Start makes it clear that Bucs are in rebuilding mode

Over the final 13 games of the season, the Bucs will need to discover if some of their youngsters — notably rookie wide receiver Mike Evans — can be building blocks.
Over the final 13 games of the season, the Bucs will need to discover if some of their youngsters — notably rookie wide receiver Mike Evans — can be building blocks.
Published Sept. 23, 2014

TAMPA — This is what rebuilding looks like. This is what happens when you are starting over.

You get beat by a backup quarterback. Then you get beat by a backup-to-a-backup quarterback.

Then you go on the road against a pretty good team and get your doors blown off. You get beaten so badly that a national television audience wonders if you're the absolute worst team that plays games on 100-yard fields.

Hey, what did you expect?

The Bucs won four games last season. That's why they fired the head coach. That's why they fired the general manager. It's why they switched quarterbacks. There's a reason that teams lose 12 games then hand out moving boxes.

They are not any good.

So here we are again, back at the intersection of Down and Out. It's a small sample size, just three games, but clearly the 2014 Bucs are in the business of rebuilding.

Time to face facts about what the remaining 13 games of this season are all about. They are not about making the playoffs or even going .500.

They are about finding out who can play and who can't. They are about figuring out who the quarterback should be. They are about establishing winning habits. They are about — cover your eyes — rebuilding.

Of course, no fan wants to hear about starting over when you haven't made the playoffs in seven years. And, certainly, no player ever accepts losing now for the greater good of winning tomorrow.

"Nobody is happy where we are," Bucs safety Dashon Goldson said.

The Bucs aren't about to admit they are in the first year of a reclamation project. Rebuilding is a four-letter word in today's NFL. But let's be realistic. Look at what the Bucs have here.

They are literally pulling guys off the street and putting them in the starting lineup. Larry English was sitting on his couch a couple of weeks ago then was starting at defensive end Thursday.

A week before the regular season, the Bucs were poring through waiver lists and trading for starters and talking to the likes of Richie Incognito.

Since general manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith took over in January, the organization has made 218 transactions. Does that sound like a stable team set to win right now?

Know how many moves the Super Bowl champion Seahawks have made since January? Thirty-eight. The AFC champion Broncos have made 50.

The first three games have changed the narrative of this season. The story started with an up-and-coming team that, with a few breaks here and a couple of bounces there, had an outside shot at making the playoffs. Three games later, we get the real story: It's a team figuring out how to become competitive in the short term and a contender well down the road.

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Through three games, their supposedly steady, take-care-of-the-ball, veteran quarterback Josh McCown has thrown four awful interceptions. Their supposedly stingy defense is 22nd in the NFL against the run and 23rd against the pass. Their special teams, always a staple under a Smith-coached team, has allowed a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and a punt return for a touchdown.

Forget winning. The Bucs need to play a clean game and hope to not get annihilated.

"I don't think that we need a rah-rah speech," Bucs tackle Demar Dotson said. "I don't think we need a Come-to-Jesus meeting. I think every guy needs to take pride in himself and do their job better. That's what it all comes down to. If each guy does his job a little bit better, this football team would be a little bit better."

Naturally, an 0-3 start is not what Smith anticipated. Smith said that "as a young program, you have to crawl before you walk, it's as simple as that." Yet, he will stop far short of writing this season off as groundwork for tomorrow.

"The ball hasn't bounced our way yet, but it will," Smith said. "That's what my message has been to the players. Eventually, if we keep making progress, we'll find a way to make a play at the end and win a game."

The Bucs will head to Pittsburgh on Sunday, the second game of a grueling three-game road swing that concludes in New Orleans. The guess is Mike Glennon will start at quarterback in place of the injured McCown, and that seems like a good thing.

If the Bucs truly are rebuilding, now is the time to find out once and for all what they have in Glennon. At 35, McCown is a quarterback who is worth playing only if a team is ready to be competitive now. He's not going to be around in two years. Now is when the Bucs can start figuring out if Glennon, 24, should be around in two years.

The same can be said for players such as Dotson and Doug Martin and Da'Quan Bowers and many more. Now is the time to teach young players such as Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins good habits. Now is the time to lay the foundation for the future.

What else is there to do when you start the season 0-3?