Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs Beat: Youth movement requires patience
TAMPA - The question was concise and to the point. The answer was not. How did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go from being a 10-6 team seemingly on the rise to a 4-5 team seemingly stuck in a free fall? Bucs coach Raheem Morris wanted no part of that one. Not in a Monday morning news conference being broadcast live on radio and across the internet. After all, the answer would sound, at best, like an excuse and, at worst, like he was throwing his bosses under the bus. Maybe he should have answered anyway, because the truth is the Bucs are here because of the path they chose.Tear down the old team and rebuild a new one with draft picks and undrafted free agents. That has been, and will remain, the team's strategy. Nothing wrong with that – as long as you're patient. Therein lies the problem. Fans paying top dollar for tickets are rarely patient. They're not willing to wait for the project to be completed. They want results sooner rather than later. They want instant gratification. Sometimes they even get it. Last season, the Bucs went 10-6 and came within a whisper of the reaching playoffs. It makes you wonder what's happened to them this year. But several objective observers saw this coming. Preseason predictions by Sports Illustrated and other national publications had the Bucs falling back a step, if not two. They considered the slightly tougher schedule and Tampa Bay's decision to change out even more veterans for young players and predicted an 8-8 or, at best, 9-7 finish. Morris has said since the season started the Bucs are "not a finished product.'' The team's 4-5 record has proven him right. In the past three games against Chicago, New Orleans and Houston – three of the best teams in the league – Tampa Bay struggled. At this stage in their development, the Bucs have competed with and beaten lesser teams such as the Colts and Vikings, but have not consistently competed with and beaten better teams such as Chicago, New Orleans and Houston. To reach that level will take, among other things, time. There are no quick fixes at this stage of the season. Not that the Bucs would choose that option, anyway. They have chosen to rebuild for the long haul and primarily through the draft, a path that usually starts off as a rather rocky one. Remember 1996? The Bucs, who chose a couple years earlier to rebuild through the draft, had Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch, but all were in their second year as starters. After going 7-9 with them in the lineup the season before, the Bucs went 6-10 in '96. That's where the Bucs are now. It's like 1996 all over again. Like Brooks, Sapp and Lynch, the core players – Josh Freeman, Mike Williams and Mason Foster – are still feeling their way, trying to figure it all out. And therein lies the answer to the question Morris didn't want to answer. Why is this team, which was 10-6 a year ago, now 4-5 and in free fall? Because they have driven into the kind of pothole teams encounter when they choose the path the Bucs have chosen. It's possible to avoid such potholes. But a look back at 1995 and 1996 suggests that, before players learn the rules of the road, young teams drive right into them.