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London bound Buccaneers look to brighter future

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Neil Reynolds | 11:37 UK time, Tuesday, 20 October 2009

I made a whirlwind visit to the United States last week, spending one day with the New England Patriots before flying into Tampa for 24 hours with the Buccaneers.

With both clubs facing off at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, they will be the focus of my attention this week. I'll take a longer look at the Patriots in my Thursday blog. For now, I want to focus on the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A losing team's locker room is an intimidating place to try to grab an interview because while it is officially an open session, players often disappear for 'treatment' or they position their chairs so they have their backs to the assembled media. It can be nerve-wracking to approach a 330-pound offensive lineman who has a face like thunder and shove a microphone under his nose.

But I ploughed on regardless and I expected every player to be miserable, abrupt and obviously feeling the pressure. But they were polite, courteous and upbeat. They all admitted a change of scenery would do them good and they were genuinely excited about the prospect of coming to London.

I was also at the Bucs camp during the summer and, as you would expect, they were talking a good game on the eve of the new season. But I think the reason Tampa's morale is still pretty high is because they were half expecting a season of struggle as they set about rebuilding with one of the youngest teams in the league.

Raheem Morris
Now, coaches hate to use the word 'rebuilding' because it is an admission they have given up on the here and now, and the Bucs would never admit they are right about where they thought they would be at 0-6, but Morris, who is in his first season as a head coach, told me this is a long journey he and his players are just starting out on.

While he would never publicly state such a thing, Morris probably expected a losing season and these Buccaneers are building for the long term. Had Tampa wanted to eke out seven or eight wins this season, they might have stuck with 39-year-old Jeff Garcia at quarterback and kept several other high-priced veterans on the roster, including running back Warrick Dunn, receiver Ike Hilliard and future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks.

But those guys have about a season or two left in their bodies, maybe not even that. So what good do they do the Buccaneers in the future? Morris is of the mindset that it is better to get them out now and get younger players up to speed as quickly as possible, even if you have to take your lumps along the way.

If that approach is to be carried out correctly, patience is required. Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in his first season with the Dallas Cowboys before eventually turning them into the Team of the '90s that won three Super Bowls. Morris is starting on the same kind of journey and if this is the route the Buccaneers have decided to take - and it clearly is - he must be given enough time to build the roster from the ground up.

Ward and Williams
Veteran running backs Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams are playing amongst a young squad this season

Fortunately, the Buccaneers have been here before and the Glazer family has shown the necessary patience to give a young coach time to do his work properly.

In 1996, Tony Dungy took charge of the Buccaneers. His teams struggled initially, but they did include young players like Brooks, Barber, safety John Lynch and defensive tackle Warren Sapp. And it was those youngsters who grew into dominant stars, providing the backbone of the squad that won a Super Bowl in 2003.

Morris is calling on the likes of Williams, linebacker Barrett Ruud and cornerback Aqib Talib to do the same thing as those Tampa Bay legends. He wants these young players to grow into top-notch performers who can make the Buccaneers contenders again.

It is a brave thing the Bucs are doing. They have sacrificed the now for a brighter future. Some teams never have the guts to do that. For years, the Miami Dolphins had no running game, an offensive line that could only pass block and very little defense. Yet Don Shula was afraid to rip things up and start again because quarterback Dan Marino always produced nine or 10 wins to get the Dolphins into the playoffs.

Miami were good enough for the playoffs but, apart from fleetingly in the mid 1980s, they were never quite great enough to reach the Super Bowl. And they were never going to be without a roster overhaul.

Tampa Bay has some exciting young players - big things are expected of rookie quarterback Josh Freeman in the future and Kellen Winslow is a Pro Bowl tight end who can excel in the passing game - but they also have some promising pups who are not quite ready for the NFL.

While that means the Buccaneers need to battle through some rough times this season, it is also the reason why this club feels reasonably good about its future and is not a team currently permeated by a sense of long-term doom and gloom.

It might be tough for us on the outside to see right now, but Morris and the rest of the winless Buccaneers genuinely feel a brighter future is just around the corner.

Listen live to Neil and the team on BBC 5 live sports extra as the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers play at Wembley this Sunday from 1700 GMT, and watch highlights on BBC Two from 0000-0100 GMT..

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good blog, mate.

    Did you manage to see the Raymond James Stadium? I went to see the Buccs play Detriot as a 17-year-old in 2005 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember the locals going mad when 'Cadellac' Williams came out of the locker rooms.

    I hope to attend a Philli Eagles game one time as they are my adopted team.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice blog Neil, as a Bucs fan I completely agree. One of the reasons I was stumped as to why we went with Leftwich to start the season, his long wind-up was only going to put more pressure on the offense. I don't think we'll be pretty to watch on Sunday, we'll probably be hammered by 30 points, but Johnson hasn't been bad, and Williams will be a danger too. Must be honest, I just hope we avoid going 0-16!

  • Comment number 3.

    great read Neil Tampa are a result i look out for as they and my football team share owners..

    you still sticking by San Diego to be in the SB they may not even get a playoff spot in the AFC as the Broncos are 6-0 and there are other teams in the AFC that look like getting a WC above the bolts

  • Comment number 4.

    gavinb24... Sticking with San Diego? If you guys are giving me the option of jumping of that particular bandwagon then consider it done.

    I just figured that would be a much better team in 2009 and I thought they had a bit more toughness about them. They really don't at the moment, although they have again suffered some key injuries.

    I think the class of the NFL is in the NFC at the moment although my pick there - the New York Giants - took quite a beating in New Orleans.

    This much I do know - teams we thought might be a little bit flaky this season... clubs like New Orleans and Denver are for real.

    I'm going to stick with the Giants for now, although I don't have quite as much conviction on that one... and it could be any one from four or five in the AFC at the moment. How about the Patriots to grind their way to another Super Bowl?

  • Comment number 5.

    I, like Neil, also had the chargers down as a superbowl team, but for ehatever reason they just dont look up to it this year. Obviously Merriman was a big loss defensively, but i also think there offense has struggled, in particular i dont think Rivers is playing as well as he has done in the past, especially towards the end of last year.

    Denver have surprised me massively by going undefeated thus far. I thought losing Jay cutler would have ruined any chances they had. Kyle Orton never looked up to much in Chicago, so seeing him play well is a complete surpise. Do you think knowing he is the number one guy at Denver has given him the confidence to out and play well?

    I do expect Orton to mess up sooner or later, and expect SD to challenge them for the division come week 17.

    of the other teams playign well at the minute, Minnesota look good but wheter or not Favre can last a full season + post season remains to be seen. New Orleans are clearly the stand-out team so far, and i expect them to continue their strong form until teh SB. In the AFC Indy look strong agin but watch out for Pittsburgh, after a few early blips in the campaign, they are starting to look good again!!

  • Comment number 6.

    Cannot wait for this weekend - the Wembley NFL game is such a treat, and my Pats could not be looking more up for it!

    On the Bucs, I think aside from the youthfulness of their squad, Atlanta and New Orleans always looked strong, so too Carolina (even with Delhomme's problems) who made the play-offs last year. So this year was as good a year to restock and see who can cut it in the big-time.

    The Glazers, as you say, have shown they will give a coach time to follow through on a plan, and in no one area are the Bucs badly below par. The running game is good, the passing game is improving, and defensively they work hard. A couple more good acquisitions, and a bit of belief, and they'll be right in the mix again.

  • Comment number 7.

    Rampantreds22:

    I can see why so many still feel SD will be challenging Denver by the end of the season, after all they did blow it totally last year after a similarly dominant start, but with fixtures against Kansas City (x2), Oakland and Washington still to come this season, along with a few other very winnable games, it would take one hell of a run from a very average SD to catch them. As a Broncos fan I'm excited about the team this year (and it is the fact it is a real team that is serving us so well so far), and feel we will both make the post season and make an impact once we get there, but then I am a touch biased!

    Looking forward to Sunday, it will be the first game I've been to since I lived in Denver some years ago, and with the Pats looking sharp I'm expecting to see plenty of scores. I will of course be cheering on the underdog, but I can't even begin to believe that the Bucs will break their duck this weekend.

  • Comment number 8.

    I've just discovered that the BBC isn't showing the game live this year which is annoying, any chance you could enlighten us to why the Beeb didn't get the full rights again? I think the Pats victory will be smaller than expected within 10, possibly stretching it out in the 4th. I think the Giants are still a good bet for the NFC if they get through winning NFC East and avoiding the wildcard round in the playoffs they'll be great for the NFC championship game. I'd still like Jets or Steelers to get there but a NEW YORK double headed would be a great final or even Manning vs Manning. However in reality you'd have to say Colts-Saints is looknig like the Superbowl, obviously that can change.

  • Comment number 9.

    The Chargers always start out slow. For instance last year they were 4-8 at one point. Adding to that a trip to Wembley which they were beaten by the Saints. The Chargers will come good as usual, and the Broncos im trying to figure them out, a solid team but instinct tells me that they just wont go far. Patriots are beginning to look good.Ive met Sean Payton when i lived in Florida last year working at a boat rental company, he went out on one of our boats. Top bloke and used to work in England. My SB prediction
    NE vs. NO and i think bedlam in NO as the Saints nick it late.
    Come On You Saints!

  • Comment number 10.

    @17eIvIoN

    yeah me too, I was hoping the BBC would show this games in BBCHD (& also the Superbowl for that matter), thought it was natural progression seeing the 2 previous Wembley games (& SBs) were live on BBC, but this year involves the most popular/best suppported team playing in Wembley (Go Pats!!), thought it would be surely live on the BBC, how naive was I?! then just found out yesterday no show, well apart from just the highlights, why the downgrade/step backwards :-(

    I think the NFL made a mistake by making this Wembley game live Sky only, the NFL is trying to grow & expand in the UK, and by showing the most popular team playing in Wembley on the biggest free terestrial channel in the UK i.e. BBC1, would be a great step/sure fire way in growing the sport, publicity and espcially TV exposure are great ways to grow any business/sport, I started to support the Pats/follow the NFL when I was flicking channels one night in 07 & landed on Channel 5's late night NFL coverage, saw the Patriots logo, and their name, loved both thinking it's really cool, and now very much an avid follower, without free terrestrial TV I would never have gotten into NFL so much.

  • Comment number 11.

    ahhh! where to start the rant :-(

    firstly i think pepole may be suprised to learn the bucs have a larger fanbase than the patriots.

    Neil; while you state the team expects secretly to be in this posistion you cant deny that a lot of games that have gotten away from us ('skins & Panthers in particular) is simply down to bad coaching, motivating and co-ordinating.

    if it were not for some of this poor desision making with defensive plays we would be possibly 2-4 or (as an optimist) 3-3 which at this stage in the season is not great...but it's not 0-6

    i would like to leave you with the pefect example of our season so far, 21-21 at home against the panthers they moved the ball 80 yards using the same running play over and over, culminating in the winning TD with 30 secs on the clock. not once did Bates (D co-ordinator)call an effective play to stop the run and force a very poor Delhomme to go through the air stopping the drive or comming away with an Interception!

    i fear that Raheem and his staff wont be given much longer to realise this "bright future" as there is enough talent to get 5-6 wins on the board by the end of the season, it's just the coaching letting us down.

    sorry for the long post

  • Comment number 12.

    Neil, you could have mentioned Raheem's rather strange(and a poorly timed) decision to fire his offensive coordinator just before the season started AFTER the whole of the off-season. He may be a bright coach but his decisions don't like ones made by a smart guy.
    cannot decide QB, looks indecisive to me, ... says something on Monday, does something else on Tuesday

    also Josh Joshson is doing better and apparently Freeman hasn't impressed many people ... yet

  • Comment number 13.

    @No1_Dave ... the Pats are not the most popular team in the NFL, that would be the Steelers and the under-performing Cowboys

  • Comment number 14.

    Good blog Neil, interesting read.

    I too am a bit irritated about the lack of the game on the BBC though. Most vexing. I really hope the Bucs have come on some since I watched them in week 2. If they let Trent "Checkdown, Checkdown, Injured" Edwards pass for over 200 and 2 TDs I dread to think what the Pats will be able to do in the cold and wet.

    @oke2008 - When people are talking about the larger Patsies fanbase, they mean in the UK I think. I've never seen any stats on it but the papers always say they are the 'best' supported team over here.

  • Comment number 15.

    "I've never seen any stats on it but the papers always say they are the 'best' supported team over here."

    I hear that as well, and I tend to believe it on the basis that the Pats have probably been the pre-eminent franchise of the last decade, when NFL popularity enjoyed its most recent, and biggest, surge.

    In terms of the best supported team, period, Steelers and Cowboys generally vie for that title, though heaven knows exactly how you measure this. In contrast, on quite another measure, the Redskins are the most lucrative franchise, and by some distance.

    http://espn.go.com/sportsbusiness/s/forbes.html

  • Comment number 16.

    @cal_bills - good point but you will find a lot of UK Pats fans are fairweather and know very little about the game and its particulars and only know the team because of super bowl appearances or if they watch Family Guy. i will add that this is not all pats fans, just most of them

    @fuzzy_reddevil we have had to put up with crazy desisions like that from raheem all season i'm afraid. the guy is really a nice bloke but just not head coach material for the NFL

  • Comment number 17.

    "i will add that this is not all pats fans, just most of them"

    Yeah, that's why I elected to put 'best' in inverted commas...

    @ Eddie George - I know you are correct but I have no idea why people in a nation of embittered losers like ours would choose to support really succesful teams. Where's the fun without being able to complain about how everyone is rubbish and should be sacked? It's beyond me.

    Go Bills.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ cal_Bills

    i'm a Welsh Crewe Alex Fan that loves the Bucs. i'm pretty sorted for complaining over how rubbish everybody is. you could say i'm a glutton for misery :0)

  • Comment number 19.

    Neil - good blog.
    I agree with your sentiments re the Buccs but until the pathetic 2009 Titans turned up nothing had confused me more that the sacking of Gruden last year, their current plight is therefore no real surprise and in my opinion self created.
    Going into December last season the Buccs were 9-3, top of NFC South and the defence playing like it was in their superbowl year. Kiffin walks away and the defence caves in conceding something like 120 points from their last 4 games (all defeats) and they end the season 9-7 with no play off berth.
    Gruden was in the process of building another championship team, so why sack such a talented coach ?
    I saw the piece you did for TV last Sunday, can I ask if there were any references to the coaching changes last year and whether Gruden had the support of the players ?

  • Comment number 20.

    Grizzly... There was nothing official said on Gruden while I was in Tampa, but I get the impression - and I might be reading through several lines here - he was a prickly character to deal with.

    I do know this... the players I spoke to over the summer and last week absolutely love Raheem Morris and feel he is a real players' coach.

    Whether that can translate into wins, of course, remains to be seen.

  • Comment number 21.

    Cal_Bills: "I have no idea why people in a nation of embittered losers like ours would choose to support really succesful teams."

    Like ManU?

    Your point is taken - somewhat tongue in cheek! - I think what happens is the successful teams get loads of coverage, and for many people the first team they see is the one they support. Ergo, Pats are popular. (I'm a Pats supporter by marriage, my wife and her family are New England natives, so I got sucked into the whole Pats-Sox-Celtics-Bruins tribe... for whom the last decade has been rather memorable)

    Re. Gruden - I concur with Neil here, word out of Tampa (where some of my in-laws now reside) is that Gruden's spikiness eventually rubbed too many people the wrong way; though to be fair, he had had a long and pretty successful stint with the Bucs. I dunno if he'd still be there had the Bucs made the post-season, but the way their defense utterly disintegrated maybe sealed his fate.

  • Comment number 22.

    @oke2008 - hehe. I can't really compete with that (un?)fortunately. At least the Bucs have been good at some point since the Millennium Dome opened.

    @Eddie George - Glad it was taken in the manner it was intended. Not attacking your support at all.

    On Gruden though, I was a bit suprised they let him go. Continuing in my complaining vein, I would gladly give a kidney to have him at OBD to replace our coach that all the players just love.

  • Comment number 23.

    Yeah I should have made it clearer, I mean the Pats being the best supported/most popular IN THE UK. (Thus should in theory attract a big TV audience in the UK)

    These bordering pathetic attacks from rival fans against anyone who supports a currently/recently successful team/club is pathetic, especially using the excuse "they only support the (insert team) because they won the (insert trophy) blah blah".

    Go over to NFLUK site to see, plenty of Pats fans have various reasons for supporting them, I've found myself having to constantly repeat why I support the Pats i.e. knew nothing about NFL couple yrs ago, flicking channel one night, landed on C5's NFL late night coverage, saw the Pats logo, thought it was really cool looking, then found out the name of the team, really like it a lot, so just decided to support them, knew nothing about their recent success, just genuinely chanced upon the Pats, but now an avid supporter.

    Also a bit hypocritical for other people (esp from UK) who supports the likes of Cowboys, Dolphins, Steelers etc "since the 70s & 80s when they were on UK TV", to call Pats fans glory hunters, well if the Cowboys, Dolphins, Steelers (or any other team that used to be successful) weren't so successful back in the 70s & 80s, getting lots of TV coverage even in the UK, would you have seen them & started to support them? see, pot calling kettle, if you're going to call the recent Pats fans glory hunters, then even if you started supporting the aforementioned teams since the 70s & 80s, you're as well.

  • Comment number 24.

    same goes for people calling me glory hunter for supporting Man Utd, the first serious football game I watch on TV (back when I was a 7 or 8 yr old kid when I was just starting to like football) was a red shirted team vs a blue shirted team, red was my favourite colour, so I chose the red team, and have been supporting Utd ever since (again knew nothing about their success or dominance)

    painting everyone with the same brush, or even saying the "majority of their fans" of a sucessful team/club are just glory hunters, is just pure ignorance.

  • Comment number 25.

    wooooah boss, no need to get defensive. just messing about.

    surely as a Man U fan you are used to people taking the mick lightheartedly by now?

    (and just for the record I lived in Buffalo for many years, my dad, sister and brother still do, so I didn't have any choice in the matter whatsoever, there is almost literally nothing else to do there. i mean once you've seen the niagara falls a couple times and eaten lots of chicken.)

  • Comment number 26.

    Oh boy

    First off. the Titans are in meltdown. They put a majorly talented TE on special teams, a TE who did amazing things in college. Then they can't get a coherent team together. Lance 'I'm gonna scream my way to the NCAA title' Kiffin could coach better than the current coach.

    The Pats have a huge fanbase, but I'd also say videogames have a LOT to do with it. I own both Madden 19 and have imported NCAA 10, the default teams in both are:

    Madden 10: Cowboys
    NCAA: LSU

    Both of which have a following over here. I wish the BBC could show the game live, it makes staying up to follow SC more bearable when you KNOW an entire country has to as well...

    Tampa are doing okay. Not brilliant, but okay, they're hanging on in there.

  • Comment number 27.

    Uh

    Madden 10. Not 19. They've not put out THAT many sequels yet

 

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