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Dirk Koetter: Bucs look at NFC South chances and say 'this is possible'

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter watches his players warm up before the first regular season game of the year between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Koetter was a member of the Falcons coaching staff earlier in his career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter watches his players warm up before the first regular season game of the year between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Koetter was a member of the Falcons coaching staff earlier in his career.
Published Mar. 30, 2017

PHOENIX — At the NFC coaches breakfast Wednesday at the league meetings, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was surrounded by reminders that his team still has a ways to go.

Seated at the table in front of Koetter and to his right, Panthers coach Ron Rivera talked about 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton's comeback from shoulder surgery.

To the left, Falcons coach Dan Quinn recounted quarterback Matt Ryan's 2016 MVP season, which ended with a blown 25-point lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Even Saints coach Sean Payton, who has a Super Bowl ring and ageless quarterback Drew Brees, had far more plates at his breakfast table with reporters chewing on every word.

"You've got the last two MVPs in our division and the last two (NFC) Super Bowl teams, " Koetter said. "It's just an unbelievable competitive division.

"Our guys say, 'Hey, this is possible because we beat those teams and then watched them make it to the Super Bowl.' Expectations are a good thing, because if you don't have them, you're not going to be around as a player or as a coach."

Koetter should think the table is set for a Bucs run in the NFC South.

Quarterback Jameis Winston is 23 and already has two 4,000-yard passing seasons. And yet he has thrown 33 interceptions and lost nine fumbles in two seasons. The gunslinger mentality that has produced jaw-dropping plays also has shot the Bucs in their collective feet.

"I think the next thing Jameis has to do is understand the ball is the most important thing and every play does not have to be a great play," Koetter said.

"Jameis has been really good at turning bad plays into good plays. All plays aren't going to be home runs. I think he's making progress, but he just has to continue when it's time to cut our losses and go to the next play, and sometimes going to the next play means punt."

Koetter was asked to describe his team's personality.

"I don't know why this is popping in my mind, but hungry," said Koetter, who skipped breakfast Wednesday and sipped a cup of coffee.

"I want them to be hungry, but I think they are that, and we've got guys who are pretty loose and hungry and like playing football."

Koetter also touched on an array of other topics, from experimenting with offensive lineman Ali Marpet to the complex situation of suspended running back Doug Martin.

MARPET TO CENTER? To get their best five offensive linemen on the field and in anticipation of J.R. Sweezy's return at right guard, the Bucs will experiment by moving guard Marpet to center.

Sweezy played right guard for Seattle before signing a five-year, $32.5 million contact with the Bucs as a free agent in 2016. Almost as soon as he arrived in Tampa Bay, Sweezy was diagnosed with a herniated disc, had surgery and spent the year on injured reserve.

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Since $14.5 million of Sweezy's contract was guaranteed, he will get every chance to win an starting job this year, likely at right or left guard. That could get Marpet moved to center and force starting left guard Kevin Pamphile to compete with Demar Dotson at right tackle.

Koetter said he believes Marpet has the skills to become a dominant center. "Tremendous run blocker. Communicator. Good in the screen game," Koetter said. "But again, I'm not saying he's going to end up being our center. I'm saying Ali played every snap at right guard last season, one of only two offensive linemen to play every snap (for the Bucs), and Ali has had two solid, solid seasons for his first two years as a guard. But (the Bucs need) the flexibility of getting your best five out there."

NOWHERE WITH MARTIN: Koetter and general manager Jason Licht are pondering ways to keep Martin, suspended for the first four games of next season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, on the roster. Much may be determined after the draft next month, but they're not sure how to prepare to be without Martin until October.

"I'm a Doug Martin fan," Koetter said. "We would love to have Doug on our team. But when the guy who has been a Pro Bowl running back, you know you're not going to have him the first (four) games of the year, how do you do the (practice) reps? Jason and I have talked about it a number of times, and right now it just doesn't make sense to make any bold statements."

INSIDE MAN: Koetter said the Bucs' indoor practice facility, expected to be ready by September, will keep players from getting worn down over the course of the season. "It takes the (weather) elements out, and the other thing it does is helps you manage the heat," he said. "We'll definitely be doing our walk-throughs indoors every single day. It gives you a sterile environment when you bring guys in to work guys out. We play some of our games on turf. It gives you a turf field."

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