Raheem Morris wants a physical football team on the field in 2009, and he's surrounded himself with assistant coaches and coordinators that will help convey and stress that message to his players.
One of the coaches Morris decided to hire this offseason was Pete Mangurian, who coached tight ends in New England from 2005-08 before making the move to Tampa Bay.
Mangurian, who has 18 years of NFL coaching experience, including stints as an offensive line coach with the New York Giants, Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, wasn't hired on someone else's recommendation. The 53-year old Mangurian actually helped lure Morris from Hofstra to Cornell in 1999, where Tampa Bay's current head coach served as a defensive backs coach and special teams assistant.
"He was a lot like he is now," Mangurian said of Morris. "He's real confident and sure of himself. His personality definitely comes out the minute he walks into the room. It did then and it does now. He has a presence about him. He's an intelligent guy that has a tremendous work ethic. He took everything I threw at him and he kept going. You knew right away he was going to be good. This situation presented itself and he'll make the most of it. I'm just glad to be here with him."
Morris, 32, is the youngest head coach in the National Football League, but that didn't stop Mangurian from joining his staff in Tampa Bay. Mangurian already had an idea of what to expect, not only from his previous working experience with Morris, but also because of his days in New England, where he worked with Josh McDaniels, who is the second-youngest head coach in the league with the Denver Broncos.
"I was with Josh in New England and it's the same situation," said Mangurian. "I think you have two guys that have a great presence. To say they're up-and-coming is past the point. They're already there. There isn't any difference between Raheem Morris and Josh McDaniels in terms of what they bring to the table. One coaches offense and one coaches defense. The bottom line is they are both driven, both intelligent and they have a personality that lends itself to being a leader."
Mangurian also had the opportunity to work with new Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski when the two men worked together on LSU's offensive coaching staff in 1987. He and Jagodzinski share similar philosophies when it comes to building winning football teams and successful offenses, which piqued Morris' interest and ultimately led to he and general manager Mark Dominik hiring them.
"Jeff and I go a long way back," said Mangurian. "Jeff was a graduate assistant at LSU when I was coaching the offensive line there. I've known Jeff a long time. I know what his core beliefs are as far as running the football and being consistent. That goes for emphasis on things like intelligence, playing the game as a team and unit. Our core values are all the same. When Raheem put the staff together he put a bunch of guys together that see the game the same way."
Mangurian replaces former Bucs offensive line coach Bill Muir, who served in that capacity from 2002-08. He also inherits a group of players that are considered the strength of the offense, which is in the process of learning the zone-blocking scheme Jagodzinski has implemented in Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay's new offensive line coach doesn't care what the team did or did not accomplish under Muir. He is focused on the present, which includes an open competition between Arron Sears and Jeremy Zuttah for the starting left guard job, and left tackle Donald Penn's absence from the start of organized team activities due to his contract situation, which did not sit well with the team.
"There are a lot of experienced players," said Mangurian. "[Center] Jeff Faine is obviously an experienced player. We've got [Jeremy] Trueblood out at the right tackle spot. He and
Davin Joseph have been there. The left guard spot at this point we still have some competition going there. Donald Penn is the heir apparent at the left tackle. We wish he would have been here for more of the offseason program. That's an issue, but it's something we'll just have to deal with as a team and move on.
"There is open competition. I'm not worried about what people on the outside are thinking. I just know what we're trying to accomplish. We look at these guys and grade each play in each practice. We want guys that can compete, we want guys that improve, we want guys that don't repeat mistakes, we want guys that are consistent, intelligent and guys that are aware of what is going on around them and in the game. We want good teammates and guys that will sacrifice for the good of the team and guys that understand it's all about playing as a team, not about the individual."
The Bucs have invested a lot in their offensive line, including one first-round pick, two second-round selections and a third-round pick, in addition to making Faine the highest-paid center with a $37.5 million contract in free agency in 2008.
Now Mangurian is challenged with getting the most out of Tampa Bay's offensive line, which was partially responsible for the fact that the Bucs surrendered 32 sacks in 2008 and failed to have a 100-yard rusher after Week 6.
"I wasn't here for that, so I don't look at it that way," Mangurian said of Tampa Bay investing high draft picks in its offensive line. "What we have to do is learn to play together. Don't make the mistakes and errors that can cost you, like penalties, missed assignments and miscommunication.
"We've got to be physical, we've got to be intelligent, and we've got to be consistent. Those are the things we're working on. You see flashes, but that doesn't mean anything. Anybody can flash in this world, but in this league if you're not consistent you're not anything."
Mangurian will have a big hand in helping Tampa Bay become a much more physical football team in 2009, especially along the offensive line, which will be called on to run block early and often in Jagodzinski's scheme.
That's one of the reasons why Mangurian and Co. are stressing the importance of the players' offseason and regular season conditioining in Tampa Bay, which isn't far removed from the team's December collapse.
"I think you have to be in tremendous condition to play this game, especially in Tampa," said Mangurian. "We're down here in the heat and that's got to be a plus for us when teams come into town to play us. That certainly can't be a disadvantage to us. You have to be conditioned. It's a long season, so you have to work. If you don't you'll wear down towards the end of the season. There is no doubt about that. The teams that work hard in the offseason and are in top condition are the ones that play down the stretch. If you're not in great condition going in, guys tend to get injured and miss time, and then the consistency we talk about goes out the window and you start having problems. Our emphasis at this point is to get in great physical condition to where we can sustain the level of play we think we need to be successful."
But Mangurian isn't as concerned about the O-line's ability to physically dominate at this point in the offseason as he is with some of the other fundamentals he is having players work on during OTAs before the pads come on in training camp.
"If we can come out of this being really secure in knowing our assignments, understanding the offense and what we're trying to do, and just learning football, we'll be ready for the pads," said Mangurian. "We have to really understand the game and not just memorize our assignments. We're working a lot on communication. We're going to have to make adjustments during a game, and I don't want to wait until halftime. We might have to do it after each series or even each play. We have to be on the same page, pay attention to detail and not get distracted by things that really don't have anything to do with what we're trying to accomplish."
One thing the Bucs offensive coaching staff won't stand for is penalties, which is a problem Tampa Bay's offensive line has had bouts with in the past, but will need to essentially eliminate if the Bucs are going to be an effective offense this year.
"That's the intelligence factor," said Mangurian. "You can call penalties whatever you want, but that's intelligence. Jumping offsides, not knowing the snap count, false starts – that intelligence or concentration, whatever you want to call it. In terms of holding penalties, how are officials calling the game? You have to be aware of that. You have to understand what situation you're in and when a mistake is most costly. Personal fouls and dead ball penalties will destroy you. Penalties and all of these things we've talked about go back to being unselfish and being a team guy. Penalties will kill us. They will destroy us in any given situation. We have to understand that. You can say, ‘Don't have penalties,' but until you understand what penalties can destroy your team, and your priority is to be a good team, then you won't do those things. You really have to understand why it's important not to have penalties and what they will do to your team, and really feel the consequences of doing them. That all falls back to being responsible to your teammates. If you make a penalty and do something dumb you destroy your team. If that's your number one priority then we'll get rid of the penalties."
There are a lot of questions the coaching staff is attempting to find the answers to in terms of player's abilities. However, Mangurian said it won't be difficult for players or fans to understand what the Bucs offense is once the 2009 regular season begins in September.
"We will have an identity. We will know who we are," said Mangurian. "A lot of that takes time. It takes time for us to learn the players and it takes time for the players to learn what we're trying to do and what roles they can play. There are very few players that are the total package. We have to take the strengths of each one of these guys and make that player feel comfortable in that role and in the situations you put him in. You apply that week-by-week based on what each defense presents.
"It's important for people to understand what their strengths are, and obviously you play to those. Right now we're trying to figure out what we do well, and once we determine that then as coaches we have to coach them and put them in position to execute. They have to buy into it and the team concept. If they don't buy into it you won't win. You just don't in this league when that happens, regardless of the talent you have."