TAMPA — No directive needs to be spoken because the message has been delivered louder than a roar.
These buzzwords are repeated by Bucs coach Raheem Morris: Young, ascending players.
Got that, Maurice Stovall? Sorry, Chris Pressley. Stand by me on the sideline, Cadillac Williams.
Starting today in Cincinnati, the Bucs plan to let all the kids play. Second-round pick Arrelious Benn will see plenty of action as the Z receiver. RB LeGarrette Blount could get the bulk of the carries and will be the short-yardage and goal-line specialist. RB Kareem Huggins will get looks as a change-of-pace back. Michael Bennett is expected to be active at defensive end. Even Erik Lorig, who converted from defensive end to offense last week, could play fullback or tight end.
"It's just all these new guys you want to put into the lineup … those things make you excited because of the constant ascending player on our football team that you think is going to make you better," Morris said.
The youth movement began before last season with the purge of veterans and starting rookie Josh Freeman at quarterback after an 0-7 record and Sammie Stroughter at slot receiver
It continued this year with the addition of players such as DTs Gerald McCoy and Brian Price and WR Mike Williams.
The bye week provided the perfect opportunity for a final tuneup for Benn, Blount and company.
"It makes you excited because of Arrelious Benn," Morris said. "You watched him come in here; he was off to a regular start for a wide receiver. He just didn't go as fast as Mike Williams. We kind of criticized him a little bit, and we've really watched him go out there and play and practice and go into the bye week after having a little bit of success at the end of that (Steelers) game. Now inserting him into the lineup and being able to pick up certain calls being able to move to different positions allows us to be excited about him for these last 13 (games).
"With the addition of LeGarrette Blount … to be able to get in there and get a couple runs and move the ball. With Kareem Huggins coming off the groin injury, going back into our offense and inserting himself out there. We still have (CB Myron) Lewis, which you haven't even seen. To watch him in practice get better and better every week and watch what he's able to do on our team. The Lorigs of the world."
The Bucs are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with one of these young players to go with Freeman, the way Cadillac Williams changed the team's fortunes as offensive rookie of the year in 2005.
"There's always some guy who comes in and sparks you," Morris said. "In '05, what Cadillac was able to do for our team. He came in here and made us a playoff contender and helped us become one. We watched Freeman go out there in his first start and get our first win of the season. He really finished the season strong, and ever since he's been in the game, we've felt like we had a chance to win."
Offense still under construction: Offensive coordinator Greg Olson had an offseason to implement his system and was able to add pieces. But after three games, the results are mixed at best.
The Bucs offense ranks 26th with 288 total yards per game and is 20th in rushing (96.3) and 23rd in passing (191.7).
Now the Bucs are trying to shorten games by running the football, albeit poorly, to keep the defense fresh. But where are the big plays?
The offensive game plan will grow at the same rate as Freeman, Morris said.
"I think it's all a matter of where we go with our quarterback, how fast our quarterback grows, how much better he gets every week," Morris said. "He's been able to keep possession of the football. We've been able to run the ball, somewhat ineffectively, but we've been able to run the football, keep the defense healthy and keep the game close, ground and pound them when we're winning at the end.
"That's where this thing is now. As more people start to develop and more people start to ascend and come along and you start to get more points, you might see a different dynamic of our offense. You might see a different dynamic of what we can do and how much better we can be as a football team, and that's what we look forward to over these next 13 (games)."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.