Tampa Bay Bucs need more than a new coach

Amid glum faces at Raymond James Stadium, a Bucs fan doesn’t show his face at all during Saturday’s loss, Tampa Bay’s eighth straight.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Amid glum faces at Raymond James Stadium, a Bucs fan doesn’t show his face at all during Saturday’s loss, Tampa Bay’s eighth straight.

TAMPA

Fan voting for the 2012 Pro Bowl ends later tonight. For the life of me, I can't decide if that's useful information or just unnecessary taunting.

The Buccaneers employ 50-some football players that they have spent years acquiring and grooming, and are currently paying tens of millions of dollars to perform, and I'm not sure any of those players is worth the effort of a mouse click for an online vote.

And just to be clear, the Pro Bowl is not a big deal. It is, by and large, a joke.

But what does it say about a football franchise that your players will probably be snubbed in the one game that everyone else gets to turn their noses up at?

When the NFL released the Pro Bowl's top-five vote-getters at every position this month, there was not a Buc in sight. Not a cornerback. Not a lineman. Not a returner.

There were 95 players representing 14 of the 16 teams in the NFC, and Bucs players were about as relevant as Jon Huntsman's Iowa campaign.

Again, the Pro Bowl is a meaning­less affair. And the voting is largely a popularity contest. But Tampa Bay's utter absence does bring up an interesting point in what has turned into a forgettable season.

Just how talented is this team?

Is there a player anywhere on the field who could be considered the best in the NFL at his position? How about a top-five player? Top 10?

Those are legitimate questions on a team that has the longest losing streak in the NFL this morning. If Raheem Morris is to be held responsible for a record gone wrong, doesn't he deserve the benefit of an objective assessment of this team's ability?

"It's hard to make those excuses. I won't do that," Morris said Sunday when asked about his team's talent level "Anything you say about talent level makes an excuse for yourself. We have to go out and do a better job coaching, we have to do a better job of playing, we have to do a better job of getting 'er done."

There is no doubt that the coaching needs to be better. Too many turnovers, too many penalties, too many afternoons of impassive effort have made that clear.

But it would be wrong to blame this entire season on schemes and play calling and motivation. There is a lack of talent in Tampa Bay, and it's impossible to ignore.

How many of these players could be starters on playoff teams? How many could honestly argue they are in the top 10 in the NFL at their jobs?

Maybe Davin Joseph. Probably Connor Barth and Michael Koenen. After that, it's a stretch. Donald Penn could have made the argument last year, but his play has slipped. Kellen Winslow and Ronde Barber are not the players they were a few years ago.

Aqib Talib might have a place in the argument, but he has had trouble staying on the field the past two seasons. Adrian Clayborn has potential, and Josh Freeman is still a valuable commodity, but neither are top 10 at this point in their careers.

So how realistic is it to expect an elite team when there are few elite players?

"It doesn't matter where you think our talent level is, whether you think we're the most talented or the least talented team in the league," said center Jeff Faine. "The problem is we're not playing to our talent level. And that's the most frustrating part of the season."

When the Bucs were going 10-6 last season, the folks in the front office looked like wonder boys. They were grabbing guys off practice squads, off waivers and in the later rounds of the draft, and were challenging for the playoffs until season's end.

Now, you look at those same players and understand why they were available. You see receivers and running backs lacking speed. You see linemen lacking muscle. You see linebackers lacking whatever it is that makes a player special.

Tell me this:

What Tampa Bay players force an opposing coordinator to sweat?

The receivers don't. LeGarrette Blount's skills are limited to between-the-tackles running. Freeman doesn't have enough weapons around him to scare you. None of the pass rushers are capable of changing another team's game plan.

When you look at it that way, don't you have a little more sympathy for the coaching staff's challenges?

Nevertheless, it appears likely Morris will pay for this mess with his job. And I can't argue with that line of thinking.

But the general manager needs to be held responsible, too. It is Mark Dominik's job to fill the roster with talent, and there doesn't seem to be a logjam in that department.

The front office might appease some fans by firing the coach in the next few weeks, but that isn't going to change this basic problem:

The Bucs have a serious talent gap.

Tampa Bay Bucs need more than a new coach 12/18/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 18, 2011 7:53pm]

    

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