The NFL is a numbers game, a high-stakes game, from payroll to playoffs. The early goal always is to make the postseason, so the regular season has to start adding up fast.
While counting through the Buccaneers 2009 season, a dismal display of numbers surfaces. With a season record of three wins, 13 losses among 32 NFL teams, the 2009 Bucs were 30th in total points and 28th in total yards.
It was a tumultuous year for the Bucs. The firing of Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen prompting the promotion of Raheem Morris to head coach started the year. The release of veterans like Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn drew gasps. The hiring and firing of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates, and the assumption of the defensive coordinator job by Morris added to the instability.
But 2009 is over. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson has had time to develop his approach to plays. Morris, the youngest head coach in the NFL, has persevered.
It’s simple math, even if it’s not easy doing. If the Bucs are to improve and surpass, they will gather more “W’s” and not so many “L’s”, one number at a time.
Along the way to improved results pops up another big number for the Bucs: age. The squad is certain to be comprised of more young players than veterans, led by a young quarterback, backed up by young quarterbacks throwing to young receivers. And that’s just the offense.
The Bucs bring the NFL limit of 80 players into training camp, comprised of 21 rookies and 22 youthful players with one and two years of experience. Veterans with five or more years of experience total only 21, and not all of them will be with the team when the season starts.
The position numbers must shrink from 80 trying out in camp to 53 in Game 1 of the 2010 season. Doing the initial math at first might show that rookies are vying for only 10 positions, but not all one and two year veterans will make the team. It’s likely that not all of the real veterans, those with five years or more, will be suited up for the first game either.
The numbers get tighter for some rookies as the 2010 draft had strong picks.
The 2010 draft class has seven members, and one is the punter of choice already. The DT top picks Gerald McCoy and Brian Price are impact players, while WR top picks Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn show great promise.
Morris is no longer a rookie head coach and understands his team building role with young players going into his second year.
“I’m really impressed by some of our young men having the ability to step right in there and just make a few mistakes,” Morris said. “There have been some mistakes, but they’re very correctable. They’re a fun group to be around and a group that really loves football.”
The numbers on the backs of every player give players identity and popularity, but only No. 53 will get a working jersey.
The numbers keep rolling: Tampa faces at least two formidable foes twice.
In the NFC South, Tampa must take on the Super Bowl winner New Orleans Saints as well as a resurging Atlanta Falcons team.
NFL team dynasty years seem to be history as many Super Bowl champions fail to repeat. Of the previous 11 champs, five teams missed the playoffs the following year and three lost their first playoff game.
That may be good news for the Buccaneers, but the New Orleans Saints are still a tall team to hurdle. The Falcons could be even tougher.
Certainly all NFL teams will enter the season hoping for the best numbers. Pundits and odds makers give Bucs about five or six wins; that would be an improvement. Morris has a new motto for the 2010 season: “Race to 10.” He now sees the goal of winning clearly.
The team will be working hard to get more points, yards, and wins than expected. Just because the Bucs are a young team, especially at wide receiver, doesn’t mean they have to take baby steps.
When all the numbers are crunched and the season starts, one element remains certain, fans will cherish one four letter word that initiates every down.
Quotes courtesy of www.buccaneers.com
Photo credit: Dwight drum @ Racetake.com