TEN POINTS of emphasis in the first year of detail-minded Greg Schiano's coaching reign:
1. Protect the quarterback, any way you can. Bucs QBs are all wearing light left-knee braces. That's the knee, Schiano theorizes, that gets exposed when righthanded passers release, as pass rushers are lunging at them. It's the knee Tom Brady had caved in four years ago. The brace won't stop all injuries, but it will help prevent some.
2. Size matters. Three of the Bucs' key off-season acquisitions were large guys: 230-pound wideout Vincent Jackson, 349-pound guard Carl Nicks and 213-pound first-round safety Mark Barron. "We have got to get more physical," Schiano says. Other important players have lost weight to get better. Quarterback Josh Freeman, at 237, is down 23 pounds from last year and has washboard abs. Running back LeGarrette Blount dropped 20 pounds. Wide receiver Mike Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are down a few, and coaches have noticed their improved conditioning.
3. Veterans will lead. Schiano and G.M. Mark Dominik signed experienced players for a reason. Jackson sits next to Williams in receiver meetings and shows him how to study tape, how to take notes and what's important to know about a game plan. Ditto Dallas Clark, imported from Indianapolis, with young tight end Luke Stocker. And Ronde Barber, 37, re-signed in part to play safety, in part to lean on Aqib Talib and other maturing defensive backs.
4. Cliques have been broken up. The lockers at One Buc Place used to be ordered by position group. Last year Freeman's neighbors were backup quarterbacks Josh Johnson (now with the 49ers) and Rudy Carpenter (Cowboys). This year Freeman sits across the room, next to offensive lineman Ted Larsen, which should help foster unity.
5. Urgency is the order of the day. "Time is our enemy," coaches have told players since camp began. There's a ticker in the locker room, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the Sept. 9 opener against Carolina. By stressing urgency, Schiano hoped players would look at the dog-days-of-August practices with more interest.
6. Talk, don't text. Bucs are told to speak to people in the halls instead of yapping or IM'ing on cellphones, and to talk to teammates at the cafeteria's circular tables. "I love the round tables," says Schiano. "Everyone's looking at each other when they're eating. Maybe it's my Italian upbringing, but you break bread and you grow closer."
7. Don't show you're tired. Sounds downright Coughlin-esque: Schiano doesn't like it when his players put their hands on their hips during practice. He thinks this is a sign of weakness and fatigue, like bending over and gasping for breath.
8. Make the transition smooth. "He's not driving anyone batty," Dominik says of Schiano, who replaced the too-lax Raheem Morris. "The players are happy that they have direction." This was the way Schiano did things at Rutgers, as he explained. "Not so much because it'd get you to the NFL, but I believed it was the best way to prepare. The way we met, the way we installed our plays, the way we walked through plays, the way we practiced ... that's why Rutgers players—late-round guys, a lot of them—have done well in the NFL. They knew how to prepare."
9. Prepare well. Schiano spent a full day this off-season learning about the ins and outs of the instant-replay system with a certified official, and he'll designate a member of his staff to be his lone eyes and ears upstairs in the coaches' booth during games.
10. Don't get lost in the details. Schiano knows his attention to minutiae won't win games on its own. "Personnel is the biggest separation between teams," he said. "I'm not kidding myself." Still, head coaches can make a difference on underachieving teams. Jim Harbaugh did it with the 49ers, Jim Schwartz with the Lions, Sean Payton with the Saints. So while Dominik ramps up the talent, Schiano will coach a team in the middle of the NFL pack his own way.
On a hot Thursday in training camp, as players went through a fumble-recovery drill, an assistant yelled at backup tight end Chase Coffman (since cut) to get his knuckles on the ground. Hearing this, Schiano turned and cupped his hands to his mouth. "Details!" he yelled. "Details!"
WITH 2011 STATS
OFFENSE 2011 RANK: 21
said that everyone has a clean slate," says G.M. Mark Dominik, "and that includes Aqib. He knows it's a big year. It's a contract year."
Indeed it is. Talib is talented—he has 17 interceptions over four years—and if he can be on his best behavior and fill the role the Bucs need him to (especially with Ronde Barber moving from cornerback to safety), then Tampa Bay would consider re-signing him. For his part, Talib has been praising Schiano's approach. "He's exactly what this team needed," Talib says of the former Rutgers coach. "If you don't want to work hard, you're in the wrong place."
Percentage of goal-to-go plays—13 of 31—on which the Bucs scored in 2011, an NFL high. But those 31 goal-to-go plays were barely half the NFL average.
Tackles missed by Tampa Bay defenders in goal-to-go situations, contributing to a league-leading 19 goal-to-go rushing touchdowns allowed.
Percentage of Josh Freeman's attempts that were thrown more than 20 yards, making him the NFL quarterback least likely to throw deep.
CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI
The 6'5" Jackson brings size and, just as important, veteran experience to a team that needs both.
CLIFF WELCH/ICON SMI