TAMPA — This is the time of year when people who follow the NFL sit around and talk about the upcoming season.
A popular topic? Trying to guess which team that was bad last year has a chance to be good this year.
And, you know, a lot of people out there think the Bucs can be that team.
New coach. New players. New attitude.
Well, except for the same old story.
Can they move the football? Can they score?
Simply put, it's the question we always seem to have about the Bucs: Do they have an offense?
Now for the disturbing answer: No one has the first darned clue.
Talk all you want about how Lovie Smith is an experienced coach who knows how to run a professional football team. You can brag about a defense that looks like it has a chance to be pretty good. And, sure, the Bucs made a bunch of promising offseason moves.
But all that means little if your offense can't figure out a way to get from Point A to points scored.
This is a league that's all about scoring and these are the facts: The Bucs are being run by a defensive-minded head coach, an offensive coordinator who has never coached, played or called a play in an NFL game and a journeyman quarterback who has won 16 games in 11 seasons.
What, exactly, about that makes you feel like the Bucs can carve up NFL defenses?
This isn't saying they won't. Frankly, it's all a mystery.
The great unknown here is Jeff Tedford, the former Cal head coach who has been tapped by Smith to run an offense that was dead last — dead being the appropriate word here — in the NFL last season.
"(Up is) the only direction you can go,'' new quarterback Josh McCown said. "That would be the idea. I was fortunate to be a part of an offense last year (with the Bears) that was ranked relatively low and made a big jump. And so I've seen the work and the things that need to take place to make that jump. We're trying to do the same thing.''
It's a big secret. No one outside of One Buc Place is saying. You would have a better chance of getting the formula for Coke than knowing what the Bucs are going to do on second and 5 in 2014.
Is Tedford a pound-the-rock, control-the-clock, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of guy? Or is he up-tempo, pitch-and-catch, try-to-break-the-scoreboard kind of coach?
"We can go a lot of different ways,'' Smith said, coyly. "I'll just say that about our offense.''
The Bucs are keeping their offense under wraps for the time being. But this is no secret: Tedford holds the key to how well the Bucs do this season. In today's NFL, you can't hope to win games 9-6.
Of last year's top 10 offenses in the NFL, seven made the postseason. Of the bottom 14 (we're talking nearly half the league) in points scored, not one made the postseason. Not one.
What does that tell you? You have to score. Even the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, who have an elite defense, still finished ninth in the NFL in points.
Just look at last year's Bucs. If they had scored 24 points in each and every game last season, they would have gone 8-8. Instead, they averaged 18 points a game and went 4-12. One more touchdown or, heck, even two more field goals a game and the Bucs would have won twice as many games.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Last year's offense just wasn't good enough.
"Obviously, the Tampa offense in 2014,'' McCown said, "is going to look different than 2013.''
Certainly, a change in personnel should help. The Bucs have revamped the offensive line. They drafted an elite receiver in Mike Evans, a top-tier tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Charles Sims might be the best receiver among running backs in this year's draft. At quarterback, based on experience alone, McCown should be an upgrade over Mike Glennon.
"Once you change one member of a team, it's a different team,'' McCown said. "It just is. For us, obviously, it has been a big change.''
Looking at the offseason moves, you would guess that the Bucs will finally join the 21st century and check out this idea of the forward pass.
It all comes back to Tedford. He's an intriguing hire. He is good at grooming quarterbacks. Some of his college teams put up plenty of points.
Then again, Lovie Smith warned reporters Tuesday to get one thing straight.
"It's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense,'' Smith said.
But it's Tedford who will be planning the schemes, setting the style and calling the plays. Even though we are more than three months away from a game that matters, right now is critical time.
"We've got a ways to go,'' McCown said, "but it's coming fast.''
The key is how quickly McCown can get on the same page with Tedford.
"It's so important,'' McCown said. "You're a piece in the chess game that he is playing with. And when you play chess, you know what those pieces are doing when you move them.''
The Bucs better hope some of the chess pieces can move their way into the end zone in 2014. It's up to Tedford to figure out how.