Who's It Going to Be?

October 24 - Penner questions where the leadership on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has gone and might come from in his column this week. Penner also discusses how very few of the Bucs players have improved since last season.

As the Bucs season begins to spiral out of control, there are plenty of questions and few answers. The easy targets are just that, easy. QB and coach are the obvious scapegoats when things aren't going well. I, as a football observer look for more. The simple doesn't do it for me. If it were as simple as it being the coaches fault than you'd have a lot of guys in hot water in this years Russian roulette NFL. Despite my disdain for the simple, my answer for the Bucs problems might strangely enough sound too basic.

To go from a wild card losing team to a Super Bowl team requires improvement. The Bucs had to realize that they weren't going to be the team they were last season and go deep in the playoffs. So, they go out and add Brad Johnson, who no matter what anyone tries to tell you, is an upgrade from Shaun King at QB. They also pick up Simeon Rice to rush the passer, and draft Kenyatta Walker to shore up the o-line. What this team and organization failed to realize is that just throwing players into your already established mix is only a small part of the plan. So, it's with this knowledge that I impart to you that the Bucs biggest problem right now is self-improvement. No, it's not a Tony Robbins video, it's Championship 101. Everyone has to get better for the team to win.

Ask yourself this. What player on the 2001 squad is better or playing at a higher level than they were last year? Keyshawn Johnson certainly, and that's it. All these stars and no improvement. All these "pro bowlers" and a 2-3 record to show for it. No Buccaneer besides Keyshawn is better than they were last season. Given that knowledge, it's impossible for this team to have any Super Bowl aspirations. All pros in any sport have to make themselves better, raising the level is what winning is all about. There's no ceiling here. You don't just get to a certain level and then stop. John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Donnie Abraham, Warren Sapp, Marcus Jones, Randall McDaniel, Jeff Christy, Warrick Dunn, Dave Moore. These guys aren't playing at their level of last year, and that's why the Bucs are on a march to nowhere. Whatever happened to players getting better. Who's fault is it? The players first and foremost whose job it is to make themselves as good as they can be. The coaches? They can't be absolved of blame because motivation is their department and the Bucs right now are about as motivated as Americans are to do sniff tests for a flour company.

I'd love to sit here and tell you it'll turnaround quickly, but I saw a team that stopped playing in the second half against Pittsburgh. A group that didn't hit back when they were smashed in the mouth. We've all marveled at the respect Tony Dungy commands. No backbiting, no "coach needs to do this" comments. But, now I think we get a real litmus test of what the players think of Dungy. The old, tired idea of winning to keep your coaches job shouldn't be first and foremost on the Bucs mind. They should be doing it for themselves and for the concept of wanting to win. On the other hand, with Dungy's status twisting in the wind, the players will ultimately decide his fate with their passion and effort.

I truly don't have any clue if Dungy has lost the lockerroom. In the end it doesn't matter though, because it's up to the Warren Sapps and Derrick Brooks of the world to play better football and then let everything take care of itself. Since it's obvious that this team is devoid of true leaders emotionally, the 2001 season will have to be grit, guts and yes self-improvement. I'm just not sure who's going to stand up when roll is called.

By the way, you can mail your checks to Sandy Penner self improvement workshop. Nevermind.

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