TAMPA — George Warhop might not have settled on his starters yet, but the new offensive line coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has a definitive vision for the collective responsibility of his group.
“I'll be honest with you, I think we determine the entire team,'' Warhop said of a unit that could feature four new starters this fall. “How my guys play and practice has a great effect on the whole team. I firmly believe we are the linchpin to us being successful. Selfishly or not, that's what I believe.''
The 4-12 record that led to the dismissal of head coach Greg Schiano five months ago can be traced in large measure to the failure of Tampa Bay's well-compensated offensive line.
A year after setting a franchise record by finishing No. 9 in total offense, the Bucs gained the fewest yards in the NFL. Doug Martin found little running room in September, and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon was hounded relentlessly in December.
In between, a veteran group that excelled in 2012 rarely lived up to expectations.
Now Warhop, who previously coached offensive lines in Arizona, Dallas, San Francisco and Cleveland, is determined to make his overhauled unit a strong point for new head coach Lovie Smith.
“Offensive linemen have to be tough, they've got to be smart, they've got to be selfless and they've got to be fearless,'' Warhop said. “They've got to have great pride and a small ego, and they come in all shapes and packages. We're five guys playing as one ... that's why you have to be selfless.
“There's not a whole lot of room for self-glory. When we do well, everybody else will get the credit. When we do poorly, they will hear about it. Do they all know that? If they don't, they'll figure it out soon enough.''
When Smith and new GM Jason Licht studied film of the 2013 Bucs, they were stunned by the poor play up front. The offensive line lacked physicality and often appeared overmatched.
When free agency began, the Bucs zeroed in on Bengals left tackle Anthony Collins and Green Bay center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Undrafted Demar Dotson, the only Buc remaining on the roster from the 2009 opener that marked the start of a massive rebuilding plan, returns at right tackle.
But there is vast uncertainty at guard, where veteran Davin Joseph was jettisoned and former All-Pro Carl Nicks is trying to rebound from two seasons undermined by foot injuries, including a MRSA infection.
Limited to nine games since signing a lucrative free-agent deal in 2012, Nicks hasn't been attending Tampa Bay's voluntary offseason practice sessions.
“It's voluntary, and Carl's not here,'' said Warhop, who deferred any remaining questions about Nicks' status to Smith.
Collins, charged with protecting Josh McCown's blind side, enters his first NFL season as a full-time starter.
“Anthony's doing a nice job in the weight room and his body has changed,'' Warhop said. “I'm real impressed with A.C. He studies his butt off and he doesn't want to make a single mistake — that goes a long way. I don't have a whole lot of say about what goes on, but if I didn't trust him, he wouldn't be here.''
The Bucs have added some new weapons in the backfield and on the flanks as offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford prepares for his first season in the NFL.
The former Cal coach has a reputation as an innovator, and Warhop sees some similarities between Tedford and Chip Kelly, who guided the Eagles to a division title and the NFC's top-ranked attack as a rookie pro coach who implemented an unorthodox offensive scheme.
“I think Jeff's very smart, and I appreciate how open he is,'' said Warhop. “The (NFL) game's a little different, and he's embraced that. I've learned a great deal from him. Sometimes in the NFL, you get stuck and you forget to be flexible. It's happened already in Philly. Chip was up there for just one year and everybody else is starting to change. I think a different way of thinking sometimes is good.''
Around the league
DRAFT: More than a dozen cities are interested in hosting the NFL draft in 2015, and the league hopes to choose a site this summer.
New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were invited this week to make presentations for next spring's draft. But the league stresses that no finalists have been selected and many other cities are in the running.
TEXANS: Houston signed No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who is expected to pair with 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt to create one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the NFL.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.