Hard Knocks 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

HARD KNOCKS 2017 – TAMPA BAY BUCS; Week 1

What I do in this blog is look at the communication between the coaches and players. I look what is being said and how it is being said. I also look at what is NOT being said. When watching football games the plays will often be shown again in slow motion and the analyst will break down what went right or wrong on a specific play. I attempt to do the same thing here. I focus more on the coaches and how they are coaching, teaching and instructing. I look at how the coaches regard the players and the psychological environment that the coaches are creating.

Other than Hard Knocks, I do not follow professional football at all. Thus,I do not approach this from a football point of view. I approach this from a psychological point of view. I can look at the communication between a parent and child or between couples and tell a lot about the dynamics of the relationship from the communication.

Prior to watching this episode of Hard Knocks, I had only heard of four of the players and one of the coaches. And the only reason I had heard of defensive coordinatior, Mike Smith, is because he was head coach of the Falcons three years ago when Hard Knocks covered the Falcons.

So here goes: Last year after the first episode of Hard Knocks with the Rams, I commented that something was clearly wrong with the Rams. I said that the Rams would have a losing season and the coach would be fired – he was.

From this episode, I can tell there is a lot going on that is really good with the Buc’s. It has been ten years since Tampa Bay has made the playoff’s. I will say right now that baring major injuries to their stars, I think the Buc’s will make the playoff’s. I say this with no knowledge of their schedule or what their competition is like in their division. This statement is based on the psychological environment that I see the coaches creating.

What are the things that stood out for me in this episode? Head Coach Dirk Koetter is a very good communicator. At the beginning of this episode he says: “It’s way too early to be talking about the playoff’s.” “It’s about getting better every day – plain and simple.” Often in the first episode of Hard Knocks we hear coaches talking about the playoff’s or even the Super Bowl. Koetter keeps the focus on improving and doing the things necessary for the team to improve.

When talking with Jameis Winston, Koetter does not expect Winston to know things that he does not know. He does not scold him for not knowing the down and distance during practice, but simply says, “I can do a better job helping you with that.” Koetter tells Winston that he does not want Winston to try to do too much during the games. When Winston asks: “What is doing too much?” Koetter says “That’s a good question.” Then he clearly explains: “You have always been a risk taker, cut the risks a bit and don’t lose the game for us.” Koetter emphasizes that Winston needs to be patient and allow the other players to do their jobs. Koetter is very specific in what he wants. Koetter is clearly on top of and involved with all aspects of the team.

Notice all the positive comments by the coaches. Todd Monken, Offensive Coordinator, says to Mike Evans during a film session: “This is awesome, Mike you do a good job when he goes to jump the route, winner, winner, winner.” He points out what the players do RIGHT because this is what he wants to happen again and again. Many coaches expect the right thing to happen so they don’t comment on what went right -they point out what when WRONG.

I really liked seeing coach Jay Hayes work with Evan Panfil. Panifl was the first player cut by the Bucs. Most likely, everyone knew he was getting cut, yet Hayes took the time to try to teach Panfil the proper rushing technique. He asked Panifl: “What should you do with your hips?” Panfil thought he should turn his hips inside. Hayes simply said: “No, keep your hips outside.” He then walked Panfil through the proper movement. Hayes is teaching, not yelling or shaming Panfil. Hayes did not say: “You did it wrong.” “You’re gonna get cut.” “Be tough.” He simply showed Panifl the proper technique. It is great that Hayes is spending this much time with the first person to be cut. He easily could have ignored Panifl. This really shows a lot about Hayes.

Nate Kaczor, special teams coordinator does a great job with his construction metaphor. He said that much like a construction project, everyone has a role. In other years of Hard Knocks many coaches are threatening that players will be cut if the don’t preform. I do not recall such a threat this whole episode.

Running backs coach Tim Spencer gives constructive, positive feedback, to fifth round draft pick Jeremy McNichols. Spencer says: “You need to keep studying so you can process things faster – so in your off time you need to get into that (play)book.” In other years we saw coaches threaten the player that if they don’t learn the plays they will be cut. Even “Coach” Snoop Dog gives McNichols good advice: “Become a gym rat where your mind outpaces your physical ability.” And: “He who knows the most plays the most.”

Throughout the episode Koetter’s communication shines. He points out that third string, undrafted rookie linebacker, Riley Bullough is a leader on the field. Koetter knows that on the one hand Bullough may be cut from the team, and on the other hand, Bullough is perhaps an injury or two away from seeing some playing time. Koetter knows he needs to help Bullough develop. He is pointing out to other players what a good leader looks like. This is a common mistake coaches at all levels make. Instead of focusing on a player like Bullough, they focus on their star players. They do not do a good enough job of developing other players. When these lesser players are not able to perform the coaches blame the players – when in fact they could have done a much better job of actually coaching, nurturing and developing the players.

During practice, I often heard coaches, saying things like: “Good job,” “Nice play,” “Great touch.” There was a positive vibe throughout this episode.

The key point in this episode was the communication between quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian and Jameis Winston. Bajakian says: “Set your feet to the flat – if it’s there, put it on him early.” “Let’s get the ball out of our hands the quickest way possible.” He is pointing out what he wants Winston to do. Bajakian is reinforcing what Koetter said about Winston needing to be patient and not losing the game. When Winston makes another of two quick interceptions, Bajakian, clearly upset, asks” “Did you see the post out there?” “What was the play?” “What did we say we were gonna do against doubles?” Then says, “That’s bullshit.” Here Winston is not doing what he knows he should do and what Winston and Koetter talked about in the beginning of the episode: to try to be patient and no lose games. Bajakian was clearly upset with the two quick interceptions – as he should be. He did not shame or put down Winston, but expressed his frustration. His anger was directed toward Winston’s behavior – not Winston the person. He knows for the team to succeed Winston must learn to make better reads and throw smarter passes. Bajakian seems quite intense – in a good way. I look forward to seeing more of him.

Two years ago when Hard Knocks was covering the Houston Texans, I asked: “Why was J.J. Watt the only one who stayed after practice to work on drills?” And now: Why was Jameis Winston the only one who what there at 6:00 AM doing extra work. Where were all the players who will be cut over the next few weeks?

The overall take away from this episode is the way the coaches treat, regard and communicate with the players. The coaches are creating a healthy, positive environment.

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