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Coach Raheem Morris to his Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ditch the past, let's hit the gas

TAMPA — It's not like he is evil, this man smiling in the glare of a midday sun. I mean, his ultimate goal is not suffering or pain or abuse. Really, those are just the side benefits.

What Raheem Morris is after is something grander. He wants a team that has gone 2-11 in its last three Decembers to play harder than anyone else by season's end. He wants accountability instead of excuses. He wants the scars of a training camp to toughen the skin of every player who survives the next month.

And so what you have seen in Week 1 of the Raheem Regime is perhaps the most brutal training camp Tampa Bay has endured since the days of Ray Perkins.

It began with a conditioning test on the day the players showed up. This is the kind of thing coaches often threaten but rarely enforce. Not Raheem. He made the players run three 300-yarders, three 150-yarders and three 60-yarders, and he took note of the ones who didn't finish quickly enough. The next day, when he did not like the tempo of practice, he ordered live drills.

Every day, it seems, brings further evidence of the new guy in charge. If he isn't challenging Gaines Adams publicly, he is dressing down a player privately. If he's not splicing together videotapes of embarrassing moments, he is suggesting players may want to remove their skirts. Pads do not come off, gassers are common, and the cool-down tent of previous camps has been eliminated.

One week has passed, and a new reality has emerged.

"It didn't take a week," defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson said. "From the first day, we knew it was for real."

Which is exactly the point Morris was making. For the longest time, we had only words to go on. Morris said he wanted to be more physical. Now we know what he meant. He said he wanted to be younger, faster, hungrier. Now we know what he meant.

It is, in some ways, the opposite of what we had seen in recent seasons. Which, I suppose, was what the Glazers were after when they decided to replace Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen with Morris and Mark Dominik.

"Everyone is on the same page with this. We're going to change the chemistry of this football team, the feel of this football team, and the mind-set," Dominik said. "It's the job of the position coaches, but it obviously starts up top. And Raheem has been very clear on how he wants things."

That's the prerogative of a new coach, to determine the makeup of his team. Gruden, for instance, liked players with a little vintage to their game. Nothing wrong with that. He won a Super Bowl with a 34-year-old quarterback, a couple of 30-something receivers and several players past 30 on defense.

The downside is that as players get older, they are more susceptible to injuries. They need more time off from practice and training camp. They tend to wear down as a season grows longer. And that's how the Bucs have looked, and played, in recent years.

By releasing a handful of popular but aging players in February, Morris and Dominik signaled a change in direction. The team was going to train hard, and there would be no exceptions to the policy.

And if anyone thought differently, they have had a rude shock this week.

"This is his opportunity, his one and only opportunity, to change the culture," center Jeff Faine said of Morris. "He's taking advantage, trying to instill some of his values, trying to instill his personality. He's doing a great job. I think everyone out here is drinking the Kool-Aid. They're buying into the attitude that he wants."

It's not an easy thing to do. Les Steckel once tried to instill discipline as a head coach in Minnesota and was blasted for being a tyrant. The trick is being demanding without being unreasonable. Making players accountable without losing their loyalty.

"He's willing to tell a guy to his face, 'Hey, this is why you messed up, and the team is going to pay for it by running gassers,' " Dominik said. "But he's got the personality to pull it off. The players understand it, and they respect it.

"When he goes to the podium and says one of the players needs to perform better, he's already had that conversation with the player. So no one is going to be surprised when they pick up the paper and read that. That's an important way to handle things."

In recent seasons, we have gotten used to hearing about the number of injuries, the severity of the schedule, the difficulty of travel and the distraction of an assistant coach flirting with another job.

If Morris has his way, that talk will be a relic of the past. Every day brings another chance for Morris to say that excuses will not be heard, tolerated or entertained. The heat is not an excuse. The opponent is not an excuse. A Thursday game following a Sunday game is not an excuse, and a trip across the Atlantic Ocean will not be an excuse.

The message seems to be seeping in.

"This is how he sees fit to run the team, so what are we going to do? We're going to do what he wants," defensive end Stylez White said. "It's his team. He says no more excuses. So you know what? There are no excuses."

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

Coach Raheem Morris to his Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ditch the past, let's hit the gas 08/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 6:40am]
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