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Everyone wants to be young, right?

Mythology and fiction constantly toy with the concept of “eternal youth.” Alphaville’s 1980s hit “Forever Young” has become a cover staple. Companies that sell skin-care products have made billions off of “anti-aging” creams.

Young is good. Old is bad. And that’s no exception in sports, where “young” is associated with “upside” and “speed” and “potential.”

But in sports, it is possible to be too young, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be exactly that. In July, ESPN.com’s Mike Sando pointed out that the Bucs are the NFL’s second youngest team. But you don’t need fancy charts displaying means and medians to see how young this team is, because you just have to look at some of the most important starters…

Starting quarterback Josh Freeman: 22-year-old sophomore.

Top wideout Mike Williams: 23-year-old rookie.

Top corner Aqib Talib: 24.

To Tampa’s credit, there are a few veteran leaders in place — necessary wrinkles overcoming the anti-aging cream applied by 39-year-old general manager Mark Dominik and 34-year-old head coach Raheem Morris. Left tackle Donald Penn, 27, might have the biggest role on the team: protecting young Freeman. Linebacker Barrett Ruud, also 27, might be the closest thing the team has to a Pro Bowler. Cornerback Ronde Barber, 35, is the only significant leftover from the team’s 2002 Super Bowl season.

But the presence of those guys won’t be enough. Because the Bucs don’t just have a shortage on age, they have a shortage on depth and talent.

The Onion might have said it best: “Looking at this roster, it may not be the best year to play in a stadium where fans have access to several functioning cannons.” 

But youth brings constant hope for “next year.” That’s what’ll keep Bucs fans away from the cannons in 2010.

2009 in a nutshell: The offence is horrendous and the defence isn’t much better as they win only three games.

Why 2010 could be different, in a nutshell: The loss of Antonio Bryant; the potential emergence of rookie wideouts Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn.

Three random thoughts/observations/projections

1. With Bryant gone, the Bucs spent two of their top five draft picks on wide receivers. And although second-round selection Arrelious Benn was the higher pick, fourth-rounder Mike Williams has emerged as the go-to guy. The Syracuse product has already become the top fantasy option on the entire team. It’s easy to say that circumstances made this happen more than anything (the team has no other real starting options), but there’s a reason why Williams beat out Benn, Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall in training camp.

2. Nothing on this team defines “upside” like the defensive line, which could be either garbage or gold in about two years. The potential is exciting — No. 3 overall pick Gerald McCoy steps in as a starter on the inside, and it likely won’t take long before second-round pick Brian Price joins him there. They’ll be working with ends Stylez G. White (the veteran presence) and 2009 draft pick Kyle Moore to make up a pretty solid group, at least in terms of potential.

3. Considering the problems with the receiving corps, the running back situation is particular important. Derrick Ward, who got an expensive free-agent contract only a year ago, is already gone (this is why they don’t like to spend money on free agents). That means Cadillac Williams will carry the load. Earnest Graham is technically a fullback, but I think he’s actually more reliable than Williams. Oh, and watch out for LeGarrette Blount, who was claimed off waivers Monday. Dude was caught up in a numbers game in Tennessee, but he looked really solid.

2010 prediction: They’ll compete with the Rams and Bills for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

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