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MERCIFULLY, LONGEST OF OFFSEASONS ENDS

Nights such as this were made for the dreamers. Nights such this were made for the long shots.

Take, for instance, that spunky kid from Central Washington who spent most of Friday night trying to make a play. At first glance, he looked a little raw, a little unsteady. Still, even considering the upcoming cuts, you figure he might make the team.

All in all, you might say that Greg Olson, the new starting offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Bucs, showed a bit of promise in a 27-20 loss to the Houston Texans. Good for the kid.

It has come to this with the Bucs. Even the coaches should be nervous about making the final roster. Just ask Jeff Jagodzinski, the former coordinator of the Bucs' uncoordinated offense, who was placed on waivers by the team Thursday. Around here, even coaches are asked to bring their playbooks to the coach's office.

And so much of the spotlight of the Scrubs Bowl against the Texans fell to Olson, the man who beat out Jagodzinski for the starting job. Maybe this guy knows the way to the end zone.

Give Olson credit for this much: In his debut, he made sure to point out to everyone just how much work there is to be done.

His first quarterback threw an interception on his first play. His second quarterback threw an interception on his first play. His offense had wonderful balance in the first quarter: a meager 28 yards rushing and a meager 28 yards passing. A first and goal at the 5 turned into a field-goal attempt.

Oh, no. Someone has mistakenly given Mike Shula's old playbook to Olson.

Okay, okay. I'm joking around here. Mostly. Obviously, Olson is going to need more than 24 hours and better than 22 second- and third-teamers to turn this offense around. Besides, both Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson showed a bit of flash, and Johnson darned near pulled the game out late.

For Olson, the good news is that he now has eight whole days to introduce Byron Leftwich to Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, and to introduce everyone else to the end zone. Also, he needs to scribble a few more plays in Jagodzinski's play pamphlet between now and opening day.

In other words, Olson could probably use a little more time.

As for the rest of us, can we please hurry the regular season along?

My word, has this been a noisy offseason or what? In the eight months since the Bucs finished gagging away the 2008 season, it seems there has been nothing but chaos and calamity, headaches and headlines. Consider this: Since Jan. 1, the Bucs have had two head coaches, two offensive coordinators and two defensive coordinators ... and they haven't played another game.

There was Jon Gruden's firing, and Bruce Allen's. There were the promotions of Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik. There was the still-unpopular release of Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn (and Ike Hilliard and Cato June). There was the decision not to bring back Jeff Garcia.

Wait. There's more.

There was finishing second in the Albert Haynesworth auction. There was finishing second in the Jay Cutler trade. There was the trade for Kellen Winslow, in which the Bucs paid a high price, and the contract for Winslow, in which they also paid a high price. There was the trade up to draft Freeman, and the decision to put him on a shelf until a date to be named later.

Think that's enough? Ha. We're just getting started.

There was the suspension of Tanard Jackson. There was the midnight cab ride of Aqib Talib. There was the mystery of Arron Sears' defection. There was the decision to move Jermaine Phillips to linebacker, and the decision to move him back to safety. There was the quarterback controversy, which involved a lot more controversy than quarterbacking.

And, most recently, there was Jagodzinski, who, despite a dazzling interview and glowing recommendations, apparently was unaware of how many downs there are in a series. (Yeah, it gets silly how the criticism piles on once a guy is thrown off the boat, doesn't it?)

Anyway, haven't we seen enough of these practice games? Even on Friday night, there was an urge to rush into the crowd - and there were literally tens of people - and ask fans why they were here. Shouldn't they be doing something more exciting, like staying home and watching reruns and solving jigsaw puzzles the way the Cleavers used do on Friday night?

Are the Bucs ready for the season to come? Probably not. After watching the preseason games, I don't think any of the Cowboys are going to leave the night lights on.

But for goodness' sake, it's time. I don't know if the Bucs can stand any more offseason.

Start the season. Stop the headaches.

Please.

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