Monday, June 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Does the Tampa Bay Buccaneers countdown end with a flourish or kaboom?

What if it doesn't work?

For all the questions that surround the Bucs heading into the 2012 season, that is the biggest one of all.

There are new coaches. New players. A new system on offense. A new system on defense. A new attitude. A new way of doing things. A new optimism.

But (gulp) what if it doesn't work?

New coach Greg Schiano torpedoed into town and is trying to fix a year's worth of problems in a matter of weeks. And the clock is ticking. You can actually see it.

In the locker room at One Buc Place hangs a running clock counting down the days, hours, minutes, seconds and even tenths of seconds until the regular-season opening kickoff against the Panthers on Sept. 9.

It feels more like a ticking bomb than an invigorating countdown to liftoff.

"The one enemy we have is time,'' Schiano said. "We're constantly fighting to use it to the best of our ability and efficiently. That's why the clock is ticking all the time. Now granted, you'll get used to it.

"It's there all the time. But the numbers are moving. You can feel that. It's a subconscious (thing) that we're racing the clock to get ready.''

The clock also underscores how much information, conditioning and personality Schiano is trying to cram into his team in such a short period of time. You can't help but wonder if it's all too much. You can't help but wonder if at some point, the team might start stuttering, sputtering and smoking and suffer some sort of system overload.

The Bucs have practiced in full pads more than most teams do. Schiano promises his team will be rested and ready on opening day. But more than once lately, he has talked about his team's fatigue. The commitment asked both physically and mentally has made Schiano's first training camp, perhaps, the most demanding anyone has seen in these parts since the Ray Perkins days (1987-90).

Perkins, who played for legendary taskmaster Bear Bryant at Alabama, was known for beating his teams into shape. It made for fast starts but awful finishes. In 1990, the Bucs started 4-2, hit a wall, lost six in a row and finished 6-10, and Perkins lost his job.

What if that happens to the 2012 Bucs? What if they run out of gas? These Bucs are in uncharted territory. No one knows if Schiano has given them way too much way too soon. That ticking clock says the team still has more than two weeks to get this all sorted out, but tonight's home game against the Patriots is a meaningful gauge.

"It's like a dress rehearsal for a real game,'' left guard Carl Nicks said.

Here's what makes tonight's game worth watching: The Bucs' starters will play at least a half. Same for the Pats, one of the best teams in football, offering the Bucs a good litmus test.

Most of all, tonight's game is important because we likely won't see the Bucs regulars in next week's preseason finale. This is their last chance to show where they are and how far they have to go.

"We're trying to get this thing put together for the first game of the season,'' cornerback Eric Wright said.

Here's what we need to see tonight to believe this team is heading in the right direction.

Josh Freeman must connect with Vincent Jackson

The quarterback and No. 1 receiver have hooked up only once for 8 yards. It would be nice to see Jackson make a few catches — especially against a secondary not expected to be great.

The offensive line must get into rhythm

With left tackle Donald Penn playing for the first time this preseason, the offensive line needs to look like a cohesive unit that can push people around and not like the offensive line that scrambled to protect the quarterback last week.

"Just come out fresh … and execute,'' Nicks said.

The defensive line must make an impact

The defense hasn't played that poorly. In fact, the first team looked fairly decent against both the Dolphins and Titans. But it would be nice to see a little more heat on the quarterback. In the first two weeks, the opponents have dropped back to pass 76 times and the Bucs have recorded only one sack.

Show some intensity

In two games, the Bucs have been outgained 695-350. True, a lot of those yards on both sides were piled up by players who will be tending bar, selling insurance or teaching gym class in a few weeks.

Still, remember last year when the Bucs had their doors blown off 31-14 in a preseason game because they couldn't match the tempo and intensity of these same Pat­riots? That can't happen again.

Final thought

The Bucs need to compete. They need to look sharp. They need to look like things are heading in the right direction.

"I want to see our operation become more efficient,'' Schiano said. "I want to see us perform.''

The clock is ticking. Many questions remain unanswered, including the scariest of all:

What if it doesn't work?

Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected] and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.

Comments
Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

TAMPA — There's always a lot of attention on the rookie class this time of year, rightfully so. There's a reason the Bucs focused on defense, and DT Vita Vea, CBs M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and S Justin Whitehead all look like they could have ...
Published: 06/16/18
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Times wiresVISTA, Calif. – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was jailed without bail Friday after pleading not guilty to nine counts of kidnapping, rape and other charges.If convicted on all counts, Winslow, 34, could face...
Published: 06/15/18
Bucs still don’t know when Jameis Winston will throw another pass that matters

Bucs still don’t know when Jameis Winston will throw another pass that matters

TAMPA — The last pass thrown by Jameis Winston in a regular-season game was his best. The perfectly arced, 39-yard strike to Chris Godwin for a touchdown with nine seconds left gave the Bucs a 31-24 win over New Orleans at Raymond James Stadium...
Published: 06/15/18
Bucs busy on next Ray-Jay renovation with East Stadium Club

Bucs busy on next Ray-Jay renovation with East Stadium Club

The first Bucs home game of the 2018 season is still three months off, but the franchise is busy getting Raymond James Stadium ready with the fourth phase of its $160 million renovation, highlighted by a new East Stadium Club.Construction continues t...
Published: 06/15/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Gerald McCoy sounds off

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Gerald McCoy sounds off

The Bucs wrap up minicamp as Gerald McCoy sounds off on the team getting help for him, defensive line coach Brentson Buckner yelling at the veteran defensive tackle and advice for the young players who now have five weeks off before training camp.Plu...
Published: 06/15/18
Gerald McCoy: ‘Stop saying Gerald got help. No, the Bucs got help’

Gerald McCoy: ‘Stop saying Gerald got help. No, the Bucs got help’

TAMPA — On the last day of minicamp, DT Gerald McCoy made it clear that the new additions to the defensive line are what the entire team needed, not just himself."It's not about me. It's about the team," McCoy said of the addition of five new l...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Bucs hit summer break with optimism, eager for training camp

Bucs hit summer break with optimism, eager for training camp

TAMPA — This week's three-day minicamp was the final push in the Bucs' offseason, with about six weeks now until the team reconvenes in late July for training camp and the real preamble to the 2018 season.So what, if anything, can be gleaned fr...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Maybe 2018 is the year the Bucs take that step forward

Maybe 2018 is the year the Bucs take that step forward

TAMPA — The Bucs wrapped up a three-day minicamp on Thursday.“I’m going on vacation,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.The next time we see the Bucs will be in five weeks. Just around the corner. That’s when, official...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow arrested on suspicion of rape, kidnapping

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow arrested on suspicion of rape, kidnapping

Times wiresSAN DIEGO – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was arrested Thursday on suspicion of multiple sex-crimes-related charges, including two counts of rape, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said.The departmen...
Published: 06/14/18
Sealed and delivered: Bucs RB Ronald Jones signs rookie contract

Sealed and delivered: Bucs RB Ronald Jones signs rookie contract

The Bucs' 2018 draft class is now all in the fold, with running back Ronald Jones, second-rounder from USC, signing his rookie deal Thursday.Jones, who won't turn 21 until August after the Bucs go to training camp, was the last of Tampa Bay's eight d...
Published: 06/14/18