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Will new DC Jim Bates abandon the vaunted Tampa 2 scheme?After enjoying a decade of dominance behind its Tampa 2 scheme, the Buccaneers' defense is moving to a "quarters-based" system under Bates. Whereas the team routinely played a traditional 4-3 defense with two deep safeties and "run-through" linebackers creating a three-deep look under Monte Kiffin, the Bucs will incorporate more nine-man fronts under Bates. Each defensive back will be responsible for one-quarter of the field, with the safeties near the line of scrimmage to defend against the run. When used in combination with press coverage, the system suffocates an opponent's passing game while also making it difficult to run the ball. The Bucs surrendered 4.3 yards per carry last season, but the extra defenders in the box should curtail some of the success that teams found on the ground. With the running game reigning supreme in the NFC South, a stouter defense could result in a quick turnaround in Tampa.
How will TE Kellen Winslow impact the passing game?The offseason acquisition of Winslow in a trade with the Browns foreshadows a significant change in the Bucs' offensive philosophy under new coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. The ultra-aggressive play-caller has shown a strong affinity for featuring the tight end in the past, and Winslow gives him an elite playmaker at the position. The former Pro Bowler has proven to be a problematic matchup for defenses because of his superior athleticism, and Jagodzinski has the wherewithal to use Winslow as the primary weapon in the Bucs' passing game. Given the five-year veteran's productive seasons when serving as a top option in the past (Winslow posted back-to-back seasons with at least 80 receptions in 2006 and 2007), defenses are sure to commit double coverage to the tight end in the middle of the field, which will open up things for WR Antonio Bryant. With two dynamic weapons available in the passing game, the Bucs could field one of the league's most explosive aerial attacks this season.
Is there still room for a Cadillac in the garage?Cadillac Williams is trying to rebound from season-ending knee injuries in consecutive years, and he's still in line to be a key contributor to the Bucs' running game. Williams, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft, has rushed for over 100 yards eight times in 38 career games and has 14 touchdowns in four seasons. Unfortunately, the injuries have forced Williams to miss 22 games in the past two seasons, and the former Rookie of the Year award winner hasn't surpassed the 100-yard mark in a game since 2006. Whereas it's difficult to envision a running back retaining his special skills after multiple knee surgeries, Williams has defied the odds by previously returning from a torn patellar tendon to crack the starting lineup. If he's able to display his hallmark running skills and toughness after recovering from another knee injury, Williams deserves to join Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham as part of the Bucs' formidable running back rotation.
Wide-open quarterback competition
New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski wants a strong-armed quarterback with good management skills to execute a vertical passing game. While Byron Leftwich has to be considered the front-runner for the job, given his big arm and wealth of game experience, the six-year veteran's inconsistency during offseason workouts seemingly opened the door for competition. McCown brings good athleticism to the position, but he has just seven starts in five NFL seasons. The Bucs also could end up bypassing both veterans and hand the keys to first-round draft pick Josh Freeman, who impressed officials during workouts.
LB Jermaine PhillipsPhillips, a seven-year veteran, moves from strong safety to weakside linebacker in the Bucs' new defense, and his ability to properly man the position vacated by 11-time Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks will impact the rest of the unit. If Phillips, an experienced box defender, can beat out Geno Hayes for the starting job, he will give the team a big hitter with speed and cover skills.
DT Roy MillerWith the Bucs moving away from their traditional Tampa 2 scheme, Miller, a third-round draft pick, gives the defense a much-needed presence in the middle. Though he had an up-and-down collegiate career at Texas, Miller flashed dominant ability at times and could emerge as a legitimate run stuffer.
RB Derrick WardThe quarterback battle between Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich and Josh Freeman will be at the forefront, but fantasy owners need to watch Ward and his role in the offense. He'll have great sleeper value if he can fend off Earnest Graham for the No. 1 running back job.