Koetter says Bucs still want to model team in Panthers' image
The NFL South went its first 11 seasons without a repeat champion, so the Carolina Panthers' three consecutive division titles is a testament to their rare dominance.
It's no wonder why a team like the Bucs would want to follow the Panthers' template in hopes of beating them at their own game. The similarities are striking, especially after the Bucs used the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 on quarterback Jameis Winston, who joined Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as the only rookies to pass for 4,000 yards.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter isn't sure how much the 6-10 Bucs closed the gap on the 17-1 (regular season) Panthers, but he says they are not only the team to beat in the division, but also in the NFC.
"Time will tell how much we narrowed it,'' Koetter said. "Shoot, I think Carolina is a great team for us to model. I’ve said that multiple times. If you look, they drafted their quarterback, they drafted their middle linebacker. We’ve done the same thing. They’ve kept their coaching staff. I hope we keep our coaching staff. They’ve developed in the system, they’ve drafted well, they’ve hit on their free agents. They’ve kept their guys.''
In fact, the Bucs really wanted to hurt the Panthers with some addition by subraction. But free agent defensive end Charles Johnson took about half of the $6-million per year he was offered by other teams to remain in Carolina.
"I mean, I told (general manager) Jason (Licht), they had one of their key free agents (Charles Johnson) come back to them for less money,'' Koetter said. "That’s exactly as an organization you would want your guys to do. Right now Carolina has set the bar. You said it, it was a long time when no one could win (the NFC South) back to back and now they’ve won it three times in a row. Definitely they’re the team to beat and that’s why we added the players we did at the positions we did and with another draft, we’re going to try to close that gap.
“There’s always somebody you’re chasing, whether they’re in your division or not. You’ve got to give them their credit and we’re going to do everything we can to knock him off.''
The Bucs have a chance to narrow the gap with Winston on offense, but defensively, they're still lacking a consistent pass rush and play makers in the secondary. Brent Grimes will help in that area, but there is no Josh Norman on the Bucs' roster.