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Label Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense 'to be determined'

TAMPA — The preseason opener is three days away, and the first draft of the script is presumably written.

Stored somewhere in his briefcase, his computer or his brain, offensive coordinator Greg Olson must have an idea of the first dozen or so plays he would like to call when the referee hands the Buccaneers a ball on Saturday night.

Care to guess what any of those plays might be?

In this, the second season of a franchise makeover, few things are less certain than the direction of Tampa Bay's offense. Is it a West Coast passing system? Is it a downhill running game? Is it a vertical passing attack?

If you are looking for a label, you have come to the wrong offense. Because at this point there is no simple description, no snappy way to pigeonhole the personality of an offense that, in many ways, is still to be determined.

There will be a little of this, and perhaps a little of that. They may dabble here, tinker there and experiment everywhere. In a way, it is a West Coast hybrid. And a variation on the pound-the-rock mentality of better days.

Mostly, it is an offense ready to define itself.

"You've got to have an identity," Olson said. "There's zone schemes, there's gap schemes, there's nickel schemes in the run game. What do you do best? What can we hang our hat on? What's going to be our signature run?

"For people who watched the offense a year ago, it will change, in my opinion. We'll see how this plays out, but those signature plays are what you're looking for. You want those four or five plays that the offensive line and the running backs are comfortable with the reads and the cuts. Same thing in the passing game. We'll find a concept the quarterback is comfortable with. So it won't matter if you have multiple personnel, multiple formations, multiple shifts, the quarterback is always comfortable knowing where the ball is going with that concept."

If it is difficult to stamp a brand name on the offense, it is because the Bucs are working with some seemingly incompatible parts.

You have a head coach who is enamored with a power running game. You have an offensive coordinator whose background is the controlled passing game of the West Coast offense. You have a quarterback known more for vertical passing ability than West Coast-style accuracy.

Still, Olson says the pieces can fit.

When he took over as offensive coordinator in St. Louis in 2006, he brought with him a version of the West Coast offense learned from former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci. The only problem was the Rams were accustomed to Mike Martz's more aggressive downfield passing style.

So Olson took parts of Martz's offense and incorporated them with the West Coast offense, along with enough running plays for Steven Jackson, and the Rams ended up with one of the highest-scoring teams in the league in '06.

The personnel is not the same in Tampa Bay in 2010, but Olson says the concept is similar. The overall philosophy will be based on the West Coast offense, but they will take advantage of Josh Freeman's ability to throw deep, which should also help keep a safety away from the line of scrimmage for Cadillac Williams and the running game.

"Coach Olson, myself and coach (Raheem) Morris have all talked about how important the running game is," said general manager Mark Dominik. "As much as everyone is going to say, 'West Coast, West Coast,' there are a lot of great football teams who use the West Coast and still run the football very well. So it doesn't mean we're going to be passing and putting it all on Josh's shoulders.

"I still want to have Cadillac — who is as healthy now as he's been since his rookie campaign and now is going into his contract year — to really take advantage of that and put him on a pedestal and give him that opportunity to run."

The temptation is to look back at Olson's play-calling last season and in St. Louis to get a feel for what the Bucs might do in 2010, but there is no comparableness because this is the first time he's had an entire season to prepare and to call the plays on Sundays.

In the past, Olson has always been handcuffed or handicapped. He called plays for Detroit for the final three games of 2004 and the final five games of '05 under Mariucci, but he never had a full season as the guy in charge of Mariucci's offense. He was the Rams' coordinator in 2006-07, but head coach Scott Linehan called the plays for the first 10 games in '06 and the final 12 games in '07.

And his work in Tampa Bay last season is not indicative, because he was an emergency replacement when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired before the season opener, and Olson avoided making widespread changes at that point.

So, in a way, this is Olson's best chance to prove himself as a coordinator in the league. Even if his quarterback is young. Even if his receivers are younger. Even if his running game was stuck near the bottom of the NFL last season.

"We've spent a whole year together now," said offensive line coach Pete Mangurian. "We've written a book. It's what we believe in. We've gone over every single play, and everybody's had their input, and we've come to an understanding of what we want to be."

Soon, we'll figure out what that means.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Label Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense 'to be determined' 08/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:35am]
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