As a cornerback, Ronde Barber spends a lot of time backpedaling. But it's his straightforward talk that often helps set the tone in the Bucs' locker room.
That's why he didn't waste words when asked about the win-or-else tenor players and coaches face when the team reports to training camp at the Celebration Hotel this afternoon.
"The 4-12 season we had last year is completely unacceptable, and I think everybody knows that," Barber said. "We've got to play better. That's the bottom line.
"We've got some great veteran players. We've got some young guys that you could say are on the verge of being great players. But they've got to get there if we're going to win. We can't talk about it anymore - at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm 32 years old and my NFL mortality is staring me in the face. It is for a lot of guys. That transcends beyond the players. That's organizationwide."
On the eve of the reporting deadline, the Bucs still had much work to do.
Tampa Bay's first three draft picks - Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams, Tennessee guard Arron Sears and Oregon State safety Sabby Piscitelli - are unsigned. That's not unique to the Bucs. None of the top 15 players in the draft had signed as of Wednesday. Fletcher Smith, the agent for Adams, met with general manager Bruce Allen in Tampa last weekend.
The Bucs on Wednesday announced the signing of linebacker Quincy Black, a third-rounder from New Mexico, and claimed rookie guard/center Enoka Lucas off waivers from the Texans. Quarterback Zac Taylor and guard Anthony Wollschlager were released.
There could be some intrigue before the Bucs' first workout Friday morning at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
Dolphins free-agent quarter- back Daunte Culpepper has been encouraged by team officials to make a decision by the time camp starts. Culpepper, who visited the Bucs on Thursday, is no longer an option in Jacksonville or Atlanta.
One player not expected to report is former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, who has been steadfast in his plans to retire.
That's why the Bucs are banking heavily on Jeff Garcia, the 37-year-old Eagles free agent who begins training camp as the No. 1 quarterback ahead of Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski.
"We definitely need the position to play well," Barber said. "Jeff played great last year in Philadelphia. If he ended up being our guy, we know what to expect from him. The battle apparently is still open and we'll see what happens, of course. But overall, the position has to play better and we've got guys in here that can do it."
Defensively, the Bucs have upgraded as well. After slipping out of the top 10 for the first time in a decade, the team used seven of its 10 draft picks on defense while adding impact free agents such as Colts linebacker Cato June, Dolphins defensive end/tackle Kevin Carter and Chiefs defensive tackle Ryan Sims.
"As a team, we have to get away from the excuses," Barber said. "Get away from saying, 'Oh, we had a rookie quarterback. We had this or that guy injured.' It's something every team has to deal with and if you want to be one of the teams people talk about at the end of the year, you have to get over all those little things that have bothered us in the past."
If the Bucs can do that, Barber believes they have a chance to turn it around the way they did in 2005.
"It happened two years ago with us," Barber said. "It happened last year with New Orleans. But it's definitely possible, especially when you have good players, and I think we do."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bucs camp schedule
Today: Players report
Friday: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Sunday: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Monday: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-3:55 p.m. (special teams only)
Tuesday: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Aug. 2: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-3:55 p.m. (special teams only)
Aug. 3: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Aug. 4: 8:30-11 a.m.
Aug. 5: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-5:15 p.m.
Aug. 6: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-3:55 p.m. (special teams only)
Aug. 7: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-4:50 p.m.
Aug. 8: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-4:50 p.m.
Aug. 9: 10:15-11:15 a.m. (walkthrough)
Aug. 10: Patriots at Bucs, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: Off
Aug. 12: 2:45-4:30 p.m.
Aug. 13: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-4:45 p.m.
Aug. 14: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-4:45 p.m.
Aug. 15: 8:30-11 a.m., 2:45-4:45 p.m.
Aug. 16: 8:30-10:45 a.m.
Aug. 18: Bucs at Jaguars, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 25: Bucs at Dolphins, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30: Texans at Bucs, 8 p.m.
- Practices are free until moved to Tampa starting Aug. 17 - Games air on Ch. 8