Posted in Feature,Four Downs

Four Downs: Freeman’s Development, Offensive Line Depth, Contract Disputes & Undrafted Rookie Watch

by Staff Report on May 21, 2010

In the third edition of Four Downs, the staff at Bucs Central takes a look at several pressing topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers including the development of Josh Freeman. Issues concerning the lack of experienced depth on the offensive line. The contract dispute between Donald Penn and the Bucs, along with which undrafted rookie has a chance to make the team and contribute immediately.

Did the Buccaneers organization surround Josh Freeman with enough talent in free agency and the draft to help the young signal caller take the next step in his development?

From a standpoint of adding quality veteran help to an offense that struggled to produce points, no. However based on the additions of Reggie Brown, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams at receiver, the team feels comfortable with the current makeup of its receiving corps. Now, whether you subscribe to the theory of addition by subtraction in the curious case of why the team allowed Antonio Bryant to walk without even a sniff of a contract proposal. It reportedly had to do with the fact Bryant was a freelancer in Olson system and caused more then a handful of Freeman’s interceptions by breaking off a route, giving up on route or freelancing on his own.

Still that does not totally answer the question. If it was enough to help Freeman take that next step in his maturation process and development. There’s really no easy answer. If the three aforementioned players produce then it will be a resounding yes. If they, along with the rest of the receivers fail, then the answer will be a definite no. But the more you look at the current receiving corps the more one gets the sense it’s shaping up to be a committee approach. With all players pitching in until one player separates himself from the pack. One last note, the amount of work Freeman has put in, in the film room, on the practice fields and digesting pass protections and blitz recognition this off season should have a positive effect on the entire offense including the receivers.

Will the lack of quality depth hurt the Bucs offensive line during the 2010 season?

Entering the 2010 season without any experienced or battled tested depth is a cause for concern. Adding to the angst is that Donald Penn seemingly is still fuming over the lack of a long term contract and has been a no show to this point. Starting right guard Davin Joseph underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this off season and is still recovering. Starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah sustained a wrist injury in the final game of 2009 season and still no word on his recovery. Then you have center Jeff Faine who missed a good portion of last season with an injury. It’s not out of the question that the backups could be pressed into action earlier then some anticipate with contract disputes, injuries and ineffectiveness by the starters. But the bottom line is the Bucs offense will go only as far as the offensive line takes them.

If the young backups are ill-equipped or overwhelmed it could spell disaster and quite possibly derail the entire offense and figure prominently into any such game plan that has the Bucs envisioning themselves as the second coming of the Air Coryell show placed on the back burner.

Will the contract impasse between Donald Penn and the Bucs have a negative effect on the teams other restricted free agents after the season?

It’s hard to say for sure. While some fans take it as a sign the Glazer’s are broke. It comes down to uncertainty with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. With the possibility of a lockout looming, the team is preparing for the worst possible scenario in 2011. Being fiscally responsible as a franchise is the prudent thing to do when it comes to paying out high signing bonuses to players that might not take the field ’11. It also allows the team to use the tools that govern an uncapped year to refortify their plans incase a new CBA is hashed out.

Having another year or even half a year to evaluate players in new schemes will also allow the team to determine if players drafted or brought in by the former regime fit the current schemes and if they are part of the foundation for which the team intends to build or if an upgrade is required.

Penn who is causing must of the fuss, should look in the mirror. If he really wanted a long term contract, why not get in the best possible shape last off season and show the team he was committed for the long haul. Instead he openly griped about the disservice and treatment that he perceived the team was showing him. But in reality Penn, who was is the same situation last year failed to show the necessary traits that a team could feel comfortable with dishing out a large sum of money to. Gaining weight and ballooning up to well over 365-pounds caused general manager Mark Dominik to become skeptical that once paid, Penn would only feel content with his status on the team and continue to grow.

What undrafted rookie from 2010 has the best chance to make the 53 man roster and produce immediately?

Out of the four most promising undrafted rookies the Bucs brought in shortly after the conclusion of the NFL draft, a list that includes QB Jevan Snead, G Sergio Render, DE James Ruffin and K Hunter Lawrence. All four players have a legitimate shot at making the 53-man roster. But it comes down to a process of elimination as to which player will have an immediate impact. With Snead battling with the likes of Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter it’s highly unlike, if he makes the roster he sees the field unless disaster strikes. Render on the other hand could battle for playing time out of the gate and even unseat incumbent left guard Jeremy Zuttah for the right to start.

But the early favorites at this juncture are Ruffin and Hunter as both have a much easier path to contribute opening day. With no true pass rushing specialist to unseat standing in Ruffin’s way. The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder possesses raw rushing potential evident by his 20 sacks and five forced fumbles over his final two seasons at Northern Iowa.

Lawrence is considered by many to posses a strong accurate leg and will battle incumbent Connor Barth who looked shaky between 30-49 yards going 9 for 13 for a 69% conversion rate. In his career Barth has converted 72% of his attempts from 30-49 yards. Meanwhile Lawrence connected on 18 of 19 from between the 30-49 yards for a conversion rate of 95% last year and is 24 of 26 from the same distance in his career for a conversion rate of 92%. Based on statistics alone it would appear Lawrence has the edge. But Barth has gained some trust at One Buc Place and is a veteran. So this should be an interesting battle to watching during training camp and the pre season.

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