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Bucs will weather lockout storm

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Dan Parr
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Posted March 26, 2011 @ 10:39 a.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The Buccaneers are being underestimated again. They were the youngest team in the league last year, supposedly too raw and inexperienced and doomed to fail in a top-heavy division dominated by the Falcons and Saints. I predicted the Bucs would finish last in the NFC South and that they were at least a year away from getting back to respectability after a 3-13 finish in 2009.

Tampa Bay defied the odds, though. The Bucs took advantage of a less-than-daunting schedule, won 10 games and nearly made the playoffs.

The new conventional — albeit questionable — wisdom being attached to the Bucs by some league observers is that they are one of the teams that is most vulnerable to getting hurt by a prolonged lockout.

NFL offseason business was put on hold when the owners locked out the players in March. It's not clear when there will be a resolution, but the standoff between the owners and the NFL Players Assocation could linger.

A potentially long layoff will negatively affect Tampa Bay more than some other clubs, as the story goes, because its roster, while more experienced than it was a year ago, is still likely to be the league's youngest whenever play resumes. Furthermore, veteran teams are better at policing themselves when coaches are unable to, per the constraints of the lockout.

The young Bucs are one of the teams that can least afford to miss out on critical time with the coaching staff in OTAs and minicamps that would take place this spring and summer in a normal league year, some say.

It's a far cry from what head coach Raheem Morris was hearing a year ago, when he had far more critics. There were some wondering why Morris, who is also very young compared to his colleagues, and his staff weren't fired after sputtering through the '09 season.

Just when the Bucs have things moving in the right direction, the NFL labor dispute has thrown a wrench into their plans — right?

While we can try to project who is affected most by the lockout, the reality is that the work stoppage isn't good for the development of any NFL team, and I'm getting the feeling that some people just don't understand the Bucs.

They didn't allow age and inexperience to be obtrusive barriers for them last season, and the respect they have for each other and Morris will be powerful as they try to withstand the challenges that this offseason will provide.

We have to acknowledge that the Buccaneers are in a far better position than other clubs when it comes to managing this situation. They don't have to worry about implementing new offensive or defensive schemes or trying to establish chemistry with a new group of players because of major roster turnover.

The Bucs have consistency on the coaching staff, and while they are facing some decisions on several key free agents, they will not be overhauling the roster. I'm skeptical that they will be set back much more than their competitors by this lockout.

Tampa Bay doesn't operate like other teams — one of the youngest players on the team also happens to be one of the most respected by his teammates. QB Josh Freeman, who turned 23 in January, has been the most vocal about organizing player-led workouts for the Bucs in the weeks and months to come.

Just ask Kellen Winslow — one of the older players on the team — if he'll listen when Freeman, heading into his third season, calls him to set up some practice time.

"If I need to say something, I'll say something, and people listen, but I like to stay quiet and lead by example," Winslow recently told PFW. "It's really Josh Freeman's team. From Year One to Year Two, it's been great for him. It's his team, and when he says something, people listen. He's definitely our No. 1 leader."

With Freeman leading the way, something tells me the Bucs are going to surprise people again.

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