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Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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Joe Henderson Columns

No matter what you call it, Bucs needed to make changes

TAMPA - Here's a friendly bit of advice. If you happen to be hanging out with anyone from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the next few weeks, don't ask them how "rebuilding" is going unless you think you'd enjoy needing assistance to reattach your head. "Rebuilding" is a bad, bad word in Bucspeak. They get legitimately hostile at One Buc Place if you dare utter the word.
Training camp opens Saturday, and with it comes the usual fresh hopes for the season. If the Bucs admit they're rebuilding, they seem to believe that implies it's OK to lose a bunch of games now because the plan is to be good in another year or two. It implies low expectations and built-in excuses. That's probably not the best marketing campaign for a team suddenly struggling to sell tickets. So the Bucs have been running misdirection plays. They replaced Jon Gruden with a guy who has never been a head coach at any level and raved about the energy and excitement Raheem Morris brings (like Gruden wasn't energetic?) They released Jeff Garcia, who led them to their last playoff berth, and declared "open competition" among a cast of quarterbacks with more baggage than the belly of a Boeing 757 and spent their first-round pick on Josh Freeman, who might just wind up as the starter. When a rookie has a legitimate chance to win that open competition, call me crazy, but that sounds like rebuilding. It doesn't stop there, of course. When you release mainstays like Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Cato June, Garcia and Joey Galloway, you're rebuilding. When a coordinator who built one of the finest defensive units in NFL history leaves to join his son in college, you're rebuilding. When you've been known as a team that would rather pass the ball and now you decide to rely on the running game, you're rebuilding. When your offensive playbook has gone from the size of the Manhattan yellow pages, which is what Gruden fancied, to one that could fit on the back of a pamphlet, you're rebuilding. What's so wrong with that? Actually, I think this is long overdue. Common wisdom among the learned jabbering mouths in the sports media biz is that these Bucs might win four or five games, at best. They see a rookie coach, new coordinators and possibly a rookie quarterback, and they smell blood in the water. They see Brooks is gone, and they wonder who'll take his place. Actually, we wonder that too - but we also saw that the Brooks of last year was not the same player who had played at such a high level for so long. Time marches on and you ... rebuild. They see new faces all over the defense, and as Bob Uecker once famously said in the movie "Major League," they hope soon to have some names to go with those faces. If that's not rebuilding, tell me what it is. You can rebuild and still win quickly, as Atlanta and Miami proved a year ago. Atlanta proved you can win with a rookie quarterback. I don't see the Bucs having that kind of success this year, but that doesn't mean that the ongoing - oh, what would you call it? - rebuilding project shouldn't have been started. The Bucs had become a treadmill team, stuck in the NFL's murky middle. Even when they made the playoffs, they didn't make it past the first game, and the four-game death spiral at the end of last season proved that it was time for something more substantial. The Bucs had gotten old; they had gotten brittle. They spent years resorting to Band-Aids and short-term solutions, and we saw the results. When they built into a Super Bowl champion, the foundation that got them there came through the draft and through patience. You can supplement with free agents when the time is right, but first you have build from the ground up. Or rebuild. Whatever you want to call it, it's long overdue.
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