Koetter has to mold potential into production

by Gary Shelton on August 23, 2017 · 2 comments

in general

Koetter has to be as good as expected./CARMEN MANDATO

Koetter has to be as good as expected./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

In the days ahead, Dirk Koetter faces the biggest challenge a coach could face.

And no, I'm not talking about facing the New England Patriots.

For that matter, I'm not talking about the Packers or the Falcons or the Falcons again. I'm not talking about Drew Brees or Odell Beckham or Jordy Nelson. I'm not talking about Cam Newton or Larry Fitzgerald or Matt Stafford. I'm not talking about a pass rush or placekicker or a running game.

This year, Koetter faces the dreaded nemesis of lofty expectations. It can be a crippling opponent. The party is planned; Koetter has to make sure there is a reason to celebrate.

Already, the Bucs have been pronounced as dangerous on offense. They are supposed to be a gathering storm of unstoppability, and never mind that they

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A good year, and Koetter would be in the Bucs' top five./CARMEN MANDATO

A good year, and Koetter would be in the Bucs' top five./CARMEN MANDATO

have scored all of 24 points in two preseason games. They are supposed to be touchdown heroes, team blur, a collection of the finest weapons in the history of the franchise.

And all Koetter is expected to do is to point toward the end zone.

Oh, we all know that it won't be that easy. No one is sure quite what to expect of the rushing attack, since starter Doug Martin is suspended for three weeks. And the offensive line continues to have its critics, although the coaches seem happy enough.

Other than that, we expect Koetter to be an orchestra leading, pointing here when he wants to hear a dash of strings, there when he wants more percussion, there when it's times for the brass. We expect Jameis Winston to be a budding star, and we expect receivers to get more separation, and we expect Mike Evans to be the best thing the red zone has ever seen. That's all.

Hey, no complaints here. There have been too many seasons when the Bucs had no expectations at all, and still managed to play beneath those. It's kind of nice to see standards on the local team, particularly on the side of the ball (offense) that is rarely strong around here.

Still, it is up to Koetter to direct this blockbuster.

So far, it has been easy to like Koetter, who is wound a tad tight but whose heart is in the right place. He is a coach's coach, not one of these pop-star looking assistants who were handed the silver spoon in their early 30s. Koetter spent nine years in the NFL working for someone else, and to be honest, he seemed happy enough to do so.

Finally, however, Koetter got his own team a year ago. He had a promising start, going 9-7 — the team's second-best record since Jon Gruden, and he barely missed the playoffs. Only Gruden has a better first-year record than Koetter.

Think of it like this. After one season, Koetter has already won more games than Lovie Smith, Leeman Bennett and Richard Williams. If he goes .500 this year, he will win more than Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano. If he wins 10, he ties Ray Perkins and moves into the top five of Bucs' coaches.

This year? This year, everyone expects the next step. Everyone expects that Winston will be more accurate and calmer in the pocket. Everyone expects a tougher offensive line, a faster wide receiver set, a deeper offensive back group. Everyone expects the defense — under Mike Smith, Koetter's right hand — to play as it did in the second half of last year. Everyone expects the team to be smarter and crisper and have a better pass rush.

Why? Because mountain climbers don't get most of the way up and say “You know, I think I'll just stay here and admire the view.”

That's the down side of a roster that most of us agree is packed with talent. You have to play music, or you're just making noise. You have to stop griping about how rough the seas are and just reach the dock.

This is the Bucs' most complete starting unit in years, perhaps since the Super Bowl.

For a coach, however, that's the greatest challenge. You have to get Evans going again. You have to pick your moments with Jackson. You have to make do until Martin comes back. You have to develop O.J. Howard, but not forget about Cameron Brate. You have to find some routes for Chris Godwin. You have to have a cohesive, rough offensive line. You have to continue to develop Winston while an entire team follows him around. You have to put a band-aid on the wobbly placekicking.

Look, it 's a hard job, coaching. You can suggest that Koetter has a promising team, and he does, but in reality, he is coaching a lot of units, a lot of players, and trying to get them all to march forward. He has to deal with injuries and slumps and off-days. He has to manage clocks and field position and third downs.

All of that said, the Bucs have a chance. That's better than you can say in most seasons.

This year, they finally have an offense that should line up for a lot of extra points.

That, of course, is one more situation Koetter must deal with.

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