Saturday, February 17, 2018
Sports

A bad Bucs camp is nothing new

The misery feels familiar, like old swampland … that you have waded through before. For the Tampa Bay Bucs, there is nothing new about a preseason gone wrong.

Forever, it seems, there has been a quarterback off to a terrible start, whether his name was Josh Freeman or Trent Dilfer or Vinny Testaverde.

Forever, there has been a coach asking for calm amid the chaos, whether he was Greg Schiano or Richard Williamson or Tony Dungy. What the heck else is he going to say in the preseason?

Forever, it seems, the Bucs have been a franchise that wanted you to somehow believe that the upcoming season was going to be better than the previous one despite the evidence of preseason games.

This? As ugly as it feels, this is merely the latest chapter.

Granted, as preseasons go, it has been a barefoot stroll through a garbage dump. Freeman looks listless, and the wide receivers are invisible, and there is no pass rush. There is infection in the building, and for that matter, in the playbook. Doug Martin has been kicked in the head, and no one has seen Darrelle Revis. The Bucs are 1-2, but for all that counts, they are 0-3.

At this point, about the best thing you can say about the Bucs is this: They aren't the Jets, which proves that everyone has someone to look down on. (The Jets, by the way, look down on the University of Kentucky.) In New York, they are already calling for the head of Rex Ryan. The rest of him, too.

So relax. It could get worse.

For instance, it could be 2009 all over again, and you could be viewing a quarterback battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown. Yikes. Now, the Bucs had a No. 1 draft pick in Freeman that year, but they decided that he wasn't a candidate to start.

So Leftwich and McCown battled it out, and no one really won. Leftwich just got to sit in the chair for a few minutes. Oh, and the guy who was in charge of judging that competition, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, didn't make it out of preseason himself.

Now, that's a bad training camp.

The first one wasn't very good, either. Those 1976 Bucs actually lost five preseason games, setting the team up perfectly for its 0-14 season. Tampa Bay did manage to win one preseason game, beating Atlanta 17-3, but afterward, coach John McKay wasn't sure if it was his team that had played better or whether the Falcons just weren't into it.

This story bears repeating: One day, placekicker Peter Rajecki was quoted as saying that McKay made him nervous when he watched him kick.

"Tell Mr. Rajecki that I plan to attend all the games,'' McKay said.

Want to hear about a bad training camp? Go back to 1983, when Doug Williams was holding out. Two days after the first preseason game, Williams jumped to the USFL, effectively ripping apart the Bucs' locker room.

His replacement was Jerry Golsteyn, who led the Bucs to one touchdown in three starts. In a word: Ouch.

Jon Gruden, of course, won the Bucs' only Super Bowl when he was coach. But his training camps were a bit, shall we say, interesting?

In 2008, the Bucs took a run at ex-Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. They didn't get him, but it seemed every headline was about Favre. That ticked off Gruden's incumbent quarterback, Jeff Garcia, who had made the Pro Bowl the year before.

In 2007, it was Chris Simms and his wayward arm that got everyone's attention. Simms, coming off a splenectomy, would try mightily to throw a pass, only the ball would leave his hands wobbly and due right. Yet, the Bucs kept insisting that Simms was fine.

Simms played six plays against Miami, then he was placed on injured reserve.

And so it goes. In 1978, the quarterbacking in preseason was so bad that an unknown named Randy Hedberg won the job. Which, as it turned out, was the worst thing that could have happened. In four starts, all losses, Hedberg hit 27.7 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His quarterback rating was 0.0.

Let's see. There was the poorly planned (by the league) preseason game in Japan in 2003 that drained the team's energy late in the year. There was 2010 and the decision to cut Michael Clayton, one year after giving him a five-year, $26 million extension with $10 million of it guaranteed. There was 1986, when Bo Jackson didn't show up.

There was 1997, when the Bucs cut a linebacker named LaCurtis Jones, who threatened to bring his gun to One Buc Place with him. It was William Howard in 1990, who dropped 15 pounds in a week only to be cut at the end of the sweat. It was Aqib Talib slugging a cabbie in 2009.

There was 1994, when talk of the team moving dominated preseason talk. There was 1998, when the Bucs played all five preseason games on the road. There was 1990, and the silly, counterproductive trade for Chris Chandler.

Drops. Fumbles. Penalties. Losses of 2.

Looking back, this is no different. Quarterbacks have looked bad before. Running backs have struggled before. Offensive lines have caved in.

Infection? That seems to be a new one.

That's a little surprising. The old One Buc Place was the kind of neighborhood where rodents went to get tattoos and where wide receivers left fingertips on the floor. And that place didn't have a staph infection problem. But this one does? Really?

Maybe that's what sets this disappointment apart from the rest.

Otherwise, it's only the latest version of ugly.

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