TAMPA — Bruce Arians has been on the job as the Bucs head coach for about 150 days. In that time, he has hired 30 assistant coaches, conducted a draft, three minicamps and three weeks of voluntary practices. He and his staff have installed new offensive and defensive schemes.
But how does he begin to cure the sick dog that is the Bucs after consecutive 5-11 seasons?
Arians has turned around a losing NFL franchise before. He has two NFL Coach of the Year awards as the interim boss for the Colts (2012) and with the Arizona Cardinals (2014).
The offseason has ended, which seems like a good starting point to discover what Arians has learned about his new team.
“Well, I hope smart, fast and physical," Arians said. “I think the smart part is coming. The fast part is there. We’ll find out about the physical when we get the pads on. And like I told our coaches, it might be that we do simplify so that we don’t beat ourselves in Sept. They can’t learn what we knew in five years in Arizona."
Wearing his trademark Kangol hat and a Bucs workout jacket, Arians met with the Times at the end of the three-day mandatory minicamp to discuss the state of his new football team.
What has the offseason taught you about this team?
“You never know about team speed until you get out there. You don’t know who is a slow learner. A kid may not be very bright or he may be real bright but he doesn’t know football. You’ve got to find out all those nuances and how they learn. I feel like the coaching staff has done a good job of identifying smart players or how to get some who aren’t smart how to play.
“It’s a matter of attention spans. Ten guys actually take notes that make sense. It’s finding out how to get them taught. You might have to walk through and walk through and walk through and then they got it. Normally, it’s a process of video, blackboard, then taking it to walkthrough. Then practicing it and you go back and review it so it’s cemented.”
Was improving team speed a priority?
“The first voluntary (workouts), I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got speed.’ Then after the draft, we had a lot of speed. Throwing Scotty (Miller) into the mix offensively with Breshad (Perriman) and the guys that were here, we’ve got six or seven guys who can run. We’ve got tight ends who can run. Now the secondary and underneath coverage can all run and they all bought in quickly, especially defensively. And you can see the enthusiasm they’re playing with defensively right now. And the offense is still in the learning stages. When they’re having success, when they know something, then you can feel it, yeah we were waiting for that, we got it. We learned that one.”
Who has impressed you during the offseason workouts?
“I’ll tell you the guy that probably did better than anybody is Demar Dotson. I mean, he’s competed harder. He’s a pleasant, pleasant surprise. You know, a couple of the rookies, one of them tried to bull rush him, which we don’t do, and he just put him on the ground and said, ‘Don’t try that anymore.’ I loved it. I said, ‘Okay. Dot’s in there.’”
You didn’t address the offensive line in the offseason. Are you okay with this group?
“I’m comfortable. I think when we get those guys healthy, when those five guys are out there or four of the five, we’ve been pretty good. If we can get all of them back out there. Now the guys who have played so much, all of them are going to be backups. Now we’re cooking. When we’ve got seven or eight, that’s all we need. I’m comfortable with those young guy finishing fourth quarters of preseason games. I think they’re going to be okay."
What areas do you think you still need to improve?
“There might be a free agent out there. Right now, I don’t know. We’re always looking on the edge. I mean, defensively, we’re fine. For me, it’s getting Justin Evans healthy. That would be a great free agent for me right now because he’s really smart. Really smart communicator. Offensively, we could use help in the offensive line for depth. You cannot have enough. So we’ll be looking probably around preseason (Game) 3 to see what is available, if we feel that need is still there.”
What have you learned about Jameis Winston?
“He can transfer it over. We’ve put him in some really difficult situations that he hasn’t grasped right away. And we’ll come back and do them again, and he sees it. Those must-win game situations with 22 and 44 seconds left. You have to be really sharp in your offense to win those scenarios. So, yeah, if we just keep doing those things and watching him grow, the base offense, I think he has a pretty good handle on it. And you know, some of his interceptions in this phase was not his fault. One was a high hot down the middle. That’s easy correctable. But, no, I like where he’s at.”
You’ve said some of the interceptions have been the result of learning a new offense or receivers not winning. Are you okay with making those mistakes now?
“I don’t know if we’ve thrown one of those, maybe. But when you start putting triangles together, it’s touchdown, check down. ‘Okay, where are my check downs?’ If you’re going from deep to short, where’s my intermediate, the top of the triangle to the check down. So it’s learning where these guys are all coming from to build that triangle. Oh, there is he is over there. The more repetition the more you get it.”
Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen says he wants Winston to work more efficiently. Do you agree?
“I think one of the things hopefully, he’s gotten into the virtual reality. Because we’ve got STRIVR now. And it’s amazing. You should probably get an example of it. But you put the goggles on and you can watch our practice. You turn around and see the coaches behind you. It’s the entire blitz drill. So you can sit in your living room and practice all day without sweating and it’s us practicing. It’s not a video game. It’s from our actual practice. Carson Palmer had it in his house and that was Thursday night for him. All the blitz pickups. You can see both wide receivers. You can see everything."
You’ve said the secondary is 'totally fixed.’ Do you know what you have until those rookies play?
“No, they’ll get enough with Mike Evans and Breshad (Perriman) and Cam (Brate) and those guys. And then that’s going back and forth. They each have a little something to work on. They still have a tendency, when they’re in off coverage, to stare into the backfield and not move their feet. All those things, they’re works in progress. But when you talk about having length and ability and speed to work with, I’ve never had a group with this many guys in it. Vernon (Hargreaves) has done a good job of jumping out there vocally with all the guys. So, yeah, we’ve gotten our hands on a lot of balls.”
Do you need more veteran presence?
“We’re young and not afraid of it. We tried to get a veteran safety, but I’m not sure now he would’ve made our team. He was smart and would’ve gotten everybody lined up, but with the guys we’re seeing out there right now, he can’t run anymore. So you’re kind of in this catch-22. I got this old smart guy who is lining everybody up but he can’t cover. So, yeah, Todd (Bowles) is going to put them in position to be competitive.”
What do you think of the depth at receiver?
“The scouts did a great job. They’ve got some length, they’ve got some speed. Not afraid to go over the middle. It’s a nice group of young guys to go and try to win the fourth quarter of a preseason game."
What does Scotty Miller add?
“He makes a play every day and he has to learn how to use his quickness but use his speed more than his quickness when he goes on the outside. He hasn’t played on the outside that much. So when he plays bump and run, don’t let them get their hands on you. If you played tag when you were a kid, you must have always been it because you’re always getting hurt. So don’t get touched, then use that speed which really showed up last week."
What do you think of your kicking competition between Matt Gay and Cairo Santos?
“We need to get some higher nets or (Gay) is going to knock a window out in the building. Yeah, and Cairo has been strong and steady in his range. But that Gay kid, he’s got some length with him and he’s been very consistent. … You never know until the bullets fly.”
It will be about 5-6 weeks before Jason Pierre-Paul is re-evaluated. If his neck fracture is healed and he’s cleared to play, is it more likely to be October before he sees action?
“I would think so. Just to be safe and not rush it. And knowing him, he’s one of those fast healers. So I hate to put a time limit on him but the earlier the better. As long as he’s healthy."
What do you like about RBs Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones?
“Just watching Peyton run, he’s a great pick and slide runner. And that’s what we like to do. We’re pick and slide, pound it. Will he get 50s (yards in a run). Probably not, but he’s going to get some 20s and he’s going to put a hurt on some safeties. Rojo has been explosive enough and just keep maturing him, he can take it to the house. I mean, he has taken a couple balls and hit cuts in shorts but you saw it, he hit it and everybody’s head just turned because he was gone. So it’s in there. We’ve got to find it. And he’s catching the ball really, really well. He’s learning patience in running his routes but he’s catching the ball real well.”
What was your message to your team for the next 6-7 weeks?
“We can’t come back and start at Ground Zero. We can’t start over when we get back. We have to work on technique and pads and get our pads down and play tough and physical. We can’t come back and learn all this over again. We’ll never get where we want to go. You’ve got to be in football shape when you come back. Don’t come back in track shape, because then you’re going to pull a muscle. Be in football shape. They know what it’s going to take to be in this heat. They just had a good month of what it’s going to be like.”