You'll never hear a football player or coach – or really, anyone, for that matter – say they are ok with a slow start. But getting off to a fast start perhaps carries more weight for teams like the Bucs, who are eager to put last season's disappointment behind them. After a training camp that was touted as one of the most physical in recent memory by players on the team's roster, Tampa Bay now has a unique opportunity to begin the regular season faster than most: against a division opponent.
"We've been having a good training camp – guys just competing and working hard so now it's time to put it out there on the field," right tackle Demar Dotson said. "It's time for the real deal now, preseason is over with. It's time to get out there and compete and work and it's not going to be an easy schedule. It's not starting easy but we still have to go out there and compete and do a good job so I'm excited to see how the season is going to start off."
The Bucs face one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Their first three opponents have a collective 2017 record of 37-11 and all made the playoffs, including Philadelphia who won the Super Bowl. It's not an easy stretch to begin a season but that isn't to say there aren't some positives that come along with it. It allows the Bucs to make a statement – especially to the NFC South, where the three other teams in the division made the postseason last year. After an offseason of key additions, there isn't a better stage to put them to the test than going into divisional territory.
"I think it's an advantage in a standpoint because we get to go out there and show this division what we're going to be," Dotson said of opening the season against the familiar Saints. "We're either going to be 1-0 in our division or 0-1 in our division and we have to get out to a fast start. We can't afford to get off to a slow start so we get a chance to come out here and go on the road and get off to a fast start."
View photos from the Buccaneers' practice Thursday at AdventHealth Training Center
Just how to get off to that fast start is a bit tricky by nature. Head Coach Dirk Koetter explained on Thursday that most teams will evaluate their opponent based on a three-to-five game breakdown of film. But what happens before there are three to five games in a season? Thankfully, New Orleans is a familiar opponent – another positive of starting against a division team.
"There really are no secrets other than playing the first game because everybody works on things in the offseason," Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said. "We just have to be able to apply our rules. I think [the Saints] are very good in the secondary. I think adding a guy like [Kurt] Coleman adds to that – a veteran guy who's played in our division, he's played against us before. But again, as I say, every week you're going to play against really good players. The good news is I really like our perimeter players. I don't know many weeks where we won't like our matchups on the perimeter."
"Playing a team that you know well – we've played against these guys five times with these coordinators over the last two and a half years," added Coach Koetter. "That's a lot of film to study plus all their other games from last year so there's a lot of stuff there. You're always a little bit paranoid of what they might do."
Regardless of what the Saints do on Sunday, it was Dotson that took ownership for what the Bucs have to do in order to leave New Orleans with a win. Veterans, new additions and rookies are all eager to prove themselves and show the progress made this offseason and training camp. That starts with playing their best football and the age-old player adage of controlling what you can control.
"We are going to have to compete," Dotson said. "We are going to have to play fast and physical, that's what it's going to have to start with. We are going to have to not beat ourselves. A lot of times in the past, we beat ourselves with turnovers and mental errors and that's one thing we can't do. We can't go down to New Orleans and beat ourselves. It's going to be hard to beat New Orleans without us beating ourselves. Beating ourselves, we have no chance. So that's the biggest thing that we are going to have to do. I think if we do that – if we compete and play physical and play hard and play mental-error-free, I think we'll have a real good chance. That's what's going to give us a chance to win."