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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Arians’ Mind Games With Hargreaves, McCoy
Bucs center Ryan Jensen recently spoke about the new level of accountability that Bruce Arians has brought to Tampa Bay and indicated that the team is excited about the change.
But the players will soon find out that Arians’ accountability is great – until it comes knocking on their doorstep.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was the target of Arians’ latest accountability salvo, not practicing on the first day of OTAs with the Bucs’ new head coach saying that he needs to get his mind right to practice.
Arians wants Hargreaves, an underachieving first-round pick in 2016, to play with an edge this year. As the most veteran cornerback on the roster next to Ryan Smith, who was a fourth-round pick in ’16, Arians needs a great year from Hargreaves, who has battled hamstring and shoulder injuries over the last two seasons.
Hargreaves had his fifth-year option, which is worth over $9 million, picked up by Tampa Bay for 2020, but it is not guaranteed unless he’s injured and can’t pass a physical next year. In other words, if he continues to underachieve, the Bucs can cut Hargreaves next offseason and won’t owe him a penny nor will there be any salary cap ramifications.
The guess here is that Arians and the Bucs don’t want Hargreaves to think that he’s automatically safe for this year and next year, and they don’t want him to assume he’s going to be starter just because he’s a former first-round pick and had that fifth-year option picked up.
This is an old school coaching tactic that the legendary “Three Bills” – Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick – have deployed in the past. No one is immune from criticism – not Joe Montana in San Francisco, not Lawrence Taylor in New York and not Tom Brady in New England.
Arians routinely did this in Arizona where he was the head coach from 2013-17, even criticizing team captain Calais Campbell, after a three-sack game in 2015, suggesting he should have had five sacks.
In an unfortunate era in which kids these days are given participation trophies and the thought of winning is diminished in favor of “having fun” in youth sports by not keeping score of games, Arians takes the opposite approach. He is definitely not one to coddle players, and his respect is earned by some and not given out to all.
It’s a different approach, and one that will have to take some adjusting to after a more country club-like environment that was created under former players coach Dirk Koetter.
The 66-year old Arians is definitely old school in his style of coaching, regularly citing Alabama’s legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, the man he worked under for two years with the Crimson Tide, as his coaching idol. As Arians has said many times, Bryant would “coach ‘em hard and hug ‘em later.”
The message was not only sent to Hargreaves, but also to the rest of the team. There are no sacred cows at One Buccaneer Place. Just because you were a former first-round pick and have a big contract doesn’t guarantee you anything.
I love it.
This approach by Arians is absolutely needed at One Buc Place, folks.
Just look at Gerald McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler, who is set to make $13 million this year. If you think Hargreaves is the first player to get criticized by Arians in an attempt to light a fire, you haven’t been paying attention to what’s transpired between McCoy and Arians this offseason.
McCoy, a player that wears flashy clothes to stand out and loves attention and the spotlight, has always been praised by the team and the media for his good deeds and high character, willingness to help teammates, and his play on the field that has resulted in six Pro Bowl berths and over $100 million in salary earned – although he has his detractors within the Tampa Bay fan base that don’t think he shows up enough in the fourth-quarter with game-changing plays, or the fact that his play has not been enough to turn the Bucs into a playoff team.
McCoy has not paid much attention to those voices because McCoy-hating Bucs fans aren’t important to him. I don’t blame him.
McCoy even “silenced” me after I wrote in a previous SR’s Fab 5 stating it was time for McCoy to let Kwon Alexander take over as the leader of the Bucs defense last year by blocking the @PewterReport account on Twitter. In the end, McCoy wasn’t voted as a team captain last year and Alexander was, along with fellow linebacker Lavonte David.
McCoy and I have had our run-ins in over the years, but I respect him as a player and a person whether he believes it or not. He’s been a helluva Buccaneer.
But this is the first time that McCoy has ever heard any real criticism from inside One Buccaneer Place, and from someone that is supposed to be important to him – his own new head coach. The criticism and lack of love he’s felt from Arians has definitely lit a fire under McCoy – just take a look at McCoy’s Instagram tirade directed at his new head coach without naming him – and that’s exactly what Arians wants.
If McCoy is going to play for the Bucs in 2019 Arians wants an edgy McCoy – one that is pissed off, feels angry and disrespected and has something to prove. Keep in mind that everything Arians said about McCoy in Arizona at the NFL Owners Meeting is true.
“He is on our team,” said Arians. “He plays three-technique and we have a three technique that penetrates. He did it as well – whenever that was – four years ago … Would I like to see him more disruptive? Yeah. We can use him. If he is here, he is going to be used a bunch. It is just a matter of what happens.
“He is not as disruptive as he was four year ago, but he is still tough. He is still a good player. If he is there, he is there. He is our starting three-technique. There is no doubt about that.”
All of that is true. At age 30 last year, McCoy produced six sacks, which was the same number he had in 2017 but fewer than he had in years past.
Sometimes the truth hurts.
And what’s also true is that the 31-year old McCoy is no longer worth $13 million per season based on that level of production.
“The financial is a big part of it,” Arians said. “I have got to evaluate him. [The] guy is up in age. It is different. Now it is usually the age where they get paid the most. And production and price don’t match. So we have to find that out. It is very hard because we can’t get in pads, but you can still see it. And you can still see his enthusiasm for the game.
“If he still has all that, then I am fine. As a coach, I coach who I got. I coach the guys that are there. Now if guys don’t show up, then don’t ask me about them. I ain’t talking about them. I talk about the guys that show up. We will see how that goes.”
It’s one thing for McCoy to brush off comments from angry Buccaneers fans on Twitter or WDAE 95.3 afternoon radio host Ian Beckles, who has been one of his harshest critics. It’s another thing to try to shrug off criticism from McCoy’s own head coach.
This is all calculated, folks.
If McCoy returns to play a 10th season in Tampa Bay, Arians wants him to play on edge – and for Hargreaves to play that way, too. And if McCoy winds up being cut or traded and doesn’t play for Tampa Bay, then oh well.
Arians has sent the message that there are no untouchable players in the building when it comes to the kind of accountability he’s bringing.
Arians always says it’s not personal when it comes to him chewing out a player on the field or in the meeting room or chastising a player in the media, that it’s about their football – not them as a person. That’s a lesson the Bucs are currently learning about their new head coach, and McCoy and Hargreaves are exhibits A and B in this case study.
Arians is famous for telling the players that this is their team – not his. Yet it’s all a mind game, as Arians is actually in full control – pulling the strings to extract the best performance possible from them.
You see Arians isn’t lying to his players, or ripping his players without a reason. He’s a maestro, conducting an orchestra.
The players are the ones that have the instruments and are responsible for making the music on the field. As a coach, Arians doesn’t play a single note – only being responsible for making sure the music sound good and making sure the instruments are played correctly and at the right time.
Speaking of music, there was not a single note of music played at Bucs practice on Tuesday, and – surprise! – the energy level on the field was just fine. There was not one rap or rock song played, and the players didn’t miss a beat.
No one is off limits to Arians’ “coach ‘em hard, and hug ‘em later” strategy. And if you think this is no way to treat a “great player” and a “good guy” like McCoy, this isn’t the first time this has happened in Tampa Bay.
When Mike Tomlin arrived from the University of Cincinnati in 2001 to replace Herman Edwards as the Bucs secondary coach, he gave Pro Bowler John Lynch a list with dozens of ways for him to become a better safety, which immediately pissed off Lynch.
Tomlin also said that he loved Ronde Barber, but that he was trying to replace him all the time, especially the older he got into his 30s. Tomlin wanted Lynch and Barber on edge, and achieved that.
Lynch made two more Pro Bowls at age 30 and 31 under Tomlin, and is there any coincidence that Barber led the league with a career-high and team-record 10 interceptions in Tomlin’s first year in Tampa Bay in 2001? Or that the franchise’s signature play – a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game – came the following year?
Who was Tomlin’s offensive coordinator when he won his Super Bowl in Pittsburgh?
Why Arians, of course.
And keep in mind that Jon Gruden walked into One Buccaneer Place in 2002 and said that Monte Kiffin had a good, but not great defense, and that great defenses score touchdowns. Gruden, who had an entirely new offensive coaching staff and a revamped offensive unit to break in, challenged the Bucs defense to score nine defensive touchdowns in 2002, knowing that it would take a while for his offense to come together during the season and that Tampa Bay would need some scoring help from the defense.
The defense was irked, yet responded to Gruden’s challenge and rose to the occasion with five defensive TDs during the regular season. Barber added one more against the Eagles to get the Bucs to the Super Bowl where linebacker Derrick Brooks and cornerback Dwight Smith added a total of three more to beat the Raiders and hit Gruden’s goal of nine.
Arians wants to push Hargreaves towards greatness or push him to the bench. At the end of the day, how Hargreaves responds will be up to him.
That’s what accountability is all about, and that’s what Arians is teaching these Tampa Bay Buccaneers.