After a productive offseason, Bucs should compete in 2012

There’s reason to believe that the 2011 season was the true aberration for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – not 2010.

Behind the solid play of quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs won 10 games in 2010 only to transform into a laughingstock in 2011. Led by the usually cheap Malcolm Glazer, Tampa Bay kicked off the 2011 season by making punter Michael Koenen their prized free agent piece. The Glazers clearly assumed that they could win with the same roster they had in 2010 and the plan backfired in their faces.

First round pick Adrian Clayborn turned out to be a stud but the defense as a whole was horrific, finishing 21st in pass defense, 30th in overall defense and dead last in run defense. The Bucs also allowed 30.9 points per game, which was most by any team in the NFL.

The offense wasn’t much better, finishing 16th in passing yards per game, 30th in rushing and 21st overall. Their 17.9 points per game average was the sixth fewest by any team in the league.

But thanks to a successful offseason, the Bucs have bounced back.

It’s not known whether Greg Schiano will be a successful NFL head coach but there’s little doubt that he’ll bring toughness and discipline to a team that was lacking in each category last season. The Glazers also surprised by breaking out their checkbook in order to sign free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. The team’s most underrated move was bringing back defensive end Michael Bennett, who was solid in all facets of the game last season.

The Bucs’ draft was a success, too. Mark Barron is best when playing in the box but thanks to Nick Saban’s tutelage, he can hold his own in coverage as well. Trading back into the first round in order to select Boise State running back Doug Martin was also solid as he’ll force LeGarrette Blount to be a more rounded player if he hopes to get carries in Schiano’s offense. Linebacker Lavonte David was a first-round talent that the Bucs drafted in the second round, while sixth-round pick Keith Tandy is a physical cornerback who could push for playing time down the road.

Assuming the Saints re-sign Drew Brees, they’re still the class of the NFC South but the bounty scandal has left them without a head coach for the entire year, as well as several players for the first few weeks of the season. The Falcons will be good again but the Bucs always seem to give Atlanta trouble (especially in Tampa Bay) and the Panthers are a couple of defensive pieces shy from competing for a playoff spot.

Thus, the division is wide open this year. Granted, Jackson and Nicks have to stay motivated after signing long-term deals, Freeman has to bounce back from a rocky 2011 performance, and Schiano has to prove himself in the ultra-competitive NFL. But this is a team that has significantly upgraded their roster in just one offseason. So much so that they could contend for a division title this season.

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Are the Browns targeting Joe Haden?

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that Florida cornerback Joe Haden could be a perfect complement to Eric Wright in the Browns’ secondary. ESPN’s Mel Kiper agrees.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. predicts the Browns will take Haden in his current mock draft, compiled before the Combine.

“Joe Haden makes the most sense, in terms of value,” Kiper said on a conference call. “We don’t know if he’s going to be Darrelle Revis [of the Jets] or [Oakland’s] Nnamdi Asomugha. They’re the two best cover corners in the NFL right now. They didn’t [get drafted] in the top 10. But Haden will.

“Haden has potential to be an elite corner. He’s a complete corner, effective on the blitz, outstanding in coverage.”
“I haven’t done a lot of work on him yet, but obviously he’s highly regarded, so we’ll look seriously at him,” Browns coach Eric Mangini said at the Combine.

Browns General Manager Tom Heckert has studied him enough to be impressed.

“He’s a heckuva football player,” said Heckert. “He’s one of the top corners, if not the top corner in the draft. He’s played at a big-time program and they won a lot of games. He’s going to go early.”

Some people absolutely love Haden and say that he’s the safest pick in the top 10. Others, like the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, believe he’s a borderline top-ten pick and that there’s some concern about Haden’s forty time. (Haden ran a 4.34 in high school, but Mayock says that he might only run a 4.52 or 4.55.)

That said, there’s no question that Haden is the top corner in this year’s draft and reminds me of Darrelle Revis. He racked up a ton of experience playing against top competition while at Florida and he has the ability to be a shutdown corner if he can develop. While having a good forty is important for defensive backs, it’s not everything and I doubt that teams would pass on him just because he ran a slower time (although if molasses beats him, then there could be a problem).

He seems like a perfect fit for the Browns.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Browns to hire Mangini by end of week? (via ESPN’s John Clayton) says that Eric Mangini could be hired by the Browns as early as this week.

ESPN’s John Clayton believes that the Browns could hold a presser by as early as Thursday to announce their new head coach.
Eric Mangini is already trying to poach the Jets’ coaching staff for assistants, so it’s clear that a deal is imminent. Mangini’s top choice to run the offense is Bill Callahan. He may target Romeo Crennel to call the defense.

Depending on who becomes their next GM, this is a good move. There’s no doubt Mangini learned a few things in New York – namely what happens when other teams figure out how to scheme against him. And despite popular opinion, the Browns aren’t a total mess. They have a young quarterback that has showed potential, a solid offensive line and a couple of defensive players in Shaun Rogers, Sean Jones and Eric Wright to build around. They just need a coach that will demonstrate leadership and that will instill direction.

Mangini should be instrumental in turning around the defense, although the same thing was said when Romeo Crennel was hired. Still, this is a sound move because he’s a good football coach and he’s one of the more creative young minds in the NFL.

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