TAMPA — More than four months have been squandered. For 130 days, the fields have been abandoned and the team has not improved. Even now that the factory has reopened for business, there is a feeling that the franchise is a prolonged two-minute drill, with the clock running and no timeouts, as the season rushes toward it.
And yet, the Bucs have survived the lockout.
Who knows? By the end of the year, you might even say they have flourished.
Oh, let's be honest. If the last few months had been up to Bucs coach Raheem Morris, I'm sure he would have chosen a normal offseason with a normal assortment of practices, film sessions and moving iron from one side of the weight room to another. What coach wouldn't?
After all, it was last offseason when the Bucs bridged from a three-win season to a 10. It was last offseason when Josh Freeman grew up as a quarterback, when Mike Williams proved to be the real deal as a wide receiver, when Gerald McCoy signed on. If anyone knows how important March, April and May can be, this is the team. And if any team wanted to gripe about how much work there is to do, this is the time.
Still, when you look at the aftermath of the lockout, the Bucs appear to come out of it as well as most teams.
Put it this way: If they do not succeed in 2011, it will not be the fault of the lockout.
You know who the lockout beat up? New coaches, that's who. Coaches need time to implement their systems, to learn their locker room, to decide which stranger to trust and which to move along without.
How would you like to be Ron Rivera in Carolina today? Or Pat Shurmur in Cleveland? Or Hue Jackson in Oakland or Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco or John Fox in Denver?
Certainly, the Bucs are in better shape than those teams. If nothing else, Morris proved last year that he had the pulse of his team. If anyone can get his bunch headed the right direction in a hurry, it's Morris.
You know who else the lockout was rough on? Teams with new quarterbacks, that's who.
It takes time for a quarterback to grow up. It takes hours in the classroom and afternoon on the practice fields. Don't you think Cam Newton at Carolina could have used the offseason? Or Jake Locker at Tennessee or Christian Ponder at Minnesota? Then there are teams such as Cincinnati and Arizona and Miami where there doesn't seem to be an answer at quarterback.
The Bucs are in better shape than those teams, too. In fact, when it comes to quarterbacks, the Bucs are better than, say, 18-20 teams.
After last season, Freeman looks like a rising star. It may be hard for him to repeat a season in which he had 25 touchdown passes and only six interceptions, but don't mistake his impact on his team. Is he a franchise quarterback? As long as you consider Tampa Bay a franchise, he is.
You know who else the lockout beat up? It beat up teams who are pushed against the salary cap. Already, Dallas and Baltimore are releasing players. The Giants are against it. As much money as Peyton Manning seems to want, the Colts may have to play without linebackers.
The Bucs? They have money to spend, and the rules are going to insist they spend it. The Bucs can afford anyone they want. This is not to say they're going to go out and make thousand-dollar bills rain on Nnamdi Asomugha, but they could.
You know who else the lockout beat up? Old teams, that's who.
In the NFL, experience is an asset. Everyone knows that. But quick starts can be hard on 35-year-old players. Young legs can help. Especially if those legs played as much as the Bucs' young players did last season.
So what did the Bucs miss in the offseason? Oh, there were things, of course. The young defensive line could have used some work, even if it was just growing comfortable with the workplace. (Find the quarterback? For crying out loud, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers can't find the bathroom yet.) The Bucs could have found out a few more players on their way to try to build a better defense.
So who else survived the nuclear winter? Green Bay, of course. There is a reason the Packers are the world champions. The Saints. The Patriots. The Bears. The Steelers. The better an organization is, the better chance it has to get through something like the sport shutting down.
All in all, the Bucs came through it about as well as you could expect. If injuries don't get them, if higher expectations don't eat them up, if a tougher schedule doesn't overwhelm them, then there is no reason they shouldn't be good again.
Think of like this: When the playoffs begin, the Bucs shouldn't be locked out of those, either.