Florida is synonymus in the sports world with football. Whether it's the high school talent, the past and present success of collegiate teams like the University of Florida, Florida State and Miami, or the NFL franchises of Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Miami, the Floridians love their pigskin.
Scores of high school teams provide talent to universities each year. In college, each of three aforementioned have a rich history with the University of South Florida looking to join the group. Currently, many would tell you Florida State is in the best current shape with Jimbo Fisher.
But when it comes down to the NFL, which Florida franchise is in the best current shape?
- Offense -- Perhaps the strong point of the team, Jacksonville's offense has several players who can make things happen. Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the top backs in the league, and Mike Thomas has been a fine receiver who looks to solidify himself as a top No. 1 receiver. The offensive line has its issues as the fans continue to wait on Eugene Monroe to live up to the hype. At quarterback, David Garrard, as you may know, is no longer the man in charge. Luke McCown will be the starter. He is a capable player with little mileage, who may have to rely on his mobility often if the offensive line does not play well.
- Defense -- This is the team's issue, though DT Nate Collins feels that the team will surprise many. Whether you consider the preseason relevant or not, the team had zero sacks through three preseason games before Collins bagged two in the last contest, a loss to St. Louis. Aaron Kampman has a lot of weight on his shoulders to produce in 2011 after being injured most of last season. The defensive backs are fairly strong, and Paul Posluszny is a sure tackler, but that is not enough to strike fear into the likes of Matt Schaub, Matt Hassleback and Peyton Manning.
- Special Teams -- The Jags have an average special teams unit and no proven returners. Thomas did a solid job last season, but for a team that may have an issue moving the ball, gaining good field position will be vital. Josh Scobee, as usual, can be counted on to score frequently this year.
- Coaching -- Some fans love him, some fans hate him. The last time Jacksonville made the playoffs was 2007. You would have to think the seat is a at medium-hot for the USC grad. Win or go home for 2011.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Offense -- There is a lot to like about the offense in Tampa, and it all starts with quarterback Josh Freeman, who tossed 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions last season as the Bucs went 9-7, just missing out on the playoffs. The offensive line has quality, thought Jeremy Trueblood has had his issues with penalties. The backfield is led by second-year man LeGarrette Blount, who is now one of the top stories in the league after going undrafted out of Oregon. Add Mike Williams, Kellen Winslow and Arrelious Benn, and you have an offense that has the potential to be lethal for the next several years.
- Defense -- The old days of domination led by Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice appear to be in the rear-view mirror. Many Tampa fans hope similar days are ahead with Gerald McCoy, Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn looking to get their careers off to flying starts. Geno Hayes and Quincy Black now face more pressure with Barrett Rudd gone, but the most pressure will be on rookie
LB Mason Foster, who will start and middle linebacker. The defensive backs should be the strength, especially if Aqib Talib keeps his head on straight.
- Special Teams -- Kicker Conor Barth and punter Michael Koenen, who arrived from Atlanta during free agency, are both solid players, and Michael Spurlock is a dangerous returner.
- Coaching -- The fans in Tampa love Raheem Morris after last year's showing. The confidence continues to grow parallel to the youth movement.
- Offense -- A veteran offensive line, a quarterback with a chip on his shoulder in Chad Henne, and a running back who has been told he is no star with Reggie Bush, and it's safe to say Miami offense has a lot to prove, especially after losing Ronnie Brown to free agency. Brandon Marshall is a very good receiver, despite the drops, but the team will need someone to step up for there to be excitement in South Beach for football.
- Defense -- The defensive line is unproven, as are the defensive backs. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett are both talented at linebacker, but the defense doesn't necessarily make one cringe. DE Phillip Merling, entering his fourth season, has 3.5 sacks in 37 games. If anyone needs to step up, it's the former Clemson Tiger.
- Special Teams -- Devone Bess has yet to prove himself as a big-time returner with 47 yards as his top career return. The former Hawaii star will have to prove his worth early in the return game before Reggie Bush is called upon. Kicker Dan Carpenter was 30 for 41 last season on field goals, causing a little concern. As for punter Brandon Fields, he was 4th in the league last season with an average of 46.2 yards per attempt.
- Coaching -- Tony Sparano was looked upon as the 'savior' during his first season, the man to team the turn around. Well, time flies. Like Del Rio, Sparano is in the hot seat in Miami. It's now or never.
DE: Aaron Kampman (JAX) and Matt Roth (JAX)
DT: Tyson Alualu (JAX) and Gerald McCoy (TB)
OLB: Geno Hayes (TB) and Quincy Black (TB)
MLB: Karlos Dansby (MIA)
CB: Aqib Talib (TB) and Vontae Davis (MIA)
SS: Sean Jones (TB)
FS: Dawan Landry (JAX)
K: Josh Scobee (JAX)
P: Brandon Fields (MIA)
KR: Michael Spurlock (TB)
PR: Mike Thomas (JAX)
*No rookies were used in the team
Raheem Morris (TB)
Players per NFL team:
Tampa Bay (12)