Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Something to Build On

Friday Notes: Even with a strong first quarter in the books, the Bucs know they must continue to improve to carry that success over into the next portion of the season

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been good so far in 2010, and in fact better than most analysts expected.  According to starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Barrett Ruud, they need to be better.

"Good teams play better at the end of the season," said Ruud.  "They get better throughout the year.  To become the really good team that we want to be we've got to play our best football late in the season, in November and December.  That's the goal, to keep improving each week."

The Bucs are 3-1 through five weeks and ahead of the defending NFL champs in the NFC South standings.  But those champs, the 3-2 Saints, visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday and for the Buccaneers to stay ahead of them, they will likely have to play even better than they have through the first four weeks.  Ruud certainly expects the Saints to be better than their recent results would suggest.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised [by the standings] because anything can happen in this league and it's such a short season so far," he said.  "We've got a long way to go.  The Saints are going to be fine.  They hit a couple rough spots but they're a good enough team to get through it.  Hopefully, we just keep improving on what we've done already."

What the Bucs have done is succeed in getting off to a good start in the first quarter of the campaign.  It was in 2002 that franchise leaders memorably began talking about a season as being made up of four four-game quarters, and that team proceeded to go exactly 3-1 in each section.  Obviously, that produced a 12-4 record, which is usually good enough for any team to win its division.  The 2010 Buccaneers, however, are not looking anywhere near that far ahead, and nor are they expecting their first-quarter success to automatically carry over into the second quarter.

"It's fun to have this start, a great start for a young football team," said Head Coach Raheem Morris.  "They're humble, they're hungry, they're following the same theme: Play fast, play smart, play hard, play consistent.  But the first quarter and that 3-1 team – they're memories.  They are what they are.  We'll be able to have those memories for the rest of the season and now we've got to go make some new ones in this next quarter of the season."

The extensive roster turnover of the last 22 months has produced one of the NFL's youngest team, but the 2010 Buccaneers have played with a poise that belies their collective age.  That has been most evident in a pair of fourth-quarter comeback victories against Cleveland and Cincinnati, and in such statistical indicators as a fine turnover ratio ( 5) and a relatively low number of penalties committed (4.25 per game).

Early success has also bred a very tight-knit locker room, or perhaps it's the other way around.  Whatever the cause and effect, Morris wants to continue the process of his young team jelling into one united and committed group.  As such, he turned Friday's team meeting over to Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who led the players in an exercise in which they were encouraged to stand up and speak about specific teammates.

"I thought it was important to see how these guys stand up for each other," said Morris.  "We had a little floor exercise.  You were able to get up and express some things that you felt and how you felt about a teammate, and why you would do something for them.  I thought it was pretty special listening to those guys talk about each other."

Bisaccia also discussed some of the lessons the team's staff learned during that great 2002 season.  Morris knows there is no automatic carryover effect from the success of that season, or even his own team's success from the first quarter of this year.  But he did believe there were some relevant concepts involved that could help the team do as well in the next portion of the season as it did in the first, including the concept of team unity.

"Our team was able to express to some of those guys how they value each other and how they feel about each other," said Morris.  "It was a good feeling in that room.  It's a great deal to start the second quarter.

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A Turnaround that Sticks

Speaking of the Buccaneers' first quarter, it has put the team in position to potentially continue a very encouraging trend.

As the NFL noted this week, there were four teams from 1990-2009 that started one season with an 0-5 record and then opened the following season with a mark of 4-1 or better.  Buccaneer fans will note a familiar team on that chart:

* *

TEAM

* *

WINLESS START

NEXT SEASON THROUGH

FIVE GAMES

NEXT SEASON'S

FINAL RECORD

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

0-5 in 1996

5-0 in 1997

10-6

0-5 in 1997

4-1 in 1998

14-2

0-7 in 1998

4-1 in 1999

10-6

0-8 in 2008

4-1 in 2009

10-6

Buccaneer fans will also remember that the 1997 team made its triumphant return to the playoffs after a 15-year absence for the franchise, kicking off a long era of success under new ownership and a new coaching staff.  In fact, all four teams on the above list made it to the playoffs in their rebound years.

The Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs, also 3-1 so far this year after losing their first five in 2009, could join that very short list by winning their games this weekend (Kansas City travels to Houston).  History suggests they would then be in for a very enjoyable season.

**

Sunday Decisions for Williams, Moore and Mack

There were nine players on Tampa Bay's injury report by the end of the practice week, and the game-day fate of six of them is easy to predict.  Center Jeff Faine has already been ruled out due to his quad injury and five others – defensive end Michael Bennett (groin), fullback Earnest Graham (hamstring), safety Sean Jones (back), linebacker Niko Koutouvides (ankle) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) – were listed as probable for Sunday's game.  Only rarely does a player with a "probable" designation sit out a game due to health reasons.

Of those five players in the probable category, four practiced without limitations on Friday.  The fifth was Bennett, who was only added to the report on Friday and was held out of the 90-minute session.

The Sunday outcome is less predictable for the other three players on the report: cornerback Elbert Mack (foot), defensive end Kyle Moore (shoulder) and wide receiver Mike Williams (foot).  Mack and Moore each missed the entire week of practice, while Williams returned in a limited fashion on Friday after sitting out on Thursday.

"He looked good [on Friday]," said Morris of Williams.  "He went out there and ran a couple routes.  But if you're talking about a receiver, you're talking about the delicacy of the foot and you're talking about a speed, skillful position.  You talk about being 100 percent and being able to go out there and be your very best self.  He's a tough guy.  He's got a lot of will, he wants to play and he's young, and that's part of our football team."

Williams' on-and-off practice status makes him the most intriguing case of the bunch, though all three will be game-day decisions, according to Morris. 

Williams leads the Buccaneers in receptions (19), receiving yards (238) and touchdowns (three).  If he is unable to make his customary start at the "X" receiver position, it will be up to a gang of young receivers to replace his production.

"[It would be] all our young guys that we have going out there right now – the Preston Parkers of the world; Arrelious Benn playing Z; you've got Sammie who can go over there; you've also got Stovall; Spurlock also plays the X position a little bit," said Morris.  "It all depends on what personnel group you want to talk about in particular."

With Faine out, the Buccaneers will turn to Jeremy Zuttah, who will be making his 22nd NFL start but his first at center.  Zuttah seems well-suited to the center position, however, and he raised confidence by performing well in Cincinnati after Faine was injured.

"He went out there and did a really good job against the Cincinnati Bengals, and that was a credit to his development and where he's come and how he's grown up," said Morris.

The Saints submitted an extensive injury report on Friday, though most of the 19 players on the list fell on one end of the game-status designation or the other.  That is, four of the 19 players have already been ruled out for Sunday's game but 14 of the 15 remaining Saints are considered probable.

Sure to be sidelined on Sunday for New Orleans are a pair of running backs, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, and a pair of cornerbacks, Randall Gay and Tracy Porter.  Bush, who suffered a leg fracture in Week Two, has missed the Saints last three games while Thomas, who is dealing with an ankle injury, will miss his third straight game.  The Saints will likely split the rushing load between rookie Chris Ivory and former Redskin Ladell Betts, as they have the last two weeks.

Starting right defensive end Will Smith is considered questionable for Sunday's game.  He has been limited in Saints practice throughout the week with a groin injury.

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