August 17, 2010 2:12 PM
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, what was new is now old...but still pretty new.
The 2009 season was a baptism by fire for a lot of the team.
In 2010 and beyond, the Bucs will reap the benefits of the hard lessons those players and coaches learned a year ago.
That isn't to say the Buccaneers will be a playoff team this year - but whether or not their record shows it, they should be much improved.
It starts with head coach Raheem Morris - one of the youngest coaches in the history of the league. He is being given the chance to grow with this team, and that should end up paying off in the long run.
Similarly, Josh Freeman was allowed to fail last year in the hopes that what didn't kill him would make him stronger. And he showed flashes in 2009 that he could grow into a very good quarterback.
He has more help in 2010 than he did in 2009 to help him develop. It looks like fourth-round selection Mike Williams could be a steal out of Syracuse. Saturday night, against the first-team Miami Dolphins defense, Williams beat Vontae Davis for a big play that ended up setting up a Tampa Bay score. You can't tell much from pre-season, but that play is certainly something that can be replicated in the regular season. The running game is inconsistent - both Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams have battled injuries. If they can stay healthy, that's another area that can be an asset to help Freeman's growth...but it has yet to happen in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs had better hope for similar growth on the defensive side of the ball. Very little roster turnover from 2009 to 2010 means the team is banking on their players learning from experience.
That improvement may not be reflected in the win total for 2010, but in on-field performance instead. If there's any organization hoping the labor situation is settled for 2011, it might be the Buccaneers - because that's when the win column could show the benefits of the 2009 and 2010 seasons of development.
2010 Prediction: 5-11, 3rd place in the NFC South