TAMPA — The losing has already started under Lovie Smith. You could almost predict it was going to happen.
Seven pounds were shed by middle linebacker Mason Foster. Running back Doug Martin cut out Domino's pizza and KFC, and his body fat plummeted from 11 to 8.8 percent. Linebacker Danny Lansanah lost 13 pounds.
"I just think weight is one of the most overrated things that there is," Smith said. "Strength isn't. Weight is. The lighter we are, the quicker and faster we'll be."
Starved for success, the Bucs are eating to win again. In Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Chicago, Smith has always preferred lighter, quicker players, especially on defense. But there is need for speed on both sides of the ball.
So prior to going on their five-week hiatus between the end of the mandatory minicamp in June and the start of training camp last week, Smith challenged his players to belly up to the salad bar (minus the fatty dressings, of course).
Foster, who played at around 242 pounds last year, struggled at times in coverage and had more straight-line speed than lateral quickness. Earlier in his career, he would come off the field on third down, then rookie Lavonte David called the defensive signals.
But Smith is so reliant on the middle linebacker that he is the quarterback of the defense who must play every snap. So Foster did what every mom encourages and started eating all his vegetables.
"I'm losing a lot of body fat and it's helped me," Foster said. "I don't really like vegetables, but I've been doing well. I'm eating a lot of vegetables, eating turkey, eating turkey burgers. It was tough at first, but I got used to it. and it's paid off.
"I guess I've lost like seven pounds. It's really about being in better shape. Now I like green beans, corn. My mom makes me broccoli. She's been helping me out. I feel a lot quicker, a lot lighter on my feet."
Smith has already seen the difference in practice.
"I was impressed with what he was able to do," Smith said. "We asked Mason to drop some weight. We don't play with big linebackers like that. We want strong linebackers that can run. Dane Fletcher also dropped some weight and he was able to do that. All our linebackers were able to do that."
Pro and college sports teams have employed chefs and nutritionists for years. Athletes in individual sports really started paying attention in the '80s when tennis player Martina Navratilova hired Robert Haas, a Florida nutritionist whose dad owned a Burger King franchise, and it helped her win 104 of her next 106 tournaments. It also turned Haas' book Eat to Win into a best seller.
Players have always been far more interested in getting their picture on a box of Wheaties than eating a bowl of them. But with the incentive to enhance performance (legally) and extend playing careers, it doesn't take much arm-twisting to make them drop the slice of pizza and pick up a carrot stick.
"I had to get rid of Dominos, fried chicken," Martin said. "I had to eat a lot of white meat and lettuce and just eat a healthy diet. If you don't eat healthy and you're overweight, that causes injuries."
Players such as Vincent Jackson, Gerald McCoy and David have practiced good eating habits for years. But a rookie such as receiver Mike Evans, who gained a few pounds on the rubber chicken circuit after his celebrated season at Texas A&M and tweaked a hamstring in his first minicamp, needed guidance.
"It's not only Lovie's thing, it's my thing as well," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "Everybody's looking fast, everybody is looking slim. It's a compliment to our team."
There has been some criticism of teams with undersized defensive linemen and linebackers. The Bucs under Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin heard it for years. They tend to wear down as the games and the season wear on. Certainly, the dehydrating heat of summer will make it difficult for some players to maintain their weight.
But the Bucs are buying in.
"For us to have the type of team that we expect, there has to be a lot of self-motivation like that," Smith said. "Coaching can only do so much. I mean we were 4-12 — they're tired of that, and they'll do whatever it takes to take this next step."