As you can tell by the title, I did an interview with Craig from Bucs Nation. Below the jump, I asked a few questions and Craig was nice enough to answer. I asked him a few questions about the Bucs and some thoughts of their season from his perspective.
Make the jump to see part one of the interview.
Jon: The Bucs came off a 3-13 season and finished with a 10-6 record. How surprising was that for you as a fan? Was there a sign that the Bucs had improved that much?
Craig: Stunning. Everyone in the local media (and all but the most cockeyed-of-optimistic fans) predicted nominal-to-moderate improvement. Hell, Peter King tabbed 2-14 for the Bucs. They were tied with Carolina as the youngest team at the start of the year and had a collection of unproven babies at several key positions, along with a defense that still hadn't brought in any proven playmakers. As such, there wasn't much belief the Bucs would improve by leaps and bounds, much less have the greatest win differential in the NFL in 2010.
Fortunately, the Bucs hit a grand slam in April's draft and filled some holes with quality young talent. Raheem pulled a rabbit out of a hat, milking every ounce of potential out of castoffs and practice squad guys as the Bucs lost starter-after-starter each week (13 players on IR at end of year who started this season). Josh Freeman showed what an offseason of extremely hard work can do for a guy with a wealth of physical skills.
Put all that together with a navigable schedule, and apparently you get 10-6.....to the surprise of everyone outside of One Buc Place.
Jon: Josh Freeman seemed like a man possessed the way he played some days. Where would you rank him going into the 2011 season?
Craig: I'd put him around the 10-12 range of current starting QBs after last season, with the potential to climb higher. Freeman avoided making the bad decisions that plagued him in 2009. In fact, he avoided them for pretty much the whole year. Finished with a 25-6 TD/INT ratio, 9th best in NFL history out of QBs with 20+ TD passes. As such, it looks more like he's not just avoiding mistakes, but that he turned a corner last season and is starting to put the mental game with his physical tools. He already has one of the stronger arms in the league and has been lethal on deep balls. Now that he has a small collection of young playmaking WRs and a bulldozer at RB to take the pressure off of him, the sky is the limit for Free.
Jon: How bad was the injury situation for the Bucs towards the end of the season?
Craig: As mentioned above, dreadful. Lost 2 starters per game for a 5-game stretch towards the end of the season, with several winding up on IR. Talib having a Pro Bowl-calibur year? IR. Gerald McCoy starting to figure things out a little bit? IR. 7th-round pick FS Cody Grimm starting to play like a crafty vet in his first year after Tanard Jackson's suspension? IR. Etc etc etc. Fortunately, the Bucs see now that they have some guys that can play behind the starters, so hopefully competition in training camp will be fierce and guys will be pushed to be even better.
Part two comes later, so make sure you stick around!