The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFL's mystery team.
Prognosticators have them all over the board, with some predicting as few as three victories and others calling them a playoff contender.
Coming off their colossal collapse in 2011 with a new coaching staff and still flowered with all that youth, the Bucs are adolescent-like.
You just don't know what you are going to get.
New head coach Greg Schiano is treating his youthful lot like a dad who had to take away the keys to the family car. He is making things simple.
Do it his way or find another home.
It might take a Sherlock Holmes to predict what the upcoming season holds -- or maybe a guy like Bryan Cox, who has seen a lot during a controversial yet successful career.
The three-time Pro Bowler who played middle and outside linebacker joined the Bucs coaching staff in February and went through all the offseason workouts.
If the Bucs could find a few Bryan Coxes in their youthful cupboard, it wouldn't hurt. He was often boastful to the point of being arrogant. But he never quit like a lot of Tampa Bay's defenders did last year.
It's hard to assess a football team without witnessing some contact. But speed is an immeasurable force in the NFL, and Cox likes what he has seen.
"I have never played on a defense that is as fast as we are overall," he says. "It's very important, but at the end of the day you don't know what you are until you get into training
camp, beat each other up and bond together."
Cox has never been shy about speaking his mind, a blessing for a young Bucs squad that is surrounded by doubters.
"Anytime you have a lot of young guys, people will try to build on that as an excuse, and we don't want to be looking for built-in excuses," he says. "Who cares how young they are. They are not going to cancel the season or feel sorry for us because of our youth. Fortunately, we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things, and we can move (them) around. All of them, including the veterans, are unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to turn this thing around."
Cox knows the benefits of youth. His three Pro Bowl years came during the first five years of his 12-year career.
It's a reason Cox says youth should not be an excuse for the Bucs. But he is willing to cut middle linebacker Mason Foster some slack. Foster was thrown into the fire as the starting middle linebacker as a rookie last year and often look bewildered, which affected his aggressiveness.
Middle linebacker is one of the toughest positions for a young player to master because of its complexities.
"It ties you to the back end as well as the front end, and being tied to both sides is difficult. But football is football," Cox says. "We will see what he can do now that camp has started. Gym class is about to come to a close. We are ready to get into real football, and that is when you determine who can play what position and help us in various ways."
The coaching staff found out during offseason workouts who could learn and who could not (or at least not quickly enough). Now it's about who can put it all together.
Schiano has received unwavering support from fans, but some feel he might have taken things too far in releasing Brian Price, the third starter from last year's team to get a ticket out of town.
Price has had problems, but they were of a different nature than Kellen Winslow and Tanard Jackson. There is no doubt he has talent, and the Chicago Bears, who received the defensive tackle for a reported seventh-round pick, got a steal if Price can get his mind and body right.
Chicago GM Phil Emery says Price fits the Bears system perfectly and was just in need of a new home.
Price is a tragic story, whether we are talking about his emotional or physical state.
A native of inner-city Los Angeles, he lost both his brothers to drive-by shootings, and his sister was killed in a car accident in May. He had become an emotional basket case, made worse by an injury that required surgery to reattach his hamstring to his pelvis.
Price earned the wrath of Raheem Morris, which is quite a feat considering the Bucs former head coach ran arguably the loosest ship in the NFL last season.
He sent Price home for a foolish penalty against Carolina. Price also got into a fight with rookie safety Mark Barron in training camp this year, earning him another trip home, this time courtesy of Schiano.
When healthy and of sound mind, Price is better than any nose tackle the Bucs have. But Schiano is trying to change a culture and felt he had to go.
Price passed his physical with the Bears on Saturday, and the deal is complete. Time will ultimately judge the winner is this move, though Schiano might feel it was something he had to do.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.