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March 24, 2010 @ 8:35 am
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Q&A With Bucs HC Raheem Morris

Written by Jim
Flynn
Jim Flynn

Jim
Flynn

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Bucs head coach Raheem Morris talked to the media for an hour at the NFL Owners' Meetings in Orlando on Wednesday morning. Morris fielded dozens of questions, ranging from the team's approach to free agency to the 2010 NFL Draft. Read the Q&A transcript in this article.
The following Q&A session with Bucs head coach Raheem Morris took place Wednesday morning at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Orlando, Fla.

Why haven't the Bucs done more in free agency coming off a 3-13 season?
"We didn't create the model. We started over last year and in our plans we talked about being young and fresh. You don't get rid of guys that could help you a year or two more just to bring in new guys for the sake of change. We wanted to start over with a new core of guys. That has to be done through the draft. You get to a point where you see teams start to buy guys off other teams and there are people that can help you in that regard. We didn't create the model, but we're following one we believe in and one that helped us before. It's no different than when Coach Dungy first got here and the Bucs build through the draft. As they went along they started to add some key guys like a Keyshawn Johnson and like a Simeon Rice. We developed our core of young guys last year, and we got a chance to see our core of young guys play. That gave them the chance to get better and better throughout the season. On defense we had seven new starters. On offense we had a rotation of three quarterbacks and three new backs along with some other new guys that got an opportunity to play, like Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall. Now you have to look at your team and determine who you are and add to that, and let them go out there and compete. We weren't interested in going out there and spending a bunch of money and bringing a bunch of guys in that weren't willing to build with us, so we're going to draft our young guys and they're going to come in and be competitive and be part of our youth and energy. We aren't going to rule out bringing anybody in from other teams, and we'll look into those situations."

Are you still building the core of your team at this point?
"You are. I wouldn't say you're still building it, I think we're adding to it. It's hard to say you're building it when you have two starting linebackers that played well for you, and I'm talking about the new guys in Geno Hayes and Quincy Black. They were really productive and really stepped up their roles. Aqib Talib really stepped up as a first-year full-time starter and solidified that position for us. Sammie Stroughter really stepped up for us as the Zebra man and could come in this year competing for a starting role. We added Derrick Ward and need to somehow make him a more significant part of our offense this year. Now we're going to add to that core through the draft."

So you think you're set at linebacker?
"It's never a set deal in our business. There's a certain level of comfort with those guys, especially when you see how those guys finished and how we finished the season strong. We were able to go out and win a couple of games, back-to-back games, and do some significant things. They didn't finish the way you wanted in the last game, but they showed some signs that they can do it. Geno Hayes led our team in tackles for a loss. Quincy Black became a real factor for us off the edge as a linebacker. On the other side of the ball there are some similar deals. You have to start with number five and talk about what he was able to do at the end of the year. He was very competitive. He easily could have won seven, but he didn't. He won three of them. We look forward to [Josh Freeman] coming back and being more prepared along with some of the other younger guys he played with. We saw Maurice Stovall break out and we saw Sammie Stroughter from the beginning. The offensive line is coming back full strength and will have the ability to be together for the summer. I really look forward to those things and Josh coming in as the full-time starter and everybody knowing it. There's no uncertainty."

Will you be able to increase the competition when most of the new jobs will come through the draft?
"When I talk about people competing for jobs and having the opportunity to play I use the term ‘starter' too much. When I talk about Sammie Stroughter I consider him a starter. He was a contributor. He had a role and it was defined. We have to get those guys going and really motivated to be contributors. They don't have to run out of the tunnel to be a starter. We do like to see these guys be productive and earn roles."

When you talk about owning the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, that needs to be a guy that runs out of the tunnel, doesn't it?
"You're talking about excitement. You're talking about a guy that's going to run out of the tunnel and contribute to your football team immediately. He'll have his ups and downs and he'll go through his rookie growing pains. Those are things you look forward to as a coach and things you're challenged by. You don't want to be in these positions a lot, but when you are you have to take advantage of them."

How excited are you about the player you could land with the third overall pick in the draft?
"I'm really excited. I wasn't excited building up to it or how we got to it, but I'm excited now. We have to draft your best player and a guy that can help contribute the most. Those guys have to be productive and help you win. You don't want to put too much pressure on the kid and say he has to be a star, Pro Bowl player, but you do want him to be productive and command a presence and get some help from some of the semi-older guys around him. It's exciting."

Is it fair to compare your situation to the one the Bucs had under Tony Dungy and Rich McKay, where it took three good drafts to solidify the team?
"I never want to guess that. I don't ever want to put a limit on anybody's potential. These guys may wake up tomorrow and decide what they want to do. Every year a team or two decides they are going to compete and be better than everybody else. It would be no different if our guys did that tomorrow. But in terms of comparing the two situations, Coach Dungy right from the beginning built and remained patient with the youth. We just need more guys to buy into that and be team oriented. We need more guys that want to be here and compete, and that's what we're looking forward to."

How patient can you be given the fact that there is a lot of pressure on you this year coming off a 3-13 season?
"Communication is the most important thing. Communication with your ownership, with your team and with your fans is what you try to do. People joke about us going into lockdown mode, but it's lockdown mode for a reason. It's lockdown mode so we can evaluate and get the best people out of the draft so they can come in and contribute. Growing pains are part of it."

Do you understand the fans' frustration, or do you even care?
"Of course you care because it's your fans, but it's not about the frustration of what's not going on. It's more about the temperament of what's going on and how we're trying to get better. We have to tell them that we're building through the draft. It's no different than what every great team does. If you look at the models of great teams throughout history, they built through the draft. Jerry Rice didn't come from another team to join the 49ers and create a dynasty. Emmitt Smith didn't come from another team to help the Cowboys create another dynasty. Those guys were drafted by their teams. You see guys in free agency go in and contribute for a new team, and hopefully one day we'll be in that situation. Right now that's not where we are. We're building through the draft and creating our core and letting that core play and improve, and then maybe we'll go out and be more active in free agency. Again, that doesn't mean we won't try to do that this year if it's what you are and fits your model."

Is defensive line the area you feel you need to address most heading into the 2010 NFL Draft?
"We have draft needs, and without giving up what we're doing or who we're targeting, they're listed on the board and we're well informed with what we want and need. We have needs across the board. I use my group of linebackers as an example. We have a talented group there, but it doesn't mean we can't go out and add a linebacker there as well. You never have enough good players."

You said you wanted to surround Josh Freeman with great players, but have you really done that yet or is that what the draft is about?
"When you have a quarterback I don't know if it's necessarily about surrounding him with great players. You want to surround him with good, young productive players. You want to surround him with guys that are going to trust him so they can go out there and get it done. I don't know who is great in this league anymore, but I do know a lot of the guys behind center are great. A lot of those guys change games and change dynamics of football games. He has that type of ability. Is he there yet? No. Is he willing to work at it? Yes. He proves that to me every single day when he's out there by himself or with a group of guys calling the huddle. I have nothing to do with that, by the way. He's doing it on his own, and those guys are responding to him. That's what we're trying to build to and go to."

So it's not necessarily about getting Freeman guys to make him better, it's about him making other players better?
"A lot of times that's how it works. Every once in a while you get a dynamic player that can catch a hitch and go 90 yards for a score, which would make your quarterback look better. That's great if you can add them to your team. But for the most part it's about protecting him and finding ways to get other guys the ball."

Why didn't Antonio Bryant fit what this team is trying to accomplish?
"You never want to talk about what Antonio Bryant was able to do or was not able to do. The decision we made was to move on and go in a different direction and add another dynamic player that might be similar to Antonio Bryant. We made that decision and moved on. There are going to be moves made where people scratch their heads, and that's fine. It's time to move on, and that's what we did. It was a football decision. Any decision we make always will be."

Denver head coach Josh McDaniels said he talked to you and as a first-year head coach you have a vision, but then you find out what you can't get done and how people react to it.
"We made a joke about it. We didn't say it was about what you want to get done, it was more or less what you believe should get done. Whenever you're a head coach or dreaming of being one at home you think to yourself, ‘This is how I would do it.' That's what you believe in and do. I was under the belief that you go out and get veteran coordinators and put them in their place and let them do their jobs and manage the game. That's not how it played out, and by the end of the season you find your niche and you find out what you want to do. There is no handbook that's sitting on your desk when you get there that tells you how to be a head coach in the NFL. You do what you feel is right, and if it's not right at the time you make changes. The thing you have to be able to do is make those changes. I didn't want to wait for a year to go by to move on from our offensive coordinator and I didn't want to wait another year to make a change at defensive coordinator. Then you finally get to Josh Freeman and everybody is excited again, but I might not be in town that long, so I want to make those critical decisions while I'm in charge and while I can. I have a lot of respect for what each of those guys were able to do and brought to the table because I learned a lot from Jags during his time here and Coach Bates throughout the first 10 weeks of the season. There are just certain things you have to do and tough decisions you have to make. Those were some of the growing pains, but only to make this year better. Hopefully that's what we've done."

How much better prepared are you for 2010 compared to last year?
"The things that make you better now are being able to plan ahead of time and knowing where you're going in the draft and what you want to do in the draft. We were able to see a lot of players play last year, and we joked that a lot of guys reached their incentive programs. We lost a lot of games last year, but we were able to get out there and evaluate the talent on our football team. There aren't a lot of question marks in our building about guy's ability or on guys' hearts and determination, and now you can build on that. Hopefully it reflects in our record."

Last year you had high expectations for the running game. What has to happen this year for the offensive line and running backs to live up to those expectations?
"We have to do a lot of what we started to do towards the end of last year when we had guys playing more consistent. Guys played with better pad level and more fundamentally sound and gave their best effort. The ground game didn't fall off as much as some believe. Some of the games got out of whack a little faster than you would have liked them to. We have to find a way to have better control and stay in football games and give ourselves a chance to win with our running game. Number five will make the run game better with his presence and he'll make the run game better the better he plays. That's how football normally. Defensively we can help him as well by giving him more opportunities and getting him the ball back with turnovers, which is what we were able to do towards the end of last season, which is why we had better results and more competitive games. We have to do more of those things."

Is personnel an issue at running back or offensive line, or are you heading into the draft feeling like the starting positions there are set?
"You're always looking to improve your personnel. The guys that played of us last year played their hearts out and played well. You go back and look at the cut-ups and you see better plays than you expected and thought. You see a unit that will be better this year because of the continuity we've talked about."

If the Rams take Sam Bradford you should have a shot at drafting one of the top two defensive tackles in the 2010 NFL Draft. Does one of those guys fit what you do better than the other?
"Those are two dynamic guys and each one of them brings different things to the game. They're slightly different, but both dominant. When you can add players like that to your football team you like those thoughts. In my opinion as a coach you let those guys go out and do what they do well. I don't want to make a zebra a horse. I want to let a zebra be a zebra and let him be his best self. I would like to have the opportunity to coach either one of them."

What are the differences between Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh?
"One guy plans in an attack front and gets off the football and really gets up field and plays vertical - he plays the three technique every snap. The other guy plays a couple of different things and makes some different calls - he can do more two-gap stuff and the power game, but he also has some of the quickness and the power of the other guy. The other guy might have the power he has, but he just wasn't asked to do it. They are two dynamic players that will go high in this draft."

Would you be surprised if offers didn't come in from other teams for the third pick in the draft?
"It all depends on how the draft falls. Usually teams trade up for a quarterback, so it depends. We can anticipate certain things, but you never really know. It all depends on who falls where and who wants who. Calls come in most of the times when quarterbacks slide."

How involved or hands on will the Glazers be in the draft?
"The Glazers have been very supportive. They're always going to be in there because it's part of their business and they want to know what's going on. They've been very supportive. They will definitely evaluate because they have their own evaluation deals and they have an opinion for us and they're smart people. We'll be in the draft and make the decisions because it's our job. Mark Dominik is right - this is a critical draft."

Is there an update on guard Arron Sears' situation?
"It's really no different. Arron has been working and we'll have to see where he is when we start our offseason program. It's been a private situation for the young man and we're trying to keep it that way. I'm hopeful and looking forward to seeing where he is when he has an opportunity."

Do you need to make better use of Derrick Ward on offense?
"He was able to contribute, but he wasn't able to contribute as much as we would have liked. Sometimes it got a little frustrating, but it never got in the way of him playing or keeping and building on the relationship with the other guys. We have to do a better job and he has to do a better job of putting his talents to use."

Who is your starting fullback right now?
"We ended the season with Earnest Graham as our starting fullback. He's our number one guy, but Chris Pressley definitely developed a role. We have a nice dynamic there, and we have B.J. Askew coming back to our football team. They will compete."

How many quarterbacks are you planning to take to training camp?
"Generally you take four quarterback to camp, but I really haven't gotten that in-depth for that. When we have to go to training camp we'll make those decisions. Generally you go with four and let those guys compete."

What are the chances Byron Leftwich is a player you take to training camp?
"Byron was nothing but positive energy for us last year. He did nothing but good things. He was voted a captain by our team and a guy that came in and got a lot of respect from the beginning. He did nothing but teach Josh Freeman how to work and how to detail some of his work in terms of protections. There will be no shock in my mind to see Byron Leftwich with our team. He's a good character guy and a good guy. He's a smart guy. I don't have any qualms with that."

Is Michael Clayton on the bubble?
"Every player is on the bubble. That's the reality. You guys saw a player in OTAs that we all thought was going to come back and have a better year. Unfortunately, he pulled a hamstring and he did this and did that and slowed down and didn't have the type of production we thought he'd have. He's going to go out there and give it is his best shot. We'll evaluate him."

Have the Bucs figured out how to get Clayton to play 16 regular season games the way he plays in OTAs and training camp?
"That's a good question. I caught some of his reps down last year and he played a little better. He plays so hard that he gets some nagging injuries that hurt his performance, and then he drops the football, which absolutely pisses everybody off. But I have a lot of confidence in Michael and Michael has a lot of confidence in himself. I look forward to him coming out and being more prepared than he has been."

Sell your football team to some of the fans that are frustrated or on the fence about buying tickets to come see the Bucs play.
"It's a chance to come and watch it all develop. It's a chance to see Josh Freeman and watch the young guys around him and grow. It's a chance to come see a team, just like 1996-2002, that grows and eventually becomes that dominant powerhouse everybody wants. We're all in this to win championships, so let's go try to win championships with the guys we have and the ones we get in this draft. Come see our team try to become the best it can be."

What can fans realistically expect from the Buccaneers this year coming off a 3-13 season?
"We're going to start this season with Josh Freeman, who went 3-9, so to speak. He has no other opportunity but to get better, and he will. In the nine games he started he realistically had the opportunity to win seven of them. We talk about the two he didn't have a chance to win at the end of the season - New York and Atlanta. But he was in position to win almost all of them. Freeman threw five interceptions on the same day he had his most prolific day as a passer. He had trouble in the red zone. He led a two-minute scoring drive to take the lead in Miami, but we couldn't hold onto the lead, which broke our hearts. There's a lot you see there that gives you a lot of hope and excitement to watch him perform. He has no choice but to get better. We'll get better on defense and we'll get better with this draft - we have a 11 picks. Some of those players will be able to help Josh Freeman improve. I always bring up the example that I know a lot of great quarterbacks that only won one game in their first year as a starter. Our young man won three."

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