In the NFL, turnarounds do happen

by Gary Shelton on August 9, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Arians opens his Bucs’ era tonight./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

Imagine the Bucs being good.

More importantly, imagine them being good now.

It’s hard, I know. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief that the franchise has built up over the years. You have to picture a lot of things going right. You have to envision Bruce Arians as a miracle worker.

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Still, it happens. In the NFL, teams go from being pretty bad to pretty good pretty fast. Just because you were bad yesterday doesn’t mean you won’t be rolling in it tomorrow. The odds are against it, sure. But for a second, imagine that it happens.

Jones needs a fast start./TIM WIRT

If it does, who will be the guy who led the charge?

Will it be Jameis Winston? After all, it is a quarterback’s league, and he has had some keeper moments. (Also, the other kind.) Will it be Bruce Arians? A lot of new coaches have led their teams in new directions over the years. Will it be Mike Evans? O.J. Howard? Chris Godwin? Lavonte David? Ndamukong Suh?

Who?

Can Winston stand out in a hurry?/TIM WIRT

That’s the reason that so many analysts have predicted a familiar flop for the Bucs. Another season in the NFC South cellar. Another year with double-digit losses. Another finish far from the playoffs. Let’s face it, every team doesn’t turn things around. A 5-11 team is pretty much guaranteed to finish 5-11 again unless someone does something about it.

Think of it like this. Over the last 10 seasons, the Cleveland Browns have won five games or fewer eight times. Jacksonville has been almost as bad, winning five or fewer seven times. The Bucs? They’ve won five or fewer six times. Some teams —

Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England, New Orleans, even Miami — haven’t had a single season with five wins or fewer.

Still, teams do turn things around. But often, it’s because of a new coach or a new passer.

Kansas City won two games in 2013. The next year, Andy

White hopes for a quick impact./TIM WIRT

Reid took over, and the Chiefs won 11 games. The Saints won three games in 2006. Sean Payton took over, and they won 10.  The Rams went from four wins to 11 under Sean McVay.

Even the Bucs did it. In 2004, they won five games. The next year, with an uncanny run of luck, they won 11.

New Bucs’ coach Bruce Arians knows a little about turnarounds, too. In 2012, he was the interim coach of the Colts, who won two games the year before. Arians led Indy to 11 wins (Chuck Pagano gets credit, since he was the head coach before falling ill). In Arizona, Arians led the Cards to 10 wins a season after they won five for Ken Whisenhunt. And Arians’ assistant, Todd Bowles, led the Jets to 10 wins after they won four the year before.

It happens. In Jim Harbaugh’s first season in San Francisco (2011) he led a 49ers team that had won six games the year before to 13 wins.

Gabbert seeks to be the team’s No. 2 quarterback./TIM WIRT

Sometimes, players help. Mitch Trubisky’s coming out helped the Bears go from five wins to 12 a year ago. Deshaun Watson helped Houston go from four wins to 11. Robert Griffin III helped the Redskins go from a five-win team to 10 wins in 2012.

So who has to be the key figure if this team is going to double its victory total?

That’s easy. Everybody does. Winston has to cut down on his turnovers. The secondary has to force the occasional incompletion. The pass rush has to click. The offensive line has to be good. The defensive line, too. The kicker has to be solid. Injuries can’t happen. Officials can’t get in the way.

Except for that, of course, it’s easy.

Evans is shooting for another 1,000-yard season.

 10 Key Bucs

(Players to Watch Tonight)

1. Ronald Jones, running back: Much of the talk this preseason has been about the rebirth of Jones. Well, who doesn’t want to see it? Think about it like this. If Jones doubles last year’s total, doubles it, he’ll have 88 yards for the year. If he triples it, he’ll have 132. He’d have to have 22.8 times last year’s yards to crack 1,000. His total is directly tied to how Dirk Koetter, who had little use for Jones, will be remembered.

2. Devin White, linebacker: Everyone likes you at hello. And the Bucs rave about White. Still, it’s easy to wonder how much an impact an inside linebacker can have in today’s game.

3. Matt Gay, kicker: Gay needs to wear a sandwich board that reads “not Roberto Aguayo.” Then he needs to show it. Gay has made 60-yard field goals routine, but he’s missed some extra points, which may be why Cairo Santos is still around.

4. Breshad Perriman, wide receiver: A lot of people still remember DeSean Jackson’s speed, but Adam Humphries’ hands may be tougher to replace. Perriman could benefit as a quicker weapon from the slot.

5. Jameis Winston, quarterback: No, he won’t play very long, so you’ll have to look in a hurry. But a turnover-free game would help you think he has a chance. Heaven help him if he throws two picks.

6. Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle: Admit it. You want to see Suh knock someone down and leave them on the ground. Fans want a little more nasty than Gerald McCoy brought.

7. Alex Cappa, right guard: Only true fans watch the offensive line in a preseason game, but if Cappa is nasty enough, he could help.

8. Mike Edwards, safety: Teammates have compared him to Tyrann Mathieu. Well, we’re willing to be convinced. Anyone else?

9. Carl Nassib, defensive end: Nassib needs an even better season than last year with Jason-Pierre Paul out. Ben Roethlisberger is hard to sack, but Nassib will look interesting in the 3-4.

10. Bruce Arians, coach: Arians won’t make a lasting memory here, but it would be nice to see him get off quickly. Only three Bucs’ coaches in history — Richard Williamson, Jon Gruden and Greg Schiano — won their first preseason game. Look for the way Arians handles substitutions, his clock management, how many penalties his team gets and his turnovers as a checklist as to how he does.

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