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March 23, 2011 @ 10:23 pm
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2011 March Offseason Issue

The Pros And Cons Of Hard Knocks

WRITTEN_BY Scott Reynolds Scott Reynolds
Scott Reynolds


Should a very young Buccaneers team subject itself to the national spotlight that would come from being chronicled on HBO’s Hard Knocks series? Scott Reynolds weighs the good and the bad of reality TV in Tampa Bay.
According to ESPN NFC South expert blogger Pat Yasinskas, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the front-runners to be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks series, which chronicles an NFL team’s training camp. Of course, there has to actually be a training camp in order for Hard Knocks to be filmed, and that won’t come without a new collective bargaining agreement.

But let’s be optimistic and suppose that the NFL owners and the players union get their act together and get a new CBA done in time for training camp. Should the Buccaneers subject themselves to Hard Knocks in 2011? Let’s examine the pros and cons of doing so.

First, let’s look back at the six seasons in which NFL teams have participated in the Hard Knocks series, which began prior to the 2001 campaign and featured the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and see if we can draw any conclusions. Fresh off a world championship, the Ravens were a veteran team that finished 10-6 in 2001 under head coach Brian Billick.

The next season, the Dave Campo-led Dallas Cowboys were the subject of Hard Knocks and finished the season 5-11. After a four-year hiatus, the series resumed in 2007 by featuring Kansas City and head coach Herman Edwards. The Chiefs had a tumultuous year and finished 5-11 that season.

In 2008, the Cowboys became Hard Knocks’ only two-time participant. Wade Phillips was the head coach that year and even though Dallas wound up 9-7 after its second appearance on Hard Knocks, the Cowboys finished third in the NFC East and missed the playoffs.

A veteran Cincinnati team was the subject of the 2009 version of Hard Knocks, and Marvin Lewis and Co. finished with a 10-6 record, a first-place finish in the AFC North and a playoff appearance.

Last year, the New York Jets and outspoken head coach Rex Ryan were chronicled on Hard Knocks and finished second in the AFC East with an 11-5 record before losing in the AFC Championship Game to Pittsburgh.

The featured team on Hard Knocks has finished with a winning record in four out of the six seasons, with three of those teams making the playoffs. But it should be noted that all of the successful teams – Baltimore, Cincinnati, New York and the 2008 Dallas squad – were considered veteran teams.

The younger teams – Kansas City and the 2002 Dallas club – didn’t fare as well, and that’s one of the concerns with Tampa Bay possibly being the 2011 subject of Hard Knocks. The Bucs were the youngest team in the NFL in 2010 and could carry that distinction again in ’11.

Where this can become a problem is that young players aren’t as media savvy as most veterans can be (Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens aside) and Tampa Bay’s public relations staff of Jonathan Grella, Jason Wahlers, Dan Berglund and Kelly Schutz would have to work overtime to ensure that the young Bucs would come across as humble and interesting, and stay on point as opposed to coming across as arrogant and off message.

The same would apply to young, 34-year old head coach Raheem Morris, who can be considered outspoken and telegenic, but a bit boastful and cocky, too. The last thing the Buccaneers want to do is to create any bulletin board material for any of their 2011 opponents.

The success of the 2010 Buccaneers came in large part from flying under the radar. Tampa Bay snuck up on teams last year and took full advantage of being underestimated because of their youth and inexperience. The result was a surprise 10-6 season in which the team narrowly missed the playoffs.

There is no sneaking up on anybody after being featured on Hard Knocks. It is so well produced by NFL Films that the entire league watches it. There would be tremendous interest in the Buccaneers because the team is such an unknown commodity. Morris has the makings of being a charismatic rock star because of his communication skills, his humor and the way he relates and responds to players.

Quarterback Josh Freeman is on the verge of NFL stardom. Another season like he had in 2010 and his name will be mentioned among the likes of Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and the next wave of great quarterbacks. Freeman would be an intriguing subject for Hard Knocks.

As would wide receiver Mike Williams, running back LeGarrette Blount, tight end Kellen Winslow and cornerback Aqib Talib. Each had their different issues with controversy during their college and/or pro careers and could provide some compelling headlines – or some unwanted headlines if provoked by an aggressive line of questioning.

General manager Mark Dominik has gone to great lengths to promote the team’s emphasis on character and state that the Buccaneers are not a bunch of bad boys. But given some of the aforementioned players’ past transgressions, the Hard Knocks filmmakers could play up a bad boy angle if it wanted to because controversy attracts viewers. That’s not something Tampa Bay wants or needs.

While being featured on a nationally televised series like Hard Knocks could turn some of the Buccaneers into overnight household names and celebrities, it could also create unwanted egos among some young, immature players. Egos could breed jealous and could play a role in fracturing a team with tight camaraderie.

An appearance on Hard Knocks would certainly test Morris’ leadership ability and the maturity of a team that would be comprised of mostly of rookie, second- and third-year players. Morris, who is famous for proclaiming his belief in mental toughness, would likely embrace the challenge of Hard Knocks. Not to do so would be mentally weak.

Dominik is more of a pragmatist and would likely have the most legitimate concern for the reasons stated in this column. But ultimately, the decision would come down to ownership. Would the Glazers want a national spotlight on a team that is suddenly in the midst of high expectations in 2011 due to its success from a year ago?

While season ticket sales are up due the emergence of star players like Freeman, Blount, Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, last year’s number one pick, no one at One Buccaneer Place is suggesting that any game will definitely sell out to avoid a blackout. Selling tickets is a major emphasis this offseason for Glazers and having several hours of free promotional time on HBO and all of the national and local media coverage that would come from a Hard Knocks appearance is priceless. There would be no doubt that the profile of the Bucs would be raised locally and nationally due to Hard Knocks.

A long-lasting dividend from an appearance on Hard Knocks could be increased success in free agency for years to come. The palatial team headquarters, the beautiful, scenic city of Tampa, the dynamic Morris and the aura around Freeman would be on display to every player poised to hit free agency and Hard Knocks could be the catalyst that leads an NFL stud to want to take less money and become a Buccaneer the way players like quarterback Brad Johnson and defensive end Simeon Rice in 2001 to help key Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run in 2002.

Let’s face it. Our society has become smitten with reality TV and the drama that comes with it. But how many reality TV shows have actually changed lives for the better? Fame often comes at a price.

My feeling is that Morris, Dominik, Freeman and the team are doing things the right way already – last year’s 10-6 record was proof of that. Sure, seeing the Bucs on a national stage and the intimate access that NFL Films could provide would be great fun for fans. But is it necessary?

Is raising a team’s profile artificially through a TV lens during training camp worth the risk of peril due to inflated egos, jealousy over TV time and disrupted team chemistry? Or should the Bucs attempt to raise their profile naturally, the old fashioned way, which is by winning games on the gridiron each Sunday? I choose the latter.

• One player in danger of not making the 2011 Buccaneers roster is wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. Considered one of the most team-oriented and hardest working players in Tampa Bay, Stroughter has seen both of his NFL seasons get derailed due to injuries. A broken foot cost him the last three games of his rookie campaign in 2009 after he hauled in 31 passes for 334 yards and the game-winning touchdown on fourth down against Green Bay – his lone receiving score in the NFL. After emerging as a starter in four games in 2010, Stroughter’s production fell as he caught only 24 passes for 239 yards and no touchdowns while missing four games due to various injuries. The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Oregon State product has had already been passed on the depth chart by the type of bigger receivers offensive coordinator Greg Olson prefers in Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe and Micheal Spurlock. Stroughter will have to fight for his spot on the team in training camp against the likes of Preston Parker among others. Staying healthy will be the key for Stroughter, a seventh-round pick in 2009, as his time in Tampa Bay may be running out.

• After a sensational rookie season in 2004 in which he had 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdown receptions, former Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton came under fire for a large amount of untimely dropped passes throughout the rest of his Tampa Bay career. But the one positive thing that Clayton became known for was his downfield blocking in the running game. The Bucs coaching staff feels that Arrelious Benn could pick up where Clayton left off and become Tampa Bay’s chief perimeter blocker in the running game at the wide receiver position. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Benn has the size and physique to manhandle corners and safeties as well as crack back and take out linebackers. Coming from Illinois, which was a run-first offense featuring running back Rashard Mendenhall and scrambling quarterback Juice Williams, Benn was called on to block in the run game in college and proved to be very effective. The fact that he notched 10 special teams tackles in Tampa Bay as a rookie last season only speaks to his toughness. Once his torn ACL is sufficiently healed, look for Benn to not only be a big-play weapon in the passing game in 2011, but also to be a big-time enforcer on the edge in the running game.
Last modified on Friday, 25 March 2011 09:44

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Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds

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  • avatar

    Say it aint so! Sammie was the best rookie in camp in '09.
  • avatar

    I'll risk it. There's one thing I heard Mike Holmgren say during a locker room speech that I whole-heartedly agree with. "This whole game is about respect." Winning the Super Bowl is about respect. That goes for the owners, front office, coaches, players, fans and the city itself. We will never gain respect if no one knows who we are. People have to want to see us play in games to get respect. We have to play night games where the nation is watching and we then have to win those games to maintain respect. Being on Hard Knocks will make more people want to watch the Bucs in person and on TV. I understand there is a risk with such young players, but I think they've earned the right to be treated as veterans. They've demonstrated a lot of maturity so why stop believing in them now?
  • avatar

    don't do it. It's like the Madden cover...it's cursed.
  • avatar

    Speaking of Clayton...he's disappeared...dust in the wind. Briscoe and Parker WILL be ahead of Sammie on the depth chart.
  • avatar

    If hardknocks helps the Bucs sellout more games, I'm all for it. Just don't think there will be a preseason. One question I do have if anyone can answer, will the players drafted be able to come to the facility after the draft? The owners won't sign them without a new CBA, and rookie wage scale, so what kind of limbo will these kids be in?
  • avatar

    Surferdudes, It's my understanding that the "draftees" are able to come to the facility for press introductions and that's it. The coaches can't give them a playbook, or instruction of any kind. They fly-in, say hello......and then become spectators of this circus, like the rest of us. I'm torn on Hard-Knocks. Part of me wants as much media of the team as I can get, and yet I know (or suspect), it might not be in the best interest of success for the team. One last observation: If there was EVER a Quarterback for Jon Gruden..... It would have to be JUICE Williams. ;)
  • avatar

    I'd worry about it also. One way to make it valuable instead of sensational would be to have a prior arrangement with NFL film not to focus on the past behavior of Blount, Williams, Talib etc. I hate that people go to that type of story over and over and over.... I know its human nature....thats the problem.
  • avatar

    Don't do it. We don't need this as a youing team. Let that loud mouth Ryan do it again or Jerry Jones. Of course the Glazers are probably for it because they get the money.
  • avatar

    i'm sorry - but for all the talk about how "Benn is big enough - he is going to run reverses b/c his body can handle it - Benn is big enough - he is going to emerge as a great blocking WR" - Mike Williams already does that - AND runs magnificent routes. Watch Blount's 2010 highlight video, but concentrate on Williams, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TClRXTk4Yio
  • avatar

    lmfao wow, actually watch that video - I didn't realize what a strong point I had
  • avatar

    I'm all for the team being on Hard Knocks. I'm sick of Buddy Ryan's fat son's J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets and Jerry " Face-lift" Jones' over-rated bunch constantly in the limelight. The fans around here need stars on the Buccaneers to come out and watch the game since so many retain a closet loyalty to their former team. Going to the Bucs game has to be perceived by them as the place to go to be seen. They all don't just go to see whoever is wearing the uniform; they want to see Sapp, Brooks, Lynch, etc. Finally the team is developing some players for whom the area can get excited in Freeman, Blount, Williams, etc. Being on Hard Knocks would allow more people to get to know the players and will encourage fans to buy tickets. I know many of you just want the games sold out even if bought by the opponent so you can view the games on TV. But I want the seats purchased by Bucs season ticket holders so I'm not surrounded by fans from right here in sunny Tampa wearing those stupid cheese heads and chanting "Go Pack Go" because so many tickets are available.
  • avatar

    One thing I'd be concerned about is how much say in the editing of the show would the Bucs have? These shows can be put together however the producers want it to turn out. Basically, there's hundreds of hours of footage taken, but only a small amount shows up in the final product. Bucs -- and the perception of them -- would be at the mercy of the editors of the show.
  • avatar

    Yes to Hard Knocks, no to cutting Stroughter. He was a real inspiration.
  • avatar

    inspiration my behind, he sucks and is going to be a cut casualty
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