Dirk Koetter went fishing on Sunday, landing two snook and one trout, rather than watching the NFL's Week-Five slate of games. That was a little bye weekend treat for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach, but Koetter and his staff also used a good portion of the open week in the schedule to run a thorough round of self-scouting after the team's up-and-down start to the season.
And before that exercise began, Koetter went on another fishing expedition that proved even more productive.
For players, the bye week is primarily useful for allowing bodies to rest and injuries to heal. As such, Koetter gave the team six straight days off (one more than is required), starting on Tuesday. Before he did, however, he asked for their input as to some important topics that will impact how the team moves forward from the first quarter of the season. That self-scouting exercise, and an effort to keep all players and coaches united and moving in the same direction, took on some extra urgency when the Bucs' impressive 2-0 start was followed by a narrow loss to Pittsburgh and a bad stumble in Chicago.
For instance, Koetter solicited some player feedback on what would produce faster starts after the team got behind early in those losses to the Steelers and Bears.
"Just some areas where I wanted to see [what they thought]," he said. "When you're a college coach and guys aren't leaving town, from time to time you meet with every guy on your team. Well, I didn't have time, with everybody leaving last Tuesday for six days, to meet with every guy. So I put together a very short thing that I asked some guys to give me some feedback and they did an awesome job. I really appreciate their honest, because honesty can be self-defeating, it makes yourself look bad. But I appreciate the honesty, and the communication both ways – player-coach, coach-player, was good."
The approach makes sense, especially if players see that their suggestions are being accepted, truly considered and possibly even implemented. On Monday morning, with the players back at the AdventHealth Training Center for a bonus practice after the bye week, Koetter shared with the team some of the compiled thoughts he had gathered from all that feedback.
Koetter heard from a lot of voices.
"Yeah, I gave some feedback," said linebacker Lavonte David, one of the Bucs' veteran leaders. "Everybody had some input here and there. He put some stuff up on the board that he felt was important that a lot of guys talked about. So it was really good feedback. The main thing is about open communication."
While David is in his seventh season and is one the most respected men in the locker room, Koetter was more than happy to take feedback from anyone on the roster, even the younger players. Wide receiver Chris Godwin, who carries himself as a much more experienced NFL veteran, offered some thoughts, too, and though the process went well.
"Where we're trying to go as a team, I think it's crucial that we're all on the same page," said Godwin. "I like the open dialogue between coaches, players and everyone in the organization. I think that makes things easier and makes everyone more productive. I think everybody had some feedback, and I think that's important that we're all open about how we feel about where we stand and the direction of the team."
As one would expect, Koetter and the players kept the content of that back-and-forth communication to themselves. In some cases, it's simply a strategic matter. If a player had some suggestions about how to make a certain play or defensive package work better, it wouldn't make much sense to put it out where upcoming opponents could see it. But in a general sense, it's clear that the Buccaneers think their results from the past two games were largely the product of their own mistakes.
"I think the main thing – just across the board, offense, defense and special teams – that came out of the bye week is that we have had way too many self-inflicted errors," said Koetter. "Whether that's the running game, whether that's coverage, you can pick it, but [it's] self-inflicted errors, and some of those things are coaching. I'm not trying to put that just on players; it's everybody. You could always get better calls. If something doesn't work you can always say you could get a better call. Most of our errors in the running game are things that can be fixed if we do a better job of it."
Highlighting mistakes might seem like a negative exercise, but what it emphasizes to the players is that there are problems that can be fixed. David thought that was a positive thing.
"It was good feedback, especially coming off what we had come from," he said. "Just seeing where we're at, see how everybody felt about the first quarter of the season and then going on the bye week with something to think about and adjust to. I feel like it was a good thing; he got some positive feedback."