Alan Dell

Commentary | Tampa Bay Bucs disappointed, but not panicking, say improvement on the horizon

Deciphering an NFL preseason game is like reading tea leaves. You can turn it into anything you want.

Now that might be good for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after their loss to the Tennessee Titans. There are numerous reasons to play trivial pursuit with the game tape.

But it should not be to avoid pain. That's why the head coach's office has enough aspirin for the entire staff. And if you feel pain now, it's nothing compared to what you will encounter when the games count.

The preseason is the owners' way of fleecing their season-ticket holders without risking abandonment.

There is no real game plan. The concentration for the most part is on your own team. You don't worry much about the opponent's defensive stunts and offensive schemes because you are focusing on you.

But that brings us to the Catch-22 fork in the road.

You still have to tackle and, with exception of some fleeting moments early Friday night, there wasn't much of that going on for the Bucs.

The rejuvenated-rehabilitated Aqib Talib and newcomer Eric Wright, who hold down the Bucs cornerback spots, admitted as much. But they note it does mean we are going to see a Raheem Morris sequel this season.

"There were a lot of missed tackles, but it's a new year and a new team and it has nothing to do with last year," Talib said. "Last week, we tackled real good (vs. Miami), and this week we didn't tackle as well. We've just got to stay focused. We can tackle better.

"Defensively we have a long way to go. Every team in the league has a long way to go. Nobody looks perfect in preseason."

Nobody is asking Talib and his bunch to be perfect. Most would settle for them being better than last year, which isn't asking much.

Wright had some good and bad moments. But with all the money the free agent he is being paid, you have a right to expect more. He tackled Chris Johnson for a two-yard loss, but was inconsistent for the most part.

"We've got to stop the run; that is first and foremost in this league," Wright said. "Tackling was definitely an issue. Those sort of things come together as the reps continue. We will get that cleaned up. We will go and watch film and turn the negatives into positives and continue to build on the positive. No one is really panicking. We had three three-and-outs (to start the game)."

Bucs head coach Greg Schiano indicated he could start wielding his ax sooner than expected if the subpar play continues.

"Misfits, missed tackling and not attacking the line of scrimmage. You know, too much hovering around as a defensive front," the coach said. "That was something that we talked about, an area of improvement, so it's disappointing that we didn't. But we got to go back to work, and we'll get it right. I knew last week everything was not as great as it seemed, and this week everything is not as horrible."

The biggest disappointment was the play of the offensive line. It was not acceptable with Schiano planning to turn the Bucs into a run-first, physically-oriented team. It was the second straight game he kept things vanilla, but you don't want that melting in your hands.

Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph were in for only 15 plays, and Donald Penn is still out so it might be hard to evaluate this unit.

Freeman gave them a pass, but Joseph was hard on himself and everyone up front for the Bucs.

"We just didn't execute well, plain and simple. We didn't do our job well enough to allow our QB to be the QB he can be," Joseph said. "We didn't allow LeGarrette (Blount) to get past the line. We have to do better job of countering the line of scrimmage, giving them clean pockets and holes to run through.

"Doug (Martin) did a good job. Some of the looks he got were not clean. He really fought for some yardage and made something out of nothing."

Hopefully Schiano can put together a 53-man roster that has enough to encourage fans to fill those empty seats.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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