Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Real Improvement

June Notes: Bucs’ 2005 turnaround likely a sign of good things to come…Clayton interview airs on NFL Network…Last days at One Buc on the horizon, and more

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WR Michael Clayton, who was recently interviewed on the NFL Network, could help the Bucs' prove their 2005 turnaround was no fluke

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans are familiar with the quick turnaround.

The phrase "worst to first" was practically coined to describe what the downtrodden Bucs of 1978 (and '76-77) did in 1979, winning the NFC Central in their fourth year of existence and advancing to the NFL Championship Game. That phrase, in fact, is burned across the cover of the team's 1980 media guide.

The 1996 Bucs started 0-5. The 1997 Bucs started 5-0. Tampa Bay's 5-11 record in 2004 was a few ticks down from their 7-9 record in 2003, and most pundits expected more of the same in 2005. Those Bucs, however, raced to 11-5 and won the NFC South for the second time in four years.

Of course, turnarounds can go in both directions, and Buc fans couldn't be blamed for wondering if the team's new seat at the top of the division is a chair with wobbly legs. Did Tampa Bay get back in gear in 2005 or did they merely spend one isolated season in the express lane?

Well, a little statistical analysis suggests that the Bucs' drastic turnaround from 2004 to 2005 is a very good omen for 2006.

What does that mean, specifically? It means that one-season improvements of at least six wins are almost always the beginning of lasting success. Check out the numbers.

Since the 1970 merger, there have been 37 teams, or almost exactly one per season on average, that have improved their win totals by at least six games from one year to the next. That includes teams that improved from 1969 to 1970. It does not include any such improvements that include the 1982 season, which was shortened by nine games by a players' strike. The contention here is that an "improvement" from 3-6 in 1982 to 9-7 in 1983 is not nearly the same thing as improving from 3-13 to 9-7.

Only nine of those 37 teams, so far, have failed to post at least a .500 record in the season that followed the improved year. We say "so far" because two teams will test that pattern in 2006, the Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears, who also improved from 5-11 to 11-5 over the last two seasons. Of those 35 teams before the Bucs and the Bears, 15 had at least 10 wins the following season, and 20 had at least nine wins.

In other words, improvements of the sort made by Tampa Bay last season are very rarely flukes. One need only look as far as last February, when the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks. The Steelers were 6-10 in 2003 but they shot up to 15-1 in 2004, improving by nine games, though they didn't win the Super Bowl (New England did). This past season, the Steelers failed to duplicate that 15-1 mark, unsurprisingly, but they still went 11-5, got hot at the end of the season and took it all the way to the title.

On the other hand, it is difficult to maintain the exact same level of success from the season before after a big improvement, if only because the improved record is usually so strong. There were actually three teams who improved by at least six games from 2003 to 2004, and all three regressed slightly in 2005, at least in terms of regular-season record (obviously, the Steelers didn't "regress" overall in 2005). The Atlanta Falcons flipped their 5-11 in '03 to 11-5 in '04 but limped in at 8-8 last year, though they were in the playoff race until the penultimate weekend of '05. The San Diego Chargers looked like one of the league's best teams heading into 2005 after their 2004 record of 12-4 improved on their 2003 mark by eight games. The Chargers did finish 9-7, but they too missed the playoffs. It may be that tougher schedules following winning seasons make it difficult for teams to reproduce the same record.

The least successful team in a season following an improvement of at least six games, post-merger, was the 2002 Bears, who finished 4-12. The previous year, Chicago had gone 13-3, an eight-game improvement from the preceding season. Obviously, such a thing could happen to the 2006 Buccaneers, as the experiences of other teams in other seasons provide no guarantee for Tampa Bay's current squad. However, the combined history of the other crews who have managed such significant and rapid turnarounds suggest that the improvement is rarely temporary. And that's good news for Buccaneer fans.

**

Clayton: Total Access

On Tuesday, Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton appeared on the NFL Network show "Total Access" via a satellite hookup, discussing a wide range of topics with host Derrin Horton.

The Bucs held one of their "organized team activity" practices that morning, and Clayton literally went straight from the practice field to the interview chair, as evidenced by the gloved hand with which he gripped the microphone. That provided a humorous entry point for Horton, but the interview quickly turned to a serious topic: Clayton's attempt to rebound from a disappointing 2005 season.

Horton escorted Clayton through such topics as the receiver's health, his relationship with quarterback Chris Simms, his new "contract" with Head Coach Jon Gruden and the first major event sponsored by his foundation, July 15's Celebrity Hoops Jam. You can watch the entire interview by clicking on the link at the top of the story.

Clayton stressed that his struggles in 2005 were a by-product of his attempts to play through various ailments, and said that he learned from the previous offseason, in which spring surgery left him unable to work in the various mini-camps and organized practices. This year, said Clayton, he got the necessary cleanup done early and launched immediately into an effort to "get back to the basics."

"Once you're out for so long…you kind of lose what you came from," said Clayton, referring to his marvelous 80-catch rookie campaign in 2004. "My basic goal is to get back to what I was."

**

Countdown to "The Move"

On Tuesday afternoon, a rather detailed grade sheet of everything the Buccaneers' defensive squads had done right and wrong on Tuesday morning was hung on a bulletin board in the hallway that serves the defensive meeting rooms. At the top, the sheet was labeled "OTA #10."

Those who know that the team is allowed only 14 of these voluntary "organized team activity" days during the offseason could also see that title as a countdown of sorts. The team knocked off OTA #11 on Wednesday, leaving only three of those sessions and a three-day mini-camp left on the offseason schedule.

And that means there are only six practices left in the history of One Buccaneer Place.

The Bucs will spend their final three OTA allotments next week from Tuesday-Thursday, June 13-15. The following week, from June 20-22, the team will conduct its only mandatory, full-roster mini-camp of 2006, wrapping up the 14-week offseason training program. Thereafter, the next time the team will get together it will be in Orlando, as the players report for the start of training camp on July 27.

And when it reports back to Tampa, after camp breaks in mid-August, the team will be housed in its gleaming new facility just east of Raymond James Stadium. Players and coaches will immediately begin training, studying and practicing in their new, state-of-the-art home.

Thus, Thursday, June 22 is the unofficial end of "The Woodshed." It may be a sentimental farewell, but there likely won't be many tears.

**

Waffles and Chicken

The shorter week of OTAs provided the perfect opening for two of the team's most popular offseason events. With no practice on Thursday, the team was free to send a star-studded contingent out into the Bay area for two annual gatherings meant to kick the season off with the Bay area's enthusiastic backing: Chamber of Commerce meals in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

On Thursday morning, General Manager Bruce Allen and Head Coach Jon Gruden will bring a cross-section of the team's stars, new and old, with them to a breakfast across the bay with the St. Petersburg Area and the Clearwater Regional Chambers. Along with Allen and Gruden, veteran receiver Joey Galloway, up-and-coming starting quarterback Chris Simms and rookie first-round guard Davin Joseph will share their insights on the upcoming season through an extensive Q&A session. The breakfast, scheduled to last from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m., will also feature a raffle of autographed items.

That same fivesome of Buc difference-makers will head back over the bridge after breakfast to attend a lunch in downtown Tampa. This time, the Buccaneers will share their thoughts and answer questions for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. in downtown Tampa.

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