TAMPA — The plan isn't working yet, but they're sticking to the darn plan.
That's the first thing general manager Mark Dominik made clear last week amid the Bucs' worst start in 13 seasons.
While sitting in the One Buc Place conference room where rookie coach Raheem Morris has faced the media after five straight losses, Dominik said the decision to go with young players was an old-school approach that has worked.
But the move has produced more hiccups than even Dominik, 38, anticipated.
On Friday, the Bucs had an eye on the future when they traded defensive end Gaines Adams to the Bears for a second-round pick in 2010.
"It is tough on a young coach because he's playing a young quarterback, he's playing a young football team," Dominik said of Morris. "But in his mind and in the organization's mind, he's doing what's best for this franchise long term. And that's the most important element. People need to sit back and understand and say, 'What do we want to be as an organization? What kind of football team do we want?'
"Really, you want (it to be like) that window from 1999 to 2003, where every year I think every Buccaneers fan felt like, 'We've got a chance to win the Super Bowl.' We've got to rebuild that window, and that's what we're doing."
So how has the Dominik-Morris plan worked, and where are the Bucs headed?
Dominik attempted to provide answers.
Why waste so much time this summer on the QB battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown when the huddle was always going to belong to Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson?
The trick was we wanted to have a veteran start this team off to give it the best chance to win right away and build some confidence within a young organization. … We've gone through quite the youth movement here. So in that aspect, it was important for us to find out which veteran we felt had the best opportunity to win. After we started off the season … we felt like it was better to continue to do this youth movement and make sure it's going through the quarterback, too.
Did the injury to center Jeff Faine mean curtains for Leftwich?
I think that's too simplistic. The first two games, we were moving the ball very well, and then the Giants came in and just manhandled us. I think a lot of how teams attacked us showed up in that game. We felt like it was one of those games where (it becomes) a blueprint for any other organization to follow when deciding "How do we attack the Bucs?" To us, it was a dangerous blueprint that we just gave out to everybody, so that's why we felt like we needed to make a change. We decided to go with Josh Johnson because he's been around the National Football League for a season. Certainly, he's more mentally prepared because he's been around.
When will we see Freeman play?
We'll see him when we feel like the time is right for Josh Freeman. But right now, it's Josh Johnson's time to play his first game at home. … At some point, Josh Freeman is going to play. At some point, it's going to happen. It didn't hurt Aaron Rodgers' development to sit behind Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers still developed, and he's a fantastic quarterback. So it's not a matter of how long you have to sit behind there — it's when is the right time to make a change if you need to make a change.
You're not suggesting Johnson is Favre?
No, the analogy doesn't work in that aspect. Point taken.
Didn't you cripple the offense by firing offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski 10 days before the opener?
In a way, yes. We did come out and had two very strong offensive showings the first two weeks. I do feel like the offense is starting to click again. I feel like there was a lot of what we call "hidden yardage" that was available, that we didn't take advantage of, whether it was dropped passes or not seeing a hot read. If you were watching that game against Philadelphia, we felt like we could move the ball up and down the field, which is a great barometer of where you are. I feel like (new coordinator Greg Olson) is slowly getting his mind-set, his philosophy and his language into the offense we already started here way back.
Did you anticipate this many problems in the secondary with the new scheme under Jim Bates? (Eight passes of more than 40 yards allowed.)
The truth is, until we go back there and start intercepting some passes like Aqib Talib did against Washington, teams are going to continue to just say, "I'm going to take a chance and throw it deep and see what happens." We've got to start making plays. I mean, that's the bottom line. We were in position, and we've got to finish some of those plays off, (and on) some of the plays, we weren't in position. But until you make quarterbacks say, "Gee, that might not be a great idea, I'm going to make the check down here," you're going to expect that.
What do you like that you've seen so far?
I think the competitiveness of this football team has been good to see. I felt like they played hard, even when we had a tough game going against Philadelphia. Towards the end of the game, our guys continued to fight back to score some points, get the onside kick. … We've just got to become a more consistent football team — more consistency from these younger players and the guys that were put in these situations, like Antonio Bryant, who's got to be a more consistent player for us week in and week out.
Are you afraid the culture of losing will affect the young players?
I think this is where the leadership part comes in. Who's a leader and who's not. Cadillac Williams has really been stepping up. Not just what you see in terms of toughness on the field and finishing off runs, but he's done a great job in our locker room being that kind of guy. … Kellen Winslow has done a very good job of understanding actions speak louder than words.
Why not sign a Jason Taylor or some other veterans to help the young guys?
We still felt like we had those types of players on our rosters. Chris Hovan. Ronde Barber in his way; Jeff Faine in his way. We brought back Jermaine Phillips. So we still felt like we had some of those players in our locker room.
All of this isn't easy on a rookie head coach, is it?
I'm making it hard for Raheem. … But this way, at least, there's a direction this franchise is heading. It might not be popular in October 2009, but there is a direction, and we stayed consistent with it.
Do you see winning this season?
Do I see winning? Yes. Confidently, I can say I see us winning this year.