By Max Luckan
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano made it through his first season as a head coach in the NFL, and now he has plenty to learn and build on. In 2011, the Bucs finished with a 4-12 record, and this season, the Bucs improved and finished with a 7-9 record. Obviously, Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were aiming for a better finish, but the key is that the team did improve this year, but there is still plenty room for improvement going forward. Schiano and Dominik will now go into the evaluation phase of the post-season and they’ll look to fix some of the things that went wrong this past season.
After starting 6-4, the Bucs lost five games in a row, but finished the season off on a good note with a win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. While a 7-9 record may be seen as disappointing after being in prime position for a playoff berth, the Bucs were, at least, able to finish the regular season off strong.
Now, the Bucs are facing many crucial decisions. One involves quarterback Josh Freeman and his future with the team. Freeman’s contract expires after next season and the Bucs will have to decide if Freeman is their quarterback of the future. On Monday, Schiano wouldn’t exactly commit to labeling Freeman as their long-term quarterback. Schiano was asked if he was “all-in” with Freeman, and it appears that he isn’t. “That’s a question that, again, I’m not all-in with myself yet, so how could I be all in with Josh Freeman or any other player?” Schiano said. “I’m not side-stepping you, but I need to evaluate.
“What I can say is, a 4,000-yard passer, a touchdown record. There’s a lot of things you say ‘wow.’ Are there things that frustrate you? Yeah. There’s things that frustrate him, too. And I’m not ducking the question, because quite frankly, I really like Josh Freeman. But I want to make sure I don’t get ahead of my skis at all here and really evaluate every single thing to what’s best for this organization. Do I think Josh Freeman is going to win Super Bowls in this league? I do. So, I hope that happens here. But again, at the end of the day, I have to evaluate everything before I can say that’s what we’re doing.
“The one thing I do believe in is competition at every spot, including the quarterback so I want to have as many good players on our football team as we can at every single position. It’s a little different in the NFL.”
It certainly appears that Schiano is open to bringing in another quarterback to challenge Freeman. It’s likely that Freeman will be the starter next season, but he will probably have to really earn that spot.
Defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Roy Miller played key roles on the defensive line this season, but both players will be free agents in March. Bennett, whose brother Martellus plays tight end for the New York Giants, realizes that he might have played his last game for the Bucs.
“It’s a business and I know this could’ve been my last game with this organization,” Bennett said, according to the Tampa Tribune. “All these people in here are like my family. I built a lot of relationships that I want to keep, whether I’m here or not next year.”
For the Bucs, making re-signing Bennett and Miller a priority would be a wise decision, as they both played extremely well on defense this year.
Schiano also said that linebacker Quincy Black, who was placed on injured reserve with a serious injury, is still visiting with specialists across the country and trying to figure out the best road to recovery. Meanwhile, Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph, and Adrian Clayborn are all progressing well, Schiano said.
The Bucs struggled in the secondary on defense the entire season, and that will certainly be addressed this upcoming offseason. And Tampa Bay seems to also be in position to go on another spending spree after restructuring the contracts of wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks.
Tampa Bay holds the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, which should put them in great position to draft top-flight players to help improve this team, which has a lot of potential, going forward.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.