Inside Enemy Territory is back again for another season. In this feature, I ask a blogger for the Patriots’ upcoming opponent five questions regarding the team and the game. For this week’s Inside Enemy Territory, I asked Patrik Nohe, the lead editor of FanSided’s “The Pewter Plank,” a Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog, about tonight’s preseason game.
The Q&A comes after the jump…
Musket Fire: The Bucs finished 10-6 last season but didn’t make the playoffs. Do you think they’ve made the moves to get them into the playoffs?
Patrik Nohe: This won’t be a popular comment among Bucs fans, but no. The Bucs went 10-6 and that was not enough to make the playoffs last year, let alone finish better than 3rd in their division last season. The Bucs did get better over the off-season, but that’s largely due in part to their own progression and maturation as opposed to adding a crop of highly talented free agents. The draft picks were solid, there should be three starters that emerge from that draft right away (Adrian Clayborn, DaQuan Bowers and Mason Foster), but this is still the youngest team in football. The big new additions are rookies, and I just don’t know if this is the year the Bucs make the big leap. It’s coming, they’re going to be one of the best teams in the league soon, but this may be a year too soon.
MF: How long do you expect the starters to play in the game?
PN: I expect a full quarter to a full half’s worth of action for most of the starters, though I doubt Josh Freeman stays in that long. The Bucs have a lot of youth on both sides of the ball, as I mentioned they are the league’s youngest team, they could all use the reps and experience. I do expect Josh Johnson to go in with the first team players for a decent period at some point as well. The Bucs would love to move Johnson, who is in the final year of his contract and figures to get a chance to go somewhere and compete for a starter’s job next season. Right now the Bucs are hoping Johnson’s old college coach, Jim Harbaugh, will get nervous about taking Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick into the regular season and send a pick the Bucs way. If it were not for the meteoric rise of Josh Freeman last year, there’s a decent chance Johnson would be the starter in Tampa right now. He’s got all the tools you look for in a QB, plus 4.5 speed. I expect Freeman to get a few series and then be replaced by Johnson while the rest of the first team stays in a little longer.
MF: Which newcomer to the Bucs are you most excited about? Why?
PN: Da’Quan Bowers. Early indications are that, despite the Bucs caution, Bowers is completely healthy. You still may not see a lot of Bowers tonight because the team is trying to safeguard him in every way possible, but he is ready to go for the season and he has a gigantic chip on his shoulder. Had the concerns about his knee not come up, Da’Quan Bowers would have been a top five pick. Instead, he plummeted to 51st and Tampa happily grabbed in round two. When you have that much natural talented and then the league gives you that kind of motivation to prove yourself, it can be a dangerous mix. I think Da’Quan Bowers could have a huge season.
MF: Tyrone McKenzie was drafted by the Pats, and while there was a lot of hope for him here, he never panned out. How is he doing on the Bucs? Do you think he will make the final roster?
PN: Bucs fans have been very impressed with McKenzie, he went above and beyond expectations during the lockout to help him try and get a jump on the MLB job. It was him and Josh Freeman (contrary to reports that said it was just Freeman) that organized the Bucs players-only practices and their minicamp at IMG in Bradenton. In addition to that he also flew to Nebraska to study film with former Bucs MLB Barrett Ruud (now with the Titans). That kind of initiative goes a long way, and it should keep him on the team. But he won’t start. The Bucs felt comfortable not re-signing Ruud because they are so high on Mason Foster, the rookie out of Washington. I expect Foster to be the man in the middle, he’s been taking all the first team reps already and will start tonight. McKenzie is a high character guy who will definitely make an impact on special teams and as a reserve, but I don’t think he’s a starting middle linebacker in Tampa either.
MF: Who will be the Bucs’ MVP this season? Why?
PN: Josh Freeman should be the MVP. He was amazing last season in just his first full season as a starter and he enters the year with more confidence, better chemistry with his receivers and a lot more to prove. I expect Freeman to plant himself firmly in the top 10 NFL QB’s this season and look to keep climbing that list throughout his career. If you haven’t watched Freeman since the London game two years ago, you’re missing out. He’s exceptionally poised, he has great athleticism, great accuracy and he improvises as well as anyone in football. If the Bucs make a playoff run it will be on Freeman’s shoulders. He is hands down the most important guy on the team.