This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano:
GS: Give the Bucs credit for bravery, John. Evidently, they are going to proceed with this regular-season portion of the NFL schedule. Does that surprise you, and do you think they will be able to surprise anyone else?
JR: It's never a good sign when you go through six weeks of training camp and four preseason games and come out feeling less optimistic than before. How does a team lose ground even before you start keeping score?
GS: Let's see. You fumble the offensive coordinator. You throw away the more popular veteran quarterback — although I haven't quite figured out the popularity part. You lose your safety for four games. You turn a cab ride into a headline. You're right. People who thought they would win six now seem to be thinking about four.
JR: Let's skip to the end of the season. Which of those training camp decisions/incidents will have the most dramatic impact on the season? And, just for fun, let's throw in the Derrick Brooks/Warrick Dunn/Cato June purge, the Derrick Ward acquisition and the Kellen Winslow trade as other contenders.
GS: As bad as the Jeff Jagodzinski firing was, no one will remember it long. As much as some fans wanted Luke McCown, he was only temporary. Winslow will catch a lot of balls, and Ward will gain a lot of yards. But I think when we look back, the Tanard Jackson suspension is going to hurt a lot. Some people don't realize how good a player he is.
JR: Interesting choice. So let me guess. You don't think the season can necessarily be won in the first four games, but it can definitely be lost?
GS: Don't underestimate the Bucs. They're capable of losing in a lot of four-game segments.
JR: I've been telling people for months that this will be the most unpredictable Bucs season in memory. Now I'm starting to worry that it's looking more and more familiar. Is it a Sam Wyche season? A Ray Perkins season? Best-case scenario? It's like Tony Dungy's debut season. It started horribly but, by midseason, you could at least see some direction.
GS: How about a Richard Williamson season? Poor Richard was so befuddled that at one point, he wondered how to spell "M.R.I." True story. The thing is, I think the Bucs have some interesting pieces. I just don't think they're special enough at quarterback or deep enough on defense. Dungy won six and they poured Gatorade over him. If Raheem Morris wins six, they should make him coach of the year.
JR: Raheem is not in a very enviable position. He's overseeing a rebuilding job with a quarterback from a temp agency on a team coming off a 9-7 season. Forget MRI; he better be able to spell S.O.S.
GS: At least the Bucs no longer have to spell AARP. It has been said before, but it was getting time for the Bucs to use a new canvas. The question is whether the new plan is a sound one and whether it can work by the time 2010 or 2011 gets here. You mentioned Dungy's 1997 season when the team won five of its last seven games. That seems to be the working model for this team.
JR: Tony did a marvelous job of saving a franchise, but he had Warren Sapp, Brooks and John Lynch in place. Do you think we will be talking about Gaines Adams and Co. the same way a dozen years from now? (Assuming, of course, you and I still have the ability to talk.)
GS: By "in place," of course, you mean "in the building." Brooks was on the wrong side, Lynch was a linebacker in the nickel formation, and Sapp was ticked off at the coaching staff. As for Adams, he still has to prove he isn't the latest version of Regan Upshaw. But, yeah, it's about time someone developed into something special, isn't it?
JR: Gee, thanks for the history lesson, Pops. The point is there was some Hall of Fame talent on that roster. I'm not sure about the current roster.
GS: Yes, you are. You just don't like the answer.
JR: Okay, so what are we saying here? Will the Bucs stink or really, really stink? I'm going to say 6-10. That way, if they go 8-8 or 4-12, I can be like the carnival barker guessing people's weight and say I got within 2 pounds. Where do you think the Bucs will finish? Or do you prefer to guess my weight?
GS: I'm thinking 5-11. To both of your questions.
JR: (Reply removed by order of the FCC.)