If it appears the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing a more cohesive brand of football Saturday night against Miami – like they’re all on the same page and prepared for what the Dolphins throw their way – it’s because they are.
Or at least that’s the plan leading into the team’s third preseason game this weekend.
Head coach Raheem Morris referred to the Bucs’ approach last Thursday as “playing baseball.” Staying consistent with that usage of analogies, Tampa Bay largely failed to get the bat off its shoulder, losing badly 31-14, as New England was locked in and slugging home runs.
The coaching staff’s logic for was to essentially see how the team would react to the Patriots on both sides of the ball without already being given “the answers to the test.”
Morris and a number of players said Thursday that the team has been preparing for Miami more like they would for a regular season game and using practice time to run Dolphins formations, plays and schemes.
“This week is about executing the small game plan that we did put in for the Miami Dolphins,” Morris said. “The amount of information that we gave them throughout the week for situational football – those are things you want to execute.”
Center Jeff Faine talked about how the Buccaneers are approaching this week as opposed to the first two games of the preseason.
“I think just from the basic focus on the opponent [things are different],” Faine said. “We didn’t put any focus on the opponent last week and really this entire preseason. But we are game planning. We are watching tape, we are preparing on what they do both on offense and defense. The practice schedule is what we see during a regular season game week.”
Strong safety Sean Jones, another of the Bucs longer NFL-tenured veterans, said he feels the team will be ready to go Saturday as though it were Week 1.
“We’re taking this like it’s a regular season game, we’re preparing like it’s a regular season game and we’re going to go out there to try and perform it’s a regular season game.”
“Last week, that really wasn’t an excuse,” Jones continued, speaking about not prepping for New England’s systems. “They went out there and kicked our behinds for four quarters. Even though it’s a preseason game we’ve still got pride, we still want to go out there and look good on film.”
While it was obvious the Buccaneers spent little time preparing for the Patriots, Faine also refused to make excuses for the team’s poor play.
“I completely stand by the point that preparation doesn’t account for the false starts and penalties we had in the Patriots game. So whether or not we prepare for a team or not has nothing to do with jumping offsides. Our execution of the plays, it wasn’t there last week. That was the biggest difference.”
“Deep down inside I believe a lot of guys are looking for a crutch saying it was because of not game planning. Who knows what they [Patriots] did on the other side. Did they game plan or not? And if they did, all right, who cares? If you don’t stay onsides and if you don’t execute the basic plays you are calling…they didn’t put anything out there exotic we couldn’t handle.”
Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn said he can notice the difference on the practice field and that the New England experience should be beneficial in the long run.
“We definitely are game planning more and learning what they’re doing and what formations they run out of. “That’s helpful in getting a better grasp of what they do. It’s definitely been a lot more intense, but it’s been good.”
“It was definitely good to be in that situation, but then again – as a rookie – it was a little challenging,” the first-year pro out of Iowa said. “But it was a good experience to get out of the way, though. It’s just like going into camp the first couple days being a rookie and not knowing what the offense runs. But going into a game situation where bullets are flying, it’s always tough when you don’t know what’s going on.”
Faine acknowledged that while being aware of a team’s game plan and tendencies is valuable, it also adds more stress to players mentally.
“In some ways – for the second and third guys – it will be a little tougher this week than last week,” Faine said of younger players trying to absorb during practice and then react come game time. “There’s a lot more on their mind. But this week our focus is not killing ourselves with penalties and on executing the game plan. I don’t think our opponent had much impact on our non-success last week. It’s about what we can control on our side.”
Defensively, Jones said the first team is amped to get back on the field at game speed. “Miami’s going to be a good test for us, as far as the 1’s. We’re ready for that challenge and we’re ready to go out there and win.”
“I’m sure individually guys want to go out there and correct the things they did wrong in the first two games,” Jones said, when asked if there’s a desire for atonement among those in the locker room this week. “It’s a growing process. We’re still in the preseason, we’re still getting this lockout out of us and we’re still going out there and just trying to win every play as an individual and as a group.”
Second-year wide receiver Arrelious Benn dittoed a similar sentiment from the offensive side of the ball.
“It was preseason but that is no excuse,” he said of last Thursday’s loss. “We still could have done some better things out there. But this week we are game planning a little. We didn’t game plan at all last week. We went out there and just tried to go off of our game. We know what we did wrong and what we could do better.”
Eric Horchy and Mark Cook