Problems…something which the Buccaneers have been accustomed to the last few years. Only this time, the organization has a whole different set of them. Instead of the question being “who to start?” due to a lack of talent, that same question is now posed because of a new attitude which is making it hard to decide who is best. So why not play the “who to start game?”
Good Problem: The “Muscle Hamster” has been the apple of coach Greg Schiano’s eye, getting high praise for his performances in workouts. However, LeGarrette Blount has shown he is not ready to give up the job without a fight. He has stated he has yet to drop a pass in OTA’s or minicamp, and reports are the back has looked excellent. It stands to reason this is actually Martin’s job to lose, even if Blount is getting the majority of first-team touches. A first-round draft pick, the Bucs did not select him to only work on third downs. The byproduct of his presence has been a more focused, more driven Blount. The back has dispelled the “poor hands” myth and maybe, fans will start jumping back on the bandwagon once they see his play in preseason.
Who to start? Blount. Martin may be the more athletic back, but this is still early. He has yet to see live action against defenses which want to rip his helmet off. Blount has proven durability at the position, and it seems as if he is answering questions on the parts of his game which have been lacking. Martin makes an excellent change of pace back, especially once the Bucs get into opposing territory and defenses are tiring. In the end, things should amount to a 50/50 split in terms of touches. Schiano plans on pounding the ball, so there will be plenty to go around.
Good Problem: Another rumor coming out of minicamp is the possibility that Mike Williams may lose his job to Preston Parker. As TBO.com’s Stephen Holder pointed out, Josh Freeman is giving Parker high marks. Freeman has referred to Parker as “unbelievable” and don’t think Schiano isn’t listening. Mike Williams has been Freeman’s guy for the last two seasons, but it sounds like Parker is slowly closing the gap. Reports on Mike Williams productions in camp have been minimal, which only adds to the speculation. Schiano has been low on Mike Williams from the start. Almost immediately after his hiring, the rumors started swirling that Williams was not a number one receiver. It’s no coincidence Vincent Jackson was wooed as soon as free agency started and the result was Williams losing his job. Combined with Freeman’s praise, Parker might actually have the edge heading into training camp.
Who to start? Wiliams. Unlike Blount, good reviews are lacking for Williams. While that doesn’t mean he is doing poorly, it doesn’t mean he is standing out either. Freeman does call Williams a “tremendous talent” in the article, so we can’t count him out just yet. Preston Parker seems made for the slot position, and his smaller stature does not make for a better red-zone threat. Parker yields 2 inches and 12 pounds to the bigger Williams, and is believed to have lesser speed. Parker was a pleasant surprise last season, and if anything, might be able to produce even more with Vincent Jackson and Williams drawing attention away from him. Too often guys are made to play out position when they perform well, only to be frowned on when they don’t produce. If it isn’t broke, why mess with it? Let the bigger bodied Williams and Arrelious Benn decide who plays opposite Jackson.
Good Problem: Now that Kellen Winslow is gone, Dallas Clark has joined the team as the presumptive starting tight end. There is a good reason Jacob Tamme and not Clark wound up in Denver with Peyton Manning. Clark may be the more experience and proven end, but Luke Stocker has too much potential to ignore. Clark has not played a full season in two years, and is on the down-side of his career. The positive side is Clark will be able to serve as a mentor to the younger Stocker, hopefully guiding him to reach his full potential. But Clark is not likely to endure the rigors of a full season, which begs to question if it’s better to play him while you can or develop young talent?
Who to start? Clark. Though Stocker should have been the clear cut number one after Winslow was released, Schiano needed a veteran who could grasp his system immediately. Clark should mostly serve as a mid-range safety valve for Freeman, since he lacks the explosiveness to prove much as a vertical threat. Stocker on the other hand, does have the explosiveness, and as he grows, he will see more time on the field. Overall, Clark was a good move. After being so critical of the Glazer family for kicking Derrick Brooks out, Clark provides veteran leadership this young team needs, even if he has seen better days.
One last note on Schiano. His new attitude and demands on these players should be applauded. It is the kind of leadership missed since the days of Jon Gruden, but like him, demanding may come at a price. Kellen Winslow decided to take the low-road and called Schiano out for creating a culture where “you can’t laugh.” Winslow’s commitment was in question, and Schiano had to make a statement to his team. What Winslow did was class-less and opens the door for criticism. However, Schiano is walking a fine line here. Like Gruden, players will “buy” into a system and a coach’s style…If they’re winning. If the team does not prove to be a viable contender each year, those same players will abandon ship. Even Tom Coughlin in New York knows this. Schiano is often compared to him for his all business, detailed demeanor. But Coughlin himself has found himself on the hot-seat, even after he won his first Super Bowl. What Schiano is doing must be done, but as with anything, there could be drawbacks.