Can you believe training camp is right around the corner? Typically for football fans, particularly ones that follow a team that doesn’t qualify for the postseason, the off-season can be one long dragged out trek back to the comfort zone of seeing that pigskin flying and Drew Brees get knocked on his backside.
Sure, there are spurts of diversion with the draft and free agency but mostly, we’re stuck watching mind-numbingly boring stuff like baseball and golf. I used to supplement my football fix with hockey – the only sport I could watch that had the same amount of speed, violence and passion that you see in football. The Lightning typically would get me to June, when OTA’s and mini-camp start up.
Unfortunately, the Bolts didn’t quite make it over the finish line this season and while I enjoyed watching the playoffs, the investment just wasn’t there.
So with that in mind, you’d think this would be even a longer off-season but no, for some strange reason it doesn’t feel that way for me.
Perhaps it’s the unquestioned excitement the fanbase has – something we haven’t seen in a long time.
1. So this column is called DLT’s Diatribes. For those of you who know me from my former life over at BucsNation, this is where I typically deliver my thoughts in about 10 points on the game that was played the previous day. I called it DLT’s Diatribes because frankly during the Schiano years all I did was angrily type about the mess I was seeing. It was worse with Lovie but once Dirk Koetter came on the scene, there has been less and less to “diatribe” about.
I don’t really pull any punches. I tell it like I see it. Sometimes I’m right, a lot a times I have no flippin’ idea what I’m talking about. All I can really do is promise you that every word typed in these articles is carefully considered. There are many columnists, writers and media folks around town who will tell you they can’t be fans of the team because they have to be impartial and not emotionally attached.
I get it (although to be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever fully bought that). That’s why I’m not one of them. I’m like you, I love this football team with all my heart. Like Old School, I’ve been a Bucs fan my entire life. My life schedule wraps around the Bucs and theirs. I had to make deals with my significant other and sacrificed Saturdays with my beloved Gators to ensure that I would never have a Sunday interrupted by the spouse wanting to run off to Disney for a day or go catch a movie or something like that. Saturday is her day, Sunday belongs to the Bucs. (I, of course, made provisions for the rivalry games against Tennessee, Georgia and FSU or games when the Bucs play on a Saturday). Next time we’re at one of the Bucs get togethers, ask her how during our honeymoon in 2001 I actually put our…uh…activities on hold for three hours to watch the Bucs play the Bears. She knew then what she had gotten herself into. Thankfully, she’s stuck with me.
While Old School likes to bring you the X’s and O’s and the intricacies of the game during the pod, I try to be the emotional pulse of the fan base. I interact with you during games as I live tweet the Bucs games (give me a follow @jcdelatorre). I get frustrated when certain things don’t go the Bucs’ way, I revel in the thrill of victory and I’ve been known to ride that roller coaster of emotion, just like you.
I’m also not one to criticize you if you use the word “We” when you talk about the team. I do it sometimes, although rarely in my articles because it looks amateurish to do that. Look, there are those who will say you’re not part of the team – you don’t block or coach or work for the scouting department so you can’t really use that term. I call B.S. on that noise. WE were here before any of these current players stepped onto the football field, before Jason Licht signed his first free agent and before Dirk Koetter coached his first game with the Buccaneers. The reason these guys make millions of dollars is because WE’RE the ones who buy the tickets, the merchandise and watch the games on television. Without the fans, there would be no big contract with the networks. Players come, players go. Same with coaches and front office personnel. We fans, the die-hards, are the ones who stick with this football team through thick and thin. Without our support, there is no Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise so the next time someone chastises you about using “We”, you can tell them ole DLT said they can stick it.
So while Jon and his crew do the excellent job of analyzing the team inside and out, Old School does his thing with the pod, I’m hoping that my small contribution to this growing multi-platform empire we’re building at WTB is to be your conduit. To be your voice in the wildness that is Bucs coverage. There are other sites who claim they are that – but not really.
One of the reasons I decided to move all of my work to What The Buc is because I believe this community is the one that truly represents the hardcore Buccaneers fans that I identify with. Sure, it’s nice that there are other great movements going on in the area now, like Justin Pawlowski’ Stick Carriers (a riff on Koetter’s famous speak softly line). The bandwagon is starting to get revved back up again. That’s great. The less opponent jerseys I see at Ray Jay the better.
But you guys have been here through it all. The Raheem years. The Schiano Years. The Lovie years. Many of you are like Old School and I, we remember who John McKay, Leeman Bennett and Sam Wyche were (sorry Trevor). When we’re at the tailgate having a blast and we see all of the fellow Buc fans who generously contribute to What the Buc Really Matters – that’s what I’m talking about. That’s why I’m here with you now.
All my work will be found here on What The Buc from this moment forward. My Diatribes, After Further Review, the kooky picks segments (hopefully we can get the whole crew to participate in that one), the What to Watch For features, my wild and crazy playoff scenarios (that I start in late November).
I’m all in with you folks and could it be any better time?
2. Okay, 1100 words about myself is way too much. Let’s focus on some football. There’s many folks out there that are saying tap the breaks on the Bucs hype (including Old School), that this team has to prove it deserves the hype it’s getting. I agree totally with that. Until the Bucs are a playoff team, they’re not. There’s many who point back to the gut crushing 2011 season. It followed a magical 2010 season where the Bucs missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker and believed they had found their franchise quarterback for the next decade. The next season, expectations were sky high. Sound familiar?
The “Youngry” Bucs started 2011 4-2 and things looked to be going as planned when the doors fell off after a trip to London. What happened in London remains a mystery to this day. There’s plenty of rumors but nothing that can be substantiated. What we do know is the Bucs team that left for London in 2011 was completely different than the one that came back. The team would not to win another game the rest of the season, Raheem Morris was fired and Greg Schiano joined the franchise.
Could this season be another setup for disappointment? Sure. However, the similarities between 2011 and this season begin and end with the Bucs narrowly missing the playoffs. That 2011 team, Bucs management was content with the roster they had built and decided it didn’t need any more help. In many ways, 2010 was sort of a mirage, where the right thing would break a certain way and the Bucs would steal a win here or there. There were no Seattle and Kansas City type wins that season (okay – yes – they did beat Seattle that season but it wasn’t the Russell Wilson Seahawks). It truly was smoke and mirrors.
I don’t know anyone who felt that way about the Bucs’ 6-2 finish last season. This team knows it came together and their young quarterback firmly planted himself as the face of the franchise. Jameis has been that since the day he was drafted – but we all know it takes some time before the veterans buy in. By the end of the season, Winston was done being the rookie and now he’s expected to perform. The two tough outings against Dallas and New Orleans (B) aside, I do believe the Bucs’ quarterback is ready to make the next step.
A lot of that is because this team didn’t stand pat. They brought in Desean Jackson (more on him in a minute), added OJ Howard and Chris Godwin. They moved Marpet to center to make room for J.R. Sweezy, who appears to have returned from his mysterious back injury. They added a few more pieces to the defense in free agency and the draft and most importantly, retained coach Mike Smith. For once, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David aren’t having to learn a new defense.
Injuries are the equalizer (as the Tampa Bay Lightning found out this past season), but if this Bucs team can stay relatively healthy, this may be the most talented Bucs squad since the Super Bowl team.
It’s up to Koetter and Smith to put it all together and make it work. I believe they can.
3. A few folks are making some noise about Desean Jackson missing some OTA time. Look folks, I have no issues with D-Jax missing OTAs. They are VOLUNTARY. Few players in the NFL have taken to it being voluntary more than Desean Jackson. You see, if he didn’t do this in Washington or Philadelphia – that would be one thing. But this is what he does. He has his own routine and he sticks with it. I don’t know about you but if it turns into the numbers he’s put up every season he’s been in the league – I don’t know why we’d force him to change his routine now. It works for him. Let it be.
The way I look at it – we know what Desean can do. We know he’ll be the starter. We don’t know what Chris Godwin and some of these other young guys the Bucs drafted or signed can do. This is a golden opportunity for these younger players to get some needed reps because once Desean is back full-time, those reps are gone.
Would I like him working with Winston and getting used to one another? Sure. But we know they have been working together outside of OTA’s either in Tampa or out in Houston. One of Winston’s biggest problems last season is when he fired the bomb, he’d often overthrow his receivers. It’s going to be extremely difficult for Winston to overthrow Desean Jackson, folks.
That’s what he brings. Speed. Joey Galloway type speed. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to change the Bucs offense overnight. Suddenly, Winston won’t have to take the hits he’s taken because stuff opens up a little more underneath, the running lanes hold open a little longer and yes, the long ball will return to Winston’s game.
And if something happens to Jackson, the extra reps for Godwin got this off-season will be huge.
4. If anyone doubts the Bucs are in win-now mode, just look at the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Look, Fitz is no Brett Favre. He’s not here to challenge Winston. He’s the insurance policy. Realistically, if Winston is lost for the season, the Bucs are pretty much sunk, just like any team who loses their starting quarterback is. But if Winston was to miss a month (3-to-4 games), Fitzpatrick can get the Bucs through that. Remember, Fitz led the Jets to a 10-6 record in 2015, throwing for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. It’s not his fault the Jets basically purged the team and left him with no one to throw to.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Fitz can get the Bucs through a short-term injury to Winston. No one wants to see it happen, but if it does, I sure the heck have a lot more confidence Fitz can do it than I did with Ryan Griffin.
5. Another example of win-now – Nick Folk. We know Jason Licht comes from the Belichick tree of not staying with your mistakes. While I’ve always said I agreed with Licht’s thought process on solving the kicker problem for the next decade by selecting a guy he thought was an automatic Pro Bowler at kicker, it’s obvious that at least last season Roberto Aguayo wasn’t that guy.
It doesn’t mean he can’t be. Kickers get the yips and either they work it out or they’re not in the league anymore. One of the most accurate and dependable kickers in the league, Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots, only made 76% of his kicks his rookie season. While Folk has been solid for the last five years, early in his career (in 2009) he had an abysmal season, converting just 64% of his kicks. By comparison, Roberto was 71%.
So, there’s still hope Aguayo will be the kicker Jason Licht drafted. The clock is ticking though. The Bucs didn’t pay Folk $750,000 to show Aguayo the ropes. Folk said it himself, he’s got a family to feed.
6. While many enjoy the analytics of Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus and others, I’ve always taken to what former Buccaneer Anthony “Booger” McFarland has said. Analytics and statistics are like bikinis. They show a lot, but not everything. I trust my eyes, what I see on the coaches film feature on NFL Game Pass and what NFL experts who lived this stuff tell us about how players and teams are performing.
The number crunchers aren’t big believers in the Bucs this season. Many have them perplexingly finishing last in the NFC South. They look at five year trends, forecasted changes in performance and a bunch of other nonsense that has nothing to do with anything between the lines.
I take this with as much of a grain a salt as the NFL Network guy who predicted the Bucs are going to the Super Bowl. It’s all b.s. right now. It’s nice to see so many experts showing the Bucs love and it helps you to confirm what your eyes are telling you (and not just your heart), that the Bucs may be a team to be reckoned with in 2017. But no one knows for sure. It’s the fact of life in the NFL. It’s all cyclical. Good teams go bad, bad teams become good. The Patriots and Browns are the exceptions to the rule.
I don’t see the Saints being a contender in the NFC South this year, especially with some of the losses they took this year. While many don’t think there will be a Super Bowl hangover for the Falcons – I’m sorry, you lose a game like that – it haunts you. Maybe they’ll avoid the hangover, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they look like the 2016 Panthers.
Speaking of Carolina, this team will be the one that I think the Bucs will need to fight tooth and nail with this season. Of course, for them to be a true contender, Cam needs to be healthy and with him still recovering from shoulder surgery, that puts some doubt into whether or not he can take the pounding he used to.
7. The stat nerds at Football Outsiders, PFF and others hate the Bucs offensive line. Absolutely hate it. I know I’m in the minority but I honestly don’t believe the Bucs offensive line is as terrible as they are portrayed. Can they clean up their game? Certainly. Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith didn’t have great seasons in 2016. Way too many holding calls. But I wouldn’t saddle the running game problems on them. Yes, there were times when penetration was an issue, but some of that was due to not having a deep threat and the opponent loading the box.
There were also times the running backs failed to see holes and did a bit of dancing behind the line of scrimmage. As for pass protection, yes both Smith and Dotson had their rough outings (and poor Gosder Cherilus who was obviously at the end of a solid career) but they’ve also handled some top notch pass rushers as well. It doesn’t help the quarterback never gives up on a play. Jameis’ best and worst attribute.
A lot of the pressure problems weren’t necessarily from the edge but the interior where the smallish Hawley would at times get overpowered, the guards would try to help and then they would get on roller skates causing Jameis to have to abandon the pocket and create on the run. Moving Marpet to center and injecting Sweezy into the lineup should hopefully help with both the run game and the pass protection (although Sweezy was regarded as average as a pass protector).
Pewter Report tells us that Smith has come into camp in the best shape of his career which hopefully will help with some of the flat footedness he’s been widely criticized for during his young career.
8. Remember last year when Dirk Koetter said the Bucs needed to change their culture to a winning mentality? Indeed. How many times did we hear Lavonte David in the past mention that a certain play went against them and they basically lost it for the rest of the game? We saw a lot of that early in the season but as the Bucs defense began to play better and they gained confidence in what Mike Smith was teaching, they began to develop that mentality to overcome and continue to play ball. The culture change just seemed to happen (as these things do) with the more success the team had.
As a fan, it drives you nuts because you know from watching years of quality football that one play shouldn’t rob the momentum and destroy your team’s confidence. Yet it happens to losing teams. The “Here we go again” attitude that seems to infest itself into the mentality of players who have lost more games than they have won way too many times.
I don’t know if Coach Koetter has completely eradicated it. If the Bucs start the season slowly, there could be another confidence of crisis. I think the Bucs really need to get off to a good start in 2017 to keep that good feeling developed by last year’s 6-2 finish.
I agree that end of the season success doesn’t necessarily carry over to the next season but it can be a building block, as it was for the 96-97 Buccaneers.
9. Speaking of the schedule, I know everyone has done their look down the schedule and done what we all do as fans (even you, Old School, although I know you deny it). We made mental notes of the W’s and L’s we think this team can have. I came up with 11-5 with losses to the Giants, Patriots, splits with the Falcons and Panthers and a loss at Green Bay.
The Bucs have a bit of a murderer’s row of opponents from Sept. 24th-October 15th. At Minnesota, home against the Giants, then a short week to get ready for the Amazing Belichicks, then off to the west to face Arizona (I never count out a Bruce Arians coached team). I think the Bucs fire out of the blocks 2-0 (yes I know Miami will be no cakewalk but I believe in Jameis more than Tannehill), so if they can get through this gauntlet of four tough opponents no worse than 2-2, it puts them at a 4-2 start, setting them up nicely for the second half of the season which consists of mostly division games – and let’s face it – if you can’t win your divisional games, you’re not going anywhere. Under Jameis Winston, the Bucs are 7-5 within the division. Not too shabby but it can be better.
10. Hard Knocks. Who cares? Sorry, I don’t buy the notion that Hard Knocks is some sort of hardship on a team. People point to the teams who have been on Hard Knocks have performed poorly that season. Well two things – first – look at the rules for Hard Knocks –
The only teams exempt from Hard Knocks are –
- Teams with a new coach in place
- Teams that have been to the playoffs within the last two seasons
- Teams that haven’t been on Hard Knocks in the last 10 years.
Folks, that doesn’t leave you a lot of choices for playoff caliber teams here. That’s how you get a team like the Rams (2016) or Jets (2015).
But it’s not a death knell by any stretch. 5 of the 11 teams featured on the show made the playoffs. No one has won a Super Bowl yet – but heck, when you look at what they’re picking from is that a surprise?
So no, Hard Knocks is not that big a deal. In fact, I think it’s going to be a fascinating look into a part of the Buccaneers you rarely get to see as a fan. I’m excited about it. I think it will be fun.