There’s no shortage of excuses and explanations for the Buccaneers’ current slide from NFL contender to blatant pretender. The coaches certainly share a large brunt of the blame, the time missed due to the lockout and even expectations and learning to manage success have been an issue for the Bucs this season.
Here’s another: there’s not a single leader on the Buccaneers roster. Not one.
There are no leaders on offense, no leaders on defense, unless the message comes from the Raheem Morris I don’t think there’s a message coming.
Now, a lot of people will point out Josh Freeman organized player-only workouts this off-season. So what? Making a few phone calls is a lot different than being a dynamic presence during a tough game. It’s one thing to organize a practice, it’s another to be the unquestioned leader of the team.
Freeman is the closest thing the Bucs have got, but he hasn’t fully grasped what it takes to handle that role. It’s understandable, I’ll give him a pass because he’s 23 and still has a ton of growing left to do. But for every comeback Freeman has already lead there are also a number of moments where he needed to be the guy to take control and he just didn’t.
Leadership doesn’t begin in the second half or the start of the 4th quarter.
It’s Not all the QB
Outside of Freeman though? The Bucs are a wasteland when it comes to leadership. Ronde Barber is fantastic, he’s the elder statesman but he’s never been the type of go up and down the sideline and fire up the defense. That was my gripe with Barrett Ruud too. Both can lead by example, but you need at least one guy whom when he speaks, the team listens.
There is just no one like that on defense that can lead right now though. I think maybe the Bucs hoped Gerald McCoy would be that leader but they should probably just hope he can become a semi-competent defensive tackle at this point because he’s headed full speed towards busting. It’s tough to ask a rookie to be a leader, but the best two options to find one on the defense at this point are both in their first NFL seasons, Mason Foster and Adrian Clayborn.
That’s an issue. When you have a unit with zero leadership and you have to hope rookies will start to embrace that role, you begin to have discipline and accountability issues like the Bucs are experiencing.
Offensively it’s even worse. Because Freeman is on that side of the ball it’s almost as if there’s no motivation for anyone else to step up. The offensive line is the biggest offender from a positional standpoint. I get why the receivers and backs haven’t been as quick to step up, they’re all in their first couple years. Kellen Winslow has never been a real mature guy and Earnest Graham is hurt.
But Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeff Faine have no excuse. Faine used to be vocal, and I understand he helps mentor a lot of the players in terms of finances and investments, but in terms of making them a more accountable and disciplined football team. Nothing. Donald Penn is in my opinion the most overrated player on the team, he’s also one of the few veterans and he’s not contributing much besides penalties and blown assignments.
The reason I’m picking on the offensive line is it’s the most veteran unit on the team and it’s also one of the least disciplined. If they can’t even get their own game together then their attempts at leadership are at best ineffective and at worst non-existent.
It Can’t All Be on the Coaches
If you want to blame all the penalties and mental errors on the coaches you can, but it’s not really indicative of the whole issue. Until the players start holding one another accountable there’s never going to be any real progress. As I just mentioned the team’s most veteran unit is one of its most penalized. Execution is regularly poor in the first half and doesn’t come together until it absolutely has to. Ball security has become a major problem.
To me that says this team is screwing around in practice and not working hard. A lot of that is on the players. The coaches can only do so much, at some point some of the players have to start stepping up and demanding better from the team.
Right now the Bucs wouldn’t beat the Miami Dolphins if they squared off. I watch both teams, and while a month ago it would have been a different story, today the Bucs are a Cowboys’ Thanksgiving field goal from having the same record as the Dolphins and they’re both trending in different directions.
I mention this because things turned around in Miami when players cut the BS and started to call each other out. Brandon Marshall of all people, called out Dolphins CB Vontae Davis for coming in late and being hungover after closing out the clubs the night before. The two nearly came to blows, Davis was left in Miami for the KC game and the Dolphins are now 3-1 in their last four with the only loss coming on a last second field goal in Dallas.
If you don’t think that had an impact you’re dead wrong. That moment made the entire Dolphins season come into focus. In the NFL the caliber of teams is far closer than you think, two teams may be nearly identical in terms of talent but the ones with superior discipline and execution win. Do you think the Super Bowl champion is always the best team (in terms of talent and ability)? No, the team that wins is the team that win are the ones that execute efficiently in all three phases and play smart, disciplined football. The 2001 Patriots are the golden example of that.
Miami went from 0-7 and arguably the NFL’s worst team, to Peter King (a notorious Patriot-lover and hater of all things Dolphin) admitting they were playing the best football in the league after their win over Buffalo.
Same team, night and day. The difference was leadership stepping up and causing players to self-police and take a greater degree of accountability. When that happened they started to practice harder and execute better.
Until that happens in Tampa, the losing will continue.