How's that song go......"I'm in nuclear science, I love my classes, I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses, things are going GREAT....and they're only getting better....I'm doin alright, gettin good grades, the future's so bright....I gotta wear shades."
Well, the bright, sunny weather wasn't the only reason to don shades at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. The Buccaneers bright young stars indeed shone brightly on both sides of the ball. For the first time since November 2002, a team won when starting 7 rookies. The last team to do it was the Dallas Cowboys on November 24, 2002, when they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 21-19.
Fast forward 8 years. The Buccaneers rolled out 7 rookie starters on Sunday. On offense, Ted Larsen, Erik Lorig, Mike Williams, and Rejus Benn earned starts. For Lorig, it was his first career start. On defense, Gerald McCoy, Cody Grimm, and Dekoda Watson started, with the latter garnering his first career start in place of the injured Quincy Black. On the day, 12 (TWELVE!) rookies saw playing time, including LeGarrette Blount, Derek Hardman, Robert Malone, Preston Parker, and Al Woods.
So what does that mean? It means the early returns from the past 2 drafts are beginning to show their worth. It means that it was indeed time for a change and a youth movement after the 2008 season. And it also means that GM Mark Dominik and his staff deserve some early credit for the moves they have made. There's no doubt, the front office put itself out on a limb when it cut ties with Antonio Bryant March 2010 after an unproductive 2009 season. Many initially cricitized the move, including yours truly. However, as the front office preached patience in the process of building through the draft, they put together a plan. They targeted players they thought could help them, especially at wide receiver, and landed them. Think anyone misses Antonio Bryant right now? The guy is not even playing football.
Am I saying a complete core of talent is in place to start a new era of winning football? No, not yet, not by any means. Help is sorely needed in the front 7. The pass rush doesn't just need to be upgraded....it needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. Run support has to improve, and if it can't with the current roster, then it's time to upgrade those areas. Depth on both lines is needed. Clearly, there is a lot of work still to be done to keep this team moving in the right direction.
However, given the product on the field on Sunday, this front office just might be the group with the plan and the ability to get the job done.