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Top three issues entering Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp

TAMPA — Pretty soon, the champagne will go flat. It will be time to pick the rice off of the sidewalk and return the tuxedos.

Eventually, the honey­moon will be over for Raheem Morris.

At 32, Morris is the youngest coach in the NFL. Starting Friday, when the Bucs report to training camp, he will be measured only by wins and losses.

That's just fine with Rah.

If you're already keeping score, Morris and general manager Mark Dominik have made some big boy changes:

• They fired and hired assistants, bringing in offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Entire schemes have been overhauled.

• They released popular veterans, including Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn.

• They traded two draft picks to the Browns for Kellen Winslow then made him the highest-paid tight end in football.

• They were aggressive in free agency, losing out on DT Albert Haynesworth but signing RB Derrick Ward and making WR Antonio Bryant their franchise player.

• They drafted QB Josh Freeman 17th overall, and the pressure to play him increases each day.

It's funny because I'm frequently asked if fans will be patient with Morris and Dominik if the Bucs don't win right away. The answer is no, but given the aforementioned moves, doesn't there seem to be some urgency on the part of the Bucs?

The NFL is part of our microwave society, where the Dolphins can go from 1-15 to AFC East champs in one season. But the expectations for the Bucs, picked last in the NFC South by most publications, haven't been this low since 1996, Tony Dungy's first year as coach.

To say the least, Morris has a full plate during training camp:

Settle on a starting QB

Morris remarked his future is married to the success of Josh Freeman, whom he considers a "franchise quarterback." If that's true, perhaps the sooner he plays Freeman, the better.

Dominik wants to resist rushing the 21-year-old, especially because college juniors haven't fared well as rookies. When he plays could be determined by the other quarterbacks' performances.

Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich will get every chance to win the starting job. McCown will start the first preseason game, Leftwich likely the second. A week into camp, the Bucs plan to re-evaluate Freeman. Josh Johnson is the odd man out barring injury.

Ideally, the Bucs want to name a starter after the third game, but Dominik believes the decision could come later.

Improve the pass rush

The Bucs recorded just 29 sacks in 2008, 21st in the NFL. By comparison, the Super Bowl champion Steelers had 53.

Getting to the quarterback has never been the specialty of the projected starting linemen: Chris Hovan (nine seasons, 211/2 sacks), Ryan Sims (seven seasons, 71/2 sacks), Jimmy Wilkerson (six seasons, six sacks) and Gaines Adams (two seasons, 121/2 sacks).

Adams' development is key as well as contributions from rookies Roy Miller and Kyle Moore and veteran Stylz White.

Defensive coordinator Bates plans to get pressure by blitzing linebackers and playing man-to-man coverage on the outside in hopes the quarterback holds the ball longer. Look for LB Quincy Black to become a factor.

Let's get physical

Morris says he wants a more physical, violent team.

A protege of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, he plans to have more padded practices throughout camp and the regular season. Two years ago, in his first season, Tomlin held practices in pads for 17 weeks.

It's one reason the Bucs purged aging players who have rarely practiced in pads and sometimes not at all during the final month of the season. The biggest reason Morris is blowing the whistle and not Jon Gruden is the four-game losing streak to end the season after a 9-3 start.

Morris is going to a 2-1-2 camp schedule: two-a-days followed by one practice followed by two-a-days. That means seven fewer practices overall but gives players more time to recover.

Top three issues entering Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp 07/25/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 6:19pm]
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