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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.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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NFL Draft Rumors: Fletcher Cox, Ryan Tannehill, Trent Richardson & More

University of Alabama running back Trent Richardson speaks to reporters during Media Day before his team takes on Louisiana State University the for the NCAA BCS National Championship, scheduled for January 9, in New Orleans, Louisiana January 6, 2012. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

With just two days before the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, here are a couple of interesting storylines circulating the rumor mill.

Browns to draft the best overall receiver available at No. 22?
Take it for what it’s worth but TFY Draft Insider Tony Pauline hears from league insiders that the Browns will select Trent Richardson with the No. 4 overall pick and the best available wide receiver at No. 22. As Rotoworld.com points out, I’m not sure how these so-called league insiders would be privy to the Browns’ draft plans but this is noteworthy none the less. I’ve had Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams slated Cleveland at No. 22 in my first two mocks, but Baylor’s Kendall Wright arguably makes more sense for the receiver-needy Browns.

Bills to take Barron or Gilmore at No. 10?
The consensus among mock drafts is that the Bills will select Iowa OT Riley Reiff with the No. 10 overall pick but WGR 550 in Buffalo says that the team is interested in Alabama safety Mark Barron and South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. I would be surprised if the Bills took Barron over Reiff but then again I don’t have access to Buffalo’s big board. If they have Barron and Gilmore rated ahead of Reiff, then obviously one of those players will be the pick. That said, with Demetrius Bell gone, my money is still on Reiff landing in Buffalo.

Cox moving into the top 5?
This rumor is surprising but not altogether shocking – NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora is reporting that some teams are considering trading up to No. 5 to take Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. LaCanfora tweets that teams want to jump up ahead of the Rams, who could take Cox at No. 6. Viewed as one of the more versatile defenders in this year’s draft based on his potential to play either defensive tackle or as a five technique in a 3-4, Cox could definitely go in the top 10. But the top 5? That seems like a reach although hey, the Chiefs did take LSU DE/DT Tyson Jackson with the third overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and he was slated to go somewhere between No. 10 and No. 15. I’m not ruling out anything at this point.

Tannehill not a first-round pick?
NFL.com is reporting that one high-ranking personnel chief believes that a lot of teams don’t view Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill as a first-round pick. “I can see a situation where he doesn’t go at all in the top 20,” says the unknown source. My response to that is: It doesn’t matter if 31 teams don’t consider him a first-round pick. All it takes is one (*cough* Miami *cough*) and he’ll be a first rounder.

Spielman fanning the trade flames again
Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman has been highly entertaining the past few weeks. He’s now insisting that trade talks for the No. 3 pick have heated up and a deal could potentially get done by Thursday evening. “We’re going to be very open to the trade scenario,” Speilman said. “That front has really heated up over the last 24 hours and I’m sure it’ll continue to heat up as we head into Thursday night.” I don’t doubt that the Vikings will consider Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne with their selection, nor do I dispute the notion that they could trade out of that spot. But at the end of the day they’re guaranteed to get Kalil and their current left tackle is Charlie Johnson. Unless they receive a sweetheart deal from a team wanting to get ahead of the Browns at No. 4 (who probably want Richardson), I doubt the Vikings will be able to trade out and thus, they’ll wind up with Kalil.

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