If you’re reading this, then it’s safe to assume that not only are you a Bucs fan, but a football fan in general. Therefore, I don’t need to get into excruciating - and repetitive - detail about how football is the ultimate team sport, nor explain how important it is for a team to click.
But when it comes to the Bucs, things are a bit different. There isn’t any other team in the league that plans to start off the season - barring injury - without their starting quarterback. Even Carson Wentz is looking like he’ll be ready to suit up on September 6th, after participating in team contact drills on Saturday and avoiding the PUP list during training camp.
@cj_wentz aiming toward September 6 opener, but doesn’t want to rush the plan. “I like where we’re at right now. We have a good plan.” Needs to be cleared for contact next— Dave Spadaro (@EaglesInsider) July 26, 2018
Winston’s suspension isn’t the only issue. If this team falls flat like they did in 2017 then you can bet that the entire staff, front office, and a lot of players will be looking for new homes next season. Several key areas of the team are in dire need of drastic improvement and if they don’t develop properly then it will be another long season.
So where do the players find the inspiration and motivation to come out on top in 2018?
It’s easy, within themselves and with each other.
And that’s exactly what has shown up more consistently than any other theme so far in training camp - these players like each other and they want each other to succeed.
We’ve seen the evidence from star players like Gerald McCoy lugging around pads and working with teammates after practice. We’ve seen it from Jameis Winston staying late after practice and working with the younger receivers.
Gerald McCoy coaching rookie Vita Vea - credit Evan Winter, Bucs Nation
Now, we’re starting to hear about it too.
“I thought I had seen and been through it all, but another year, another different situation. I think the biggest thing in all of this is just we’re all professionals and we’re just communicating as well,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after Thursday’s practice, later adding, “I think leaning on plenty of that past experience not just on the field, but in how you treat guys or how you deal with guys whether it’s up front or receivers or the different personalities, that’s some of the good experience I have and why I still love playing the game.”
For Fitzpatrick, it’s another season during a 13-year career that has seen multiple stops throughout the NFL, some successful and some not. Other players - like McCoy - haven’t tasted much success at all and he knows the onus is on not only the team, but himself to get better. Fortunately for McCoy and the Bucs, they have plenty of help in the form of new teammates.
“Well we brought in four new guys that have all played in a Super Bowl, and three of them have won it. That’s a lot of experience. Guys who know what to do and how to do it; do it the right way,” McCoy said at the podium. “We have a new D-line coach who played in three I believe, and had numerous opportunities to go back as a coach. Just the room overall is different, a lot of experience, and a lot of knowledge. Guys bouncing ideas off of each other, things you’ve never heard before, I’m helping him, they’re helping me. Its only just going to make us great in the long run. But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
McCoy has always held the reputation as a great teammate and leader, but this year he seems to be taking it up a notch.
Gerald McCoy, only fueling nice-guy allegations, goes against the norm and carries other players’ pads after practices every year. pic.twitter.com/VOcLSVe5tp— Greg Auman (@gregauman) July 28, 2018
Then you have players like running back Peyton Barber, who finished last season as the team’s no. 1 back just to watch the Bucs draft Ronald Jones II in the second round out of USC. He’ll also have competition in veterans Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims. That doesn’t phase Barber, however, he looks at it as a positive.
“I get the best of both worlds,” he told me after practice as we walked off the field. “I get a vet to teach me everything and I get a rookie who I can teach things. But at the same time, both of them are going to push me.”
This team-first, work-together attitude was something that was missing last season. This became clear with players such as Chris Baker. After kicking him out of the Bay, it’s safe to say that this year’s crop of free agents have a much different thought process.
“It’s been great. We just keep creating chemistry out there. Everybody pass rushes differently; everybody plays the run different,” new defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “As veterans on the team, we’re teaching the young guys how to come up and how to do things correctly. We were all once in their position, so we are having great chemistry together. That’s a great start for us.”
Without a doubt, this mindset is becoming a contagious attitude seen on both sides of the ball and it’s an attitude that is developing more and more every day. The more this team bonds and develops their chemistry, the better they will get and that could be the key to not only surviving - but succeeding in 2018.