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Tampa Bay Buccaneers go to work on simplest steps

Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount chases his fumble last season at Carolina. He has lost six fumbles in his two seasons.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2011)

Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount chases his fumble last season at Carolina. He has lost six fumbles in his two seasons.

TAMPA

The 2011 Buccaneers kept finding creative ways to lose.

Sometimes, their inability to stop opponents' running games led to losses. Other times, repeated red zone failures did them in.

But one consistently disappointing aspect of last season's club was its poor execution of fundamentals. Like tackling. And not fumbling.

So is it any wonder that large segments of the team's practices this offseason were set aside for working on improving those crucial areas?

It shouldn't be. Consider:

The Bucs' minus-16 turnover margin last season was the NFL's worst. They lost 16 of 30 fumbles, tied for 30th in the 32-team league.

Another area of constant breakdowns was tackling. The website FootballOutsiders.com, which does statistical analysis, determined that the Bucs led the NFL in missed tackles last season. Based on a review of games, the site's analysts found that nine percent of the Bucs' attempted tackles were broken by offensive players.

Though the team made some key personnel upgrades this year, that won't matter much if it's undermined by the same self-inflicted issues.

"You have to have that fundamental base to go with the talent that you have," cornerback Eric Wright said. "You have to put it together."

Of course, every team talks about brushing up on these things. But these days in Tampa Bay, it's more than lip service.

"It's something that's necessary, and we do it every day," Wright said. "(Other teams) do it but not on a consistent basis. We do it daily here, and I think it's a good thing."

Last season's subpar fundamentals grew worse as the losses mounted and players lost focus and began to press.

Running back LeGarrette Blount has not been shy about taking responsibility for fumbles. He has fumbled nine times in his two seasons, losing six. That's a cardinal sin under any coach, but Greg Schiano has been adamant that it won't be tolerated.

With new emphasis on ball security, Blount thinks he can live up to Schiano's expectations. He appreciates the attention to small details.

"It's overlooked," Blount said. "With all the talent, you come in here from college and a lot of these guys were the best players on their team, so they didn't really have to worry about fundamentals. But (Schiano) brought it back."

Accordingly, Blount and his fellow backs have been asked to adjust their methods of carrying the football. Blount used to carry the ball tucked at his side, but the new mantra is "high and tight." The new technique calls for the ball to be tucked closer to the armpit. The running backs have worked at it so much it's now muscle memory.

"It's become a habit," he said. "I don't even notice. Holding the ball down is kind of uncomfortable now. You do it long enough and you don't even notice it. You can't help but make it a habit."

The tackling is being addressed in similar fashion. The team has devoted a segment of practices to tackling techniques, something one might not expect to see in pro football.

"We have a tackling circuit before every practice," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I've never done anything like that, so it's teaching me how to tackle. I was just playing football (before). But (Schiano) putting us through the tackling circuit is really helping."

How much of a difference can this stuff make? Less fumbles could mean more first downs and better tackling should prevent a fair number of big plays.

And if you watched the Bucs in 2011, you know those are two things they really could have used.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers go to work on simplest steps 06/23/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 23, 2012 9:50pm]
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