Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Greg Schiano a work in progress, as are his Bucs

We know he is a tough guy. But is Greg Schiano the right guy?

Too soon to tell.

We can see he has restored the direction to Gerald McCoy's career. But can Schiano do the same for Josh Freeman?

We'll see.

We have witnessed his team play hard. But can he transform the Bucs into a team that plays well?

At this point, no one knows.

In the NFL, a new coach introduces himself one play at a time. Every series is a test, and every game is a report record. He is judged by how hard his team plays, and by how much players improve, and by how much smarter his game plan looks than the guy who used to work here. And, of course, by how often he wins.

Now the Bucs are four games into his era, what are we to make of Schiano?

To put it another way: With a 1-3 record, are your toes still on his line?

Start with this: Yes, the Bucs are better. After last year's unconditional surrender, when the Bucs spent 10 weeks with their hands in the air, the organization needed a strong personality to stroll into the locker room and change the atmosphere. This has been Schiano's biggest plus. He came in like Wyatt Earp into Tombstone, kicking the door open and demanding better from his players.

Perhaps that is why most of the buzz about Schiano has been positive. He looks like a coach. He sounds like a coach. And when you think about it, what's wrong with making sure the meeting rooms are 67.5 degrees?

These days, the expectations are higher, and the effort is better, and the future doesn't look as frightening. Also, opposing quarterbacks are a lot more nervous when they try to kneel on the final play.

That said, the team has won only one game. The defense is 30th. The offense is 30th. The coach and the quarterback are still learning how to deal with each other. The play-calling has been too conservative on offense and too reckless on defense. The team needs to finish stronger. And on and on.

If you are fair, a lot of this was to be expected. There is a difference between college football and the NFL. It does take time for a coach to learn his team. And four games isn't a lot of time for a new coach.

After a month as head coach, John McKay was 0-4, and Rich Williamson (not counting his interim games) was 0-4, and Tony Dungy was 0-4, and Raheem Morris was 0-4. There have been a lot less impressive starts than Schiano's.

Does Schiano have to make adjustments as he goes? Of course. For instance, in the first three games, the Bucs grew ultraconservative once they got a lead, even though the running game wasn't particularly impressive in any of them, unless, of course, 2 yards thrills you.

Here's how you shouldn't judge Schiano: You shouldn't fall back to the way the Bucs attacked Eli Manning as he took a knee on the final play of the game. Yeah, yeah, it has been one of the most talked about moments of the year, but in the end, it was a 1-yard loss on a meaningless play. We can all agree on this: The Bucs' goal should be to prevent an opposing quarterback from getting to victory formation.

And you shouldn't judge Schiano by the recent column by Mike Silver of Yahoo Sports that called Schiano a bully. And, no, Silver isn't the first guy to think that Schiano is wound kind of tight. So what? In the end, that won't matter. Schiano will win enough, or he will not.

So what do you think so far? No, 1-3 isn't going to make him coach of the year. But after seeing last year, did anyone really expect Tampa Bay to be better?

Give Schiano credit for coaxing the effort that was missing down the stretch a year ago. Give him credit for the early impact of both linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mark Barron. Give him credit for keeping games close, which beats the alternative. Give him credit for the growth of McCoy.

On the other hand, you would probably like to see some of that growth from Freeman, wouldn't you? Freeman was good in the fourth quarters of both the Giants game and the Redskins game, but overall, his numbers aren't far off what they were last year.

His quarterback rating is 75.3, up only 0.7 from last year. His average yards per play is the same at 6.5. His completion percentage is down 8 points to 54.6. No one seems quite sure what the new ESPN quarterback rating is, but Freeman has his down to 33.14 (he was at 64.65 in 2010 and 45.26 in 2011).

For a new coaching staff, this needs to be the biggest challenge of the early season. If they can help Freeman re-establish himself, this turnaround can happen much quicker. Schiano seemed to acknowledge as much last week when he let Freeman throw the ball 39 times.

From here, you would like to see Schiano establish a better balance to his offense. Nothing's wrong with running the ball, provided there are so many 2-yarders along the way. Nothing's wrong with trying a few more deep passes. Nothing's wrong with driving for a touchdown instead of throwing a safe pass to set up a field goal.

For that matter, nothing is wrong with a new coach growing into a job. The good ones always do.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM The Fan.

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