A year ago at this time, Tampa Bay was hopeful that Josh Freeman could improve on 3,451 yards passing, 25 touchdown passes (and only six interceptions) and 10 wins. With that in mind, the Bucs didn't make any big offseason moves on offense entering the 2011 season.

The return on faith was not good: a pass-happy offense led to more Freeman passing yards (3,592) -- but fewer TDs (16), more interceptions (22) and a disappointing four-win season.

Since then, a lot has changed since. Freeman has apparently cut back on the Taco Bell and is a skinnier version of himself. WR Vincent Jackson was brought in to be the No. 1 receiver. Kellen Winslow is gone, replaced by veteran Dallas Clark. The Bucs added one of the best pass protectors in the league in Carl Nicks, rookie running back Doug Martin and an entire new coaching staff.

Here's a look at how three of those additions (Jackson, Clark and Nicks) could help Freeman.

Finally, a deep threat

Freeman had just under 6 percent of his attempts result in a completion of more than 20 yards last season. Only Colt McCoy had a worse rate out of starting NFL quarterbacks; his was 5.6 percent. 

The Bucs were wise to spend their free-agent dollars on Jackson. In the last four years, the former Charger has averaged better than 17 yards per reception every season, finishing in the top 10 in the NFL in three of the four years. (He didn't qualify in 2010; he only played in five games because of a holdout. Had he qualified, his 17.8 yards per reception would have ranked eighth.)

During that four-year stretch, 57 of Jackson's 201 catches have gone for more than 20 yards. His presence alone should help Freeman complete more passes downfield.

Swap ego for character

Allen Dell of the Bradenton Herald wrote in May when Tampa traded Winslow to Seattle that the team got rid of a "huge cancer that was eating away at this franchise."

If that wasn't reason enough to get rid of Winslow, consider this: nine of Freeman's 22 interceptions last season were passes intended for Winslow, according to Neil Hornsby of Pro Football Focus.

In his place steps Clark, a sure-handed veteran who figures to be a great influence as a high-character veteran. And according to backup QB Dan Orlovsky, Freeman shouldn't have to worry about his throws to tight ends turning into INTs. 

"If you throw in the vicinity, either he's catching it or no one's catching it," Orlovsky told the Tampa Bay Times. "That's comforting, especially when bullets are flying and you're getting hit in the mouth. It's just great to have him here."

The one caveat with Clark is that he has missed 16 games in the last two seasons, but reports out of camp are that he looks healthy.

Better protection

Nicks, the former Saint, has always been in a pass-heavy offense and his value to Freeman comes in protection, but the 343-pound big fella believes Freeman will also benefit from a renewed commitment to the run.

"The first thing is, it gets the defensive line tired," Nicks told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. "We wear them down and that helps your pass protection. Another thing is knocking a guy down and watching him get up, seeing the tiredness and the hurt in his eyes, and you just thrive on that."

Part of the problem last season in Tampa was that the Bucs forgot about the running game (242 more pass attempts than runs). And when they did pass, Freeman was often facing pressure.

According to Pro Football Focus stats, Freeman was hurried 204 times in 2011, which was the third most in the league. To Freeman's credit, he was only sacked 29 times; however, it obviously affected his performance. Freeman threw seven interceptions under pressure.

Nicks is one of the best in the league at keeping his QB clean. According to the Pro Football Focus guys, over the last three seasons, Nicks has been the sixth-best guard in the league at limiting pressure on his quarterback.

Better protection for Freeman should mean fewer interceptions, more time to find Jackson down the field -- and, the Bucs hope, more wins.

Follow Bucs reporter Patrick Southern on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLTB.