TAMPA — It happens every summer, in every NFL city. As training camps wind down, hosts of football fans try their hands at picking their favorite team’s final 53-man roster.
Many perform the task rather well, accurately predicting at least half, if not all, the players who actually make the final cut.
That’s why Warren Buffett will never offer a billion dollars to anyone correctly picking an NFL team’s final roster and why too much is being made of the fact coach Lovie Smith has final say over the Bucs roster.
The Bucs have no doubt created a unique situation by granting Smith such control. Only about a third of his fellow head coaches have the sway over the roster that he has. But what kind of decisions are we really talking about here?
Even the most casual fan can usually select his favorite team’s 22 starters prior to the start of the season. If you throw in the kicker, the punter and the return men, that casual fan can usually get at least half the roster right.
The more difficult choices come when trying to predict reserves, but an ardent fan will often get many of them right, too, which means the toughest decisions come when trying to predict the winners of the last four or five roster spots.
That’s where Smith’s say over the makeup of the Bucs final roster will come into play, but those decisions inevitably center around spare parts and, in a lot of cases, special teams needs.
Can the team afford to keep a third quarterback or should it try to get by with two? Can it keep a sixth wide receiver or does it need to give that spot to a linebacker who can do more on special teams?
Those are the kinds of calls most often made in the final whittling of a roster, and the fact that Smith has the right to make them shouldn’t shake the confidence of Bucs fans.
What should concern fans is the fact Smith also has final say over who comes on and off the roster during the offseason. Which holdovers will be re-signed? Who will the Bucs target in free agency, and, to a lesser degree, who will they draft?
Those will be Smith’s calls, too, and because those are the calls that will decide the top of the roster, the part that most everyone can predict accurately, they are the calls that will matter the most.
But this is where general manager Jason Licht comes in and he must come in strong. It will be his job to produce the pool of players from which Smith has to choose and to push back when he senses Smith is on the brink of making a mistake.
In those moments of disagreement, and there will be some, Smith will be left to decide between what he believes is best and what Licht and his staff believe is best. In the end, that will be the important roster decision Smith makes.
Not ready for prime time players
Sooner or later, the Bucs are bound to be invaded during training camp by the camera crews from HBO’s Hard Knocks. The deal the league made with the show last fall all but guarantees it.
That said, the chances of the Bucs being the subject of the popular show this year seem pretty slim.
Though the league can force a team to subject itself to HBO’s invasion of privacy, there are three criteria that exempt a team from such scrutiny and the presence of a new head coach is one of them.
There are also exemptions for teams that have been in the playoffs in one of the two previous seasons and for any team that has appeared on the show in the last 10 years.
Since the Bucs have never been on the show, it would behoove them to make the playoffs in 2014, particularly if their wish is to remain out of the eye of HBO cameras. That will make them exempt next year, as well.
The inability to consistently score points in the second half of games was one of the greatest factors contributing to the Bucs’ downfall last season.
Though they actually outscored opponents 205-204 in the first half, Tampa Bay was outscored 182-83 in the second half, making them the lowest-scoring second-half team in the league.
And the ignominy doesn’t end there. In addition to being the only NFL team to score fewer than 100 second-half points, the Bucs were one of just two teams to score only one touchdown on their initial second-half drives.
The Giants were the other, and they scored only 10 points off their initial second-half drives. That left the Bucs, with 16 measly points, as the league’s second-worst scoring team on initial second-half drives.