TV: Blacked out locally. Radio: Buccaneers Radio Network (103.5 FM or 620 AM in Tampa)
After a long week of practice and months of preparation, the Bucs are ready to face the Browns, according to Coach Raheem Morris.
Videotape sessions in March; morning lifts in April; OTAs in May; mini-camp in June; training camp in August; the preseason stretching into September…all these were steps in a progression leading to one specific date: Sunday, September 12.
The 12th has been a very precise deadline for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since April 20, when the NFL's 2010 schedule was released. The tasks above were all necessary steps to successfully meet that deadline. And meeting the deadline means one thing exactly: Being prepared, by September 12, to beat the Cleveland Browns.
The Buccaneers held their last full-speed workout in that months-long endeavor on Friday, capping both a strong week of practice and an entire offseason of dogged preparation. Now there's nothing left to do but prove they didn't leave any work unfinished. The Buccaneers and Browns kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.
"It's time to get out and try to set the tone for us," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "The team is ready, the staff is ready and our organization is ready as a whole. It's time to go out there and be your best self, like we've talked about all offseason. We've been talking about it for a long time, and now we're here. We've got one last walk-through tomorrow, one last warm-up, and then we'll go play our game."
The Buccaneers understand that there are many NFL observers who are still not convinced they're ready, mainly due to the team's youth. Tampa Bay will start two players (Gerald McCoy and Mike Williams) it just drafted in April, plus five more (Josh Freeman, Roy Miller, Kyle Moore, E.J. Biggers and Sammie Stroughter) from the not-so-distant 2009 draft. The Bucs' average age is 25.6 years old and their average NFL experience is just under three seasons played.
Some will use those numbers to contend the Bucs are a season or two away from competing. That's not the mentality inside One Buccaneer Place, however.
"There's no excuse for being young," said Morris. "We've got to go out there and start faster than anyone expects or anyone believes. It's just got to be about us in that room. It starts with the whole philosophy of what we talked about in the offseason – [playing] fast, smart, hard, consistent. Those are the things that are going to help you grow up faster than you should."
There are still plenty of experienced players on the Bucs' roster – the likes of Ronde Barber, Barrett Ruud and Earnest Graham – and there is an encouraging maturity level among such young starters as Freeman, McCoy and Williams. Morris believes that will help his young team overcome the unexpected obstacles that arise during a game.
"I talked about it today," said the coach, describing his team meeting before Friday's practice. "I said, 'It's going to be one of those deals where it's the first game of the season and everybody wants to start out fast. And something may go wrong early on in that football game, but it can't matter. It can't bother you. It can't be all about panic, all disastrous. We've got to stay together.'"
Youth didn't hold back such young teams as Green Bay and Indianapolis last year, both of which made the playoffs. Obviously, those teams were loaded with young talent, and the Bucs are now in the same mold.
"Keep thinking we're young, and too young to make things happen in this league," said McCoy. "I embrace it. I had a huge challenge on my hands coming in, being drafted so high, and I still do because I haven't played a regular-season game yet. So I love it. I embrace challenges like that."
The entire Buccaneers team is about to get its first real challenge of 2010. Coach Morris believes they're ready for it.