And so it begins.
Tonight is the beginning of a new (and hopefully brighter) era in Tampa Bay.
It is the night that Lovie Smith and company unveil the new-look, and newly-skilled, Tampa Bay Buccaneer squad for the first time at Raymond James Stadium. And although it may only be a practice (cue Allen Iverson’s “practice” press conference), you better believe that it matters.
For the last five years, Bucs football has been intertwined into a vicious cycle. Three of those years were spent on experiencing with first-time head coach Raheem Morris, and an incredibly inexperienced roster. Those will forever be known as the “Youngry” years. If I never hear that word again, I’d be perfectly fine with that. That era was highlighted by the miracle season of 2010, in which the Buccaneers reached a 10-6 record behind Josh Freeman’s surprisingly successful season, and the emergence of rookie wide receiver Mike Williams. However, defensive mistakes proved to be too much to overcome in some games, and the Bucs lost a tie-breaker to the Green Bay Packers at the end of that season, which meant the Wisconsin natives would make the playoffs over the Buccaneers, and eventually win the Super Bowl. Next year, Tampa Bay went 4-12, and Raheem Morris was fired.
The next two years was the “Toes on the Line” era, headlined by head coach Greg Schiano. Formerly the coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Schiano was brought in to bring attitude and discipline to a team that lacked both. He changed the roster until only had “Buccaneer Men”; players that would do as Schiano would, and wouldn’t cause any trouble off of the field. The culture shock in Tampa Bay would spark a fast start, but it didn’t last. The Buccaneers finished 7-9 and 4-12 in Schiano’s two years as head coach before he was fired. It was a move that caused fans around the area to rejoice.
That brings us to where we are now. After five years of experimenting and rebuilding a roster in hopes of competing with the NFL’s elite, this is Tampa Bay’s chance to show the world that they are serious. Lovie Smith is a veteran head coach that brought the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as his quarterback. The team was led by their ferocious defense, and Lovie has made that style of play his signature.
It is a style of play that we are all used to. It’s a 4-3 defense with lots of influence on a Cover 2 zone. Hell, it is even named after us. The Tampa 2.
We’ve seen the Tampa 2 run at its most efficient; the glory years with Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, and Monte Kiffin with his hand on opposing offense’s pulses. We’ve played witness to Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks striking fear in the hearts of quarterbacks with their relentless pressure and disguised zones. It is completely different that the “soft zone” scheme run by coach Schiano last year, and is miles ahead of Raheem Morris’ man-to-man/heavy blitz/zone blitz mess.
In today’s NFL, the Buccaneers are reaching to their past for help. And if it works (as we’ve seen before), this year will be fun.
And here we are. It all begins tonight.
Every year, the Buccaneers’ night practice serves as the team’s pep rally for the season. But before this year, it has always felt like false enthusiasm. Fans would trudge along, putting their hope in the hands of young players and inexperienced coaching staffs. After every five dud plays, there was one sparkle of hope that fans could cling to. They would talk about it on their local sports talk radio shows, but with cautious optimism.
Tonight, Tampa Bay, we throw caution to the wind.
This team has experience. While there are still young players sprinkled in at every position, this roster finally has the veteran leadership necessary to become the powerhouse they’ve had the potential to be. They finally have the coaching staff that has led before and is ready and willing to do it again. There is intrigue, not worry, around the offense. And there is excitement, and passion, for this defense to resemble what Tampa Bay became all to familiar with in the late 90’s and 2000’s.
Tonight is a night for the community to embrace their Buccaneers. They have done everything in their power to set themselves up for success. Now, they need the crowds to come out in full, screaming their lungs out for Buccaneer football like it had been done not too long ago.
It’s going to be quite some year, Bucs fans.
And it all begins tonight. Ready your krewe.