillis as insurance behind Martin. But Hillis, who hasn’t done much the past two seasons, isn’t a lock to make the roster. Veteran Brian Leonard looked good in the preseason opener, and the Bucs believe sixth-round draft pick Mike James has the potential to be an all-around back.
  • Strongside linebacker was expected to be one of the more competitive spots in camp. But veteran Dekoda Watson has taken the mystery out of that battle. He started off ahead of free-agent pickup Jonathan Casillas and has widened the gap with a strong performance in camp.
  • Kevin Ogletree appears to have the lead over Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu in the competition for the third receiver spot. But Underwood and Owusu have had strong showings that could earn them some playing time. Without a lot of certainty at tight end, the Bucs could resort to some four-receiver sets.
  • The addition of veteran Spencer Larsen made me wonder if fullback Erik Lorig's job was in jeopardy. But that’s not the case. Lorig is safe as the starter. The Bucs were very impressed with Larsen’s workout and view him as a quality backup and special-teams player.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Friday marked a rite of summer at One Buccaneer Place. For the first time this season, we have a depth chart.

It’s officially unofficial, but it’s a starting point. Unlike the regular season, this depth chart is a guesstimate by the media relations staff and isn’t coming straight from the coaching staff.

There are no major surprises, but there are a few things worth noting.

Let’s start with the quarterbacks, because they always draw the most interest. As you would expect, Josh Freeman is listed as the starter. But rookie Mike Glennon is ahead of veteran Dan Orlovsky. I think that’s clearly a sign of things to come.

The rest of Tampa Bay’s rookies are being brought along slowly, at least according to the depth chart. Cornerback Johnthan Banks is listed on the second team, behind Leonard Johnson. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence is listed second behind Gary Gibson. In both cases, I think that’s just a courtesy to the veterans. I think Spence and Banks have very real chances to be starters on opening day.

Other positions of interest include strongside linebacker, where Dekoda Watson is listed ahead of Jonathan Casillas; right tackle, where Demar Dotson is ahead of Gabe Carimi; and tight end, where Luke Stocker, who has been sidelined by injury, is listed ahead of Tom Crabtree.

In other news from Friday's practice, coach Greg Schiano said Banks and receiver Mike Williams have strained hamstrings. Schiano said Williams could return as early as Saturday, but Banks likely will miss a few days.

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