Pining For Relevance

July 27th, 2018


It took almost nine minutes for Dirk Koetter to break into a smile during his first media session of training camp.

The softball query came courtesy of veteran Fox 13 sports reporter Kevin O’Donnell, who asked Koetter why he feels encouraged about the quality of Tampa Bay’s roster.

“Excellent question,” Koetter said while grinning. “Best question we’ve had so far.”

Koetter knew Jameis Winston was going to be the topic of the day, but he’ll be damned if Winston becomes the story of the season. Even in a quarterback-driven league, even in a quarterback-rich division, Buc fortunes will ultimately be decided by the big guys in the trenches.

Much was made of Koetter’s refusal to stamp Winston as the unequivocal starter in Week 4 at Chicago, but the odds seem stacked in Winston’s favor.

Yes, things could get sticky under center if the Bucs open 3-0, but history tells us this franchise doesn’t do 3-0. It hasn’t happened since 2005, when Cadillac Williams was running wild in cleats that ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Koetter said he was excited about the new additions to the defensive front, free agent center Ryan Jensen and a rookie class that needs to make its presence felt this fall.

“We’re not shooting for OK,” Koetter said. “We’re shooting for greatness.”

That sounds like an offshoot of the old Vince Lombardi line about chasing perfection because you can catch excellence along the way.

Errant Fixation

If Ryan Fitzpatrick plays well and the Bucs lose the line of scrimmage during the first three weeks, they’re doomed to failure. If Fitzpatrick is mediocre and Tampa Bay is stout up front on both sides of the ball, this team will be alright.

This Buc season is about Jason Pierre-Paul and Ronald Jones. It’s about Donovan Smith and Vernon Hargreaves. It’s about getting off the field defensively on third down and making field goals.

Remember who led the league in passer rating last year? It was Alex Smith, who was promptly rewarded with a one-way ticket from Kansas City to the nation’s capital.

While the national media remains fixated on Winston, let’s remember quarterback play wasn’t the primary culprit in a 5-11 season. The Bucs couldn’t stop people on the money down and the running game wasn’t worth a plug nickel.

The pads aren’t on yet, but Jones has already flashed the burst that attracted Jason Licht and his scouts. His big-play potential looms large because it’s so difficult to grind out 12-play, 80-yard drives.

Joe Flacco stunk last year and the Ravens still won nine games.

Meaningful Giving

Give Fitzpatrick and Winston enough time to survey the field and they will find their targets. Give them a credible ground game and watch Koetter’s game plan spring to life.

Justin Evans

Give the Bucs a pass rush and watch Justin Evans double his interception total to six.

Tie up a few more blockers and watch Kwon Alexander fly to the football.

Make Drew Brees uncomfortable, like you did here in Tampa two years ago, and walk out of the Superdome with a big, fat opening-day upset.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bucs aren’t good enough to overcome a flurry of interceptions. And yes, quarterbacks do touch the ball on every snap.

But when the games count, I’ll be looking for heat off the edges and power in the middle. I’m looking for mental toughness rather than the soft play we witnessed last fall.

Dirk Koetter’s shooting for greatness. That’s a noble goal.

I’m pining for relevance.

Now in his 40th year covering the NFL, Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in the Tampa Bay area. He scored a full-time seat at world headquarters in July of 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays at 5 p.m. during football season. Also a TV start, see Ira now on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360 (aka BayNews 9). Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday NFL show and enjoys beet salads, Riesling, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

22 Responses to “Pining For Relevance”

  1. DB55 Says:

    You are absolutely right Ira, this season comes down to the oline. The two biggest weaknesses I see are the right side of the line and the left? Side of the secondary where Ryan Smith and Chris Conte are supposed to defend.

    If no one can beat out Conte at Safety we’re screwed again. I’m hoping that Whitehead can be a day 1 impact player on both sides of the ball.

    And let’s get real hump is a good receiver but punt returner he is not. Gotta step up the special teams play if we want to upset playoff teams.

    But wtfdik?

  2. gotbbucs Says:

    25 pass attempts per game max and we’re probably winning football games.

  3. Pickgrin Says:

    You da man Ira! Well said.

  4. gambelero Says:

    The commenters are missing the point. To fans, relevance isn’t that big a deal. If the team starts winning and Jameis takes on the (Peyton) Manning Mantle of Manliness this season as everyone unreasonably expected him to do his first couple of seasons, everyone will be talking about us.

    Long time Buc fans remember the yearly expectations ritual. Last year at this time we were saying. “Yes, our oline is mediocre at best. We’re going to rely on guys that are hurt now, but hopefully going to be better by the time season starts to be our pass rush. Our best safety is Chris Conte. We don’t really have a second outside corner, but we got a couple guys who were back-up safeties last year or journeyman back of roster types to fill in. For our running game we’re going to rely on a guy who is suspended for three games, is in rehab now because of a Molly monkey and wasn’t really that good anyway last year. But despite all that, we’re coming off our first non-cellar and winning season in quite a while. We have some new weapons at receiver and we’re going to have a great year.”

    The fans, though, are narcissistic and self-absorbed, because they just want wins, playoffs, relevance in December and January instead of pre-season and off season significance. But to people who run a fan site, to owners who want to sell tickets, to journalist who cover the team, relevance in the off-season is all important. The (regular) season only lasts four months. The off-season is twice as long and for losing teams, it might start as early as October.

    So, I understand sagely Ira, the enduring Joes, English-stud Greg, secretly-hating-Tom-and-Matt Rick and milquetoast Scott pining for relevance. We fans need to stop being so self-centered, develop some empathic abilities and look at things from their perspective.

  5. Buc1987 Says:

    Completely on the same page with you in this chapter Ira.

    Come say hi to us soon at your favorite local Italian restaurant.

    It’s been awhile.

  6. 813bucboi Says:

    well said sage!!!!


  7. feelthepewterpower Says:

    The only way to be great and thus relevant is to win a title. Refreshing discourse, Ira. I agree…the Eagles won last year…in the trenches with their physical play. I remember watching them dominate Carolina’s o-line in primetime last year, snuffing out the run while bludgeoning camp. It was a beautiful site, and you could tell then that the Eagles were going to be a force. The Buccs have brought it players with similar mindsets….so it will be interesting to see if the rest of the team that has been perceived soft in the past…buy in and become nasty when the toe is put to leather! Can’t wait to see how we respond to the adversity. Do we want to be great and relevant or not??

  8. Nole4JabooANDdBucs Says:

    SOOOO Glad you’re back…MISSED YA!

  9. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    87….missed you….cooler was lonely without you….


    Thanks for making our Friday night a lot brighter……a breath of positive possibilities…..

    Like I’ve said…..give Jameis a running game and a half-way decent defense and he will win a Championship for the Bucs

    Give Fitz the same and he can win 2 of 3……

  10. Buc1987 Says:

    Thanks…I did read the site and it’s comments every night.

  11. WutdaBucisthis Says:

    Well spoken Ira.
    Dilly Dilly!!!

  12. DB55 Says:


    Glad your back, I could have used your help these last few weeks. Lol

  13. Dooshlarue Says:


    You’re pretty proud of the fact you were in the cooler huh?
    Mad street cred………you should try to mention it more often

  14. Mike Johnson Says:

    Good as usual here Ira. But for me its quite simple. IF..this Defense has improved like we has improved..we win quite a few games this year. If not, I actually think we lose a few more. And we..turn the page the following year with brand new coaches. Yep..that simple.

  15. Tampabaybucfan Says:


    You are not posting on the edge if you haven’t spent time in the cooler…..Yes, I’m proud….not to be put there….but to be released….learned what triggers that for me and have abstained.

  16. Tampabaybucfan Says:


    And, I forgot to add… the title of this article….I was “Pining for Relevance”

  17. Dooshlarue Says:


    Good one man!
    I hope you got some sick ink while you were in.
    Maybe made a few special friends……….

  18. gilhealy Says:

    Good to see you back, 87. I look forward to your posts.

  19. Tampabaybucfan Says:


    As a matter of fact, I ran into Tm-xcon……but he wasn’t very friendly…..kept chanting repeatedly….Cancer93, Cancer93, Cancer93

  20. Nole4JabooANDdBucs Says:


  21. Lucious Selmon Says:

    “It was a beautiful site, and you could tell then that the Eagles were going to be a force. The Buccs have brought it players with similar mindsets…”

    They are literally some of the same players!

  22. Fred W Mcneil Says:

    Now that was a killer column