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Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter wants to change the team’s culture

In the beginning, they lost.

In the middle, they drafted poorly.

In recent days, they have had a coaching carousel.

For the Tampa Bay Bucs, all of it has led to a losing culture and bad players and coaches who couldn’t measure up to the challenge of turning the team around.

Now, three games into his coaching stint, Dirk Koetter has noticed.

After his team’s 37-32 loss to the Rams on Sunday, Koetter talked about a needed change in the culture of the team.

“When I say ‘around here,’ I hope no one confuses that,” Koetter said. “When I’m talking about the culture, I’m talking about the culture of our football team, I’m not talking about our organization, I’m not talking about ownership, I’m not talking about this building, I’m not talking about our fans, I’m talking about the 53 players, the 10 practice squad guys and however many coaches we have. The guys that are coming up with the game plan, putting the game plan together and trying to execute the game plan.

“The best teams that I’ve been on beat with one heart and they count on the guy next to them to do their job every time, and they win and lose together. And maybe our fans have cheered for a team like that at one point.

“Hopefully, all of our players have played on a team (like that). I know when I’ve been on teams like that, you can feel it and man, you want to grab it and hold onto its tail because it’s elusive. When you don’t have it, you can also feel it.

“We’re just missing something, I feel like – and as my title suggests, it’s my job to speak up. I feel like sometimes we find too many ways to lose a game instead of creating ways to win a game. Now, when I say that, I put myself right at the top. I’m number one on that list, so I’m not calling out any player or any coach above myself, but that’s just how I feel. And until we change that, we’re going to have nights like last night.”

What is a winning culture? Koetter knows it when he feels it.

“It’s elusive, it’s an elusive thing,” Koetter said. “It’s not something that you can reach out there and put your fingers on. I think our guys believe for the most part, but I talked to the guys a lot about this today in the team meeting, and as I’m sure you can understand, a lot of that needs to stay between the players and the coaches. I know the fans are going to speculate – hey, this is our most popular game in the world, I get it.

“We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to find it, and I just don’t think we should sit back and act like it doesn’t exist because in my eyes it does. I’ve been on those teams that have it, and we’re going to keep looking for it until we find it.”

The culture of losing started with 0-26. It continued with not re-signing Doug Williams or getting Bo Jackson signed. It went on with coaches like Leeman Bennett and Ray Perkins and Raheem Morris. It was a culture of drafting Booker Reese and Eric Curry and Keith McCants and Kenyatta Walker. It was there with quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde, Josh Freeman and Josh McCown. It was about signing free agents like Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson.

And here the Bucs are, off to a bad start and now facing the Super Bowl teams in Denver and Carolina.

Will it ever change? Maybe.

If the Bucs are smart.

If they are aggressive.

If they have a solid front office.

And if they don’t have their potential game-winning streaks stopped at the five-yard line.

Jets claim discarded Tampa Bay tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins

The New York Jets are the latest NFL team to check out the discard bin of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

The Jets claimed former Bucs’ tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, cut by the Bucs after last week’s DUI charge.

The Bucs have cut several players in the NFL who are prospering on other teams, including cornerback Aqib Talib, who returns to town this week. Others the Bucs once had and either cut or did not re-sign include Seattle’s Michael Bennett, New England’s LeGarrette Blount, St. Louis’ Mark Barron, Cleveland’s Josh McCown, New York’s Darrelle Revis, Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn and Oakland’s Donald Penn.

The Bucs are 1-2 with the players they have kept.

Bucs’ mistakes doom them in narrow loss to Los Angeles

The distance to the end zone was so close.

The time on the clock was so fast.

And, for the Tampa Bay Bucs, the mistakes were too plentiful.

The Bucs fell to 1-2 Sunday, losing 37-32 to a Los Angeles Rams team that had scored only nine points all season long. The defeat came despite 405 yards passing by Jameis Winston.

But Tampa Bay doomed itself with its own mistakes. Winston had a sack-fumble-touchdown-return play. Roberto Aguayo missed a field goal and an extra point. Chris Conti was beaten for one touchdown and Keith Tandy missed a tackle for another. Coach Dirk Koetter didn’t call a time out in the dying seconds – he’ll take it home. Charles Sims deflected another pass for an interception. And Winston, on the last play of the game, strolled downfield, pump-faking even while he was several yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

“Our culture is not where it needs to be,” said Koetter. “That starts with me. I’m the head of that. I’m putting that squarely on my shoulders. There’s something about our culture…that lets games like this get away. We’ve got to get over that hump and we’re not there.”

Winston took as much of the blame as he could. Asked what was missing, he said:

“Just quarterback play,” Winston said. “I’ve got to complete the football. I had Vincent Jackson wide open for a touchdown in the corner. That’s pitch and catch. I overthrew him. But I’m going  to get better. I guarantee you.”

The Bucs now have back-to-back games against last year’s Super Bowl teams (Denver and Carolina). That means Tampa Bay could be staring at a 1-4 beginning. From there, Tampa Bay would go have to go 6-5 to show even one game’s improvement.

Bucs hope a home game against Rams fires up their defense

Finally, the Tampa Bay Bucs come home.

After spending the first fortnight of the season on the road, the 1-1 Bucs play against the Rams at 4:05 p.m. Tampa Bay is coming off a sobering 40-7 loss to Arizona.

“It’s fantastic to be at home, number one,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “As I said many times, we’re one of three teams to start the first two games on the road and we’d love to be 2-0, but we’re 1-1 and we’re really excited to be coming home. And it is very important that we defend Raymond James and that we make that a tough place for anybody to come in to play. But before you can put a streak together, you’ve got to get the first one.”

The Bucs are last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus six. They’ve turned it over six times and have yet to have a takeaway. Quarterback Jameis Winston had four interceptions and a fumble Sunday.

Part of that, Koetter said, is because of his youth.

“I think experience and playing more always is going to help,” Koetter said. “When you listen to veteran quarterbacks talk, they usually use a term like, ‘the game slows down’ for them. I think when you go back and look at game tape of younger quarterbacks – Jameis included in that group – often times when they make mistakes they’re maybe a little bit late and maybe they know, so they try to rush it a little bit and then they’re not quite as accurate. Or when they’re under duress and they don’t maybe have their balance where they need to and the ball might sail. Those are usually causes of interceptions.”

This week’s opponent, the Rams, are 1-1 even though they have scored only nine points in two games.

“Don’t be fooled by that,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “They can put up numbers and they have a lot of playmakers. One of the best running backs in the league [Todd Gurley), (wide receiver) Tavon Austin is unhumanly fast and (wide receiver) Kenny Britt, when he’s on, he can pile up the numbers. And (quarterback) Case Keenum (isn’t a) joke either. He gets the ball out of his hands really quick. So don’t be fooled by what you’ve seen in the first two weeks – this is a week-to-week league, anything can happen. We can’t be going to the game (saying), ‘Oh, well they haven’t scored touchdowns,’ so what. They could score 10 on us, that’s what the NFL’s about. But we have to do our best not to allow that to happen.”

Through two games, the Bucs’ defense has surrendered too many explosive plays, says defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

“We’re giving up way too many explosive plays and really it’s about us, not necessarily about them,” Smith said. “And again, probably could’ve been a different call and maybe put them in a better spot, but when we make the call we’ve got to go out and we’ve got to execute it. We haven’t executed in the first two games. We’ve had 12 plays that have gone for over 400 yards. Sometimes they’re missed tackles, sometimes they’re missed assignments and sometimes they’re bad calls by me. So we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to tackle better, we’ve got to execute better and I’ve got to make better calls.”

Smith said the team is still learning his style of defense.

“Well this is all new for them and I don’t think you can really say what kind of defense we’re going to be until we’ve got at least four games under our belt,” Smith said. “We haven’t experienced a lot of things in the regular season. In the preseason you’re getting vanilla looks, we’re doing vanilla things, so it gets a little more complicated. The guys are working hard at it and I’ve got to find – and we’ve got to find as a staff – the fine line where we don’t put them in situations if they’re not ready for it.”

Last week, linebacker Lavonte David didn’t make a tackle.

“There were some opportunities for Lavonte, but not many,” Smith said. “The way that the plays were run, he didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities. We were not nearly as active, across the board. When you start to look at your tackle chart at the end of the game and you see that your defensive backs are leading, it’s not a good week for the defensive coaching staff. We want to see, in an ideal situation, we want to see our linebackers have a lot more production than we had in the game last week. I don’t think that there’s ever been a game that Lavonte’s been shut out, in terms of making a mark on the stats board. He was a little bit banged up and this time of the year it starts to happen, you see it with every team in the NFL.”

Turnovers led to Bucs’ demise against Arizona Cardinals

You can talk about the scoreboard all you want.

To Tampa Bay Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter, the story was in the turnovers.

The Arizona Cardinals intercepted four passes by Jameis Winston and forced a fumble, leading their way to Sunday’s 40-7 victory over the Bucs. After that, everything else was details.

“Everything’s going to start and end with the turnovers,” Koetter said. “You just can’t turn it over five times and be 5:0 in the turnover (ratio). I think there’s something like three games in the history in the NFL where teams lost a turnover margin that bad and been able to win. (You’re) not giving yourself a chance when you turn it over like that. So really everything that happened last night stems off of those turnovers.”

Some of the turnovers, Koetter said, were because of Winston’s throws. Some were just because of good defense.

“It was a combination of both,” Koetter said. “We’re in no-huddle, we pick up two first downs and then we take a shot. And Jameis took a shot, but we were trying to throw a deep post to Mike Evans. Mike had inside position on (Arizona cornerback) Patrick Peterson, and you’ve got an elite corner and a top-flight wide receiver going against each other. If you really look at that play, Peterson looked like he was the receiver. He used his body to bump Mike off. If that were an offensive guy doing it, they would’ve called offensive pass interference, but they’re not going ever to call that on the defense.

“That was really a pretty good throw by Jameis and Peterson made a great play. The interception at the end obviously was a desperation throw where Jameis has to give him more of a chance. We tried the quick screen to (running back Charles) Sims, Jameis needs to throw that ball a little higher; it got tipped by the defensive end, and then Sims tipped it up again in the air, pick six. I’ve mentioned this to other people I’ve done things with today, that we, until the last three series of the game, our pass protection — even though the Cardinals were bringing a lot of pressure — our pass protection was solid. We did a good job. What we did not do a good job of is making them pay with our throws down the field. We had some that Jameis was high on, we had a couple that Jameis missed on, we had a couple where the routes weren’t what they needed to be, and you just can’t do that. When they’re pressuring you, you’ve got to make them pay, and we didn’t do that.”

Koetter said he expects to see resiliency from his team this week when they are home against the Rams.

“I expect and want to see fantastic resiliency,” Koetter said. “When you just look around the league, that’s sort of how the NFL is. The Cardinals had a disappointing loss (last week), they came back and got after us pretty good yesterday. Look at the Rams, who we play this week. The Rams lost 28-0 in their opener to the 49ers, come back (and get a) huge win against Seattle yesterday. The Falcons, who we beat last week, go on the road to the Raiders — who were a hot team — and played well enough to win, get a big win on the road. We haven’t been tested yet this season in that department, but the fact that we’re coming into our own home stadium for our home opener, that’s definitely going to be what we’re working for.”

Koetter said the turnovers had put pressure on Tampa Bay’s defense.

“My biggest concern about the defense is that the offense is putting them in too many bad positions. That’s the main thing. It’s one thing if it’s just the defense against their offense on a long field versus turnovers that are putting the defense at a disadvantage. Sudden change situations, we’re in too many of those right now. And then our defense gave up six explosive plays — six plays by the Cardinals accounted for 209 yards. (They) made some big plays. One of them was a result of missed tackles, the little check-down to the back, made a nice run up our sideline, we missed a couple tackles right there. And then of course in our two-minute defense, we let them throw it over our head.”

The Bucs haven’t been 2-1 since 2011 when Raheem Morris led his team to a 3-1 start and finished 4-12.

Mistake-prone Bucs are clobbered by Arizona Cardinals

For a week, it felt better. For a week, you could dream. For a week, the Tampa Bay Bucs were undefeated and talking about better days.

All of that ended Sunday, when the Bucs were clobbered in a 40-7 loss to Arizona. Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston threw four interceptions and fumbled once in the loss, and the Cardinals erupted for 24 points in the second quarter and never looked back.

“I did not do a good enough job of getting these guys ready to go,” said Dirk Koetter. “(We) turned it over way, way, way too many times. We can’t get beat like that in turnovers and expect to win. We got a reality check today.”

The Cardinals, who lost in the NFC Conference championship last season, held Tampa Bay’s rushing attack to only 85 yards. Running back Doug Martin left the game early after tweaking a hamstring, and backup Charles Sims averaged only 2.7 yards per carry.

That left much of the load on the arm of Winston, whose receivers were playing against one of the best secondaries in the league. Against them, Winston hit only 27 of 52 passes for 243 yards. Besides his turnovers, Winston was sacked three times.

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer hit 18 of 31 for 208 yards and three touchdowns. He threw two touchdown passes in the final 186 seconds of the first half.

The official statistics sheet did not have Lavonte David with a tackle the entire afternoon.

The Bucs play their home opener next week against the Los Angeles Rams.

Tampa Bay Bucs anticipate pressure from the Arizona Cardinals

The Tampa Bay Bucs are preparing for heat in the desert.

The kind of heat the defense of the Arizona Cardinals brings.

“I’m expecting that we’ll see more pressure than we saw last week,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “Arizona’s always been a pressure team. Sounds like they were maybe wanting to pressure more than they did last week. That’s just speculation, things that you hear out of their media side. I think they’ll try to heat Jameis (Winston) up a little bit. They’ve got good personnel (and) that’s worked for Arizona in the past. How we respond to the pressure — pressure can work two ways. It can be big for them and it can also be big for us.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Winston will spend time checking down.

“Last week it was a check down game, this week it will be more of a ‘get it out on time’ game,” Koetter said.  “It will be less of a check down game, more of a ‘be on time with where you’re going to go with the ball.’”

Koetter thinks the Cardinals, out of their 3-4 defense, will try to force match-ups.

“Absolutely,” Koetter said. “That’s how their defense tries to make it. That 3-4 and they’re not afraid to bring all five of those front. They try to make it five one-on-one blocks up front and man-to-man coverage with a free safety. They have a lot of stuff, but that’s their main thing.”

Koetter said the Bucs will face adversity against the Cardinals.

“We did a good job of that (against Atlanta), but there were times we did a good job of that last year too,” Koetter said. “We’re going to face more adversity than we faced last week, although there were some things that came up. I think that’s something that plays out over time. I think it’s easy to do that in the first game of the year. Depending on how your schedule goes, I think that gets either easier or harder based on how you’re doing during the season.”

Bucs’ defense had a great start; now faces Arizona’s Cardinals

It’s a team game, but individual players set the tone in the first week for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Talking about his charges, defensive coordinator Mike Smith was effusive in his praise. Of course, with a trip to Arizona this week, it will get harder.

Smith on linebacker Kwon Alexander: “Kwon is an exceptional athlete and he plays the game so hard. We had guys that were running to the football, but when you compare them to Kwon, sometimes they don’t look like they’re going as fast as they need to because he was all over the football field. Reminiscent of some of the great linebackers, to have 17 hits and a sack, a tackle for a loss. He has a will and a desire and when you have that will and desire on the football field, it’s going to show up. He’s a very good athlete and he also has a great desire off the field because he’s not only coming in and sitting down with me every morning, but he’s also getting extra time with (Linebackers) Coach (Mark) Duffner. He just is a sponge right now and he wants to take as much as he can in and we’ve got to go through baby steps. I think he wants it to happen a lot quicker than it’s probably going to happen, in terms of understanding the defense, but he has a pretty good understanding of playing football and getting to the football.”

Smith on tackle Gerald McCoy: “He’s very driven,” Smith said. “He’s a great teammate too. Everybody talks about his leadership abilities, but he’s a great teammate. He’s very focused from day one and he’s wanted to learn our system and have the ability to understand it, so he can help the other guys on the defensive line and he’s done a very good job. Let me make this perfectly clear though: I was very aware of McCoy over the last seven years, playing him two times a year. Sleepless nights figuring out how we’re going to keep him out of our backfield.”

Smith on rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III: “I love his attitude about the next play,” Smith said. “Whatever happens – and especially when you’re a corner – because when it’s a situation where you’ve got to move on to the next play, sometimes guys can’t put it behind them and you’ve got to have that mentality. He had a couple of really good plays in the ball game because he’s got a short memory. As a corner in the NFL, you have to have it because everyone can identify what probably is going on out on the outside, not necessarily what’s going on on the inside.”

Bucs’ Jameis Winston rebounds from early mistake to lead Bucs to a win in Atlanta

It started with a mistake.

Jameis Winston expected Vincent Jackson to zig, and instead, Jackson zagged. And the ball was intercepted by the Atlanta Falcons.

It was early in the Bucs’ 31-24 victory over Atlanta, however, and Winston was just getting started. He responded with four touchdown passes, and 281 yards, and the victory.

It wasn’t the first time Winston has responded. Coach Dirk Koetter says he hasn’t seen another quarterback who can move on from mistakes as quickly.

“No I haven’t, that’s a really good point.” Koetter said. “Most guys go into a funk or go into a pout and Jameis, he’s great about that. I don’t like yelling at the quarterback on game day and Jameis will sometimes say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to coach me harder!’ Again, I go back to his training with his father and then with (Florida State Head Coach) Jimbo Fisher. They both trained him very well.”

It was only one game, but Winston appeared to have progressed from his rookie season.

“Jameis yesterday did what Jameis does best and that’s play football,” Koetter said. “Jameis is a football player and it’s not always pretty, it’s not always how we draw it up — I’d like every play to go exactly like we draw it up — but that guy, he has a unique ability to make (plays).

“He’s going to make some plays you don’t expect him to make, he’s going to miss some plays that I’m going, ‘Jameis, you’ve got to make that play.’ And he’s the same all the time. He’s focused on winning, he’s focusing on leading our team and he’s tough as nails. Boy, he will stand in that pocket and that rush bearing down on him, he’ll stand right in there. He’s a lot better moving in the pocket than people might think.”

Winston and the Bucs travel to Phoenix to play the Cardinals this week.

 

 

Bucs expect to have a more impressive defense in 2016

In free agency, most of the eyes in Tampa Bay were on defense.

In the draft, most of the eyes in Tampa Bay were on defense.

Now that the season approaches, guess what? Most of the eyes in Tampa Bay are still on the Bucs’ defense.

Tampa Bay’s defense was a flawed one in 2015, unable to cover tightly or get a relentless pass rush from the edge. Additions such as cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes, and defensive ends Robert Ayers and Noah Spence should help.

But in Atlanta with quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman and wide receiver Julio Jones, the Bucs have a legitimate challenge.

What does trying to stop his old quarterback mean for Bucs’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith?

“A lot of sleepless nights,” Smith said. “They’re very good. They’re three very outstanding football players and if they get going, they can make it be a long day for you. We’ve had an opportunity to put in our preparation and now we’re going to get an opportunity to go and play and see how we execute.”

The Bucs were second in the NFL in preseason defense and first in sacks with 16.

“I don’t want to put a whole lot of stock (into) what happens in the preseason,” Smith said. “I’m very pleased and we’re very pleased as a staff with the production that we had in the preseason. There were a number of guys that were able to contribute to the numbers that we were able to put up in the preseason. I think the rotation — I think (Defensive Line Coach) Jay Hayes does a great job with the rotation. We’ve got to keep our guys fresh. When you’re rushing a passer, it’s probably the most draining physical thing that you do on a football field.”

Koetter said fans will notice a difference with Smith’s defense.

“I think just that we’re going to play a lot of guys. We’re going to rotate that front. We do feel like we’ve got some depth on the defensive line. I think the fact that we have improved in the secondary, I think we have a lot better ‘ball-hawkers’ in the secondary as far as getting after the football.

“And I think we’ll see an improved pass rush. I think you’ll see guys that will be multiple. We will not sit in one look, I think ‘Smitty’ will dial up several different looks. And a team that’s not afraid to play man-coverage, not afraid to play our two-deep stuff, or not afraid to play our single-high stuff. I think we’ve got a good variety, I know they’re giving us fits in practice right now, even though we’ve tapered that off as we’ve kind of gotten into Atlanta week. But I just feel like the multiplicity will show up.”

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