NFL Nation: Adrian Clayborn

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NFL Nation's Pat Yasinskas examines the three biggest issues facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into training camp.

Josh McCown needs to play like he did last season: McCown’s been a backup most of his career. But he played the best football of his life last season for Chicago after starter Jay Cutler went down with an injury. That was enough to convince the Bucs that McCown can be a productive starter. McCown has history with Lovie Smith, and he already has established himself as one of Tampa Bay’s leaders. The Bucs have made it clear that they view Mike Glennon as their quarterback of the future. But the best-case scenario is that Glennon never even gets on the field this season. If he doesn’t, that means McCown is playing well. At 35, McCown has a chance to firmly establish himself as a starter for the first time in his career. His chances of succeeding are good because he's surrounded by good skill-position players such as Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

Carl Nicks’ health is a key: The left guard played only two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a MRSA infection. Nicks repeatedly has said he expects to be ready for training camp. But, as of the team’s June minicamp, Nicks hadn’t even started running or cutting. He’s admitted that there is permanent damage to his foot and said he’ll have to play through pain the rest of his career. It all sounds shaky, and you have to wonder if Nicks really can make it back and if he’ll be the same player. The Bucs need Nicks to be what he was earlier in his career. When he’s healthy, Nicks is one of the best guards in the league. He could be the anchor of what has the potential to be a very good offensive line. If Nicks isn’t fully recovered, there’s a sharp drop-off to rookie Kadeem Edwards and veterans Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins.

The pass rush needs to flourish: Smith prides himself on having teams that play strong defense. The Bucs seem to have some talent on defense. But to hit their full potential, they need the pass rush to be strong. The pass rush was a weakness last season, and that’s why the Bucs signed free agents Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. The Bucs believe Johnson and Adrian Clayborn can bring a strong pass rush from the outside, and McDonald and Gerald McCoy can do the same from the inside. One of the requirements for the Tampa 2 defense is for there to be a strong pass rush from the front four. If the Bucs get that, they’ll be in good shape defensively. The Bucs are in good shape at linebacker and in the secondary. If the pass rush shows up, this defense has a chance to be special.
TAMPA, Fla. -- With the clock ticking, Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn doesn’t know if the Buccaneers will pick up his fifth-year option.

Clayborn
Clayborn
"You guys know anything?" Clayborn said when asked by the media if he’d heard anything about his future.

The Bucs have been silent on Clayborn's situation so far, but the deadline to exercise the option is coming in early May. Clayborn remains under contract for 2014, but the Bucs have to decide if they want to pick up the option for 2015.

"They’ll tell me when it’s time," Clayborn said. "Either way, it works out for itself. I still have to have a good year."

That’s a healthy attitude for Clayborn to take. With a strong season, Clayborn can write his own ticket as a free agent if the Bucs don’t pick up the option.

A first-round pick in 2011, Clayborn has had an up and down three seasons. He started off well, recording 7.5 sacks as a rookie. But he suffered a knee injury early in his second season. Clayborn returned last season, but didn’t have the impact he would have liked.

With a new coaching staff, Clayborn is confident he can put his career back on an upward swing.

"It’s been a rough two years for me with me being hurt and then last year not playing the way I wanted to," Clayborn said. "I feel like, with this system, it’s really prime for me to have a good year. It’s up to me to make it happen."
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have their latest mock drafts out, and they’re in agreement on who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take at No. 7.

Kiper and McShay have the Bucs choosing Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. But unless the Bucs are planning to convert Mack into a defensive end, I don’t think this would be a good move. The Bucs already have one star at outside linebacker in Lavonte David, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to invest a lot more in this area.

Personally, I think the Bucs should go with Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy. He’d be a natural fit opposite Adrian Clayborn. The addition of a pass-rushing defensive end might be all that separates the Bucs from having an elite defense.

If Ealy isn’t there or the Bucs want to go in another direction, I easily can see them taking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The offensive line wasn’t very good last season and needs some new talent.

Of course, there’s another scenario that’s at least a possibility. The new regime has been saying nice things so far about quarterback Mike Glennon. But it remains to be seen if the Bucs are content to go with Glennon. If they have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr, they might not be able to pass on a quarterback.
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy(AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackLavonte David (54) and Gerald McCoy (93) are cornerstones for what could be a stellar defense.
TAMPA, Fla. -- On the surface, the jobs as coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might not look all that attractive.

But dig a little deeper and it's not hard to imagine candidates lining up to replace Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik, who were fired Monday morning. Look at Tampa Bay's roster, draft position and salary-cap situation, and it's easy to envision a turnaround on the scale of what the Kansas City Chiefs did this year, when they reached the playoffs after a 2-14 season.

Quite simply, the Bucs have too much talent to be a 4-12 team. They have Pro Bowl players in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Linebacker Lavonte David should have been selected to the Pro Bowl, but was overlooked. Throw in safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and middle linebacker Mason Foster, and the Bucs have the makings of what could be a very good defense.

Although the offense struggled most of the season, the cupboard is not bare. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is a top-notch player and if Doug Martin can get healthy, he can be one of the league's best running backs.

In hindsight, Schiano and his staff didn't do a good job. Defensively, they wasted talent by having the defensive linemen stunting too often and the defensive backs playing too much zone coverage. The offense lacked imagination with the running game struggling most of the year and rookie Mike Glennon being thrown in as quarterback after the early-season benching and eventual release of Josh Freeman.

I think the defense can be tweaked, mainly by adding a pass rusher or two, and become very good very quickly. The offense is going to take more work.

But the good news for the next coach and general manager is that the Bucs have the resources to make some significant moves. They'll hold the No. 7 pick in the draft. Plus, Dominik's parting gift was a good salary-cap situation.

As it stands right now, the Bucs are about $10 million under the projected salary cap. Plus, they can carry over almost $7 million in cap space from this year. The Bucs don't have any prominent free agents of their own to re-sign, so they can be significant players in the market.

But the first major choice the new coach and general manager have to make is at quarterback. Is Glennon the long-term answer?

Had Schiano stayed, Glennon was his guy. But look at what Glennon did as a rookie and it's tough to tell if he has any chance of being a franchise quarterback. I think Glennon eventually can be a solid quarterback with a very good team around him.

But, at very least, the new coach and general manager need to bring in someone to compete with Glennon. They probably need to do more than that. They probably need to either sign a high-profile free agent (Jay Cutler?) or use their first-round pick on a quarterback.

They also need to improve the offensive line that's supposed to protect that quarterback. The line was supposed to be a strength this year, but it wasn't. Guard Carl Nicks missed all but two games due to a staph infection and foot problems and there's no guarantee Nicks will ever get back to full health. Guard Davin Joseph and tackle Donald Penn, both 30, are getting older.

It might be time to blow up the offensive line. And the team definitely needs help at tight end.

But that's not a huge to-do list. If the new coach and general manager can make a few upgrades, this team could be a lot better than 4-12 next season.
DeAndre Levy and Vincent JacksonUSA Today SportsDeAndre Levy and the Lions will need to keep Vincent Jackson in check on Sunday.
Tampa Bay started its season terribly before finding some answers the past two weeks. Detroit started its season strong but is suddenly vulnerable and has some questions.

Only the Lions are in the playoff picture heading into the last six weeks of the season. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers can play spoiler and give a damaging blow to the Lions' playoff hopes.

The Buccaneers will try to do that with a rejuvenated defense that caught the eye of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“They are an extremely talented defense,” Stafford said. “Probably the most talented defense we've played all year.”

ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Pat Yasinskas (Buccaneers) break down Sunday's matchup.

Rothstein: What has happened over the past couple of weeks to turn this Tampa team around?

Yasinskas: The short answer is that the Bucs suddenly have gotten much better at finishing games, a huge problem early in the season. But it goes much deeper than that. Coach Greg Schiano has a reputation for being stubborn and inflexible. But he's changed in recent weeks. His mood has been lighter on the practice field and when he's met with the media. More importantly, he's adjusted some things on the field. He's stopped stunting so much on the defensive line, and that's created more straight-ahead rushes for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Schiano has used cornerback Darrelle Revis in more man-to-man coverage after playing him in a lot of zone early in the season. The Bucs also have been running the ball much better, and that's a tribute to the offensive line.

Speaking of McCoy, he and Ndamukong Suh came out in the same draft, and early on, it looked like Suh clearly was the better player. But McCoy has been outstanding of late. What kind of a year is Suh having?

Rothstein: Suh's actual statistics are fairly pedestrian and wouldn't really stand out to anyone if they were just watching Detroit from afar. But he has faced a lot of double-teams throughout the season and has been somewhat consistent throughout the year. He played his best in the two games against Chicago -- four quarterback hurries in Week 10, two sacks in Week 4 -- but he and the rest of the Detroit defensive line almost inexplicably struggled to reach Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this past Sunday.

Detroit has not blitzed much this season, putting a lot of pressure on the front four, starting with Suh.

That'll lead into my next question -- how has Mike Glennon been progressing this season, and how does he move when he is pushed in the pocket a little bit?

Yasinskas: Glennon has been a pleasant surprise. He was thrown into the lineup when Josh Freeman was benched, and he struggled at first. But Glennon has steadily improved and has been very good in recent weeks. He had only three incompletions in Sunday's victory over Atlanta. He's shown poise and leadership. Glennon's strength is his big arm, and the Bucs are trying to develop more of a deep passing game. They showed signs that's catching on when Vincent Jackson caught two long passes against the Falcons.

I first saw Glennon when I was covering the filming of "Gruden's QB Camp" this past spring. Watching Glennon's college tape, I thought he didn't have the mobility to succeed in the NFL. As it turns out, I was wrong. Glennon is not a running threat, but he's not a statue, either. He's been extending some plays by scrambling.

Speaking of deep passing games, the matchup I can't wait to see is Calvin Johnson against Revis. I saw the Lions-Steelers game, and it seemed like Johnson disappeared in the second half. What was all that about? Revis and Johnson went head-to-head in a 2010 game, and Johnson caught just one pass for 13 yards. Do you see Revis, with a little bit of help, being help to keep Johnson quiet?

Rothstein: It depends on what Tampa tries to do defensively. When teams have tried covering Johnson with single coverage, he's destroyed opponents. It happened a good amount against Dallas and early against Pittsburgh. It goes to the situation most teams have had to face this season -- do you double-team Johnson and give a lighter box to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, or do you play single high to focus on Bell and Bush and put Johnson in lighter coverage?

That said, Revis is one of the best corners in the league -- something Stafford acknowledged Tuesday -- and it should be an intriguing matchup Sunday. Johnson likes going against the top corners in the league and has had some success this season in those matchups, notably against Arizona's Patrick Peterson (six catches, 116 yards, two touchdowns) and Dallas' Brandon Carr (14 catches, 329 yards).

One of the other ways teams have had success against Detroit is to pressure Stafford, which hasn't been easy this season. It goes back to that first question with McCoy, but is he the key to any pressure Tampa might get?

Yasinskas: McCoy is the central piece of the defensive line, and everything feeds off him. But he's not alone in the pass rush. End Adrian Clayborn has some pass-rush skills, and the Bucs have started lining up outside linebacker Dekoda Watson as a rush end. But the Bucs also like to use their linebackers as blitzers, and Lavonte David (five sacks) is a very good pass-rusher. But it all goes back to McCoy. The Bucs rely on him to push the quarterback off the spot, and the other players can clean up.

You mentioned Bush. At least from a distance, it seemed like he got himself in the doghouse by fumbling against Pittsburgh. Is Bush in good graces with the coaching staff, or will we see less of him Sunday?

Rothstein: Doghouse? No. But he needs to work on protecting the ball better and hanging on to it, period. He's struggled with drops all season and lost fumbles two of the past three weeks. He's too big a weapon for Detroit to move away from him -- especially at home -- but if he continues on this trend, Bell might steal some of his snaps.

Power Rankings: No. 31 Tampa Bay

October, 29, 2013
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A weekly examination of the Buccaneers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 19 | Last Week: 31 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The latest ESPN.com Power Rankings are out and the best -- and worst -- thing you can say about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that they’re consistent.

After a loss to Carolina on Thursday night, the winless Bucs came in at No. 31 for the second straight week. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a firm grip on No. 32.

But the Bucs are only a Jacksonville win away from No. 32. Tampa Bay has earned its ranking with inept play.

I think it’s getting to the point where you can argue that the Bucs are the most disappointing team in the league. A team with the likes of Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson shouldn’t be this bad. But the Bucs have been every bit as bad as their record indicates.

Upon Further Review: Buccaneers Week 8

October, 25, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs' Thursday night performance surely didn't help the job security of coach Greg Schiano.
Greg Schiano’s status. Although fans have been calling for his firing for several weeks and the noise is getting louder, Schiano still has a job -- at the moment. That still could change. But, with every minute that passes, it looks as if Schiano will be around for at least one more game.

Could there be a scapegoat? If the Bucs don’t fire Schiano, they still might feel they need to make a statement that they care. The other way to do that would be by firing a coordinator. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s unit has struggled all season. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s group has regressed in recent weeks.

The offensive line is a problem. This group was supposed to be a point of strength, but it hasn’t been. Sure, guard Carl Nicks is out with a staph infection, and that doesn’t help. But this line can’t open holes for the running game, and quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked three times.

The defense is regressing. Look at the defense and you see some strong individual talent -- Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Lavonte David and Darrelle Revis. But this unit allowed 31 points for the second straight week. It’s easy to point to the schemes as the problem, but the players deserve some blame as well.

W2W4: Panthers at Buccaneers

October, 24, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Five things to watch in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers:

The pass rush. It's gone from being pretty good to almost nonexistent in recent weeks. The Bucs need to get more out of a defensive front that features some big-time talent in Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton may be elusive, but he’s not immune to making some mistakes if he’s pressured.

The defensive backfield. In the past two games, this unit has given up too many plays over its head. Carolina’s Steve Smith still can stretch a defense. Hint to coach Greg Schiano: Put cornerback Darrelle Revis in one-on-one coverage on Smith all game and let them battle it out.

Mike James as the feature back. With Doug Martin dealing with a shoulder injury, the Bucs will turn to the rookie James as their feature back. James has looked pretty good in limited action. He’s going to get plenty of chances because Tampa Bay’s not going to go away from its run-first philosophy.

Mike Glennon’s progress. Speaking of rookies with big roles, Glennon will make his fourth start and his first on national television. The quarterback has shown slight improvement with each start. But he has to hold up against a Carolina pass rush that will be the best he will have seen so far.

The crowd. The natives are restless because the Bucs are winless. Schiano was booed as he came off the field at the end of the last home game. There likely will be a lot of Carolina fans in the stands. If the Bucs don’t make use of the home-field advantage, things could get ugly.
Patrick Peterson and Mike WilliamsGetty ImagesMike Williams will be called on to help jump-start Tampa Bay's offense, while Patrick Peterson will be charged with helping to keep him in check.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only NFL team practicing in the Tampa Bay area this week.

The Arizona Cardinals are practicing at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as they get ready for Sunday’s game.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas talk about Sunday’s game.

Yasinskas: Josh, I know IMG has great facilities. The Buccaneers used them during the lockout, and the Carolina Panthers worked out there last year to avoid the congestion from the Democratic National Convention before playing the Bucs. But why did the Cardinals elect to come east early?

Weinfuss: Having just adjusted to the two-hour time difference in New Orleans, Bruce Arians didn’t want his players’ bodies to get totally out of whack going back to Pacific time (technically, Arizona is on Mountain time, but the state doesn’t change its clocks when the rest of the country does) and then five days later fly cross-country to the East Coast, another three hours ahead. I’m tired from thinking about it. This way, the Cardinals can adjust their body clocks to playing what would be a 10 a.m. home game in Arizona. We’ll see whether it works. There’s a pretty significant contingent inside the locker room that's not a fan of this, but those players might be after they realize what their bodies would have gone through. And then there’s playing in the Florida humidity, which takes more than a day or two to adapt to. In Arizona, it’s a dry heat (yeah, I know, everyone doubts it, but it really is), and the Cards neither practice nor play outside, so the added time in the elements could help.

Speaking of elements, is the Bucs' locker room in as much disarray right now as the perception makes people believe?

Yasinskas: It might be in even more disarray than people realize. Wednesday's news that the Bucs are benching quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon was just more evidence of how much dysfunction is going on with this team. Freeman and coach Greg Schiano never were firmly on the same page, and Freeman's fate was sealed the moment Schiano used a third-round draft pick on Glennon in April. But the fact that Schiano now is going with "his guy" isn't going to instantly solve all the problems. Freeman is a popular figure in the locker room, and some teammates might not agree with his benching. There also have been multiple reports about players not liking Schiano's militaristic style. The Bucs have denied those reports, but I think there's something to them. I believe that where there's smoke, there's fire.

Speaking of coaching styles, it’s early in the Arians era, but what is his persona and how has he been received by the players?

Weinfuss: He’s a no-nonsense type of guy, and the players love it. Well, maybe they loved it. Having a lackluster offense and starting 1-2 wasn’t what this team projected out of Arians. There haven’t been any signs of the players losing faith in their coach. They all raved about him during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp. The players appreciated his candidness with them. If they ever want to know where they stand, he’ll tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Whether they like it or not.

He has been there for only three games, but is the Darrelle Revis acquisition working out and how has he changed the Bucs' defense?

Yasinskas: Revis has been everything the Bucs hoped for. They brought him in to fix a defense that led the league in passing yards allowed last season, and the early results have been good. Revis is the kind of player who makes those around him better, and his arrival really has helped strong safety Mark Barron. I’d imagine the Bucs will put Revis on Larry Fitzgerald for most -- or all -- of this game.

If Revis can neutralize Fitzgerald, do the Cardinals have enough other offensive weapons to win?

Weinfuss: That’s the $10,000 question. The short answer is yes, they do. The long answer is only if the other weapons -- most notably receivers Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts -- are not double-teamed. If they are and Revis can shut down Fitzgerald, it could be a long day for Arizona’s offense. But Arians is a smart enough offensive mind, so I’m sure he has accounted for this. Expect tight end Rob Housler to play an integral role Sunday, and look for the Cardinals’ stable of running backs -- Rashard Mendenhall, Alfonso Smith, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor -- to come out of the backfield for passes and to create mismatches.

Aside from Revis, how has the rest of Tampa Bay’s defense looked?

Yasinskas: The defense has been a bright spot for Tampa Bay. In addition to the secondary, linebackers Mason Foster and Lavonte David, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are off to very good starts. But the Patriots were able to run the ball against the Bucs, and Tampa Bay had trouble with the tight ends against the Jets and the Saints. The Bucs could be susceptible if Arizona can get some production from the running game or its tight ends.

W2W4: Buccaneers vs. Patriots

September, 21, 2013
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Three things to watch from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they play the New England Patriots at 1 p.m. Sunday:

Josh Freeman and the circus. The Tampa Bay quarterback hasn’t looked sharp in the preseason and the first two regular-season games and there’s been a report he may demand a trade. The pressure on Freeman is at an all-time high as speculation continues that he and coach Greg Schiano aren’t on the same page. Another loss and poor performance by Freeman could prompt Schiano to turn things over to rookie Mike Glennon after the Week 5 bye.

Doug Martin vs. the New England run defense. The Patriots haven’t been very good against the run so far. They’ve allowed an average of 133 rushing yards in their first two games. Tampa Bay’s run-blocking could get a big boost if guard Carl Nicks is healthy enough to play.

Tampa Bay’s defense. There really has been only one bright spot for the Bucs and that’s the defense. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster and the secondary are all off to good starts. New England’s offense hasn’t been spectacular, so Tampa Bay’s defense could keep the Bucs in the game.
Freeman-BreesGetty ImagesBucs QB Josh Freeman faces off against Saints QB Drew Brees in a Week 2 division rivalry game.
Two of the biggest stories in the NFC South in Week 1 were that New Orleans played good defense and Tampa Bay never was able to get into an offensive rhythm.

Will that continue as the Saints and Buccaneers play one another?

ESPN’s Matt Williamson and Buccaneers team reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss the matchup.

Yasinskas: Matt, I have to admit I was stunned by the Saints holding the Falcons to just 17 points in the opener. I saw the Saints in training camp and had serious doubts about whether they had the personnel to run the 3-4 defense successfully, and they have endured several major injuries since then. Yet, the Saints kept one of the league’s best offenses in check. Was this just a fluke or is the New Orleans defense actually for real?

Williamson: If I were an optimistic Saints fan, I would take this stand: The Saints' young, talented three-man defensive line, led by Cameron Jordan, looks simply exceptional and fits the new scheme very well. Their secondary is also clearly improved from a year ago -- which isn’t saying much. If I were taking a more pessimistic view on New Orleans’ defense, I would say that Roddy White was a shell of himself and completely ineffectual, and the Falcons’ offensive line might be among the worst in the NFL right now. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but I also believe that as long as the Saints’ defense isn’t among the very worst in the league, that this is the team to beat in the NFC South. So, in return, here is my question: Even if the Saints’ defense isn’t noticeably improved and is closer to the 2012 version than what we saw last week, is Josh Freeman capable of exploiting it? Vincent Jackson played a great game in New York, but Freeman has looked terrible throughout the preseason and now into regular-season action.

Yasinskas: After watching Freeman in the New York game, I'm not so sure he's capable of exploiting any defense right now. He never got into any sort of rhythm in the passing game and, at times, look flustered. Over the past few years I've been steadfast in my belief Freeman has what it takes to turn into an elite quarterback. But that hasn't happened yet, and I'm starting to doubt if it ever will. He has plenty of weapons at the skill positions, but it seems like Freeman is regressing, instead of progressing. Speaking of regressing, what's your take on the Saints' running game? Coach Sean Payton has said he wants to run more, but the Saints got very little out of the running game in the opener. Now, they'll play a defense that was No. 1 against the run last season. Can Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas move the ball against the Buccaneers?

Williamson: That’s a great question and I know it is extremely early, but I have forecasted Ingram to have a breakout season in 2013. But I am having second thoughts on that, as he is a volume runner who needs to be fed the ball to be most effective, and I just don’t know if that will ever be the case here, as Thomas is such an effective all-around player and Sproles needs to be on the field. I do think Payton believes in balance and he wants to have a physical offense with a very good interior offensive line paving the way, but running against Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be the prudent move. Of course, the Tampa secondary is also vastly improved, but Drew Brees is the type of elite passer who just produces no matter the competition ... and can the Buccaneers match up to Sproles and Jimmy Graham? I have my doubts they can. Therefore, I say this is a game Payton puts on Brees’ shoulders -- which is never a terrible idea. Along those lines, the Buccaneers clearly made a concerted effort to improve their pass defense by using numerous valuable resources to improve their secondary. Mission accomplished there. But this pass rush still has to be a concern, and if Brees is given time, he is going to find someone to his liking to eventually distribute the ball to. Brees is a tough guy to sack, but can the Bucs at least disrupt him in the pocket with some consistency?

Yasinskas: One of the few encouraging things to come out of the loss to the Jets was that the Bucs recorded five sacks. Four of them came from the linebackers, which shows a willingness to blitz. But the front four can be more productive and several guys have the ability to bring some heat on Brees. End Adrian Clayborn and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy both have the talent to get to the quarterback. But the real wild card could be Da'Quan Bowers. The team wanted him to start, but he didn't play well enough to earn the job in the preseason. For the moment, Bowers is being used as a situational player. But he has more upside as a pass-rusher than anyone on this team, and this game would be a good time for him to start showing. Brees is tough to slow down under any circumstances, but you absolutely have to have a strong pass rush to have any chance. Speaking of Tampa Bay's pass rush, that brings up another question. The Saints let left tackle Jermon Bushrod depart as a free agent and they've replaced him with Charles Brown. Can Brown be an effective left tackle?

Williamson: Because of their strengths on the interior and the need for the shorter Brees to have a clean pocket up the middle, the Saints construct their protections schemes from the inside out, which makes life for their offensive tackles easier. And, of course, Brees has a great feel for the rush to go along with underrated, but highly effective pocket movement and athletic ability to elude the rush, particularly from the edges. Bushrod never impressed me much, considering some viewed him as a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle. In fact, I think Brown has more natural ability when it comes to movement skills and length for the position. Brown played quite well in the preseason and that carried over to Week 1. It appears the Saints just might have found their starting left tackle for the foreseeable future.

Not all is right with Josh Freeman

September, 12, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- On a sweltering May afternoon in 2011, Josh Freeman stood on a field at the University of South Florida and seemingly never broke a sweat.

This was during the NFL lockout, and I couldn't help but admire how firmly the 23-year-old quarterback had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his grasp. He was throwing passes with one hand and arranging the next day's practice with his cell phone in his other hand.

Freeman even fielded a phone call from LeGarrette Blount, who was having trouble finding USF. Blount, then a Buccaneers running back, was headed for the Howard Frankland Bridge, which is about as far away as you can get from USF and still be in Tampa. Freeman ordered Blount to stop before getting on the bridge and firmly told him to try using Interstate 275 North to Fowler Avenue the next day.

At the time, Freeman was coming off a 2010 season in which he threw for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record. It appeared the Buccaneers had a franchise quarterback for the first time in franchise history.

That's why I can't help but wonder where that Freeman has gone.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJosh Freeman enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2010. Since then, he has thrown almost as many interceptions (40) and TD passes (44).
Let's flash forward to Thursday. Reports were flying that Freeman missed the team's annual photo; other players suspected coach Greg Schiano had manipulated the vote to keep the quarterback from being a captain; and the team had a players-only meeting to discuss the voting.

Two out of three were (somewhat) wrong. Schiano emphatically denied rigging the vote, and multiple players said topic did not come up in a meeting. But the players did have a meeting, which veteran long-snapper Andrew Economos said was basically a pep rally to start the season.

So the only smoke that came with fire was that Freeman missed the team photo. He said he overslept, which makes you wonder if the Bucs need to bring back the guy they used to pay to make sure Blount got to practice on time.

The Bucs and Freeman did their best to throw water on the situation.

They need more water, because not everything looks right with this picture.

"The position of quarterback is a position of leadership," Freeman said. "Obviously, missing the team photo is a big deal. ... It's something I feel badly about and it's obviously upsetting. But, at the same time, you've got to put it behind you and continue to play because, like it or not, the Saints are coming to town."

You can't ignore all the other signs that something is off kilter with a guy who once seemed to be the most balanced individual inside One Buccaneer Place. And I'm not just talking about Freeman's dismal performance in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.

I'm talking about the fact that Freeman looked equally dismal throughout the preseason and late last season, when he had consecutive four-interception games in December. I'm talking about the fact the Bucs decided not to sign Freeman to a long-term contract extension. I'm talking about the repeated rumblings that Freeman and Schiano don't see eye to eye.

"I do trust Josh," Schiano said. "Josh and I share a lot of things together."

"I really like playing for Coach Schiano," Freeman said.

Yeah, that all sounds nice. But I couldn't help but notice the painting on the Himes Avenue corner of Raymond James Stadium as I drove by earlier in the day and pondered the irony.

The painting featured an action shot of Freeman, flanked by action shots of defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy with a message on top: "Fear No Enemy."

Are Freeman and Schiano enemies? Are they at odds?

They say they're not.

"It may be an issue outside this building," Schiano said. "It's not an issue inside this building."

Freeman said basically the same thing.

But still I wonder what happened to that calm, cool quarterback from that day back at the University of South Florida.

As Freeman stood at a podium on Thursday and went through an interview session that was more like an interrogation, he, seemingly, was sweating.

Maybe Freeman puts it all together against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and Freeman, Schiano and the Bucs live happily ever after.

Or maybe Freeman has another lackluster game and the smoke just continues to get thicker.

Bucs need to bring rush on Drew Brees

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
8:00
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It’s very difficult to rattle New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, but that’s what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to do if they’re going to have a chance against the Saints on Sunday.

One of the few encouraging things that came out of the season-opening loss to the Jets was that the Bucs recorded five sacks. Four of them came from linebackers, which shows that defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan isn’t afraid to blitz. He’ll need to do some of that against the Saints.

But the Bucs really need to bring a pass rush from their front four. New Orleans builds its lines from the inside out, so I wouldn’t count on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy having much success as a pass-rusher. But the Saints are a little shaky with Zach Strief starting at right tackle and Charles Brown at left tackle.

That means the door could be open for defensive ends Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Da'Quan Bowers. If those guys can get near Brees, the Bucs might be able to slow the New Orleans offense.

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:15
PM ET
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 Cody Grimm.

Analysis: Melvin and Grimm are 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.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pushed Tom Brady around in a joint practice Wednesday. On Friday night, the New England quarterback hit back, carving up Tampa Bay’s first-team defense in a 25-21 New England win.

Brady had to leave Wednesday’s practice when Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn pushed New England tackle Nate Solder into Brady’s knee. Brady had to leave practice, but it quickly was discovered that no damage was done.

Solder and the rest of New England’s offensive line protected Brady to a near-perfect night. At one point, New England had run 23 offensive plays while the Bucs had run only three. Brady finished 11-of-12 for 107 yards and one touchdown before leaving at the end of the first quarter.

Granted, the Bucs were without cornerback Darrelle Revis. But this defense has to improve dramatically for Tampa Bay to have a chance when these teams meet again in the third week of the regular season.

Some other quick observations on the Bucs:
  • As I mentioned above, Brady was well protected. That’s not good news for a Tampa Bay defense that wasn’t able to generate anything close to a pass rush. Coach Greg Schiano has been challenging Da’Quan Bowers to be an every-down player, and the Bucs have some other good young players on the defensive line. But the pass rush has to improve by the start of the regular season if Tampa Bay’s defense is going to be any good.
  • Speaking of pass rushes, the Patriots had one. They sacked Josh Freeman three times before he left the game at the end of the first quarter. Freeman completed 2-of-3 passes for 8 yards. Freeman didn’t have much of a chance, but he could have avoided the second sack if he hadn’t held on to the ball so long. Freeman never got into any sort of rhythm as the Bucs failed to move the ball while he was in the game.
  • Rookie Mike Glennon took over when Freeman left the game, and he had a little more success. Glennon completed 12-of-22 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had an interception returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Running back Doug Martin got banged up in the first quarter and left the game with an unspecified injury. Rookie Mike James looked good at times after replacing Martin. The Bucs brought in veteran Peyton Hillis as insurance, and he showed he may have something left, meaning the Bucs have some quality depth in the backfield.

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