Welcome to the first edition of blogger Q&A for the 2012 regular season. This is where we send questions to the SBN blogger covering the Panthers opponent and share the answers with you our loyal members. Week 1 starts with the Bucs so I sent some questions to JCDeLaTorre from Bucs Nation who has been kind enough to provide answers. You can check out my answers to his questions via this link.
So here we go:
Question 1: Let's start with the top rookie. I thought taking Barron at #7 was risky. Has he looked like a top 10 pick so far?
JC: Many Buc fans wanted Luke Kuechly to be their pick once the team traded down from the fifth overall spot and the Cowboys nabbed Morris Clairborne. The pick of Barron shocked many. However, it shouldn't have. The Bucs have struggled at Strong Safety since John Lynch was sent packing by Gruden several years ago. Sean Jones allegedly played the position last season but not many would describe that as "playing". Many times the Bucs' last line of defense was either out of position, missed the tackle, slow to react or simply was lost in space.
Barron was slowed during training camp with a foot injury but came on the last three weeks. He pick sixed Tom Brady in third pre-season game, he's displayed sure tackling skills and to this point hasn't been caught out of position. Barron is a dual force in the Bucs secondary, supporting the run and providing solid coverage.
Schiano's defense features blitzing from every position in the back seven so don't be surprised to see Baron come with some heat on the quarterback.
Barron will get a test right out of the gate as I'm sure Chud will target him specifically. I've got four more questions with answers...after the jump...
Question 2 : What's the impression of RB Doug Martin and how long til he starts?
JC: Doug Martin was head and shoulders the best running back the Bucs have during the pre-season and he has won the starting job. Martin reminds many of MJD or Ray Rice - he can do everything. Run with authority and elusiveness, he can catch out the backfield and he is excellent in pass protection. Martin doesn't have to come off the field.
However, LeGarrette Blount will be a factor in the running game. Schiano plans to pound the ball, pound the ball and then pound it some more. Both Blount and Martin will get carries.
Martin does not appear to be a home run threat but could give us fits all day. We will find out right away if our run defense has improved.
Question 3: I expect the Panthers to run the ball a good bit considering the Bucs struggled at this last season. Do you see an improvement in the run defense and if so why?
JC: At least in the pre-season, the Bucs appeared to be stopping the run at a better rate (at least with the first team). The return of Gerald McCoy has been a big factor as he is disruptive in the middle of the defense. Mason Foster is a year into the MLB position and is reading and reacting much faster than he did his rookie year when he looked completely lost. OLB Lavonte David has reminded many in these parts of future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks with his combination of speed, technique and football instincts. Finally, Barron has delivered the thump in support of the run.
That's not to say all is perfect in the Bucs run defense. There are times where they lose containment and allow backs (or a running QB) out the backside on a cut back for decent gains. However, Schiano's focus on tackling drills during training camp has benefited the team - as they're much better at tackling than they were last season. Now a big run will go for 10-15 yards instead of 60 yds as it did last year.
The Bucs defense is also razor thin. If they sustain any injuries to the starting 11 it will have a major impact.
Our rookie LG will see plenty of McCoy and will be a good test for the o-line in general. We need to get 2 hats on that guy (at least until he gets hurt ;P) If Stewart doesn't play it will be interesting to see how much we run inside.
Question 4: Will the Bucs offense continue to be a 'pound it out' type of offense or will they be throwing the ball more since you now V-Jack on the outside? What type of run to pass ratio should we expect?
JC: The Bucs will definitely not be a spread team (ala the Saints and the Patriots). From what we've seen in training camp and the little pieces we've seen pre-season, the Bucs offense will pound the rock out of a variety of formations. You'll see more deep balls this season to Vincent Jackson, Regus Benn and Mike Williams. Williams may be in line for a big season, as he is now slotted more appropriately as the number two receiver instead of "being the man".
We think that the Bucs will resemble what the Giants are doing as an offense - with the team attempting to pound the rock with their big o-line (losing Davin Joseph hurt), while still having the diversity to attack down the field.
Martin is a force as a receiver, so we wouldn't be surprised to see screens and wheel routes designated specifically for him.
Schiano wants the Bucs to punish their opponents on offense, wear them down. So expect a tough, physical effort from Tampa Bay. The play ratio will likely favor the running game.
Deep balls to V-Jack are a serious concern for me. We must get pressure on Freeman or it will be a long day.
Question 5: Finally, what's been the impression of Josh Freeman so far in the preseason and do you think he will raise his game in 2012 and if so why?
JC: Freeman had an inconsistent Pre-Season. While he didn't throw any interceptions and the offense moved consistently while he was under center - he is still having bouts of inaccuracy and problems with decision making. While he's still very young, he's entering his fourth season (third as a starter) - yet still making mistakes a rookie would (i.e. locking on to his primary target).
The Bucs' ability to rise from the ashes of the debacle of 2011 rides on Freeman's shoulders. Will he be better? Absolutely. Will he return to the form of 2010 where he threw 25 touchdowns and 6 interceptions and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record? No. I just don't see that same consistency he had that season. I think he'll be closer to what we saw with Eli Manning in his first year under the tutelage of Mike Sullivan (in 2010 when Sully was QB coach of the Giants before joining the Bucs this year as offensive coordinator). Eli that season threw for more touchdown passes and yards than he had in any of his previous seasons. Yet he also threw 25 interceptions. I don't think Freeman will go that high, but I'd peg him at about 3600 yds with 28 touchdowns and 20 ints.
So decent, not great and perhaps not good enough to get the Bucs back in the playoff conversation.
I'm hopefully Freeman's erratic play, for whatever reason, will extend into week 1 and give the defense an opportunity to make a play on the ball.
Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Bucs 17
You can't accuse JC of being a Homer as he is keeping it real.
A big thanks to JC for his candid answers!