TAMPA A caller to a local talk radio show last week wondered if there was any reason whatsoever to watch the Bucs these final three games. Given Tampa Bay's hopeless playoff aspirations, the question is valid.
When a team's ultimate goals are no longer attainable, interest automatically dies down. But that doesn't mean a team is no longer worth following, especially when it's a young one in a rebuilding phase.
The Bucs won't deliver on everyone's hopes and dreams this season, but there are a few reasons to keep watching down the stretch. Here are five to consider:
Quarterback Josh Freeman
Freeman believes he's improved markedly in some of the more technical areas of the game this season. All fans know is that Freeman hasn't looked at all like the confident clutch player he was a year ago. If Freeman really has improved, it should show up on the field. With some fans actually questioning whether Freeman is a franchise caliber quarterback, it's worth a look down the stretch to see if he can regain the panache with which he played all of last season.
Running back LeGarrette Blount
Blount is worth the price of admission all by himself. With his ability to break tackles and leap defenders like they're hurdles in a track meet, he is easily one of the most dynamic players in the game. He is far from a finished product, however. The Bucs are hoping Blount can develop into a better pass protector and receiver, so watch him in those two areas.
Turnovers and penalties
The two biggest factors in Tampa Bay's demise this season are turnovers and penalties. The Bucs lead the league with 31 turnovers and is third with 108 penalties. They've been emphasizing fixes for weeks, but can't seem to get the job done. It's worth a look to see if they finally can improve their ball security and reduce costly penalties. If they can, it will be a sign of improvement that just may earn Morris and his staff another shot at coaching this team.
Clayborn and Bowers
It's still too early to know for sure, but it seems the Bucs got it right when they chose Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers to be their bookend pass rushers. The rookies have been bright spots in a bleak and forgettable season, combining for eight sacks, including 6.5 by Clayborn. Like most young players, particularly on defense, Clayborn and Bowers have a lot to learn, especially as run stoppers.
Cornerback Ronde Barber
An opportunity to watch the last remnant of what was easily the greatest generation of Bucs players is still at hand. Barber could retire within days of the 2011 season ending, so it would be well worth the investment in time to take a few more good looks at him now, just in case. Barber will go down as one of the most unique players in NFL history, a hybrid who played his position in a way and at a level that no one else ever did. Like Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch, he's worthy of discussion as a Hall of Famer and certainly will see his name entered into Tampa Bay's Ring of Honor someday.