So what does it mean?
Well, the record in pre-season means little. At most, it can pump up a team that has struggled, giving them a little taste of victory--and the Bucs did struggle last year. But on the other hand, the teams' struggles were predictable given their particular injury problems last year (no. 1 and no. 2 QB, DE Simeon Rice, CB Brian Kelly, MLB Shelton Quarles).
Here's the quick list of positives:
- The offense was able to run the ball, even against Jacksonville.
- Each of the top three quarterbacks showed an ability to move the offense.
- The defensive line has only slightly improved its ability to pressure the quarterback.
- Ruud hasn't proved his ability to take Quarles' place effectively, and there's nobody to back him up.
- The defensive subs gave up quite a few big plays (contrary to the design of the defense).
- Gradkowski still can't hit the long ball (demonstrated with several misfires against Houston).
The defense is breaking in a number of new players. Cato June looks like a sure hit at linebacker. Aside from Chris Hovan, every player on the defensive line is a question mark (Greg Spires merely on account of his age). Philip Buchanon should be an excellent nickel corner, and the Bucs upgraded the depth at safety in the draft. If they didn't draft next year's starters this year, they at least gave the incumbents some great motivation to step up their play.
I'm always optimistic (sometimes foolishly so), but I expect 9 wins, possibly 10. The offense can move with either Garcia or McCown running the show. Gradkowski still needs to improve his deeper throws to keep the defense honest (he also showed some poor judgment in throwing downfield this preseason).