Young Bucs come of age
We lost. We're 5-3. We're not the best team in the NFC. But this weekend's game will go down as the day that these young Buccaneers came of age. We've all known for weeks now that Mike Williams and Josh Freeman have been playing to a Pro Bowl level but Sunday's game against Atlanta saw the emergence of a number of other players who took their play to another level and, to be brutally honest, should have beaten the Falcons.
Arrelious Benn caught his first NFL touchdown on a fantastic throw by Freeman finding Benn who made a great catch in heavy coverage. Benn has not been the instant success that Williams has been but the Bucs Front Office have been biding their time with Benn, allowing him to familiarise himself with not only the playbook but also allowing the young man to adjust to life as a professional footballer.
That has only been possible because the likes of Micheal Spurlock and Sammie Stroughter have played to a high enough standard to make Benn's introduction a project rather than a necessity. I can't help but think that had Gerald McCoy been afforded the same type of introduction to life in the NFL then he wouldn't be playing with such a weight of expectations on his shoulders.
Along the O-Line the Bucs are having to survive without the best centre in the NFL (Jeff Faine) and starting right tackle (Jeremy Trueblood), added to that the man down to play left guard is having to play centre and the merry-go-round all springs from there along the line. James Lee, Ted Larson and Jeremy Zuttah are all doing a solid job in difficult circumstances and have made only a hand full of errors in recent weeks.
But with all that said the Buccaneers protected Freeman well in Atlanta and Donald Penn totally controlled one of the best defensive ends in the NFL in John Abrahams. If this unit, plus Faine, can continue to grow and improve as a group then they are going to be a formidable task for any D-Line in the coming years.
Erik Lorig came into to start a game at full back for the first time in the NFL and did a good job of leading for Cadillac and Blount, although the rushing yards weren't overly impressive if you watch Lorig's play it is that of a far more experienced NFL full back.
Considering that this young man was a sought after tight end coming out of high school and converted to DE in college, was drafted by the Bucs as a DE and then changed to a TE and is now a starting FB you can only be impressed with his play. Considering all this and how he coped with one of the top D-Lines in the NFL on debut Lorig could end up being a steal in the 7th round of this year's draft.
In recent weeks teams have targeted EJ Biggers. He is having a second rookie season after missing most of last year with injury, he has made some big plays this season but Sunday the Falcons took one shot deep at Biggers who did fantastically in coverage and from then on he held all of the Falcons receivers, including the NFL's best in Roddy White, in check.
The emergence of Biggers as the Buccaneers nickel back has given the Bucs 3 excellent cornerbacks (Talib, Barber and Biggers) and with the return of Tanard Jackson (dickhead of the year) next season to accompany Grimm or Jones in the safety spots the Bucs secondary looks in good hands in the near future.
In the last two minutes of the first half on Sunday the Buccaneers D-Line appeared to arrive at the Georgia Dome. For those two minutes and the whole second half Matt Ryan had Pewter Pirates in his face the whole time. Stylez G White came closest to a sack but McCoy and Miller we starting to cause problems for the Falcons line, even against double team blocks in the case of McCoy.
Teams have seen what McCoy did in college, and what draft mate Suh is doing in Detroit, and have sent double teams his way from his first down in the NFL. Only now has McCoy started to show the capability to get off such blocks and effect plays. This is also helping Miller have more of an impact.
As we've all seen the DT rotation of McCoy, Miller and Price should be the linch-pin of the Buccaneers D for years to come. I do feel that the Bucs still lack a pass rush off the outside but maybe the 2011 draft could address that.
I am very proud to be a Buccaneers fan after Sunday and really, truly believe that under Josh Freeman and even Raheem Morris, that this band of young men WILL achieve greatness. When that happens you can re-read this article and mark Sunday 7th November 2011 as a big turning point in the careers of this team.