The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the 2009 season with low expectations in general. The national media and pundits have predicted that the Bucs will struggle in 2009, and that is in large part because the team is perceived to be in rebuilding mode. Tampa Bay lost four straight games to finish the 2008 season, and miss the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were fired and replaced by Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik, respectively. While the team is perceived to be rebuilding don't tell that to veteran defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
"I do know that the mentality is that we want to go to the playoffs," said Hovan. "People are going to say this guy is full of it, but if my mentality is not derived on going to the playoffs than what I am playing for. I'm not playing just to get by. I'm not playing to get a top-10 draft pick. I'm not throwing my body on the line for that right now. If some of the guys are thinking like that, please tell me. I want to sit down and talk to them because that is not my mentality. Rebuilding is just an excuse to fail in my opinion. I don't care who was saying it. I'm not here to rebuild. I'm not here to fail right now. I'm trying to win games because this is what the city deserves, and what the organization deserves. The fans deserve a championship in this city, and I'm not going out there to rebuild."
Center Jeff Faine talked about the lower expectations for the team as well. Faine said the team feels no exterior pressure to produce a championship in part because they have a different roster with younger players, and do not have a veteran filled roster that is expected to win immediately.
"We're unproven, but we don't know what we have, either," said Faine. "We're identifying things ourselves and finding our own identity. I think it can be beneficial during the season, maybe we can sneak up on some guys. That's how it was in my first year in New Orleans. No one knew what we had. We didn't know what we had. It's a similar situation, and hopefully it will bring similar results."
Part of the low expectations stem from the unknown that Faine was talking about. The Bucs have a new defense with longtime coordinator Monte Kiffin leaving the team for Tennessee, and being replaced by defensive coordinator Jim Bates. The defenses have different philosophies, and the Bucs will no longer be featuring the Tampa 2 defense that relied on zone coverage. Instead Bates uses more man-to-man coverage. Despite the change, Hovan believes the carried over players will be able to be successful running the new defense.
"Sure it is going to work we have the personnel to do it," said Hovan. "Even in the Tampa 2 scheme sometimes we had a gap and a half. It was not all predicated on getting up field. I know that certain people say that we are trying to fit round pegs into square holes. We have the players to do it. Yes the Tampa 2 was predicated on getting penetration and getting up field, but at the same time we were playing gap and a half. I would always play the A-gap but if the ball came to me, and I was in the B-gap I'd throw the guard and make a play. The philosophy has changed a little bit. We aren't doing as much zone, but at the same time we are still getting our man and still trying to make plays. Yes are we going to have gap integrity, of course, at the same time if you able to make a play within your gap, and all of a sudden a back clears than that is a gap and a half. Certain people and coaches see it, but we've done that gap and half stuff down here for a while."
Hovan thinks that some of the additions to the offense will help the team to surpass the predictions for the team. The Bucs biggest acquisitions came on the offensive side of the ball with tight end Kellen Winslow, running back Derrick Ward, and first-round pick Josh Freeman. Hovan thinks it will be to the Bucs advantage to be overlooked by other teams.
"Sure you can look at it from that perspective, and the NFC South in recent years has always been a worse to first," said Hovan. "It is great for any team to fly under the radar. We have a lot of one o'clock games and that won't give us a lot of exposure like when you are on Sunday night and Monday night in primetime, but it has given us a chance to go out and prove ourselves. We have had a lot of turnover, we lost a lot of great leaders and great veterans from the team, but at the same time we went out in free agency in the draft and we are building our team that way. The Kellen Winslows, the Derrick Wards, the Josh Freemans, and Roy Millers. It gives us a chance to get a little bit younger but bring some experience in from other teams. If you walk into the locker room right now a lot of guys are excited. I don't know if they are excited about the running test."
Faine believes that it remains to be seen whether those players will make a difference on the field in 2009, although Faine is optimistic.
"I don't know, but I think we'll have a good feeling about it once we go through camp," said Faine. "Right now we don't know. It's one thing to look great in shorts and run scripted plays, but now we're putting on the pads and going up against players and teams we don't normally see in preseason."