TAMPA — You've got to love to be miserable.
That's what some of the NFL's best coaches have told their players for years.
It's true, because football is hours, days, weeks and months of preparation, of blood and sweat, for three hours of cheers.
But center Jeff Faine almost reached his breaking point a year ago during the Bucs' 3-13 season.
"I think last year was a point in my career where it was very shaky and I was unhappy," Faine said. "It wasn't really what I signed up for the year before. It was something where I'm thinking I'm walking into a situation where we've got a veteran-laden team that has a great quarterback in Jeff Garcia who just went to the Pro Bowl. Who knows? I'll take my luck with this team.
"Then all of a sudden, it was shaken upside down. It was almost like one of those snow globes you turn over. But this year, I feel like the arrow is headed in the right direction. I like my chances, and I like the fact that we've got a lot of young, hungry talent."
Which brings us to Mike Williams.
Perhaps more than any other player, Williams, the club's fourth-round draft pick from Syracuse, has instilled a sense of confidence in the Bucs this summer — in their quarterback, in their offense, in their coaching staff and front office.
"He's polished, man," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Just his understanding of how to run routes; I've never seen a rookie come in here and understand how to run routes, how to stem a guy off the point, how to beat press coverage consistently. I don't know, maybe he has somebody working with him. I haven't asked him. But somebody coached him up pretty well. Either that or he's got a high football IQ and figured it out himself.
"He's playing that position now, where the X position in most offenses is the guy you dial up when you need to win. We saw that a little in the preseason. You're pretty confident he's going to win. He's got great hands; he's not scared to make tough catches. Those guys usually win for you."
Williams, 23, led the Bucs in the preseason with seven catches for 157 yards (22.4 average).
He has first-round talent, and his free fall in the draft is well-documented as a result of his missing curfew and miscommunication with the Syracuse coaching staff.
It doesn't mean Williams is going to have breakout games every week.
But more than Williams' talent, players and coaches respect how hard he worked to earn a starting job as a rookie.
"I said I was going to come in here and work hard," Williams said. "I said I was going to learn the plays early. I said I was going to sign early, and I did. I said I was going to come in here and start, and that's what I did."
So what's his next goal?
"The next goal is to be rookie of the year," he said.
For the Bucs to win, that probably needs to be the accomplishment of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick. If not McCoy, then Brian Price or Arrelious Benn. Quarterback Josh Freeman needs to make a Pro Bowl or two.
Barber, 35, is entering what is likely the final year of his career. Players such as Barber and Faine, 29, aren't interested in rebuilding, just reloading. So what are Barber's expectations?
"They're high, man. We've got a lot of talent on this football team," Barber said. "We're young; we have not a lot of experience. You put two or three of those factors together and people won't give you credit for being a good football team. All we can do is go out and prove it. Go out and put a product on the field. We won't have to sell anybody but ourselves. People in this building are the only ones that have to believe in us.
"It takes a couple components to push young teams over the edge. Hopefully, we have that here. I think our quarterback can play well this year. I know Mike Williams is going to play well this year. Nobody that passed him up those first (101) picks thought he would be a starting X (receiver) in this league this year, but he is. … You're obviously optimistic Week 1. Everybody is going to the Super Bowl Week 1."