Q: Even though he's only made one career start, does Josh Freeman look like he's going to be the Bucs' quarterback of the future?
Matthew Postins: Well, that's obviously the way head coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik look at him. Their future is tied to the development of the first-round pick. And, after one game, the returns are promising. The one thing that really struck me about his start last Sunday was how calm he was in the pocket. Sure, he was pressured and knocked around, but he showed above-average poise for a rookie QB in his first NFL start. He showed good arm strength and solid accuracy. Plus, he did much more to help Tampa Bay than to hurt them, and the one thing you want out of a rookie QB is for him to not hurt the team too much. He's going to have growing pains, and I have a feeling the rest of the season won't see him be nearly as successful. Teams have film on him now. They can break down tendencies. Miami and every subsequent team will have a better chance of slowing him down because they'll be able to game plan appropriately. Freeman will probably struggle most of this season and at least part of next season as the Bucs try to develop him and a group of young players around him that can grow together and be successful together. The book on rookie quarterbacks is that it takes at least three full years as a starter to see their full potential. Freeman's book is far from written, but everyone around Tampa is at least in a better mood this week.
Q: Running back Cadillac Williams has made a remarkable recovery from his knee problems; how effective has he been this season?
MP: He's been their most effective back this season, to be honest. Derrick Ward has not lived up the expectations that his free-agent contract built, and Earnest Graham has been a non-factor. Right now his yards per carry (4.0) is right on par with his stats from his rookie season (4.1), though he's only carried the ball 92 times. Still, that's his most since 2006. He hasn't had that many carries since the Bucs have been behind in so many games. But when he gets the ball at least 13 times he's productive. In four games in which he had 13 or more carries, he's gained at least 50 yards, and three of those times he's gained more than 75 yards. Fans are still waiting for that explosive game, one that will remind them of Williams' rookie season. That may never come, as there may just be too much wear and tear on those knees. But a more productive passing game would help him greatly. It will be interesting to see what the Bucs do with him in the offseason. Officially, he's under contract, but it's also an option year, and if it's the team's option, they may choose to let him go. Can't see that happening, though, given the way he's played so far.
Q: Kellen Winslow is a talented tight end, but he's also a big talker. Has he walked the walk so far in his first season with the Bucs?
MP: So far, he has. He's the team's leading receiver across the board – 35 receptions, 352 yards, 5 touchdowns. No one is even close to his production. With Antonio Bryant being hurt most of the year, and Michael Clayton being his unproductive self, Winslow is the team's only real receiving option. It's a wonder he has that many receptions, considering he's on his third quarterback and teams are starting to double-team him.
Q: Antonio Bryant hasn't been much of a factor because of knee problems; is there any hope for the Bucs that he'll be able to contribute at some point this season?
MP: I'm not confident. I wrote before the season that signing Bryant to the franchise tender was a gamble the Bucs were more likely to lose than to win, and that's proving very accurate. He has just 16 receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns, and you could argue that his only real impactful game was against Philadelphia, which was a blowout loss. He doesn't have the speed to get upfield that he had last year, and that was his real asset. Now he's just another receiver. Bryant will be lucky to catch 40 balls this year, which makes the Bucs' $10 million investment in him this season one of the worst in franchise history.
Q: How good is the offensive line?
MP: This offensive line would be better if Arron Sears were still at left guard. Sears hasn't played all season due to personal problems, which have never been revealed by the team. Still, with Jeremy Trueblood, Davin Joseph, Jeff Faine, Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn (from right to left), the Bucs have a durable, stable group of linemen for perhaps the first time in franchise history. Trueblood and Penn are free agents this season, and the Bucs don't have many options behind them, so I think there's a good chance they will be re-signed. There's good chemistry between these guys and they're one of the few things on this that doesn't need to be changed.