Bucs riding patient approach to build legitimate NFC contender


TAMPA, Fla. -- Being around this young team, I can't help but be excited about the future here. While the Bucs might not go from 10 wins to the playoffs to the Super Bowl -- growth at this level is rarely so linear -- the energy and enthusiasm around this camp is palpable. Talking with general manager Mark Dominik, you can feel there's something building here, as he churns over his roster and already begins budgeting for the second contracts for a growing core of young talent.

There is a vibe that better things are to come.

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The Bucs thought long and hard about adding a splashy wide receiver or tight end to add to the weapons around budding superstar quarterback Josh Freeman. Ultimately, they opted to tie up their excellent offensive line long term, not wanting to risk tainting the youthful, hard-working ethos that's permeating this building.

"Our youngry group," is what coach Raheem Morris has dubbed it. And as Dominik put it: "Don't confuse youth with immaturity."

With so many youngsters building chemistry together, and pushing for playing time, "free agency is not as enticing," as Dominik puts it. Talking to others inside the building, they didn't want to risk poisoning anything brewing here, where youngsters are buying in and practicing hard. You have receiver Mike Williams challenging his teammates to run perfect routes even when they go up "against air" and Freeman organizing player-only workouts that were almost universally attended.

In the past, veterans with questionable attitudes like Derrick Ward and Antonio Bryant didn't fit in, and there was a real fear of bringing in potential malcontents. The preference is to reinvest in the players who the coaches and front office already know fit in here.

"There is no sense of entitlement in our locker room," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We don't have any prima donnas. Our players here know you earn what you get."

That also extends to corner Aqib Talib, who is in the Bucs' long-term and short-term plans, according to team sources. His trial on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is not set until after the Super Bowl and the team, given what it knows of the evidence and circumstances, feels good about Talib's availability to them this season and beyond.

After analyzing the way the Bucs finished the season, "we were confident in what we had here," Olson said. Furthermore, coming out of the long lockout, continuity was imperative.

"With the numbers of players we have returning, we don't have to teach terminology," Olson said. Thus the Bucs hope not to miss a beat.

Of course, again, progress could be more incremental. "The ebb and flow of this league is tough," Dominik said. "You get highs and lows."

I'm betting there are more highs than lows around here for years to come. Another strong draft, a shrewd signing or two and continued reinvestment in this young nucleus should bode well.

The message is clear, as Hall of Famer Gale Sayers told this team before the start of the 2010 season: "You don't have to wait to be great."

Indeed, sometimes youth is king.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.



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