COMMENTARY | Despite allegations of violating the NFL's policies governing offseason practices, the ongoing activities of Tampa Bay Bucs appear to be successfully beginning the process of shaping the 2013 roster. With several starters departed, and a handful of new high impact players, such as defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, fans optimistically hope a retooled squad will improve on the lackluster intensity of last year's underachieving 7-9 club.
Yet, before those desired goals can be achieved, second year coach Greg Schiano is already dealing with controversy at One Buc Place. Last week, Schiano responded swiftly to charges of misdeeds by asserting to the NFL Network that his team's practices were "99.9% compliant" with rules limiting contact between players.
Following changes to the league's collective bargaining agreement in 2011, physical contact between teammates is prohibited during the type of preliminary practices the Bucs have hosted over the past two weeks. These 10 permitted sessions, commonly called 'organized team activities' or OTAs, occur in May and June, as coaches seek to acquire knowledge of their expanded rosters prior to the start of training camp. While players can be drilled in helmets for two hours per day, they are not outfitted in full pads and cannot complete tackles or blocks. Furthermore, clubs are subject to punishment if violations are found to occur.
Minimizing the recent allegations, Schiano instead blamed the indiscretions on an overly zealous rookie and a veteran's misguided attempt to teach a lesson in response. Indeed, reports indicate that fourth round draft pick, Akeem Spence, did scuffle with veteran offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah during the first week of OTAs.
Spence is an athletic defense tackle, who had a knack for the ball at the University of Illinois and holds a strong claim to the open starting position beside Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy, following the departure of Roy Miller in free agency. It is very possible that the rookie became overly animated following a simulated snap and was put in his place by an experienced blocker.
However, reporters actually witnessing the incident, including Roy Cummings of Tampa Tribune, countered Schiano's recount of events by describing the scene as a "22 man melee" that actually "went on for awhile." Cummings further detailed Schiano's practices as filled with hitting, especially by second and third team members, anxious to impress the boss.
That is quite a different account. With the threat of sanctions, it is not surprising Schiano quickly attempted to put out the fire. However, given the spirited coach's background in college football, it is equally unsurprising that Schiano acted slowly in dialing down the intensity of his players during OTAs.
Despite overall defensive failings, last season witnessed an improvement on the defensive line, which topped the NFL in stopping the run, and Spence appears to be demonstrating a tenacity that would serve the unit nicely. Free agent addition Derek Landri is likely to compete for the same starting job and the former Philadelphia Eagle has comfort in knowing the Bucs believed in him sufficiently to justify a 2 year, $3.25 million contract.
For his part, Zuttah is a sixth year offensive lineman, long valued for the ability to play both guard and center. With Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph returning from injury, it is hoped that Zuttah will handle the challenging role of center exclusively in 2013. The 27 year-old additionally played for Schiano at Rutgers and obviously felt confident asserting himself as a veteran player, uninterested in Spence's extra measures to leave an impression.
While careful to deny wrongdoing, perhaps the charges will provide this rebuilding team with a long missing swagger. In 2012, equally fiery Seattle coach Pete Carroll -- who also came to the NFL from the college game -- faced similar offseason allegations, before his young team served as a surprise breakout squad of the season and earned a trip to the playoffs. The Seahawks were docked two days of OTAs during the 2012 offseason, but fans could not complain about the 11-5 record that followed.
Such a change of attitude would be welcomed by Tampa Bay supporters, hopeful for similar improvement in 2013. Though roster turnover is expected to boost talent, Schiano surely recognizes that the entire squad must increase its tenacity in order to avoid the swoon that sabotaged last year's progress by dropping five of the season's final six games. While wanting to avoid sanctions from the NFL, I doubt the intense leader harbors any qualms with that 0.01% of times that his Bucs are non-compliant with unpopular OTA restrictions.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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