So, who is to blame for Tampa Bay’s inability to play penalty-free football?

The Buccaneers have been penalized 53 times for 443 yards through five games this season. The Bucs actually rank second in the NFL in penalties behind the Cincinnati Bengals (57 for 443 yards).

Tampa Bay is on pace to be penalized 169 times for 1,417 yards, which would shatter the Bucs’ franchise record for penalties (118 – 1984) and penalty yardage (1,104 – 2003) in a single season.

Head coach Jon Gruden has fielded much of the blame and questions regarding Tampa Bay’s propensity for committing penalties this season, and in 2003 and ’04, both of which were seasons where the Bucs were penalized 117 times.

While some critics are quick to blame Gruden, the players are pointing the finger at themselves.

“The coaching staff has done all they can do,” said Bucs center John Wade. “It just comes down to the individual players. As a group, we have to stay on it and find a way to play a penalty-free game.”

In fact, the Bucs went as far as hiring officials to monitor the team’s offseason workouts and some of its training camp practices in an effort to help eliminate penalties from their game.

Gruden said Monday that he would consider hiring new officials if that’s what it took to limit the amount of penalties his team is being called for on game days, but the players are not blaming the referees or their head coach – they’re blaming themselves.

“Coach Gruden is doing all he can to help us out,” said Bucs running back Michael Pittman. “As a player and a man, we’ve got to eliminate the penalties out of our play. Coach Gruden hired referees to come in and help us eliminate penalties, but we’re still creating the same penalties. We talked about it this morning as a team, and it’s something we have to eliminate from our play.”

Bucs linebacker Jeff Gooch, who has watched Tampa Bay’s special teams unit draw 15 penalties this season while he is on injured reserve, concurred with Pittman’s sentiment.

“It’s just a matter of players paying more attention to detail,” said Gooch. “The reasons the penalties are coming on special teams is because guys are trying so hard. You’re trying to do the correct technique, and because you’re trying to give the extra effort, sometimes you wind up pulling the guy. Sometimes it’s a matter of paying attention to more detail and making sure you’re not off by that one yard that’s going to be the difference between you doing your job or you getting penalized. The guys are working on cleaning up that particular area of their game, and they’ve got to get it done. (Special teams) Coach Bisaccia will make sure they do.

“The penalties fall back on the players. The coaches teach the technique. If you notice it they notice it. The players just have to come out and pay more attention to detail. If they work at it, which they are, they’ll get it cleaned up.”

Tampa Bay has been penalized 10 times for personal fouls this season. That’s something that can be avoided, and the players are attempting to make it clear that personal foul penalties will no longer be tolerated.

“We act like that’s a selfish type of play,” Bucs tight end Anthony Becht said of the team’s personal foul penalties. “It takes away from field position and what we’re trying to accomplish, which is score and keep the other team from scoring. Anybody that does that is really hurting our team.”

Although some have attributed the amount of penalties Tampa Bay has committed to the youth movement at One Buc Place, most players believe committing penalties doesn’t stem from a lack of experience. Instead, they say it’s a lack of discipline.

“No, I don’t think so,” Becht said when asked if the coaching staff could do any more to help the players commit less penalties. “I could see that if we were in high school or college, but we’re all grown men and professionals here. You’ve got to know the difference between a late hit and not late hitting, taunting and holding, and things like that. Sometimes you’re going to get called for a hold, and sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. We just have to be a little more disciplined on how we play as individuals. We have to be accountable in what we do. If you’re going to pull a guy, let go. If you feel like you’re going to hit somebody in the back, don’t. We’re able to control those things, but we have to do a much better job.”

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