Bucs’ stars hope to avoid the past

by Gary Shelton on June 13, 2017 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston must avoid Freeman's traps./JEFFREY S.  KING

Winston must avoid Freeman's traps./JEFFREY S. KING

 Thursday, 4 a.m.

Nothing's guaranteed. Think of that.

Hamstrings pull. Knees blow up. Ankles twist. Sometimes, a trainer cuts off the end of your finger.

From time to time, a coach and a wide receiver cannot share the same oxygen.

That's why teams built on paper can deceive you. You look at an offense that looks ready to bust out, and the fates conspire against you. You cannot count on anything. You cannot predict.

Keep that in mind any time you find yourself feeling overly giddy about this Tampa Bay Bucs' offense. Yes, it is

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supposed to be something to behold. On the other hand, so was the Hit Show, remember? In other words, don't count your chickens until you're sure they aren't being fried up as nuggets.

Take Jameis Winston, for instance. It seems the entire world is ready to pronounce Winston to be a star. It's easy. I'm high on Winston myself after another 4,000 yard season. If he has receivers who can do a better job of separating, he could be something.

On the other hand, Winston still needs work. He's thrown 33 interceptions in two years, for one thing. His career percentage is still less than 60 percent. And his deep ball tends to float.

No one wants to think about this, but after two seasons, we sort of liked Josh Freeman, too. Remember? In his second year, he threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. But Josh had this sort of sleepy personality, and his work ethic faded in and out like a bad radio reception. He started missing meetings and taking shortcuts, and Greg Schiano was his worst matchup as a head coach.

In other words, things happen on a player's way to success. Everyone associated with the Bucs thought after 10 wins in 2010 that Freeman was entering the level of franchise quarterback.

Sure, Winston's personality fits the position much better. From his first step into the locker room, he has taken it over. There is nothing sleepy about Winston, nothing that will accept “pretty good.” But Winston has to get better, too. No way around it.

How about DeSean Jackson? The world gave the Bucs a standing ovation for the Jackson signing. But he has to prove it, too.

You think the Jackson signing was good? Be honest. What did you think of the Alvin Harper signing back in 1995? You probably loved it, right?

After all, Jackson might have averaged 17.9 yards per catch last year, but Harper averaged 24.9 in his last season for Dallas. He had eight touchdowns, twice as many as Jackson.

But Harper's quarterback in Tampa Bay was Trent Dilfer, and his coach was Sam Wyche. He was doomed to fail. In Dallas, he was behind weapons like Michael Irvin (Hall of Fame), Emmitt Smith (Hall of Fame) and Troy Aikman (Hall of Fame.) Here, he was moody, passive and unplugged.

Will Jackson succeed? I'd bet on it. His weapons are better than Harper's. But the surrounding players count, too.

(If you're talking about Bucs' wide receivers, you also have to roll your eyes at the memory of Bert Emanuel, but Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell did well enough in the Super Bowl season.)

How about Doug Martin?

The Bucs have done such a marvelous job spinning Martin this off-season that you might think last year was a success instead of one of the most disappointing seasons in memory. Martin fell from second in the NFL in rushing to 45th. He ended the season suspended for drug use.

This year, Tampa Bay has spoken glowingly about Martin, about how good he has looked while working out in shorts. It's as if his team expects big things from Martin.

Ah, but remember Cadillac Williams? Williams' first four games were historic; his shoes are still in the Hall of Fame. But Williams suffered two devastating knee injuries and never did live up to that first month of his.

Might Martin? Sure. He's healthy, and his line is better than you're heard. But he won't get a start until the fourth week of the season. Only then will you see if the Bucs were smart or foolish not to address the position in free agency or higher in the draft.

Everywhere, there are examples. This team has had enough failure that there is always a cautionary tale. Justin Evans, the safety, can watch tape of Sabby Piscatelli to see what to avoid. O.J. Howard wants to distance himself from Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Second-year defensive end Noah Spence doesn't want to be another Gaines Adams. And so on.

I'll be honest. I think the Bucs are going to be pretty good this season. I'm not convinced they're about to grow into a post-season contender just yet.

In the end, it's a matter of which footprints they follow.

And which ones they avoid.

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