Greg Schiano was hired as Tampa Bay’s head coach in late January. Nearly eight months later, he will lead the Buccaneers onto the field as the team opens its preseason Friday night against Miami.

As one might expect with a team that fired its previous coach after a 4-12 season, there were plenty of questions heading into training camp. Few definitive answers have been provided in the first weeks of practice, so the preseason games should offer the first serious glimpse at the progress being made in the following key areas:

1. Can the defense stop anyone? There is no more important question for the Bucs than this. Awful defense was the reason the team struggled as much as it did a season ago. Tampa Bay was last in the NFL in scoring defense, yielding 30.9 points per game. That's 2.8 points per game worse than the next team on the list, Minnesota. The NFL’s worst rush defense was the chief culprit, giving up 156.1 yards per game. Miami was the 11th best rushing offense in the league last season, churning out 124.2 yards per game, so the preseason opener should be a chance to evaluate what improvement, if any, has been made.

2. Will the new additions on offense help keep the team in games? Perhaps Tampa Bay’s free agent acquisitions didn’t turn heads around the NFL, but the team quietly added pieces that should help the offense considerably. Lining up wide receiver Vincent Jackson on the opposite side of the field from Mike Williams should help Williams do better than he did a season ago when he had a 48.2 yards-per-game average and scored just three touchdowns. Tight end Dallas Clark has reportedly already built a rapport with quarterback Josh Freeman and should be an upgrade from the inconsistent play of Kellen Winslow Jr. Given the struggles on defense a season ago, it’s hard to imagine the Bucs winning many games when they don’t put up significant point totals. So the new acquisitions will have to fare well for Schiano’s first season to be a success.

3. Can Josh Freeman return to form? Perhaps through little fault of his own, Freeman had a bit of a letdown in 2011. Yes, he was 13th in the NFL in passing yards with 3,592, but he threw more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (16) as he had to pass often to try to lead his team back from big deficits. With Jackson and Clark to help the passing game and a rushing offense that includes two running backs that the team feels reasonably good about -- rookie Doug Martin and veteran LeGarrette Blount -- Freeman should have substantial help. If the defense can keep the team from facing big deficits, he should fare better in 2012.

For more news and analysis from Tampa Bay Bucs blogger Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsNFLTB.