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Bucs rebuilding in an impatient time

Bucs coach Lovie Smith learned much about his players throughout workouts.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Bucs coach Lovie Smith learned much about his players throughout workouts.

TAMPA — The biggest change in the NFL over the years is that it mirrors our Instagram society. The picture can change in a hurry.

Since January, the 4-12 Bucs have hired coach Lovie Smith, installed new systems on offense and defense and changed the roster, so much so that half of the players on the 53-man squad for the regular season could be making their first appearance in a Tampa Bay uniform.

"It's gone by pretty quickly, from being introduced as the head football coach here to now having one phase over," Smith said.

"So much we've learned since that first day. Looking at the press guide, trying to get the faces together. We know the names now, we know the positions, we know where most of the guys came from.

"We like the team. We like the way they come to work every day … When I talk about the guys, this smile is real. It's believing in the guys. When you come to work, and say, 'do this,' and they're anxious to do it, how can you not be pumped up?"

Granted, it would be headline news if any coach didn't like his team. But Smith has reason to be optimistic. The Bucs upgraded their talent at nearly every position, so much so that a panel of reporters for nfl.com listed Tampa Bay among the teams which improved the most in the offseason, along with the Jaguars and Redskins.

Of course, it can be argued those teams had the most room for improvement. And nobody wins anything in the offseason. In fact, for all that Smith and his staff have learned about their team, they won't know what they really have until the pads come on in training camp.

"It's a big jump," Smith said. "We know a lot more about our football team. It's like a college workout, you see the guys go through a lot of drills. Then you get hands on with them, get a chance to meet with them and see what they can handle in the classroom. But it's about the physical part of the game. Putting on the pads. So we can't get too high."

But turnaround stories are not uncommon in the NFL.

The Chiefs went from 2-14 in 2012 to 11-5 in 2013 after adding coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith. The Colts went from 2-14 in 2011 to 11-5 in 2012 after drafting QB Andrew Luck. The Dolphins were 1-15 in 2007 and 11-5 in 2008.

How quickly players can adapt to their new surroundings is key and the process has accelerated over the years. When Tony Dungy arrived in 1996 and installed the Tampa 2, the Bucs lost their opening five games and went 1-8 until the scheme clicked.

"I think it was harder back then," Smith said. "I think we as coaches have gotten a lot better in the system, also. It was the first time for a lot of us putting it in. I left here and went to St. Louis and we put the package in. I left St. Louis of course and went to Chicago, so we've had a chance to go places and install and see how quick it can come together.

And nowadays, there's no rebuilding, and 'hey guys, you're making progress.' Nobody wants to hear about all that. The process has to speed up and it has."

FAN FRIENDLY: There are several reasons Smith opted to begin the large percentage of training camp practices at 4 p.m. For starters, it's the kickoff time to the Bucs' first two games against the Panthers and Rams at Raymond James Stadium.

"They're not calling on us to play on prime time right now, so we're trying to practice a little bit in the heat as much as anything," Smith said.

"That's a homefield advantage we have. But also as we talk about the fans. I know most people work all day and that's time where you can, if you like, still be able to catch some of our practices if you got to work."

Bucs rebuilding in an impatient time 06/21/14 [Last modified: Saturday, June 21, 2014 10:33pm]
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