May 15, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano during organized team activities at One Buc. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lacked a lot of things last year, but two elements stood out to me: fundamentals and mental toughness. The Bucs failed to do the little things, the simple things they've supposedly been taught since they started playing football: they didn't tackle, they didn't catch the ball, they didn't hold on to the ball, they didn't throw accurate passes and they didn't avoid penalties. When all those things are missing, it doesn't matter what kind of scheme your team runs. It doesn't matter how good your coaching is, and it doesn't matter how good your players are: you're not going to win many games playing sloppy football.
Greg Schiano has set out to change that. I talked about that a while ago, when I summarized an hour-long talk about his coaching philosophy. The Bucs at this point aren't focused on implementing complicated schemes to out-smart their opponents. They just want to get back to playing mistake-free football: make that tackle, shed that block, catch that ball, avoid the stupid penalties. It's not hard, but it requires a lot of very repetitive drilling, and that's what the Bucs have been doing for the past months.
Every day before practice, the Buccaneers go through a tackling circuit. A series of short exercises designed to drill the proper way to tackle into each and every player on the team. Getting back to fundamentals is not something you see often on the NFL level - coaches are often preoccupied with getting the schemes right and adjusting for future opponents. But this emphasis on fundamentals is exactly what this very young team needs right now to take the next step.
Along with fundamentals, comes 'smart' football. That was one of Raheem Morris' go-to phrases, part of his football philosophy, but his team never really played smart football. Instead, it played penalty- and mistake-heavy football. The penalties were especially gruesome, although part of that was poor technique - a holding penalty is a result of being overwhelmed, not a result of mental issues, for instance.
If the Bucs want to be competitive this season, they must find a way to eliminate the stupid penalties and get back to playing with the right fundamentals. Tackle, block, catch, don't fumble. Easy phrases, but hard to execute on the field. We'll see in the fall whether the Bucs managed to drill that into their players.