Chemistry Lesson: Unity Contributing to Buc Success

No-nonsense veterans like Jeff Garcia have helped the Bucs draw closer as a team in 2007

“Team chemistry” may be a somewhat nebulous concept, but not one whose existence is widely doubted. Most winning teams claim to have it, believing – probably accurately – that a sense of togetherness, a unity of purpose and an accountability between teammates contributes to their success.

Where the skeptics may have a stronger foothold when it comes to the concept of team chemistry is in the area of cause and effect. Specifically, does good team chemistry lead to winning, or do repeated victories build good team chemistry?

Perhaps that can only be answered on a case-by-case basis. In the case of the 2007 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there is evidence, at least, that the team’s cohesiveness has been around since training camp. Head Coach Jon Gruden has gone on record many times throughout the summer and fall praising his team’s work ethic, determination and unity.

Gruden doesn’t consider the team’s chemistry an accident, either.

“I knew we’d added some blue-chippers in free agency,” he said. “When you bring in Kevin Carter and Jeff Garcia and Cato June and Luke Petitgout and Jeremiah Trotter, you have really added some high first-rounders in terms of attitude, professionalism and work ethic.

“We had some of that going here, obviously, with [Derrick] Brooks and [Ronde] Barber and [Chris] Hovan. But we came back here from training camp with a better football team than we were last year, and hopefully we can continue to get better because it’s a hard league.”

No one has ever accused Gruden of skimping on preparation time or lacking in intensity or focus on the job. That same approach seems to have infused this entire team, from the locker room to the coaches’ meeting rooms to the player personnel department.

“They’ve all worked hard,” said Gruden. “I don’t want to underestimate the job they’ve done. We’ve pushed each other and we’ve pushed the players and they’ve pushed us. It’s been a collaborative effort with 20 coaches and the players. We still have a long way to go to get what we want, but hard work gives you a chance.”

Such assessment of the team’s character comes on the heels of Tuesday’s Pro Bowl announcement, through which the Bucs learned that they don’t have a single player headed to the all-star game. Being collectively passed over seems like the kind of event that would draw a close team even closer. Perhaps it will, but on Wednesday Gruden had little desire to even discuss the subject.

“The Pro Bowl is what it is,” he said. “I’m not going to disregard that that’s a great honor, but that’s not the only we that we evaluate our players. And I’m not going to talk about the Pro Bowl anymore. We’re interested in the Super Bowl. I know we have some players that are worthy of being in that game, that all-star classic, and we have some players that certainly will be there at some point soon. I believe that.”

The Pro Bowl is little more than an abstract for the Buccaneers right now. The San Francisco 49ers, in four days, are real. Tampa Bay has sewn up the NFC South and a first-round home playoff game, but they could still move up a spot in the conference seeding and, barring that, could at least gather momentum for a postseason run.

Thus, this committed and focused squad is still very much intent on winning its last two regular-season games.

“There are always [goals],” said Gruden, once again dismissing the notion of wholesale lineup changes for the last two weeks. “Let’s be honest – we signed up for the regular season. It’s our responsibility as players and coaches to finish the season. We’re excited about the opportunity of playing. We realize the circumstances are a little bit different than maybe they have been around here, and we’ll try to use the best judgment that we can. At the same time, we don’t have a lot of options. We don’t have as many options, maybe, as people think. We certainly will consider everything and try to win the football game to the best of our ability.”

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Spurlock Nabs Special Teams Award

Michael Spurlock suddenly has some name recognition in the NFL. Too bad there is no such man in the league.

The Buccaneers’ Micheal Spurlock – note the Micheal Barrow-esque juxtaposition of the “e” and “a” – burst onto the NFL scene rather suddenly last Sunday when he returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta. That was big, big news; Tampa Bay’s 32-year-long drought of kickoff-return TDs was well known throughout the NFL, and now it is finally, blessedly over.

Not surprisingly, Spurlock has since seen his first name misspelled here and there. That’s to be expected, of course. Even a release sent out by the NFL’s main office on Wednesday originally had the more common spelling, before a corrected version came out minutes later.

Oh, that release? It contained the news that Spurlock has been named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Not bad for a player who had never returned a kickoff at any level of competition before a one-game cameo with the Arizona Cardinals last December.

Spurlock still has only 14 career regular-season returns to his credit but, of course, one of them will go down as an unforgettable and incredibly cathartic moment in franchise history. The importance of that accomplishment earned Spurlock the award. It didn’t hurt that his touchdown helped the Bucs pull away from the Falcons in what would prove to be Tampa Bay’s division-clinching victory.

Spurlock is the second Buccaneer to win a Player of the Week award this season. Linebacker Barrett Ruud took the honor in Week Two after Tampa Bay’s victory over New Orleans. Ruud was also the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September.

Special teams weekly awards have been relatively common for the Buccaneers, who have had at least one player so honored in 12 of the last 13 seasons. Kicker Matt Bryant most recently took the award in Week 7 of the 2006 season after his similarly stunning 62-yard game-winning field goal against Philadelphia.

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Crockett Released

Zack Crockett’s second stint on the Buccaneers’ roster lasted just a week. On Wednesday, the Buccaneers announced that the veteran fullback had been released after re-signing last week and spending Sunday on the game’s inactive list.

Crockett previously spent two weeks on the Bucs’ 53-man roster in the middle of the season, appearing in contests against Tennessee and Detroit.

The Buccaneers were compelled to release a player after re-activating tight end Jerramy Stevens from the reserve/suspended list. Stevens spent one week on that list and, during that time, he did not count against the 53-man roster limit.

Tampa Bay also made a switch on its eight-man practice squad. Rejoining the team is cornerback Darrell Hunter, who spent 12 days on the Bucs’ practice squad in early November. He originally signed with the team on October 31 and was then released on November 12.

Hunter, a 5-11, 211-pound cornerback out of Miami of Ohio played in three late-season games as a rookie with the Arizona Cardinals last year. He originally entered the league as an undrafted free agent and spent the first 12 weeks of the 2006 season on the Cardinals’ practice squad. After his promotion in December, Hunter recorded one tackle each on defense and special teams.

Hunter went to training camp with the Cardinals again this summer but was released during the final cut-down. As a collegian, he started his last 38 games and was a first-team all-conference choice after his senior season. Hunter is also a former high school track champion who was clocked with the fastest 40-yard dash time in Redhawk football history.

To make room for Hunter, the Bucs released rookie tight end Zac Herold, who signed with the team last week.

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