By Zack Cimini
The lockout imposes delayed reaction to just about everyone affiliated within an organization. Pressure of solidifying a deal is finally lurking with NFL training camps right around the corner. Both sides are expected to meet early next week for four days. Will these meetings bring about a resolution and get coaches and players back to proper preparation? Hopefully. Nobody wants to see pure rust the first two months of the NFL season, or worse a shortened season. Each year we see teams storm from the bottom and get on a run. That will not be a possibility if the season is shortened.
Veteran teams with coaching staffs that have been around have the advantage thus far. Forget the rookies and undrafted free agents that look good on paper. In all actuality not too many rookies put their stamp on the NFL in year one. There might be a game or two where they make the key play or have a solid game, but for the most part their play is sporadic. Sure they’ll be even rustier but coaches do not count on rookies to be the main spark anymore. CJ Spiller, Ryan Matthews, and even Michael Crabtree are all prime examples.
Young teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to be affected the most. Their coaching staff of the Buccaneers has built this young team up quickly. Glancing at the talent that came out of nowhere last season, the roster is filled with under five year players. Keeping that strong resurgence could have been a push in mini camp and off-season contact. Who knows if the players have maintained proper off-season work ethic or communication with each other.
Do not forget Raheem Morris had the team at six wins and prime to take on a playoff spot. An extremely tough division let alone conference meant a 10-6 record fell just short. Josh Freeman proved to be the difference maker of such a turn around from a 3-13 2009 season. He stood in the pocket and made the tough and proper reads. This was all being done early in the year without a running game to rely upon.
Towards the latter part of the season the team went with undrafted free agent, LeGarrette Blount. Blount went undrafted largely due to his disciplinary issues while at Oregon. A season long suspension was imposed by Oregon after a fight with a Boise State player in the first game of 2009. Blount was dropped by the Tennessee Titans and fell right into the hands of the Buccaneers. Cadillac Williams is a fan favorite and a strong willed athlete, fighting back from multiple injuries. But his days as a feature back have come and gone. Blount carried the load and caught the attention of NFL fans with his leaping burst against the Arizona Cardinals.
The carries will likely rise for him, but will he come to the Buccaneers in shape? A big back already, it could be a problem that lingers into the season. How about Josh Freeman’s new found chemistry with now second year pros in Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn? The route running missed out on and constant barking of instructions from valuable assistant coaches is burning by the day.
The NFC South will likely be another dog fight and the toughest division again in the NFL. Predicting the Buccaneers finishing above .500 though doesn’t look likely.