Positivity pulsates through One Buccaneer Place. The team has everything you'd want: A roster stacked with talent, a front office and coaching staff in harmony, passionate fans that flock to every practice, even a facility on the upswing with new construction. Last week, the Bucs' new state-of-the-art locker room was unveiled. It's bright, pristine and inviting -- just like the team it houses.
I can't remember a Hard Knocks season where a team was in better spirits than these Bucs. This all starts with Jameis Winston, the franchise's unquestioned center, for whom this series has become a platform for his unique combination of leadership and likability. You know your team believes in you when the general manager acknowledges in casual conversation that he broke down crying after you were drafted.
"He's the best leader I think I've ever been around," Jason Licht tells Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager Julien Brisebois during a visit to the GM's office. "In anything. He inspires me."
Winston -- the man who begins each day at 5 a.m. by listening to recordings of intense positive affirmation -- is the brightest ray of sunshine in Tampa, but he's hardly alone. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is Tampa's most important defensive player, and he rivals his quarterback as a teammate.
In Tuesday's Hard Knocks, McCoy pulls promising rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin to the side after practice and offers him open-hearted encouragement.
"Everything is going to go through your mind, and everything is going to feel so much better when you have days like this when you drop the ball, and you feel, 'Aw, I couldn't get it together.' " McCoy says. "But you learn to re-focus and push through. That's the joy of the game. When you make those great plays, that's why these guys celebrate so much. ... It comes together on Sunday and that's why we celebrate the way that we do. That's the joy of this game."
Winston and McCoy are the two most important players on the Buccaneers. When your leaders are this committed to the cause, it has a trickle-down effect. There is much to like about this team, and it starts at the top.
» Tuesday's episode begins with a loving homage to the enduring power of Montell Jordan's essential party jam "This Is How We Do It". Many players on the Bucs were still in diapers when the song was released in 1995, but everyone still knows the words. Those royalty checks are well deserved, Montell.
» The rookie talent show was OK. I suppose it's not a great sign when my biggest takeaway was that rookie tight end O.J. Howard goes by "Juice." (Some nicknames are better left in the past.) The biggest laughs in the room came when the All-Ugly team was announced. Defensive tackle/funny man Chris Baker came in at No. 1. "F--- all y'all. For real," said the lovable clown, crying on the inside.
» Don't know about you, but I was thrown for a massive loop when Licht explained that Riley Bullough -- a.k.a. Joe Dirt a.k.a. the leading O.U.R. (Obligatory Undrafted Rookie) of this Hard Knocks season -- comes from privilege. Like, my-dad-invented-outlet-malls-in-the-midwest-and-made-$30-million-off-it kind of privilege. Joe Dirt is really Joe Millionaire. "He doesn't act like a trust fund kid," Licht offers. I sincerely wonder if this changes how some teammates view him.
» Speaking of Bullough, here are Tuesday's top three hammer-drops from Hard Knocks narrator Liev Schreiber, Mr. Ray Donovan himself:
3.Riley Bullough may have the money of a blue blood, but it's the NFL that courses through his veins. NICE!
2.In a week, the roster will be cut from 90 to 53. That means 37 men won't get to use that shiny new locker room. They'll be left ... out in the rain. [cuts to raindrops] IT'S TRUE!
1.As a teenager, Jeremy McNichols had music legend Snoop Dogg as a football coach. But it's his Tampa coaches who have a rap against the rookie's game. HE SAID RAP!
» Is it just us, or is this version of Mike Smith way more intense than the Mike Smith we saw shuffling around Falcons camp in Tevas during the 2014 season of Hard Knocks? Is it possible that the helicopter role of head coach is less stressful than being a coordinator? Here's Smith reacting to a fourth-quarter touchdown ... in a preseason game!
This is somehow Gregg Williams' fault.
» What's the deal with Bobo Wilson? The undrafted rookie wide receiver seems to think going to the same school as the star quarterback entitles him to a free ride into the NFL. Here's a tip: When the offensive coordinator calls you out for a lack of hustle during practice, hustle more. Do not mumble, "I don't listen to that. That s--- don't hurt me."
Later, Wilson flunks a pop quiz during tape study and makes a joke of it. His trilogy of fail is completed in the preseason game against the Browns, when he kinda/sorta/maybe springs a big gain with a block and makes sure his running back knows it. "That's my block, boy. My block." The edit bay isn't doing Bobo any favors, but he made himself an easy target with sustained buffoonery.
» Winston made a That's So Raven reference in his pre-game hype speech this week. Winston's speeches are kind of hilarious because I'm not totally convinced they make sense from a narrative standpoint. The words sound pretty, they string together in seemingly comprehensible ways, but I'm not sure anyone really knows what he's talking about. I guess when you deliver a message with maximum passion and gusto, people will follow you. There's a lesson in there somewhere.
» This playlist now has Montell Jordan on it. It is an increasingly tremendous playlist.