INDIANAPOLIS — All new head coaches are eager to put their handprint on their team. Raheem Morris would rather put his shoe print on the backside of his players.
The Bucs' 32-year-old coach insists his team needs to become tougher to avoid a late-season collapse like the one in 2008 that led to his hiring.
To emphasize that point, Morris said the Bucs will practice a lot more in full pads than they ever did in seven seasons under Jon Gruden.
It's an approach used by Mike Tomlin, who had the Steelers in pads for 16 weeks his first season in Pittsburgh.
"I'm a pad guy. I want to be in more pads," Morris said Friday. "I believe that's how you get back to your core beliefs, your fundamentals, your pad level, your tackling, your blocking — things of that nature. So I'd like to be in pads more.
"No knock against Coach Gruden. I'm sure he wanted to, also. But at the time we were older, we were a little beat up, so he had to make decisions, and he made his decisions based on what he thought was best for the team at the time. You don't second-guess those things. You don't second-guess those decisions. You just do what you think needs to be done the right way."
Morris points to the Bucs' four-game losing streak in December, a collapse that cost Tampa Bay a playoff spot, as proof of a lack of physical and mental toughness.
The defense was dominated on the ground at Carolina on Monday Night Football as DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart combined to rush for 301 yards and four touchdowns. The team also failed to handle the pressure of a must-win game against the Raiders in the season finale.
"When you talk about what happened to us down the stretch defensively, we were flat-out embarrassed by Carolina on national TV," Morris said. "You come out versus Atlanta, you play pretty good, you block a punt, you feel like you should win that game and you lose a heartbreaker in overtime. Then you come through it and you play a pretty good San Diego team who was just better than you that day. …
"Then everybody goes into the Oakland game, everybody is tight as a drum. You've got to win to get in, you need Philly to win, you need this stuff to happen. And you don't play your best football and you lose, and it's a collapse at the end of the day. You've got to find ways to avoid outside interferences, and we didn't do a good job of that last year."
One of the best ways Morris knows to become more physical is to run the football more, which is why he hired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, who uses the zone blocking scheme.
"In this game, the physical team always wins," Morris said. "The more physical team, the team that can run the football, the team that tackles, the team that hits is always going to be better."
Morris also indicated he won't tolerate some players taking scheduled days off during the week while the rest of the team receives no such benefit.
"Everything has got to change as far as that," he said. "It's my job to relate to those guys what I expect out of them, what I need them to give me and then hold them accountable doing it. Once I get a chance to do that, it will be fine.
"You're looking for 53 guys who are going to buy in and then go to war with those guys. If it's only 40 at the time, then you play with those 40 until you can develop the other guys, and you tolerate the rest until you can replace them."