TAMPA — For many years, defense was the Bucs' identity, their driving force.
But if Tampa Bay is going to get itself out of an 0-7 hole, coach Raheem Morris says, it will be up to the more experienced offense.
That unit was believed to be the team's strength coming into the season, especially with the millions invested in receivers Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant, tight end Kellen Winslow and running back Derrick Ward during the offseason.
Though several changes (two offensive coordinators, three quarterbacks) have been obstacles, the group knows it is capable of much more.
"They've got to be the lifeline a little bit, and I'm asking them to be," Morris said. "They've got the seniority. They've got the vets on that side of the ball.
"It's their turn to stand up. It's their turn to lead us. It's their turn to do it."
It has produced a few bright spots:
• Winslow, who signed a six-year, $36 million deal after being acquired from the Browns, has a team-high 31 catches for 295 yards.
• Seventh-round draft pick Sammy Stroughter has been a surprise with 16 catches for 214 yards.
• Cadillac Williams, coming back from a second significant knee surgery, has rushed for a team-high 310 yards.
But the bottom line is the Bucs rank near the bottom of the NFL in most offensive categories: 28th in average yards per game, 272.3; 28th in points, 13.7; 24th in rushing yards, 98.0; and 23rd in passing yards, 174.3.
Center Jeff Faine said the offense welcomed Morris' challenge to shoulder the load as the young defense — ranked 30th — finds its way. "I think it's important that we take that by the horns and really run with it," he said. "There's enough talent on this offense to carry this team. You go top to bottom on the (roster), it looks like on paper that we should be doing a lot better than what we really are."
There's the offensive line, considered a strength with Faine, whose six-year, $37 million contract ($12 million guaranteed) signed in 2008 made him the NFL's highest-paid center, and Davin Joseph, a Pro Bowl replacement last season.
Though Faine's early triceps injury and the absence of guard Arron Sears because of personal problems have hurt, Joseph said, "The majority of our group is here, so we don't have much of an excuse."
Then there's Ward, who signed a four-year, $17 million deal after rushing for 1,025 yards for the Giants in 2008. But he has just 45 carries, and his 178 yards are 55th in the NFL. He declined to comment.
Finally, there's the receiving corps, which includes Bryant (one year, $9.8 million) and Clayton (five years, $26 million). Bryant had knee surgery in the preseason and still has soreness. And, as is the case with Clayton, developing chemistry while working with three quarterbacks has been difficult.
Bryant (16 catches for 229 yards) and Clayton (11 for 154 yards) aren't ranked among the NFL's top 80 in yards. Clayton is 135th, behind the likes of the Rams' Daniel Fells and the Jets' David Clowney.
Morris took some responsibility for Clayton's struggles, saying the coaching staff has to play more to his strengths.
"What Clayton does well, he did well," said Morris, referring to blocking and catching balls on curls and dig routes.
Said Clayton, "We shoot ourselves in the foot a lot of the times, and we show characteristics of a young football team. The truth of the matter is we've got some young guys, some new guys, some hurt guys. We just have to be able to continue to keep grinding and keep learning the new offense.
"Everything is new. I feel like we're still climbing a mountain right now. But at any given point, because of our athletic ability, because our experience, we are that close."