Here’s what the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Unicorn have in common – the average football fan has about as much a chance of seeing them as witnessing an NFL coach call out, dress down or otherwise run amuck on one of his players, in the media.
Now, that’s a rare sight.
Call for better coaching? We’ve seen that happen quite a bit.
Implore the entire squad to lift the level of its game. We’ve heard that countless times.
Blame injuries and referees and the price of gasoline? It all sounds good to me.
But singling out a specific group of players, pointing fingers and naming names seems to fly in the face of one of the game’s long standing traditions – keep the family issues inside the family.
Traditionally, coaches don’t do it. But, these are not traditional times and as such, Jon Gruden’s decision on Monday to throw his defensive line out of the plane underscores the tenuous nature of things.
But, given that the responsibility for the 0-4 start falls squarely on everyone at One Buc Place, why the defensive line?
We weren’t aware that it was the defensive line that accounted for all the missed tackles of Deuce McAllister last Sunday in New Orleans.
We weren’t aware the defensive line threw a bunch of interceptions at the start of the season, or jumped offsides, or dropped catchable balls, or were the instruments of a couple key pass interference calls.
Oh, and certainly, we weren’t aware the defensive front was completely responsible for the blown special teams assignment that saw Reggie Bush parade down the Superdome sideline and into the history books.
But, even if such evidence is purely circumstantial, Gruden might have an even better reason for his intended audience.
This is a veteran group that has the integrity to accept and build upon the criticism, easily.
Ask defensive tackle Anthony McFarland if he feels the pressure of his low statistical productions, and he’ll tell you stats lie. Simple as that.
Ask Ellis Wyms why he hasn’t ravaged a ball carrier or a quarterback every game and he’ll accept that things come in cycles. He’s willing to play it through.
Ask one of the game’s best pass rushers why he has one sack through four games, and Simeon Rice’s response explains so much.
“For me, I started out plenty of times with four games and I had one sack,” Rice told reporters. “There’s still a lot to play for. But you have to believe the things that you say. If you really believe the things that you say, we can turn it around. And I’m one that truly believes we can turn this thing around.”
Confidence is a critical thing. They have it. They need it. And, truth be told, the Bucs need them to keep it.
“But to be able to come out of the grave, to really dig yourself out, to really believe the things that you say, that really forecast the events that could possibly take place, you have to be devoted to it,” Rice said. “It’s not based on wins, often times. It’s based on coming out of the dark. It’s based on coming out of bad situations. I, for myself, truly believe that we can do this, it just has to be an overall perspective from top to bottom.”
Then there’s the question of handling the public criticism. No one knows for certain how the defensive line truly feels about Gruden’s takes, but publicly, the members have been diplomatic.
And then there’s this little twist of irony. Two years ago, it was Rice who stirred the pot by calling out his coach toward the end of a miserable season.
“You can call out people, you can call out people all day,” Rice said. “From coaches, to offensive players, to individuals, we can do that. I’m not about to get rattled. I’m not about to get rattled by a loss. I’ve lost before. In the Super Bowl year we didn’t win every game. I truly believe that if we were to get it together as a team, as a unit, as individuals, come this week and do something special, it could spark us. And I truly believe that. The losses are the pressure cooker. See, a loss shows the fabric of who we are. I’m not going to crack.”
Going up against Bengals quarterback Chris Palmer, who is 6-0 as a starter against NFC teams, the Bucs want McFarland, Wyms, Greg Spires, Chris Hovan and Dewayne White all to feel the same.