| Barber notes a maturity and confidence in his young coach that belies his age.
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
20 at Buffalo
27 N.Y. GIANTS
4 at Washington
11 at Philadelphia
25 vs. New England (in London)
8 GREEN BAY
15 at Miami
22 NEW ORLEANS
29 at Atlanta
6 at Carolina
13 N.Y. JETS
20 at Seattle
27 at New Orleans
Kellen Winslow, Tight end: In the off-season the Buccaneers put a lot of faith -- and more than $20 million guaranteed -- in a big-name tight end who has completed only two full seasons out of his five in the league. When healthy, Winslow (picked up in a February trade with Cleveland for two future draft picks) is a first-rate threat, a quick and dynamic receiver who can stretch defenses (89 catches in 2006 and 1,106 yards in '07 for the Browns). But physical setbacks -- a broken leg as a rookie in 2004, a torn ACL suffered in a motorcycle accident before his second season, a staph infection last year -- have kept him from meeting the expectations that came with being an All-America at Miami and a No. 6 draft pick. Now, playing for a young team without an established quarterback, Winslow's health and productivity carry added importance. New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski likes to run the ball, but that could work in Winslow's favor. With opposing defenses having to respect the hard running of Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams, plus the threat of Antonio Bryant at wideout, Winslow should get opportunities over the deep middle and inside the opponents' 20. "This is a zone-schemed offense, and we go with the play-action off that," Winslow says. "It is not a complicated offense. I really like it, and we're excited about it."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
A new coach schooled in Tampa's defensive tradition will try to restore some of that swashbuckling swagger.
The story of Raheem Morris's quick rise from rookie assistant to NFL
head coach begins on a plaque hanging in the lobby of One Buccaneer Place, the
Bucs' headquarters next to Raymond James Stadium. Engraved on the plaque are the
names of the men who coached Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl title following the
2002 season. The 13th name from the top is RAHEEM MORRIS, then the defensive
quality control coach.
"I don't want to use the word, but he was a peon when he first got
here, a hustler for money," says longtime Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, stifling
a laugh. "He's a proverbial from-the-bottom-floor-to-the-top guy. It's nice to
see him get where he wants to be, even if it's probably a little bit sooner than
he anticipated." Now Morris, who in January became the league's youngest head
coach, at 32, needs to get quick results from a youthful squad coming off a 9-7
season that ended with a four-game losing streak marked by the surprising
meltdown of a proud defense.
After the season Tampa Bay cut ties with such fixtures as coach Jon Gruden,
linebacker Derrick Brooks and running back Warrick Dunn. Quarterback Jeff
Garcia's free-agent departure left that position either highly competitive or
highly unsettled, depending on your perspective. It will be Morris's job to fit
the new pieces into the lineup and get the Bucs on a new track, and there have
been indications of how he will go about it. Morris opened training camp by
keeping the players in pads, and in meetings he shows them film of games from
past seasons when Tampa Bay played a tough, physical style. With that, he
revealed some of his coaching influences: Gruden, who kept a large library of
motivating videos, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who as the Bucs' defensive
backs coach and Morris's boss from 2002 through '05, harped on the need for a
team to impose its will on an opponent.
"The only way to be physical is to practice being physical," says Barber.
"Especially with so many young guys, you have to establish your dominance and
the precedent you're going to hold this team to."
Morris remembers getting blunt -- but helpful -- criticism from Tampa assistant
head coach Rod Marinelli before Morris left the Bucs after the '05 season to
become defensive coordinator at Kansas State. "Rod sat me down, gave me hard,
critical comments, and also told me the things I did best," Morris says. "Then
he told me, 'You're a little arrogant.' And I was. I'd won a Super Bowl at 26.
We talked about core development, about presenting your best self and about
Morris returned to the Bucs as DBs coach in 2007 and '08, then was promoted
to coordinator last Christmas, replacing the long-tenured Monte Kiffin. He was
bumped up again after Gruden was fired three weeks later.
Barber says the coach who left Tampa Bay for Kansas State was not the same as
the man who returned to the Bucs. "You could see him grow into his own," Barber
says of Morris. "All good head coaches have an ability to communicate their
message clearly. It's partly his personality. He has that ability, like
[Tomlin], to relate to the athlete nowadays. He can do it civilized or he can go
Says safety Sabby Piscitelli, "Every player is different, and he had the
ability to get his point across to every person. His swagger alone, his
confidence, rubs off on a lot of people. The energy he gives off makes you want
to play harder for him."
For an organization in transition -- new general manager, new coach, new
offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator -- playing hard and being physical
are good starting points. Now, if Morris can replicate the quick success of
Gruden and Tomlin, each of whom won a Super Bowl ring in his 30s, the lobby at
One Buc Place will need a new plaque, one with Morris's name at the
-- Damon Hack