Postcard from camp: Bucs
Youth movement includes 77 players on the current roster younger than 30
Improvement will depend on progression of second-year QB Josh Freeman
Gerald McCoy, Brian Price are a formidable rookie tandem at defensive tackle
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about the Bucs camp in Tampa, which he visited on Aug. 2. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
At One Buc Place, the team's training facility in Tampa. Due to me having to be in New York by 3 p.m. for NBC Football Night in America meetings, I'm forced to eschew watching the Bucs' practice today. Instead, with the help of ace PR aide Jason Wahlers, I'll get breakfast briefings from coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik, then spend a few minutes apiece with quarterback Josh Freeman, cornerback Aqib Talib and three rookies -- Gerald McCoy, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. Sorry for not being able to make the observations I normally can make by watching practice.
1. The Bucs have a serious youth movement going on, and nowhere is it more noticeable than at wide receiver, where rookie Mike Williams and last year's seventh-rounder, Sammie Stroughter, are the likely starters one week into camp.
2. Three of the 80 men on the roster are 31 or older: defensive lineman Stylez G. White (nice handle), guard Keydrick Vincent and corner Ronde Barber.
3. No question the Bucs will rise or fall on the right arm and leadership of Josh Freeman. Talking to Tony Dungy about him the other day, I found it telling that he offered to act as a sort of mentor to Freeman last year when he got to Tampa, just to make the Freeman family feel comfortable that Freeman had someone looking out for him. "I really haven't needed to do that,'' Dungy said. "He's really got himself together, in all ways.'' The Bucs are impressed with the work ethic, the arm, pretty much everything. What will be a challenge for Freeman is playing with so many young kids who will make the mistakes in route-running that young kids make.
Well, when the most important new addition is a wide receiver who MIGHT be the fourth receiver when camp breaks (former Eagle Reggie Brown, acquired for a sixth-round pick in 2011), this is not a section worthy of your attention ... Now, that changes if Keydrick Vincent, signed a month ago to shore up guard depth, wins a starting job. He's been working some with the first unit early on. The Bucs are clearly building through the draft now, and taking their lumps while the picks mature.
Defensive tackle Brian Price was a surprise pick at 35th overall after the Bucs took Gerald McCoy in the first round. The way the Bucs figured it, defensive tackle was still a need position, and Price had a mid-first-round grade ... why not completely overhaul the position for the next six or eight years? Price, in the early days of camp, showed a knifing presence and looked like he'd have an equal impact to McCoy. "He wrecked practice,'' Raheem Morris said after one of the early sessions.
The flag. The ginormous flag. Outside the Bucs' offices and training complex is the biggest flag on a flagpole that I've ever seen. That's because it is -- at least the largest non-American flag on a flagpole in the country. It's 66 feet-by-115 feet, bright red with the same logo that adorns the Bucs helmets.
Breakfast entrée: I had the oatmeal in the Bucs' cafeteria. I'm an oatmeal expert, and this appeared to have the perfect consistency. I added a touch of brown sugar and a load of raisins (raisins on the bottom for three or four minutes, so the oatmeal would soften them up and make them juicier). Was really looking forward to it. But then the salt interfered. Would have been terrific oatmeal, but it was actually salty.
1. Asked Raheem Morris for the one guy America doesn't know now but will soon. "Quincy Black,'' he said. The outside 'back will team will Geno Hayes, with Barrett Ruud in the middle, and the feeling around camp is this could be a major position of strength. Black has edge-rusher speed and three-down capability because of his cover ability.
2. Everyone here thinks Aqib Talib has turned the corner from being a personal liability for his temper and off-field problems. Why? He wants to be known as a shutdown cornerback, and he knows he won't be if he keeps doing the kind of things that got him on the wrong side of Morris. They had a well-publicized shouting match when the team was in London last year. He has top-corner talent, but we won't see it clearly until he becomes invisible off the field.
3. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward are the solid 1-2 backs. It's one of the few positions on the field that doesn't rely on someone under 25 to anchor it.
4. You can just tell by talking to people here that Gregg Olson has brought the kind of stability on offense that they thought was lacking with fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. "We're really all on the same page here now, and the offseason program and training camp, even with all the young people we have, has been smooth,'' said Freeman.
5. Hard to think this team can win more than five games, and it could be downright disastrous if it opens the year 0-2 (Cleveland at home, at Carolina).