Wednesday evening on Buccaneers Total Access, running back Earnest Graham talked about the team's decision to go back to playing in a Tampa 2 style defense.
"We're going back to our old Tampa 2 and we'll see how that goes," Graham said. "It looks good so far, but of course everything does with no pads on. Everybody's confident and excited. I think as a team we're trying to get at that starting point where we can just continue to move forward and not keep going backwards. Whether it's the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, or whatever it may be, we just want to have a clean slate and just keep moving forward. We have our quarterback now and things are being put into place. We know we're going back to the Tampa 2, so we have to get to a place where we continually improve every week and not backtrack."
Graham, 29, stressed the importance of having patience when a system change is made. However, now that the Bucs have decided to go back to their comfort zone with the Tampa 2 scheme, there shouldn't be much of a learning curve as many of the defensive players are already familiar with the system.
"I think we have to respect what it takes to be great within a system," said Graham. "I wasn't here for it, but I'm sure it took a while for Derrick [Brooks] and all those different guys to be so good at that system. We had a system in place with coach Bates and we expected it to take that kind of time to be really successful. Now we're primarily going back to [the Tampa 2]. You've got guys on the field like Ronde Barber, Barrett Ruud, and of course the coaches that have experience within that system, so we're going back to what's comfortable with us and we'll see how that works."
The sixth-year pro also talked about the offensive side of the ball, where he has been primarily playing the fullback position after a season-ending injury to starter B.J. Askew. Graham knows what it's like to be a part of a system change during the course of a season as the offense did just that at the beginning of the year, going back to an offensive attack that was similar to what the players ran under Jon Gruden. In former offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's system, Graham would have been worked into the offense more in a 2-2-1 running back rotation, but now the team has gotten away from what they originally planned to establish on offense.
"I think we're caught in between two different [offensive] philosophies," said Graham. "We started one way with coach Jagodzinski and then of course with coach Olson, we're doing something a little bit different, so we aren't where we started. We said we're going to primarily run the ball with a three back rotation, and now we're going more to coach Gruden's system and coach Olson's system. I think we're a different team now, and we're going in a different direction at this point. Running the ball isn't the priority like we said it was going to be. In any philosophy and any approach to the game, it's about executing, and we haven't really been executing much of anything at this point to be effective."
With a new system on offense also came a new mentality, according to Graham. As the team focused on certain aspects of the game, they have gotten away from others.
"I just think as far as the mentality, like I said at the beginning of the year, we were going to be this physical team and just pound [the ball]," said Graham. "I think now the way we're playing football, like on third and one we get in a shotgun [formation], says something to a team. I think you have to become tough through those situations. When it's third and two, I think it really says something to a team to be able to line up with the team knowing what you're doing and still getting the first down. I think you really build toughness, and we haven't done that because we've been between systems and haven't really had a chance to establish our identity. Now we're kind of going to another way of playing football, so we still haven't established that tough, physical mentality we've been looking to establish. We've been sold on that and that's what we've said publically, and now we're going away from it, so that's why the question is presented. We just have to decide who we really are and just execute that mentality and approach."
Very rarely do NFL teams go through changes as dramatic as the Bucs have endured during a season. It is not easy to change systems on both sides of the ball, but with a record of 1-9, the team has to look at every possible thing it can do to improve, not only during the rest of the season, but in the future.
"I think we definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves," said Graham. "Coach Morris himself put a lot of weight on his shoulders. If things don't get better, it definitely falls on him, and that's kind of the situation he wanted. All year we've been putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to get things done because we were a confident bunch at the beginning of the year and we didn't expect things to go the way they're going. We thought we would be able to come out and be this physical team, pounce on people with the running game, and be able to make all these plays with a more aggressive defense, but we didn't do that. Because we didn't do that we changed quarterbacks, we changed offensive coordinators, and we changed defensive coordinators. I think it's tough and naturally you lose some guys in that process. We just have to get everybody to buy in. Once we get comfortable and get to a point where we feel good about what's going on around here, then we can move forward, but until that point, we're going to have some issues."
Graham said the team is doing a good job of dealing with all of the adversity they have faced this season and that the veteran leaders of the locker room are doing a good job of helping them do so.
"Guys like Ronde Barber and Chris Hovan carry so much weight in the locker room," said Graham. "Typically the way those guys' attitudes are is the way the other guys are going to follow, so I think as older guys we have to do a great job of communicating that change is constant. As professionals, we can't control our attitude, we can't control the way we come into the building, we can't control everything else that goes on, but we can try to grasp this system, try to win some ball games, and keep putting great effort on film. I think as an older player, that is definitely our responsibility."
Graham and the Bucs will try to finish strong and execute the team's plan to the best of their ability during the remainder of the season.
"Right now as a team we're saying we're playing Tampa 2, we've got this young quarterback, we need to gel as a team around him, and get some chemistry, so that's what we're going to go out there and try to do," said Graham. "We are playing the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional game, but it's about what we're trying to do going forward. I think we have to be able to build this week. It's our responsibility as professional football players. We came into this season with a plan with what we wanted to get done, and we need to get back on track and do that."