TAMPA, Fla. — We’ll start with the sunglasses. Yes, the sunglasses were a fine touch.
The brainchild of new Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has been treated like a mystery wrapped within an invisibility cloak. Everyone wants to know, few understand. Precious little about this Bucs offseason holds as much intrigue as the brews Tedford and his staff have cooked up behind closed doors to change a unit that was among the NFL’s worst last year.
So early Tuesday afternoon, in a rare appearance in the public eye outside One Buc Place, Tedford played to the theme with his best Chris Moneymaker impression. There he was, thick shades and all, standing a few feet from the practice field.
Hello, poker face.
”We’re just out here working,” Tedford said, when asked about the mystery surrounding the unit. ”I think it’s evolving all the time, there’s new things we’re putting in constantly in different situations, be it third down, red zone, two-minute. I think they’re still in the process of figuring the whole thing out too, but they’ve done a great job of it so far.”
We’re not supposed to know much now. OTAs are football in boxers and briefs, as coach Lovie Smith eloquently called these laid-back hours. He’s right. Not much can be gleaned from these sessions, the NFL equivalent of the spring game at Old State U.
Still, the personality of Tedford’s offense remains Question No. 1 around here for good reason. The Bucs ranked last in total offense last year (277 yards per game), last in passing (176.2 ypg), 30th in scoring (18 points per game) and 22nd in rushing (100.8 ypg).
Under Smith, the Bucs will win games with their defense. Still, they need more Jekyll and less Hyde on the other side of the ball.
”Football is football,” Tedford said. ”I think everyone has to take the nomenclature and put it to what they’re used to that being. There’s no revelation about anything particularly different, because there’s different things in football all over that people have been exposed to from time to time. Terminology is one thing, there’s no question that people need to get used to it. I think they’ve done a very good job of that so far.”
”Football is football” is true … but only to an extent.
Saying ”football is football” is like being convinced there’s no difference between a fastball in Triple-A and one in the majors. There should be concern with how Tedford adjusts from the college game to the NFL, a career pivot that left behind two decades of collegiate experience that included various offensive roles with Fresno State and Oregon, plus a decade-long head-coaching stint with California.
Certainly, Tedford is a smart offensive mind. His grooming of quarterback Aaron Rodgers is his resume’s best bullet point. A year away from football should have him refreshed. Working with a seasoned veteran quarterback like Josh McCown should ease his transition from Saturdays to Sundays.
”I really appreciate how open he is to how the game is a little different here and there and different subtleties to how we do things, and he has embraced that,” Bucs offensive line coach George Warhop said. ”And he has brought some stuff too. Now, I’ve learned a great deal from him, because he’s not afraid to do anything. Sometimes, in the NFL you get stuck, and you do it this way. And over time, you forget about being very flexible and open about stuff, and he has brought some of that back.”
Still, there’s more room to learn. More so than the personality of Tedford’s offense, the interesting thing to follow will be how he reacts to the NFL’s chess game. He has as much to learn from the league’s veterans near him as the league’s lifers have to gain from him.
Above all, Tedford’s mystery offense must evolve on the fly.
Expect a faster tempo than Mike Sullivan’s unit. Expect more multiple tight-end sets, with new toy Austin Seferian-Jenkins at the center of the spotlight. Expect Doug Martin to be the top option at running back, but depth with Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims will be used often.
”We’re a multiple-protection team, a multiple offense,” Bucs quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said.
”I don’t think it’s anything that his offense couldn’t carry over (and) bring to the NFL. We weren’t asking him to do anything that couldn’t be handled. The X’s and O’s part is probably over-exaggerated.”
The X’s and O’s part is the eye candy of Tedford’s mystery. But there’s more to his presence with the Bucs that will evolve.
Can he grow in his role fast enough to make them a contender in the NFC South? Can he adjust to NFL challenges and be open to Plans B, C and D after his Plan A hits a snag?
Can he step from Chip Kelly’s shadow and become his own identity, his own college-turned-NFL success story?
”I don’t know how much of an element of surprise there will be,” Tedford said. ”Like I said, there’s nothing Earth-shattering about it. Everybody has different tempos that they go at, so there’s nothing Earth-shattering about it. Football is football.”