The construction of a great NFL offense takes a special kind of foresight. For starters, it takes the right offensive mind with the perfect players at the proper moment in their careers. Mostly, it takes lots and lots of time.
And so it is that we have been waiting patiently for greatness in Tampa Bay. We have waited through 34 starting quarterbacks in 35 seasons. We have waited through too many offensive coordinators to count and at least seven head coaches. (The official number is eight, but I like to think of Richard Williamson as more of an office temp.)
Hard as it is to believe, the fans of Tampa Bay have never seen a great offense. They've seen great defenses. And some great players. They've even seen a Super Bowl champion.
But you could make a pretty good argument that no NFL franchise has gone longer without at least one explosive offense in its history book.
All of which is relevant today because the Bucs are about to embark on a new season, and they may have their best shot at offensive greatness in years.
"There's a chance, just because of our youth and the experience we got last year," said offensive coordinator Greg Olson. "We're still the youngest team in the league, but we do have experience, and that's a huge positive. I do believe we'll get better."
So does this offense have the potential to be very good?
"I would certainly hope so."
And can it be great?
"We haven't really done anything yet, but we'll see. Obviously, if our quarterback continues to improve, we'll have a chance."
Realistically, it is too soon to expect greatness out of this offense. The Bucs were 20th in the NFL in scoring last season, and that was a big step up from 30th the year before.
Frankly, a top-10 scoring offense in 2011 would be celebratory. Did you know that since its inaugural season in 1976, Tampa Bay has had only one top-10 scoring offense?
When you figure roughly one-third of the league has a top-10 offense every season, you almost have to be purposefully avoiding the end zone to finish outside of the top-10 in 34 of 35 seasons.
So why should you believe this season will be any different?
Start with the offensive line. The Bucs have showered millions on Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. If this isn't the best O-line in franchise history, then some people are being horribly overpaid.
Move on to the receivers. Kellen Winslow is a few painkillers shy of being a dominant tight end. Mike Williams set a franchise record for touchdown receptions at age 23, and Arrelious Benn has just scratched the surface of his potential.
Continue with the running back. LeGarrette Blount is the first Buc in history to go over 1,000 yards in a season while averaging better than 5.0 yards per carry.
And, of course, finish with the quarterback. All dreams are possible in Tampa Bay in 2011 because of Josh Freeman. He has the size, smarts and skills to be among the very best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Yet, for all this offensive talent, the Bucs were still a little less than average when it came to putting points on the board in 2010. To be fair, some of that was to be expected.
With so many young players, the coaching staff was more concerned with the offense establishing a running game and guarding against turnovers.
"As a young offense, you can't go out and be world beaters right off the bat," said Freeman. "That was our mentality. We want to play well, but at the same time, we want to play smart and play ball-secure. That's one of the reasons we were not extremely high in scoring offense, but we found ways to move the ball down the field and win games."
Now, with the entire starting unit returning, there is room to grow. That could mean more shifts, more motion and more volume in the playbook.
Whether it means more scoring is still to be determined.
"We set the bar, and that bar has to keep rising," said Penn. "We want to go down as one of the (franchise's) best offenses. If you look at Freeman, he's already in the (team) record books for what he did last season. LeGarrette Blount is in the record books.
"So we cannot afford to take a step back. If we take steps forward, we might be considered one of the best."
Sad to say, it won't take a whole lot for this team to be considered one of the best.
Tampa Bay's high water mark came in 2000 when the Bucs scored 388 points with Les Steckel at offensive coordinator, Shaun King at quarterback, and Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott sharing carries in the backfield. But even that offense was artificially propped up by five defensive touchdowns.
Maybe it's too much to ask for great, but it shouldn't be out of line to ask this offense to establish a new standard in Tampa Bay. After all, we've waited long enough.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]