Bucs' major announcement? 'Hard Knocks'
It’s a Hard Knocks life for the Bucs.
All indications are that the HBO sports documentary series, in conjunction with NFL Films, has chosen to go to training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team has scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. Wednesday for an undisclosed ‘major announcement.’
However, for the past several weeks, everyone from co-chairman Joel Glazer to general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter have been bracing – if not embracing – the inevitability that they would be chosen for Hard Knocks this year. Both Koetter and Licht will be available to the media Wednesday, the team said.
“I know I’d embrace it,’’ quarterback Jameis Winston said Monday when players reported to off-season workouts. “You’ve got to cherish the opportunity that you’ve got. The whole world gets to see how great of an organization this is and see the great people that we have within the organization. But our job is the play football. They add the glitz and the glamour and all that comes with it. It’s an amazing show, but we’ve got to play football. We’re out there doing it for the fans, we’re out there doing it for the city, and Hard Knocks – they’ll just show the whole world.”
Winston, one of the NFL’s ascending young quarterbacks, clearly will be a primary focus of the series in Tampa Bay.
He was a polarizing No. 1 overall selection of the Bucs in 2015 after winning a national championship and Heisman Trophy at Florida State. But off-field issues dimmed his accomplishments and viewers may get a different view of the charismatic leader of the football team.
What’s unknown is how the Bucs, which at one point last season was the fifth-youngest team in the NFL, will handle the intrusion and distraction that a production such as Hard Knocks presents.
A 30-person NFL Films crew will have unencumbered access into the players’ and coaches’ meeting rooms, training rooms, team hotel rooms and practice fields. All told, they will record more than 1,500 hours of footage over the course of the five-week series.
“I’ve said it before, I feel good about our team and the maturity, especially for being a young group,’’ Licht said. “I know we have some great personalities on our team starting with Jameis, Gerald (McCoy) –the list goes on and on, [linebacker] Kwon [Alexander]. The fans would get an inside look at how our team really is. I know that you guys get a better feel than most, but I think the fans would get a real inside look at how we operate, how the players are. In terms of being a distraction, I think we’re wired to where we would be able to minimize that. Dirk has been through it. Mike Smith has been through it and I’ve heard positive things from them.”
Smith was the head coach of the Falcons and Koetter was the offensive coordinator when Hard Knocks went to training camp in Atlanta in 2014.
"Yeah, I’ve watched it,’’ McCoy said. “Some years it’s entertaining, some years it’s like ‘whatever.’ We don’t pick them, they pick us. If they pick us, let’s be professionals about it and move forward. We’ve still got a season to prepare for, whether there’s a camera watching or not.’’
Tampa Bay was among eight teams eligible for mandatory inclusion and met the following criteria. They do not have a new head coach, haven't reached the playoffs in the past two seasons and haven't appeared on the show in a decade. They were selected ahead of the Bears, Browns, Colts, Eagles, Ravens, Saints and Titans.
Should the Bucs be worried about a Hard Knocks curse? Not really. But there’s no indication the exposure dramatically improves the win-loss record.
Six of the last seven teams featured on Hard Knocks have equaled or improved their win-loss record in the regular season. Last year, the series documented the Rams move from St. Louis to Los Angeles. But the Rams went from 7-9 in 2015 to 4-12 last season and head coach Jeff Fisher was fired.
Recently, it’s not been a precursor to success. Start with the fact the selection criteria includes no playoff appearances in the previous two seasons. Teams that have recently reached the post-season immediately following an appearance on Hard Knocks include the Bengals (2009, 2013), Jets (2010) and Houston Texans (2015).
The Hard Knocks crew won’t have the look hard for storylines. Winston’s passion for football and relationship with teammates will become a major focus. He also has a new weapon in free agent receiver DeSean Jackson (‘a Bentley with a Ferrari engine,’ he called him).
Koetter is way more straight-talking than most head coaches. Assistant coaches such as offensive line coach George Warhop and receivers coach/offensive coordinator Todd Monken have colorful moments. Linebacker Kwon Alexander could keep the sensors busy. The kicking battle between Roberto Aguayo and veteran Nick Folk will be intense. Even McCoy announced he needs to change ‘everything,’ after receiving a stunning critique of his play at the Pro Bowl.
“We play the games on Sunday’s with cameras watching, so if you think you can’t go out to practice and practice with a camera on you, then you’re probably in the wrong profession,’’ McCoy said. “If we get picked, it is what it is, let’s be professionals and go to work.”
Pretty soon, the Hard Knocks cameras will be rolling.