The first part of our Breaking Down the Breakdown series covers the Bucs’ off-season. I don’t know if you remember but the NFL just had a lockout (judging by attendance and TV ratings, I sometimes wonder if people do). For over 100 days players were locked out of team facilities. Every player lost valuable off-season time to work, study film and recuperate under the auspices of their team’s coaches and trainers.
This was a problem that affected everyone, but certainly not to the same degree. It hurt the Bucs as much, if not more than any other team in football.
There’s a lot of different ways to look at the lack of an offseason and a bunch of different arguments that work for each side as much as against them. But let’s look at the facts. The Buccaneers couldn’t meet with their coaches or hold official team activities. They did do some players-only work but it’s effectiveness was limited, but beyond that the youngest team in football had no OTA’s, minicamps or even the chance to meet with coaches this off-season.
Now let’s try and make some sense of all that. Here’s my take:
I don’t think the Buccaneers off-season players-only camp amounted to much more than a team-building exercise. The lack of a formal off-season hurt everyone, but as the youngest team in football it potentially hurt the Bucs the most.
I’m really happy the Bucs have a QB in Josh Freeman that will go out and organize workouts and I’m glad so many guys showed up. Beyond that and the fact the team may have bonded during that time, I can’t see any benefit to those “camps.”
First of all Freeman is no more a leader than Aaron Rodgers, who incidentally didn’t organize any camps. In fact the Packers were one of the few teams that didn’t try to organize any player-only work and it worked out fine for them. Part of that is because they’re the best team in football. But part of that is because player-only work isn’t beneficial like everyone in Tampa made it out to be.
Players are not coaches. There are exceptions, guys who can make due with very little coaching, but that comes after years in the league. Even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have coaches they work with every day. Josh Freeman, at 23 and only in his second full season as a starter needed real coaching this offseason. He needed time in the film room with Alex Van Pelt, he needed to be in the team facilities working with the men who run the offense and have been developing him since day one.
Throwing passes in shorts to his receivers down at IMG in Bradenton in front of Chris Weinke is in no way, shape or form the equivalent of that offseason work.
What you’re seeing in Tampa is a team that at almost every position failed to noticeably progress from last year. A lot of that can be attributed to the coaching, but just as much can be attributed to the lack of time the coaches got to actually coach this offseason.
Raheem Morris cannot teach you anything if you are not allowed to talk to him. The guy got fined a quarter mil just for congratulating Kellen Winslow on the birth of his son. I hate to see what the NFL would have done if he’d been talking X’s and O’s.
That left the IMG staff and the players themselves to try and coach up each other. A lot of those same players, the guys that were leading their positional drills, had less than two years experience under their belt.
Take for instance the defensive linemen. Adrian Clayborn’s first NFL coaching actually came from Gerald McCoy, a player that skated by at Oklahoma on raw ability and admittedly has yet to develop at the NFL level in the ways he needs to. HE WAS COACHING!
Do you see how that not only isn’t even remotely as beneficial as real work with real coaches, but also can actually undo good coaching and form bad habits and even bad technique?
I’m not trying to pick on McCoy, just stating a point and that point is, even with the earnest attempt to have camps this off-season, the writing is on the wall. The lockout really hurt the Buccaneers. In many ways it set them back an entire year. This Bucs team is basically where it sat a year ago in terms of talent and development, it just had to play a tougher schedule and didn’t get the same breaks.
That’s kind of scary too, isn’t it? The average career isn’t getting any longer and for all intensive purposes the Bucs just lost a year…