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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' offseason program hitting high gear

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 06:05 AM
TAMPA -

Other than the few plays he ran during a three-day minicamp last month, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman hasn't had a chance to test his arm against his own defense this offseason.

That's about to change.

Limited for weeks to mostly conditioning and drills, the Bucs will embark today on the final and most intense phase of their offseason program. Between now and the start of a mandatory minicamp on June 12, Tampa Bay will conduct 13 voluntary, on-field workouts.

Because head coach Greg Schiano is in his first season, the Bucs get to start this phase a week ahead of teams that didn't change coaches.

Here is a look at five things they will focus on in preparation for training camp at the end

Hit the reset button

Only three years into his NFL career, quarterback Josh Freeman could be at a crossroads in his development. After throwing 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2010, he threw 16 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in 2011. Which is the real Freeman? The Bucs have asked him to forget about the past two seasons and simply start over under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and quarterbacks coach Ron Turner. With what the Bucs hope is an improved running game and a new downfield target in speedy wideout Vincent Jackson, Freeman seems to have the tools for a fresh start.

Pewter people eaters

Time is running out for defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price to prove they are the defensive trigger pins general Mark Dominik thought when he drafted them in the first and second rounds, respectively, in 2010. Both were ravaged by injuries their first two seasons. They were chosen to improve the least effective pass rush in the league, and the loss of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers to a potentially season-ending Achilles tendon tear won't make the task easier.

Back in black

The Bucs used the draft to shore up a linebacker corps on a defense that allowed a franchise-worst 494 points last season. Now, they must figure out where second-round pick Lavonte David and fifth-round pick Najee Goode fit best. The likelihood is David will take over as the starting weakside linebacker while Goode will either backup middle backer Mason Foster or work as a utility man in much the same way Adam Hayward does. Either way, the Bucs need to get their newcomers positioned properly and find out why Quincy Black struggled to play up to his big new contract last season and Foster struggled to be the impact player he was during the preseason.

Dole out the carries

The Bucs beefed up their offensive backfield during the draft, adding potential every-down back Doug Martin in the first round and change-of-pace back Michael Smith in the seventh. The trick now is to find a way to make the trio of Martin, Smith and LeGarrette Blount productive and happy. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan came from the New York Giants, which succeeded in recent years in utilizing two and sometimes three potential feature backs.

Settle on a secondary

The secondary appears to be undergoing drastic changes, including possibly moving five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber to safety. First-round draft pick Mark Barron expected to take over as the other safety spot and free-agent Eric Wright is slated to step in at corner. The Bucs also must determine a Plan B to account for the possibility of losing starting corner Aqib Talib, who is scheduled to stand trial in late June for his role in a shooting incident in Texas.

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