Veteran Buccaneers linebacker Geno Hayes was obviously not pleased about being benched Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 27-16 loss to the Saints. But the former Seminole is taking it in stride and vows to keep working hard and earn his way back on the field, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with head coach Raheem Morris’ decision to sit the team’s second leading tackler.
“They wanted a better player, I guess, so we go from there,” Hayes said. “It’s some things I could be better at, but, you know, whatever the coach’s call [is] I am going with it.”
Watching from the sideline gave Hayes a perspective he hasn’t seen since his rookie days. It’s a view Hayes doesn’t care for.
“I was very frustrated,” Hayes said. “To see the guys I’m out there week in and week out playing with and the guys out there fighting hard. Watching from the sideline you want to be out there with your guys, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to. It is tough, but got to run with it.”
Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris addressed Hayes in his post-practice press conference Wednesday.
“Hopefully it's a wakeup call for Geno and [we'll] get him back on the field and get him going again,” Morris said. “We just had too many uncommon, inconsistent issues the week before and really the previous weeks that I wanted to get across to him. Hopefully he can get back out there and play a little bit. Get him out there in a part-time role this week and see what he can do. Then hopefully develop a nice competition there at linebacker and hopefully the best three win at some point.”
Morris wasn’t throwing Hayes under the bus but knows at 4-4 accountability is crucial if Tampa Bay has any shot to make the playoffs. The entire defense must improve, according to Morris.
“Quincy [Black] is a splash play guy,” Morris said.” He’s put in splash-play positions and he’s got to make some. We haven’t had enough from anybody. That’s why we’re 4-4. If you get enough splash plays from everybody we would be undefeated. We want more from everybody. We are going to ask more from everybody and hopefully we’re going to get them from everybody.
“Ronde Barber will tell you he should have more splash plays. And he should. We talk about the week before and he should have been defensive player of the week again and he’ll let you know that. We expect a lot from each other. We expect a lot from the group. Not that you’re down on anybody, you just want more from each other. You want to be more accountable for each other as well.”
"You need impact plays across the board," Morris continued. "You know it starts upfront, obviously, but you want impact plays from the impact guys. Geno definitely was a splash-play guy for us the last couple of years and then when you don’t get the splash plays you get the inconsistent play and you've got to wake them up somehow and that’s my job as a coach.”
Hayes was the team’s leading tackler coming into the Saints came with 48 stops, five tackles for loss and one forced fumble, and felt his play was comparable to last year.
“I think it's a little bit more than where it was last year,” Hayes said. “Wish it could be better, but I think [there] are fewer things I can work on as far as technique and reading my keys a little bit better than I am and I'll be good to go.”
Statistically, though, the numbers don’t back up the fourth-year linebacker’s self-assessment.
Starting all 16 games in 2010, Hayes finished second on the team in tackles behind Barrett Ruud with 104 takedowns. While the total tackles are on pace, the “splash plays," as head coach Raheem Morris calls them, have been missing. Hayes led the Buccaneers with 15 tackles for loss in 2010 (five this season) and added a career-high four sacks (zero this season) while notching one interception return for a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s victory at Arizona last October.
Hayes knows that regardless of his opinion of how he is playing there in just one whose mind he needs to change, and that’s his head coach. The message has sunk in and Hayes is prepared to do what he has to so he can get back in Morris' good graces. Even though Morris stated Wednesday that Hayes won't start, the Greenville, Florida native is ready to prove his coach wrong.
“Keep working hard and practice,” Hayes said. “Don’t stop anything. Don’t change anything other than go out and work hard and focus on the smaller things like the linebackers position. I see it for what it is. I wasn’t playing well. They made a decision and ran with it.
“Sometimes – and we don’t make excuses around here – but sometimes the game doesn’t go in your favor. Sometimes you can be in the right position and they don’t throw the ball or you read too fast and they don’t throw the ball. So it's things like that that kind of limit us from making plays, but we try to force plays. We all know we try to force plays that make bad things happen so we are just really playing our game.”