Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs camp off to a better, boring start

TAMPA

First day of Bucs camp, and if you're looking for controversy, all we can offer is Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy showing up in a robe and slippers.

There you go. That's pretty much it. There's your TMZ moment. Big guy rolls out of bed and goes to work. Film at 11.

No one stayed away demanding a new contract. No one showed up two hours late with booze on his breath. No one left his brain at home and said something stupid.

Nothing about the Bucs reporting to camp Thursday was trending on Twitter. It was more like #ho-hum.

Bucs camp is only a few hours old, but it's off to a really boring start. That's really good compared to all of the shenanigans this train wreck of a franchise went through last year.

Remember last year?

Actually, how can we forget?

It should have been filmed and shown on Bravo.

Instead of poring through the playbook, the Bucs were sifting through the Yellow Pages to order up some hazmat suits to scrub out all of the MRSA. The real brains of the organization didn't belong to the head coach or general manager. It was the egghead brought in to rid One Buc Place of the nasty infection that wiped out the seasons of offensive lineman Carl Nicks and kicker Lawrence Tynes.

Next up was quarterback Josh Freeman. First, there was that whole supposed rigged captain's vote controversy. It felt like we were a day away from calling in Katherine Harris to straighten it all out.

Not long after, Freeman decided he was tired of being a good NFL quarterback and opted to turn into the biggest mystery this side of the Bermuda Triangle.

Then there was coach Greg Schiano, who wasn't exactly all warm and fuzzy with the hired help.

And on and on it went; a preseason full of distractions followed by a season full of losing.

There are certainly no guarantees this season will produce more victories, but the Bucs head into the preseason with fewer distractions. Actually, no distractions to speak of.

Granted, today is the first day the Bucs go on the field and the first day always is full of unicorns, rainbows and wildly optimistic predictions, no matter how dreadful the recent past has been.

But instead of worrying about bad viruses in the training room and bad seeds in the locker room, the Bucs can concentrate on — get a load of this — football on the field.

"It's definitely just about football," new coach Lovie Smith said. "And as a football team and as a coach, yes, you want it to be about football. And I feel like that's what it will be about."

That means instead of reading tweets sent out by Tynes' wife, the Bucs will think about how to score points. Instead of trying to figure out how to unload Freeman, the Bucs can set their sights on stopping the likes of Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

For the next few weeks, we don't anticipate any talk of Adderall or holdouts or PEDs. Instead, the Bucs can pay attention to other details; you know, like who makes the team and who starts.

"We've got a new staff coming in," Smith said. "And we, as coaches, have said (to the players), 'Show us. Show us that you belong on the field; that you belong as a starter for us.' "

There is no quarterback controversy. Josh McCown was named the starter months ago.

There are no running feuds between teammates. No one is mad at the coach, and the coach isn't at odds with the general manager, and the general manager is hunky-dory with the owners.

All is just peachy.

No distractions, however, is not the same as saying there are no questions. Of course there are questions. As Smith constantly pointed out all summer and all day Thursday, this was a 4-12 football team last season.

Let's see McCown play a few snaps before putting him in the Pro Bowl.

Let's see if first-round pick Mike Evans is all he's cracked up to be.

Let's see if the additions on defense are better than the players they are replacing.

And, of course, training camp can always head to the dumpster in a minute. A torn ACL here, a failed drug test there, a benching or two in between, and the next thing you know, the organization is dealing with problems and controversy.

And distractions.

The difference this time around is the Bucs appear to have a coach who knows how to limit distractions and deal swiftly with those that do come up.

This is not his first rodeo.

You can question Smith's ability to hire the right offensive coordinator. You can ask if his defensive ways are becoming outdated in today's NFL. You can wonder if he is the right coach to ultimately win championships.

But there is no arguing he knows how this stuff works — training camp, putting together a roster, running a professional football team in a professional manner.

Does that mean the Bucs now are the favorites to win the division or to win even more than half their games? Of course not. But at least they go into today thinking about one thing: football.

Put it this way: I don't know if the Bucs will be any better this year than they were last year, but they already are off to a better start.

Tom Jones can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

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