London bound Buccaneers look to brighter future
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.
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.
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..