Buccaneers Looking For Answers

Antonio Bryant

The Buccaneers need to find a solution to their struggles. Although the quarterback position is a mess, there are some bright spots elsewhere.

The Buccaneers are 0-7 and definitely at that point in the year when the only thing that matters is gaining experience for young players.

It starts with making rookie Josh Freeman the starting quarterback. With a bye week approaching, Freeman is likely to make his NFL debut as a starter against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 8.

The Bucs have been non-committal about it, but there is no reason to continue to play Josh Johnson.

In four starts, Johnson has four touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His passer rating of 50.9 is terrible. If the team is going to give a quarterback starting experience, it might as well be Freeman.

The Bucs actually have had some bright spots. Cornerback Aqib Talib has shut down some pretty good receivers in the past three weeks. He held DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith to one catch each. On Sunday, he held a frustrated Randy Moss to five receptions for 69 yards, and Moss had to work for them.

Talib also recorded another interception, giving him four on the season, matching his career high.

The Bucs secondary has been helped by the return of third-year safety Tanard Jackson, who has two interceptions in his past three games, including one he returned for a touchdown.

The Bucs also need to see more of defensive tackle Roy Miller and defensive end Kyle Moore.

Perhaps the star of the rookie class has been wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. The rookie seventh-round draft pick led the Bucs with three receptions for 63 yards Sunday, but his catches aren't routine plays. Playing in the slot, generally on third down, Stroughter is usually on the field for important snaps. To that end, each of his catches Sunday went for a first down, each coming on third down. Of his 16 catches this year, 13 have gone for first downs, with eight coming on third-down plays.

"I know in this offense, my touches are going to be limited, so when my number is called, I'm not trying to do too much," he said. "I just want them to have the confidence that I can do it. I want more and I expect more out of myself."

Stroughter played a role on special teams, too, serving as the primary return man in place of inactive Clifton Smith (concussion). While filling in for Smith against the Panthers the previous week, Stroughter tied a team record with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. On Sunday in London, he was a step shy of breaking away on two occasions, leaving him determined not to be stopped.

"I'm hitting the weight room," Stroughter said. "I'm going to hit the legs hard. I have to step out of those tackles. I hold myself to a much higher standard. I know I'm better than that. It's one of those things where I've gotten thrown in the fire, and now I have to go back and evaluate myself."

Secondary Shows Promise
Cornerback Aqib Talib leads the Bucs with four interceptions, and safety Tanard Jackson has two in his first three games after returning from a suspension, include one he returned for a touchdown against Carolina.

Jackson made a touchdown-saving interception of a Tom Brady pass in the end zone in the second quarter Sunday, and Talib added an interception down the middle against wide receiver Brandon Tate a few minutes later. But those plays were negated by subsequent breakdowns.

"Any time you make plays where you score or you get the ball back, it's going to contribute," Jackson said. "But those plays also get wiped away when you give up big plays. When you get big plays, you have to stop them from getting big plays. It works hand in hand. Against a team like the Patriots, you can't go big play for big play with them."

Bomb Shelter Needed
Regardless of the play of the Bucs secondary, Tampa Bay's defense needs a bomb shelter. When wide receiver Sam Aiken took a short pass from Brady, broke a tackle and went 54 yards for a touchdown, it was the ninth pass play of more than 40 yards allowed by the Bucs this season. The last time they gave up that many was 1993, and that was for a 16-game season.

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