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Raheem Morris setting a better tone in second year as Tampa Bay Bucs coach

TAMPA — The music blared and the bass thumped and you tried hard to avoid doing what anyone in earshot would feel compelled to do: dance.

Of course, that would be okay if this were a description of your average Sunday night at the Blue Martini nightclub. But, no, this was your typical Bucs practice last summer and throughout the first quarter of the 2009 season, when then-rookie coach Raheem Morris thought it a good idea to lighten the mood by opening each workout with a hip-hop playlist.

Contrast this with Morris' fiery outburst in the middle of last week's minicamp, during which he demanded his players take the workout more seriously, and the difference is striking.

This is not to suggest that the music was a total loss. You would be hard-pressed to argue that any of 2Pac's greatest hits don't get the blood pumping, especially his hardcore Ambitionz Az a Ridah. And there's nothing inherently wrong with the 33-year-old Morris being able to relate to his players because he is close in age or because he asks that they refer to him as "Rah." This isn't JV football.

Where it becomes an issue is when a coach fails to set the right tone somewhere along the line, like during practice. This is an area where Morris — now a second-year coach — went wrong in his first season.

But he is nothing if not a quick learner. Always admitting there is much he still must learn about being an NFL coach, Morris continues to adjust his approach.

"In Year 2, you have a better sense of direction and where you should be," Morris said. "Before you become a head coach, you just think you know what you should do and hope it's right. Now, I'm at a different stage. I'm like Josh Freeman as a head coach. I've got a direction, and we know exactly what we want to do. Now it's up to me to demand that we execute."

The Freeman example is particularly appropriate. He, too, was thrown into the fire as a rookie quarterback and had the bumps and bruises to prove it. Now, both have a steadier hand and more confidence.

Morris has learned that when coaching one of the youngest teams in the league, you must employ a unique approach. There was no better example than the aforementioned rant on Monday, during which Morris stopped practice and used some pretty spicy language to emphasize that his players better stop losing focus.

Look, the Bucs didn't lose 13 games in 2009 because they played loud music. But the last thing you want is to create an atmosphere in which young players begin to think they've arrived simply because they're on the roster. The demands now being made by Morris ensure they'll get the message.

And you can be sure they'll hear him, because, this time, Morris won't have to yell over the music.

THE NEW BLACK: Keep an eye on LB Quincy Black in the fall as the Bucs continue to look at creative ways to use him.

They began tinkering with his role late last season, and now Morris and linebackers coach Joe Baker are considering using Black in scenarios where he formerly would have been replaced by a nickel back.

The linebacker on the strong side almost always leaves the game on passing downs, replaced by a third cornerback. But the Bucs think Black's versatility might allow him to stay on the field in some cases, and that might give offenses a reason to pause when they don't see the personnel they expect.

WEST COAST COMEBACK: The team might have fired Jon Gruden last year, but that doesn't mean his entire offense went with him. With offensive coordinator Greg Olson having the entire offseason to fine-tune his scheme (as opposed to taking the job less than two weeks before the season opener in 2009), you saw the results during last week's minicamp. There were a lot of West Coast-like elements to the passing game, i.e. lots of crossing routes, slants and horizontal routes in general.

But Olson and Gruden differ in the frequency with which they call passes and in Olson's willingness to let it rip down the field more often. He gets that from his days spent working under Mike Martz.

Raheem Morris setting a better tone in second year as Tampa Bay Bucs coach 06/26/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 27, 2010 12:23pm]
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