The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are eager to distance themselves from their worst finish in nearly three decades.
They’re hoping Jameis Winston will lead the way, but coach Lovie Smith knows it’ll take a lot more than the top pick in this year’s draft to turn around a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.
In addition to addressing their quarterback woes this offseason, the Bucs brought in help for a porous offensive line and added several players with potential to help them improve defensively as they try to rebound from going 2-14 in their first season under Smith.
“We’re not going to talk a lot about last year. It’s on record what we did,” Smith said. “We all, starting with me, have to do a better job in any subject, any area that you would bring up. That’s what I plan on doing.”
There’s no shortage of optimism among the players prepared to take the field for the first public workout of training camp, which was cancelled because of thunderstorms on Saturday.
“We all want to put last season behind us, and this is that first step,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said.
“Coach put a little emphasis on it during OTAs, but he never harped on it,” linebacker Danny Lansanah said. “It’s a new team, a new season. It’s time to look forward.”
That’s essentially the message Smith delivered to players when the full squad reported for camp on Friday.
The Bucs have finished last in the NFC South each of the past four seasons, and they won’t escape the cellar by dwelling on past shortcomings or arbitrarily placing limits on expectations for Winston as a rookie.
“I’m not going to go to Jameis and say: ‘Hey Jameis. OK, you know the history of rookie quarterbacks and you guys aren’t supposed to do well. Let’s not set the bar too high.’ I just don’t know how to do that,” Smith said.
“We expect him to play well, and whatever he feels like he can do, I want him to think that way,” the coach added. “We’ll manage what he does in the situations we put him in.”
That’s one of the areas where the Bucs expect to benefit from the addition of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who had success with working with young quarterbacks in Jacksonville before spending the last three seasons helping Matt Ryan flourish with the Atlanta Falcons.
Tampa Bay played without an offensive coordinator last season after Jeff Tedford underwent a heart procedure near the end of training camp and didn’t return.
Despite having a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, the Bucs ranked 25th in passing, 29th in scoring and 30th among 32 teams in total offense.
The absence of a consistent running game was a problem, too. Smith stressed the team has to get the rushing attack on track, as well as play better defense, to help Winston be successful.
Just don’t ask what the Bucs realistically can expect from the young quarterback.
“You’ll have to define realistic expectation. I just don’t go off that an awful lot,” Smith said. “Every person is different.”
Saturday’s workout at One Buccaneer Place, which was to be open to fans, was delayed several hours before finally being scrapped because of inclement weather that left portions of the practice fields under water.
A night session, not open to the public, was arranged across town at the University of South Florida.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.