Changes abound on the Gulf Coast this year, as first-year head coach Greg Schiano takes over from the underwhelming Raheem Morris (who was last seen doing his paper route).
Schiano, who comes to Tampa via Rutgers University, has instilled a no-nonsense disciplinarian regime during his first training camp and it seems to be paying off.
One of the players hoping to benefit most from the coaching change is fourth-year quarterback, Josh Freeman.
Following a 2010 campaign that saw Freeman post a quarterback rating of 95.9 while throwing 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions, the young signal caller took a big step backward in 2011, as his rating dropped to a paltry 74.6, his touchdown totals drop to 16 while Freeman's interceptions numbers nearly quadrupled, finally settling at 22 on the season.
It remains to be seen whether last year was more the norm or the aberration for the quarterback, but the team has done well in bringing in talented players to surround Freeman. One of Tampa's biggest acquisitions this offseason (the signing of guard Carl Nicks will play out in time as the best move the club made this year, especially given the injury to Davin Joseph, but more on that later), was the addition of 6-5 receiver Vincent Jackson from the Chargers.
Brought in to stretch the field and give Freeman a larger receiving target, Jackson is also expected to open up coverage on third-year receiver Mike Williams who saw his touchdown catches drop from 11 to three following his stellar rookie season. Jackson's best year in San Diego was 2009 when he caught 68 catches for 1,167 yard and nine touchdowns.
Every year teams hope and struggle to just make it through the preseason without being dealt a major injury. For the Buccaneers, the 2012 preseason was no exception, although those hopes were dashed nigh on immediately. In the third week of the preseason, which is usually where the starters get the bulk of their reps, the Buccaneers lost Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph to a season-ending broken kneecap.
Joseph was far and away the best lineman before Carl Nicks was brought in as a free agent from division rival New Orleans, and his loss will be felt in both the running and passing game.
Joseph's replacement, Ted Larsen has started 14 games ove the past two season's, but has not received a ringing endorsement from Schiano and staff as the Bucs continue to audition offensive lineman to potentially replace Larsen at right guard.
The Buccaneers' prospects are murky coming into 2012, if for no other reason than the myriad of changes the franchise has seen this offseason. Playing in a loaded division, one in which the three rival franchises all boast top line quarterbacks, will make the 2012 season a difficult one for Schiano's Bucs, but one in which hope for the future will emerge, despite finishing last in the division with a 4-12 record.