Morris looking to develop characters for the second chapter

The book is closed on the 2009 season, and most would like to forget it was ever written. It will not be a bestseller. It will not be a classic. It will not win any awards and Raheem Morris will not be signing autographs at your local Barnes & Noble any time soon.

So, where do these authors go from here?

Morris will be retained for 2010, but there will likely be some shakeups throughout the coaching ranks. With those decisions looming, Morris remains focused on his offseason priorities: Developing quarterback Josh Freeman and building through the NFL Draft.

"You have to say that number five is the biggest priority," Morris said, "making sure everything works around him because when it works around him, we were able to be successful at the end of the season there. We have ten big time draft picks coming up. You never know what you can do in the draft. Maybe we’ll find another Sammie Stroughter. That has to be a priority there."

The Buccaneers have five of the first 99 picks in April’s draft, including the third overall. With needs ranging from defensive tackle, to safety to wide receiver, the Bucs will likely address the defense early and take some chances in the later rounds to aid the offense, where they’ve had some success in recent years finding impact players such as Stroughter and linebacker Geno Hayes. While busts are part of the draft for any team, Morris and the front office remain confident in their draft capability.

"We choose to pick the positive lights and the defining of the Sammie Stroughter’s and Kyle Moore’s of the world," Morris said, "the Roy Miller’s who have come in and been productive. Some of those things we choose to pick out and that’s how the fans can be confident about it."

Another thing the fans can be confident about is an improvement in 2010. Since 1996, the Bucs have only had back-to-back losing seasons once (2003-04). It will be an offseason filled with cynics and Morris bashers voicing leftover opinions from a flat-out bad 2009, but the product next year should be much more fan-friendly. After all, the Bucs play only six teams coming off winning seasons and just four who made the payoffs this year. The road schedule, however, is particularly brutal, traveling to New Orleans, Arizona, Baltimore and Cincinnati, all playoff teams.

"Next year, it’s simple," Morris said. "You talk about progress, you’re talking about who are we, our identities, and I think we found out in that two-week stretch when we went on a 2-0 winning streak. It was run the football, so to speak pound the rock, whatever you want to call it. It’s completions. It’s limited turnovers. Our defense is playing hard, playing fast, playing physical, being assignment detailed and not giving up touchdowns and forcing turnovers. And that’s what you have to take into next year and then the win-loss record will take care of itself."

Morris will likely close the book on this season and lock it like a child’s diary, tossing the key to the bottom of the bay, never to be recovered. As he pens the sequel, signs point to it being a much better story than the debut.
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