TAMPA — Only time will tell, but it certainly appears as if the Bucs' ownership made a good decision in sticking with Dirk Koetter as their head coach after a 5-11 season rather than replace him with Jon Gruden.
Notwithstanding that Koetter is off to a 2-1 start while the Oakland Raiders are 0-3 under Gruden, the Bucs are just better off without the return of their Super Bowl-winning coach.
Ultimately, Gruden was too pricey at $100 million for 10 years. But there are other reasons why retaining Koetter and his staff is working.
Koetter still is committed to drafting and developing players. Gruden wants to also be general manager and certainly had his fingerprints on the unwise trade of pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Bears for two first-round picks.
The Bucs have assembled a fairly young roster with an average age of 26.1 years. It's hardly a surprise that the Raiders are the oldest team in the NFL under Gruden with an average age of 27.4 years.
The minute Gruden started signing guys like Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson (35), Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (33), Giants defensive back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (32) and Bucs running back Doug Martin, you knew the Raiders were in trouble.
Meanwhile, Koetter did a few things since the end of 2017 to get better.
— Took a hard look at how the Bucs conducted training camp and decided to make it a lot more challenging. A faster tempo, more plays per practice, less wasted movement and perhaps more conditioning has paid off.
— Organized what was termed "unity" meetings, splitting the team into groups of six or seven — four or five players and a staff member — that normally wouldn't hang with each other in the locker room. They were encouraged to answer questions about each other that stimulated deeper conversations.
— Ordered Ryan Fitzpatrick to take all his reps with the first-team offense to prepare him to start the first three games of the season while Jameis Winston was on suspension. Clearly, Fitzpatrick benefitted and improved his chemistry with receivers and helped generate confidence that led to a fast start. Meanwhile, Winston was asked to "lead from the rear" and challenged to make the lesser receivers he played with better.
— Surrendered the play-calling duties to Todd Monken. It was Koetter's idea to decide to let Monken not coach receivers so he could be a walk-around offensive coordinator. Monken did the practice scripts, called plays in training camp and the preseason. When the Bucs offense responded, he made the difficult decision of giving up calling plays — something that earned him a head coaching job — for the betterment of the team.
Meanwhile, it's allowed Koetter time to be involved during the week and on game day with other aspects of the team.
"I'm not going to tell you guys all the stuff that happens during a game. There's stuff that happens every week,'' Koetter said. "I don't go home and write it in my diary or something like that. I wish I had time to do it. I wish I could remember it all so I can write a good book at the end. We're just playing at this point. … My job is just different than it was in the past. We've just all got to adjust.''
DEFENSE ANYONE? It's fine if you want to give a hall pass to defensive coordinator Mike Smith during the first three games, given the fact the Bucs have played two future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks (the Saints' Drew Brees and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger) sandwiched around a Super Bowl MVP (the Eagles Nick Foles).
They've also had injuries on the defensive line and lost starting CB Vernon Hargreaves (shoulder) and S Chris Conte (knee) to injured reserve.
The Bucs allowed those quarterbacks to combine to complete 77.9 percent of their throws, which is worst in the NFL. The 362.7-passing-yard average is tied with the Chiefs for last in the league.
"We are not doing a very good job in terms of that, and I think a lot of it has to do with a couple of things," Smith said. "You mentioned who we've played, and those are no slack guys in the first three games. Passing is a lot more efficient this season, and we're not the only team that is having issues with a high percentage of completion.
"The big thing we have to do is to continue to work to have the timing of the route being disrupted. Sometimes you do that and against certain quarterbacks you wish you hadn't done that."
Fortunately, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is only in his second season, but his first with the system under new coach Matt Nagy. In three games, he has two touchdown passes and three interceptions. Both scoring tosses came in the same game vs. Seattle. Trubisky has struggled against zone coverage.
"No matter who you are, it's not going to be easy right away,'' Nagy said. "That's pretty much in any offense. For him, this is his second offense he's had to learn in two years and really his third offense in three years if you go back to North Carolina. So, I think it'll be fair in time to evaluate where he's at. When you get drafted at a high position, you're always going to be judged by fans and other people.''