Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers start Greg Schiano era with preseason opener at Miami Dolphins

TAMPA — The arrival of coach Greg Schiano has had a galvanic effect on Bucs players, if not the entire organization. The conversions most talked about have not come on third down. He has changed men, and in the process, is trying to reverse a culture.

"Everybody wants to go and everybody's pushing themselves to the limit that they usually don't push themselves to," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "People that usually are lazy are not being lazy, and people that work hard are working harder, so that's going to help the team in ways we don't even know yet."

Schiano makes his debut as an NFL head coach in tonight's preseason opener at Miami against the Dolphins. But the 11-year Rutgers coach, who is prone to remind everyone that there are "only'' 1,440 minutes in a day, is living in the moment. So forgive Schiano if he is not focused on padding his resume.

"I really don't think that way. I never have," Schiano said. "That's probably cheating the process a little bit, though, because you never really get to enjoy it, but I've always kind of been, what's next.

"One of the things I'm just grateful I've been a head coach for 11 years, so I kind of know what to expect in a game. I remember my first game as a head coach. That was a scary proposition."

Taking over a Bucs team that lost the final 10 games last season and allowed a club-worst 494 points in 2011 can also be frightening. First impressions are important, but with so much change, there are bound to be mistakes.

What will Bucs coaches be focused on?

Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, the former Giants quarterbacks coach who worked with Eli Manning, will pay close attention to Josh Freeman's leadership, decision-making and accuracy.

"I think we'd just like to see him, first and foremost, be a good decision-maker, be someone who is comfortable, plays with a good rhythm and has confidence and just execute," Sullivan said. "Sometimes there may be a ball that gets away from him, there's going to be the decision mistakes. But I'd like to just be able to see him be able to take that next step."

In order to improve on that decision-making, Freeman needs better protection. Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn is out with a calf strain, which means unproven backup Demar Dotson starts in his place, guarding Freeman's blindside from Dolphins sackmaster Cameron Wake.

"I trust him," Schiano said. "Will he learn some lessons? I am sure he will. You try to help a guy out in those situations a little bit, and you know we will make sure, but it is a nice welcome party isn't it?"

Offensively, it will be a coming-out party for free agent receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks. Rookie Doug Martin, a first-round pick from Boise State, begins his competition for the starting tailback job with LeGarrette Blount.

There is more work to do for defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. The defensive line is paper thin with the trade of tackle Brian Price to Chicago and the Achilles injury to end Da'Quan Bowers. The linebackers are young and younger. Mason Foster struggled as a rookie and will line up next to rookie Lavonte David. The secondary has a free agent cornerback in Eric Wright and two new safeties — first-round pick Mark Barron and Ronde Barber, who is making his debut at free safety in his 16th season.

"There are certain things we won't show, but I want to run our stuff," Schiano said. "That's what we do. We are who we are. I want to make sure that we keep it simple enough though that we can evaluate our guys."

How long the starters will play is anyone's guess. "We'll have a plan for every player, and I learned a long time ago whether it was in scrimmages in college football or in the preseason, we're sticking to the plan," Schiano said. "I don't care what the situation is."

While Schiano is in the converting business, that might as well include fans.

"Anytime there is a scoreboard you try to win, but that's not the No. 1 (priority)," he said of preseason. "We need to make sure we evaluate our guys because these don't count and I'm not going to make that mistake. When you're playing a game, you try to win with whoever is out there but it might not be who I would have out there if it ultimately counted. As a competitor, I play cards and I want to win. It doesn't matter what I am playing."

Training camp

Where: One Buc Place, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just east of Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Admission: Free

Et cetera: All practices are weather permitting and subject to change. For updates, go to buccaneers.com.

Schedules

Public practice

Tuesday: 8:45 to 11:30 a.m.

Preseason games

Tonight: at Dolphins, 7:30, Ch. 10

Aug. 17: Titans, 7:30, Ch. 10 *

Aug. 24: Patriots, 7:30, Ch. 10 *

Aug. 29: at Redskins, 7:30, Ch. 10

Regular season

Sept. 9: Panthers, 4:25, Ch. 13 *

Sept. 16: at Giants, 1, Ch. 13

Sept. 23: at Cowboys, 1, Ch. 13

Sept. 30: Redskins, 4:25, Ch. 13 *

Oct. 14: Chiefs, 1, Ch. 13 *

Oct. 21: Saints, 1, Ch. 13 *

Oct. 25: at Vikings, 8:20, NFL Network

Nov. 4: at Raiders, 4, Ch. 13

Nov. 11: Chargers, 1, Ch. 10 *

Nov. 18: at Panthers, 1, Ch. 13

Nov. 25: Falcons, 1, Ch. 13 *

Dec. 2: at Broncos, 4, Ch. 13

Dec. 9: Eagles, 1, Ch. 13 *

Dec. 16: at Saints, 1, Ch. 13

Dec. 23: Rams, 1, Ch. 13 *

Dec. 30: at Falcons, 1, Ch. 13

* Subject to blackout

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