Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, set to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor next month, talked with the current team for about 20 minutes on Tuesday morning, stressing the importance of them coming together this season.
"They have to have that togetherness," Dungy said. "One of the things I told them is talent, it's not overrated, but it's not the most important thing. I had seven teams in Indianapolis, and our Super Bowl team, talent-wise, was probably No. 5, maybe No. 4. It wasn't the most talented, but it was the most together."
Even with a three-game suspension to quarterback Jameis Winston to start the season, Dungy said he has high hopes for the Bucs, seeing the improvements made to the team's defensive line. Asked if this could be Tampa Bay's first playoff team in more than a decade, he said yes.
"I think they can be," he said. "When you look at the NFC, there's probably 10 or 12 teams you wouldn't crazy if you said they have a chance to win the Super Bowl. No one was talking about Philadelphia at this time last year as 'That's the dominant team in the NFC by far.' There's a lot of good teams. Unfortunately, three of them are in this division as well, which is going to make it tough."
The Bucs open this season not only without Winston, but against three defending division champions, first at New Orleans then at home against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Dungy said he remembers another Bucs team that was widely talked about digging a big hole early.
"I remember in '97, we opened up with San Francisco and we had to go to Detroit and Minnesota, and everybody was saying 'Oh, well, if they can overcome that 0-3 start, they've got a chance,'" said Dungy, whose team opened 5-0 and finished 10-6, earning the team's first playoff berth in 15 years. "It's how you play on the field, how you play on Sundays."
Dungy said the opening stretch could indeed be 0-3, but players need to tune out the outside criticisms and bond together in the next few weeks.
"That's the thing the players have to do is block out the noise and focus in on their coaches and their direction," Dungy said. "They might surprise some people."