A good friend recently sent me an incredible video of General Mark Welsh speaking to the incoming members of the Air Force Academy. General Welsh spoke to the cadets about the importance of having attention to detail, respecting the people who came before them and, most of all, having a plan for excellence. It's a moving speech, one easily relatable to the NFL. General Welsh could have been talking to any team or any coach in the league.
After watching the game tape of the Bucs' 37-9 home loss to the Texans in Week 10, I think General Welsh would do well to speak to the entire Tampa team. The Bucs need to hear his message.
There were high hopes for the Bucs after last season's surprising 10-win run. Playoffs loomed on the horizon as Tampa returned a young, talented roster with an impressive quarterback and everyone coming back.
But for me, those hopes vanished after the Bucs played the Patriots in Week 2 of the preseason. They looked bad, they looked flat and they had no attention to detail. It appeared that the players thought excellence came without working hard. Coach Raheem Morris apologized for their play. I wrote about this effort, suggesting then that Morris needed to take control, work his team harder, and make them strive for excellence. Naturally, I was accused of overreacting to a preseason game. The popular theory was the Bucs had it, and all they had to do was turn it on. Yeah, right.
The 2011 Bucs are a lackluster team, consisting of a bunch of young players -- some with talent, some who think they are talented and many who are just there. General Welsh asks the students at the Academy to remind themselves often about why they are there. The Bucs, coaches included, need to remind themselves why they are there. It is to win a championship, to be the best at what they do. But can you be the best leading the league in penalties? Can you be the best when you're outscored in the first quarter 53-21? Can you be the best when you can't tackle a checkdown route that turns into a 78-yard touchdown? Can you be the best without preparing to be the best? Apparently, the Bucs think so.
My premise this summer was that the Bucs were a young team that could be molded the right way. They were like a college team that craved leadership and needed to learn how to be a pro, and Morris had their full attention. But Morris chose not to put the hammer on them and made excuses for their poor play. Now, Morris has been making excuses for them all season. The Bucs are young as babies, but Morris does not have to baby them. He should lead them.
When the Bucs came from behind at Minnesota to win their first game in Week 2 and followed it up with a home victory against the Falcons, everything seemed fine -- the young Bucs were getting it. But then they got blown out in San Francisco -- no problem, just a bad day, because the next week they beat the Saints. These inconsistent patterns are typical of a young team.
But that way of thinking is very dangerous. Being inconsistent shouldn't be blamed on youth. There is an old saying in football, "You are either coaching it, or allowing it to happen." Being inconsistent happens. It happens because there is not a high level of competition at practice, bad practices are tolerated and there is no attention to detail. And all this occurs because no one is accountable.
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Now at 4-5, the Bucs' ability to make the playoffs is in serious doubt. They head to Green Bay this week with the worst defense in the NFL in yards allowed per play, the worst yards after the catch allowed and second-worst in sacking the quarterback. Slowing down the Packers' passing attack does not seem possible for Tampa.
Nothing the Bucs set out to do to improve their team has happened. They wanted a better pass rush and drafted two defensive ends in the first two rounds, but have just 13 sacks. They wanted quarterback Josh Freeman to take the next step and become an elite quarterback. Instead, he has taken a step backward, maybe because of the bad thumb, but probably due to the Bucs' passing game not being efficient. They only have nine touchdown passes, one per game. Do you think if this continues they can beat the Packers?
What can Morris do now? He has not been the tough, demanding coach all season. He has to hope he can find some players with enough pride to lead the team. He needs to embrace confrontation, follow Mike Tomlin's lead and put fear into the players, and remind them why they are there. It won't be easy, but if he fails to change, then the team won't either.
Morris might start by showing them General Welsh's speech, or better yet, ask him to come speak to the team.