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Dominik believes Bucs are positioned to remain on the rise

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Feb. 24, 2011 @ 5:25 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

INDIANAPOLIS — When it came to the 2010 draft, Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik displayed 20-20 vision.

The fact 10 rookie starters were greatly responsible for the Bucs' surprising success last season provides strong evidence that Dominik and his personnel staff definitely knew what they were doing. With fourth-round WR Mike Williams and undrafted RB LeGarrette Blount spearheading a stellar rookie crop, the Bucs made a quantum leap from a dismal 3-13 campaign, remaining a bona fide playoff contender in the tough NFC South deep into the season.

Selecting 20th in the first round this year, Dominik is happy with the flexibility he believes that spot should provide.

"I'm obviously happy we are picking 17 selections lower this year," Dominik said. "We will let the draft come to us, just like it did on the second and third day last year. I like where we are at. We have the ability to trade up if need be. I think this is a very strong draft."

Dominik was asked if he was surprised by Tampa Bay's success last season?

"I'm proud of our team, not surprised," Dominik said. "Obviously it (the success) started with Josh (starting QB Josh Freeman) and then putting players around him that would allow us to succeed."

The Bucs actually had the 20th overall spot two years ago before trading up to draft Freeman — a decision they were very glad they made, considering the quarterback's progress last season.

"The big thing we wanted to find about Josh at the Combine was how quickly he could retain the big increase in information necessary at the pro level," Dominik said. "We all knew he had the athleticism and arm strength and all the right physical attributes, but it was the mental attributes that we needed to see."

Dominik savors the fact that, while Williams led all rookies in receiving in 2010 and Blount did the same rushing, Freeman is younger than both of them.

"It was a very conscious decision on our part to get younger," Dominik said. "We had to let a lot of quality vets go, and it paid off. And then you look at what the Packers did (going younger)."

Dominik isn't locked into a total youth movement, though, as evidenced by the recent decision to give veteran CB Ronde Barber a one-year extension.

"He just brings a lot of leadership to our team, on and off the field," Dominik said of Barber. "He really has trained his body to play for a long time. It's amazing how well he can play on an island at his age, once again managing to surpass 100 tackles last year. He's broken some Hall of Fame records. It's really good to have him back."

But aside from Barber, Dominik said the Bucs are in a holding pattern regarding other possible new contracts for veterans, including free-agent MLB Barrett Ruud, who has led the team in tackles the last four seasons.

The Bucs' pass rush could use a major boost, and Dominik acknowledged this year's unusually strong crop of defensive ends and outside linebackers capable of applying big-time pressure.

"It's one of the better ones, especially at the top of the class," he said. "A lot of these guys are underclassmen, and one of the big things we're anxious to find out is how they check out mentally."

Dominik also made it clear that the Bucs will hardly be resting on their laurels after becoming a legit playoff contender.

"We can't afford to get complacent," Dominik said. "There will be 32 teams looking to get better, and if you get complacent, you are in for a big pitfall."

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