Found November 28, 2011 on
Fox Sports Florida:
It was a telling remark by Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, though not one that should come as any real surprise.
He had just watched the tape of his teams rain-soaked, 23-17 loss on the road to the Tennessee Titans -- a game they could just as easily have won minus a few of the five turnovers that marred their effort, and with a defense that could have found a way to stop Titan tailback Chris Johnson when it counted.
Instead, the Bucs played like the team they are -- one with the youngest roster in the NFL -- and their oft-stated goal to match last years 10-win season and make the playoffs has become mission impossible.
Obviously a tough one to watch, Morris said. A lot of good things and lot of bad things as far as turnovers. Sloppy ball. And were not a mature enough team or good enough team to win games that way. Weve got to go out and be perfect. Weve got to execute. We cant leave it to anyones hands but out own. And we remain committed to growing as a football team.
The part about not being a mature enough team to win those kind of games is what jumps out.
From the start this year, Bucs GM Mark Dominik has banged the drum about the clubs philosophy of refraining from free agency, instead choosing to spend the payroll money to reward deserving Buc players with new contracts.
The team stayed out of the free agent fray that came and went after the lockout ended, opting to build around youth and the draft. Instead of trying to keep the teams leading tackler over the previous four seasons, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, the decision was made to go with rookie Mason Foster.
Foster has done a commendable job in a high-responsibility position. So has No. 1 draft pick Adrian Clayborn, who leads the team in sacks with five from the right end position. And DaQuan Bowers has played well in various roles on the line, and now as a left end starter in place of injured Michael Bennett.
But as Morris has pointed out on numerous occasions, rookies and youngsters can look great one play, and over their head on the next. Its a learning curve that can take several seasons to master. And thats why so many teams go the free-agent route, making sure theres some seasoning in the mix to add balance and depth.
The arrival of often-controversial All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth three weeks ago underlined that point almost instantaneously. Haynesworth made an immediate impact adding pressure to the quarterback, and was able to lend his veteran expertise and insights to the younger players.
He also made the revealing observation following his Buc debut against Houston -- which ended in a 37-9 rout by the Texans -- that he had tried to fire up some of the younger players in the huddle who seemed to have given up as the game got out of hand.
Veteran leadership is essential, something apparently lost on the Bucs' upper franchise leadership. The Bucs have players who provide it, first and foremost Ronde Barber. But as the Haynesworth acquisition demonstrated, free agency can make an impact both in leadership, on-field productivity and maturation of these young players.
Josh Freeman certainly has strong leadership qualities, but the difficulties he has experienced this season with turnovers and poor decisions -- most recently his costly interception Sunday in trying to lead the Bucs back late in the game -- have hardly bolstered his platform to rally the troops.
The Bucs find themselves now at 4-7, and suddenly in a potential fight with the 3-8 Carolina Panthers to stay out of division cellar.
Its fair to say the Dominik Theory of disdaining free agency and investing in the existing roster instead hasnt panned out. As Morris added in his opening remarks, they no doubt remain committed to growing as a team. But thats a far cry from the boldly and frequently stated goal of winning the division. Now 10 wins are no longer in the cards, either.
So the Bucs are left to do what all young, evolving teams do -- go through the growing pains of trying to become a contender in another season.
Thats the price a club pays when it balks at bringing in veteran and higher-priced talent to build a playoff roster, and expand the teams knowledge base.
The notion that you can seriously compete in the NFL on the cheap has instead become the Domino Theory, as losses have toppled over in the last six games. The idea that the Bucs could fulfill the lofty expectations of surpassing 2010 with such a young squad, as we can see now, simply wasnt realistic. This is not a second-guess perspective -- there were many skeptics going into the season.
The only other question is whether the ultra low-profile owners in the Glazer family are paying enough attention to care whether the experiment failed.
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