Who: Cleveland Browns (2009: 5-11) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009: 3-13)
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa FL. CBS Ch 10. (Maybe)
When: Sunday Sept. 12, 1 p.m. EST
With little fanfare and tempered expectations, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season opens this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The matchup features two teams hoping to quickly move on from forgettable 2009 campaigns.
The Bucs, coming off a 3-13 record, will hope to start head Coach Raheem Morris’ sophomore season off on the right track with a home victory. But in addition, they want to see some progress from their younger players.
The Buccaneers expect second-year Quarterback Josh Freeman to take the next step in his development into a franchise player. He will be flanked by an extremely young but dynamic core of wide outs, most notable of which is rookie Mike Williams, and talented veteran tight end Kellen Winslow. Freeman and the offense will come into the game having had a relatively calm offseason compared to last year when the firing of Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski days before the season began did nothing to help the already less talented roster be competitive.
Cleveland had a busy offseason of its own; Mike Holmgren decided he didn’t like retirement and returned to the NFL as President of the Browns. Coach Eric Mangini kept his job, but many on the Browns roster did not. Highlighting the new additions is veteran Quarterback Jake Delhomme. After a difficult season with Carolina in which he threw 13 interceptions in just the first six games, Mangini and Holmgren hope Delhomme can regain his super bowl form that he once had in Carolina.
Despite the arrival of Delhomme, and standout wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, Cleveland will likely look to exploit Tampa’s historically weak run defense. Running back Jerome Harrison exploded on to the scene late last year and hopes to prove that his performance was not a fluke. Harrison came out with a bang, setting the Browns single game rushing record with a 286 yard outburst on Dec. 20 and averaged a ridiculous 5.3 yards per carry over the final three.
Electric return man Josh Cribbs has reportedly been moved to the offense full time to concentrate on playing wide out and will no longer return kicks or punts. This could prove to be a big sigh of relief to the Buccaneers special teams unit as Cribbs was amongst the league’s best return men and replacing him may prove difficult.
Key Players to Watch
- Josh Freeman – Will he take the next step and mature into a franchise quarterback? How will his injured thumb affect his passes?
- Jake Delhomme – Jake has been the Bucs’ kryptonite over the years with Carolina. He is 5-1 at Raymond James and an incredible 9-2 lifetime against the Buccaneers.
- Gerald McCoy – The No. 3 overall pick in the draft hopes to make a splash immediately. Cleveland’s offensive line may be one of its biggest strengths so expect him to struggle in his debut.
- Jerome Harrison – Can the Bucs' weak run defense contain the budding star?