Fans believe in Arians; they have no choice

by Gary Shelton on July 26, 2019 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs

Can Arians cure the struggling Bucs?

Friday, 3 a.m.

There is a reason that the fans of the Tampa Bay Bucs believe so staunchly in new coach Bruce Arians.

After all, what other choice do they have?

In a sea of chaos, Arians appears stable. For a franchise that has been lost in the woods, he seems to know the way. For a team that has taken up residency in the NFC South cellar, he seems to share the expectations of the fans.

And so Arians seems as if he has a plan.

It's a start.

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“I hope everybody is as excited as we are to get started," Arians said Thursday. "We’ll get through these two days in shorts and start finding out what we’ve got. I know we’ve improved over the summer. Just looking at the guys who have been here the last couple of days, (they’re) in great shape. Retention was outstanding, especially the young players. I’m looking forward to getting everybody out. Everybody else came in in great shape. We’ll do the conditioning test today and it won’t last long because I already know they’re in good shape – and I don’t want to run them too much anyway –  but we’ll go through the formality of it. No real answers as far as [injured] guys. JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) is progressing, nothing new on his timeline. Justin Evans is still on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform). We’ll see how long that takes. Nick Fitzgerald pulled his hamstring playing beach volleyball, so he’s got another week or so. We’ll get those guys back out there, hopefully two of them, soon.”

In the NFL, it starts with someone special. A Bill Belichick. A Don Shula. A Bill Walsh or a Chuck Noll or a Jimmy Johnson. It takes someone who can stop a team from running in place and get it going somewhere.

Look, the last coach to have such a favorable off-season around here was Jon Gruden, who arrived as a bundle of energy before the 2002 season. He won the Super Bowl that season, and no one has kicked in the door of this franchise since.

Raheem Morris? He was a beginner, hired before he was ready, and the world quickly caught on. Greg Schiano was a consolation prize from college football, a guy who hadn't overwhelmed along the way. Lovie Smith had gone to a Super Bowl -- then again, so had Sam Wyche -- and he quickly signed a quarterback that no one believed in. Dirk Koetter was a career assistant who failed to inspire for very long.

But Arians seems to believe. He is a confident sort, one who seems sure he can turn things around here. He believes in Jameis Winston.h He believes in this secondary. He even believes in Ronald Jones.

As the Bucs go to training camp, then, it is easy to believe in Arians.

What choice to the Bucs have? The quarterback turns the ball over far too often, and the offensive line didn't wow anyone, and the best defensive end -- Jason Pierre-Paul -- is injured. Gerald McCoy and Kwon Alexander are gone.

So how good can these Bucs be?

Hey, on paper, you'd have to agree with the pedestrian picks of the analysts. The Bucs have been last in the division for seven of the past eight seasons. New Orleans with Drew Brees and Atlanta with Matt Ryan and even Carolina with Cam Newton all seem to be more of a challenge for the division race.

But Arians has raised eyebrows before. In 2012, he took over an Arizona team with five wins (like this one) and won 10 games. He won 11 games in his second year and 13 in his third. He made the playoffs twice, which this team hasn't done since 2007.

The difference with Arians and most coaches is that Arians doesn't seem to care to tell you how tough his job is going to be. He's said several times that there is more talent here than there was at Arizona. He doesn't seem cowed by the dismal history (since 2002). He isn't trying to win points by telling you the odds against his team. That alone has to give him some credit; other coaches were very good at telling you how difficult the road ahead would be.

So what does Arians have to do?

He has to make an efficient quarterback out of Winston. Oh, forget about him carrying the team for a while. He needs to cut down on the turnovers and allow the team to win on days he isn't great. He needs to be smarter. He needs to be crisper.

“I think about 70 percent is upstairs," Arians said. "He has improved, I think, dramatically - his footwork and stuff because he’s worked so hard at it. And that helps, because that stops that high hot one down the middle. That high hot one down the middle doesn’t have anything to do with your brain. It’s your technique. That’s usually where he gets in trouble, firing one down the middle that’s high and hot. And we’ve worked a lot, talking about second base throws rather than where a guy has to reach above his head.”

He has to find a running game. For everything you've heard about Ronald Jones, he still had a historically lousy first season. He has to show some flashes. Remember this: if Jones were to gain just 440 yards this year, that would be ten times what he gained last year. But Peyton Barber again seems to be the other candidate.

“I am fine with what we have," Arians said. "I think Barber came in at 229 and looked fantastic. Is he going to hit home runs 70 yards? Probably not, but he’s going to pound people, and that’s what we like. Because that sets up the play exit pass, I’m really anxious to see Jones. He progressed so much through the spring. He looks in great shape, and I think he’s hungry. He told me Todd McNair’s done a great job with both of those guys. Andre Ellington is healthy for the first time and he adds a little something different. I’m fine with those guys. I think for what we like doing, I think Rojo can be really explosive, and I think Peyton is gonna be really steady. They’re good pass blockers. Dare [Ogunbowale] is in that mix too, physical and a really good route runner.”

He has to hope the offensive line is better. The Bucs have poured a lot of cash into their offensive line, but it still makes too many penalties and doesn't block well enough. Last year, it gave up 41 sacks and averaged 3.9 yards a carry.

“It’ll be a good competition," Arians said. I" don’t judge linemen until we put pads on. You can see how athletic they are, how smart they are in the spring, but you can’t really see how physical they are. That’s going to be a really fun battle to watch. We’ve got capable guys and I like where all of them are at. I think we should have solid depth. Whether we dress seven or eight on Sunday will depend on the health of the guys.”

He has to find a pass-rusher to replace Pierre-Paul. Carl Nassib? Noah Spence? Anyone? He has to make sure Ndamukong Suh's transition is made easy.

“For Suh, just be you," Arians said. "You know, you don’t have to come in here and be a ‘rah-rah’ guy and all. Just be you, play hard like you always do and guys will follow you. He’s already helping guys and giving them tips. You know, to me that’s leading. When you’re helping your room get better, that’s leading. I always go back to Jerome Bettis. He taught Willie Parker how to play to take his job, and that was the Steeler way. Your veteran guys coached your young guys to help us win. If they’d take your job eventually, so be it. Hines Ward did the same thing for me as a receiver room. I think people add that to our room.”

He has to develop Devin White into an impact player as a rookie.

“I think that was a big part of the evaluation process," Arians said. "How mature he was and the accolades from coaches that we really trust that were around him every day, and you hear Ed [Orgeron] now talk about how they can't replace him. So, the sky’s the limit. Let’s let him fail before we pull him back. See what he can’t do. Right now he can do everything. So until he says ‘Whoa, I can’t learn all this stuff or I can’t do that.’ I don’t think that’s ever coming out of his mouth though, knowing him.”

He has to find the right pieces in the secondary, which was dreadful last year. Opposing quarterbacks had the highest average in the league against Tampa Bay.

He has to find a kicker. Around her, that's harder than it sounds.

And he has to do it all against a schedule that is challenging. Here's what Greg Rosenthal of says about the Bucs' schedule:

"The Bucs will have to balance a brutal division schedule with an even more brutal stretch away from home surrounding the team's London trip. The Bucs go seven weeks between games in Tampa with road games against the NFC's two best teams from a year ago (the Rams and Saints) before a trip overseas to play the division-rival Pantheres, then tests in Tennessee and Seattle after the team's bye. The run starts in Week 4, making early games like the Week 2 Thursday nighter in Carolina all the more crucial as Bruce Arians' crew tries to get out to a fast start to build a cushion. On paper, this might be my least favorite schedule in the league."

Such a schedule would challenge the sunniest coach's attitude. But Arians seems intent on proving that he didn't come here to retire.

Granted, to believe that Arians will single-handedly make a difference means that you think Dirk Koetter was a lousy enough coach that he was in the way. That seems a stretch. Koetter may have lacked the ability to keep a sinking ship afloat, but he was a pro coach who knew his way around a practice field.

Still, this franchise has struggled for too many years. Maybe fans need to have hope. Maybe they need to believe that the right guy has finally arrived with the right plan. Maybe they need someone who can find his way to the end zone more than the other team.

In a way, it is a risk for Arians to actually start the season. He seems popular enough without a record.

Of course, he can remain popular.

All he has to do is win.

That would be nice to see, wouldn't it?

Coach                             Trust factor                                           First Year Record

John McKay               High   (4 college national championships)                      0-14

Leeman Bennett       Low     (fired by the Atlanta Falcons) b                             2-14

Ray Perkins               Low  (decent at Alabama, wasn't bad with Giants) 4-11

Richard Williamson Miserable (who else would have hired him?)         3-13

Sam Wyche               Medium (had taken the Bengalsto the Super Bowl)  5-11

Tony Dungy               Low (third choice, but went to four playoffs)          6-10

Jon Gruden               High (huge price to obtain him, but he won it all)   12-4

Raheem Morris        Low (had never been a head coach)                              3-13

Greg Schiano           Low  (mediocre at Rutgers)                                            7-9

Lovie Smith             Medium (seemed to forget football in a year off)     2-14

Dirk Koetter            Medium (good assistant, not a head coach)             9-7

Bruce Arians           High (turned the Cardinals around)                          --




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