Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Power Rankings: Preseason: 26. This week: 31.
Where they stand: In the offseason, the Bucs (1-7) began a major rebuilding process that many of their fans couldn’t grasp. That’s understandable because there have been plenty of moves that have caused head-scratching. But the bottom line is the organization didn’t have high expectations for this year. The Bucs got rid of coach Jon Gruden because they were tired of patchwork and mediocrity every year. They wanted a plan for the long term and that came with the departures of veterans like Derrick Brooks, Joey Galloway and Warrick Dunn. The Bucs fully realized they had to take two steps back to move forward with new coach Raheem Morris. The problem is it’s looked like the Bucs have taken about 50 steps back without really showing any hope for the future. But that might be changing now that rookie quarterback Josh Freeman is playing.
Disappointments: I’m supposed to limit this to 100 words, which won’t be easy. Start with the team releasing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski right before the start of the season. Imagine where the Bucs would be right now if Jagodzinski had stayed and his playbook was as bad as the Bucs described it. Byron Leftwich was supposed to be a bridge to Freeman. He turned out to be a statue. Defensive backs Tanard Jackson and Aqib Talib let the team down with off-field actions. Defensive end Gaines Adams wasn’t having anything close to the breakout year the Bucs wanted and that got him traded to Chicago. Receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton simply haven’t produced. Running back Derrick Ward has been a complete bust and the kicking situation has been an utter mess. I could go on and on, but I’ve hit my word count.
Surprises: You have to look long and hard to find any positives for the Bucs. But wide receiver Sammie Stroughter has been one. He was a seventh-round draft pick, but he’s probably been the most productive rookie in the NFC South to the midway point. Defensive tackle Roy Miller also has shown some promise. Other than that …well, let’s just move to the next category.
Outlook: If you’re a Tampa Bay fan, do yourself a favor and just erase your memory of the first seven games. That actually makes sense because Freeman started the eighth game and that started a whole new era for the Bucs. Don’t get carried away with Freeman’s 1-0 record because there are likely to be a lot of rookie mistakes. But Freeman also has the physical talent to make some highlight plays. The rest of the season isn’t about climbing back into the playoff picture because that’s impossible. The rest of the season is about next season. It’s about seeing steady improvement from Freeman and finding some guys worthy of staying on this roster.