From season to season in the NFL there are changes in coaching staffs and rosters. Some changes take hold quickly, while others take years.
In Tampa it was clear that a change needed to be made from the country club style of Raheem Morris to the current one of Greg Schiano. Where Schiano has made the biggest difference is that he has got his players to buy into his coaching style. Where the Buccaneers have also made the most improvement from that December meeting is in the personnel department.
When you studied the Buccaneers last season, you didn't see any type of weapons on the outside to help Josh Freeman, and thus you never saw the ball going down the field. Mike Williams is a nice player, but the front office knew it needed to do more, and so they made the commitment to former Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson.
While with the Chargers, Jackson was a dynamic playmaker and early in his time with the Buccaneers he has been much of the same. You can see the confidence that Freeman has in his ability to go get that ball. There were times in the Giants game last week when Freeman knew exactly where he was going with the ball and Jackson didn't let him down. Freeman shows more than enough arm strength to make all the throws, and the way the Jackson runs routes and comes back to the ball, it will be a serious combination for opponents to have to deal with.
Where the Buccaneers have also made improvements on the offensive side of the ball is along the line. Tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood are the returning starters, but the inside three of Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah and Ted Larsen are all new. Larsen had to step in for Davin Joseph, who was lost in the preseason with a knee injury, but to Larsen's credit, he has done a nice job of filling in on that right side. I really like the athletic ability of Zuttah at center, and Nicks is a load at left guard. Where this line has been impressive is in their pass protection, which has allowed Freeman to take more shots down the field. Freeman is nowhere as mobile as what the Cowboys defense faced last week in Russell Wilson, so the protection has to be clean in the pocket, and against the Giants and Panthers, it was. It will be a challenge for the front of the Cowboys to get pressure on Freeman because of the strength of this group, but they do not have to worry about a quarterback that is going to beat them with his legs.
Rookie Doug Martin took the running back job from LaGarrette Blount, who was the starter last season. Martin is a short back at 5-9, but what he lacks in height he makes up for it with lower body power, at 223 pounds. Martin is perfect for this offense because of his ability to take the ball, get behind this offensive line and allow them to get push. Martin basically has the same timed speed Marshawn Lynch has, but where he is different is in that he plays with more of an explosive burst and quickness. You see the ball get to the outside quickly with Martin. He will spin out of tackles and make cuts while on the move, is a patient runner and nice blitz pickup man. He showed the ability to catch the ball on the move when used wide on a screen play against the Giants - one of those complete type backs that teams are trying more to go with.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers have tried to build through the draft rather than spending money. Their best cornerback, Eric Wright, was an offseason signing, but other than that, it has been through the draft.
I really do like the front seven for the Buccaneers and what they attempt to do scheme-wise. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan likes to try and attack you with his front. It's a light group weight-wise with Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett on the edges and Roy Miller and former first-round selection Gerald McCoy at the tackles. Sheridan likes to move his front, whether it's on the slant or twist, but they are always on the move. The last thing this front want to do is get in a fistfight with you. The Cowboys have to be ready for this style of game, where they are chasing linemen all day. The Buccaneers along the front want to take a gap and hit it quick.
Linebackers Lavonte David, Mason Foster and Quincy Black are just like the front four in that they are always on the move and never in the same spot for very long. I was very impressed with the rookie David in the manner with which he plays because there are things that you saw him do at Nebraska that he has carried over to the pro game in his ability to play off blocks and get to the ball.
In the secondary the Buccaneers did a really nice job against Cam Newton and Steve Smith opening day, holding them in check. Where things fell apart for them was in the second half of the Giants game, but we all know the type of receivers you are dealing with there. In my study, I thought Wright was their best cover corner and their staff thought so as well, because in the first two games he has covered the opponents' best receiver. Against the Panthers it was Smith and against the Giants it was Cruz. In this matchup against the Cowboys, I have a feeling it is going to be Miles Austin. On the other side, Aquib Talib had his troubles against Hakeem Nicks, so look for the Cowboys to try and do the same by attacking him every chance they get. The safeties are a good pair. Veteran Ronde Barber makes the switch from corner inside, and is working with rookie Mark Barron. You see Barber down in the box more and on the blitz as well, which he has always been comfortable doing. Barron has been a nice hitter back deep and also showed some ability to cover which was a question of how well he was going to do that coming out of college.