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Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain positive despite skid

TAMPA

How have the Bucs players handled the six-game losing streak?

Raheem Morris was asked that question after practice one day last week, and the coach responded by opening the door to the locker room to amplify the sound of laughter and rhythmic thumping of R&B and rap coming from the stereos in players' cubicles.

Is it good for a team that has been so beaten up to be that upbeat?

"That's a great thing because we don't have a whole bunch of mentally weak people," Morris said. "Their preparation, how they come to practice, has improved and gotten better. But as far as psyche and being mentally weak, we just don't have that. That wasn't the quality and the character we looked for when we drafted these guys or of players we brought in from other places."

However … : There's something to be said for a loose locker room — unless it leads to a lack of focus for three hours on Sunday.

That's the line the youngest team in the NFL has been teetering on all season. Resiliency can be a strength, but at some point, it can't transform into too much tolerance for mistakes.

That's why there are two new approaches for today's game at Jacksonville.

First, the Bucs have cut back on the volume of plays on offense and defense, the theory being if you can do anything well, do less better. Second, with the awareness that the season is circling the drain, it's time to find out who can help next season.

In last week's 38-19 loss to Carolina, the first four running plays went for minus-3 yards, 1 yard, zero yards and minus-4 yards.

"We can't do that," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "And again, it came down to a wrong step here, an assignment error there. It wasn't just any one thing, any one player or person. We've just got to clean up the execution part of it. And if that means simplifying it and cutting back on the number of runs that we install, we'll do that until we get it right."

The same approach will be visible on defense, where Morris' play-calling has resulted in blown assignments, poor tackling and the 30th-ranked unit in the NFL.

Because this is the time of year bottom rung teams start raiding practice squads to upgrade their rosters, the Bucs have been promoting several players to the active roster, including QB Rudy Carpenter, RB Mossis Madu and S Ahmad Black.

Madu, undrafted out of Oklahoma in April, could see time as a third-down back. Black, the former Florida standout, likely will be in the rotation at safety with Larry Asante doubtful with a hamstring injury sustained during Thursday's practice.

"A lot of it is based on wanting to see what these guys can do," Morris said. "But a lot of it is based on … what we talked about with Ahmad; kind of earning your way, earning your stripes, getting an opportunity to do something. Mossis Madu is one of those guys who has been here working. Now they get some opportunity to play.

"They come out. They're fresh. They're young. They're hungry, and they have an opportunity to make themselves on this team."

LONDON FALLING: The Bucs were 4-2, in the thick of the NFC South race and 2-0 in the division before their "home game" in London against the Bears on Oct. 23.

The Bucs spent the week overseas, staying at a posh resort, rolling out of bed to a practice pitch on the hotel grounds and touring the city on their day off. There was a lot of talk about the "training camp atmosphere," "player bonding" and blah, blah, blah.

But the fact is the Bucs lost the game 24-18, lost RB Earnest Graham to a season-ending Achilles' injury and haven't been the same since returning stateside.

You had to be there, but the week felt more like a Pro Bowl, where a good vacation for players is spoiled by having to perform in a game. Unlike the All-Star gala in Hawaii, this one counted.

The Glazers can talk about marketing the game to Europe and giving season-ticket holders a break in this economy by having one less home game. But was it in the best interest of winning?

Probably not.

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers remain positive despite skid 12/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 10, 2011 5:50pm]
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