Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Raheem Morris and RB LeGarrette Blount conducted conference calls with the New Orleans media today as they Bucs prepare to face the Saints on Sunday. The improved 9-6 Buccaneers have as much to play for as the Saints on Sunday as they need a win and a tie or loss by the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants to qualify for the playoffs. Nevertheless, this a vastly improved club over last year's 3-13 edition, led by QB Josh Freeman and young players like Blount and fellow rookie WR Mike Williams. Below are transcripts of the conference calls:
Head Coach Raheem Morris
Do you consider last year's win at the Superdome as a springboard for your success or for what could come?"I don't know if it was an indicator of anything, but last year was about us going out and trying to improve every week. We had a young team last year and we were developing a young quarterback. We had just put him in against Green Bay for his first start, then he had a nice showing against the Super Bowl champs last year. They weren't the Super Bowl champs at the time, but we certainly knew they had the will and intangibles to do what they did last year and it was a great test for Freeman to put him out against you guys. He went out. We played well. We played fast. We played hard. We played consistent and we were able to get a win there and a very significant win for us in our development and where we wanted to go. It only helped us generate some positive pub for the offseason to get us going in the right direction. Right now we're just building and keeping trying to continue to grow."
You've been watching film on that Atlanta game. What are your thoughts on the Saints defense considering they are not forcing as many turnovers, but that they have given up fewer points and yards?"They're really playing grade A football across the board. Gregg Williams does a great job with scheme. He does a great job with putting his players in position to make plays. That's why they were a great opportunistic defense last year. Plays happen and turnovers happen when technique and opportunity meet. For whatever the case is, just not as many opportunities have presented themselves because if they do, usually those guys cash in. They have great ball skill guys in Tracy Porter and (Jabari) Greer and Darren Sharper, one of the best of all time and (Jonathan) Vilma, all those guys. They do a nice job of hustling to the football and causing turnovers. They're tackling better, even better this year than last year and they're just playing harder. That's going to make them a better defense all around. That's what they've done. That's what they've become."
When you saw the emotion that the Saints had in that Monday night game, it's pretty evident that they were pointing to it for a while. Did you use that as an illustration to your team? Have your guys been pointing to this game given what happened when the Saints came to your house earlier this year?"No. We play one game at a time. This is another great challenge for our football team. We don't ride the emotion of roller coaster. We go out and try to play each game as an individual game as what it is. We control, what we can control. The only thing we can do is go out and try to get our tenth win against the Saints this week. There are no emotional ties. We don't ride that kind of roller coaster here. We stay even keel. We're young. We're hungry. We're focused. We have our own goals. We're building this team for the long term. That's what we want to go out and do this weekend."
Blount is not a young guy that maybe took the most usual path to where he is. Did you have any reservations about bringing him in there at Tampa Bay given his background?"You have reservations about everyone you bring in. We're talking about every draft pick that you take, where you're taking the necessary precautions in doing the interviews, the combine interviews, bringing them to the facility, meeting with their people, having the ability to meet with his people and talk about what you want to talk about, finding out the information, all the detailed information you need to get. I was fortunate enough to coach with Scott Frost, who I was able to bring to Kansas State with me and I was also fortunate enough to be able to coach him here at Tampa, who coached him at Oregon. We had a lot of information other people didn't have when we were able to pick him up off the waiver wire when he was cut by Tennessee and put him on our team. It felt like home and it's been good for all of us. He's paid his own dues. He's been a good guy since he's been here. We feel really good about it."
What are the things that you think you're going to have to improve on from last week to win on Sunday?"Every game is a different game in itself. The only thing you can improve on is by going out and playing faster, harder and more consistent. Those are the things that we judge ourselves on every week. Every week is a different game. Every game has a different game plan. I'm not trying to improve on the Seahawks game plan from last week. I'm not trying to improve on the Detroit game plan from two weeks ago or the New Orleans Saints game from earlier in the season. We're trying to improve on what we're going to do with this game plan and how we prepare and play for this game at New Orleans."
I would say a lot of outside observers feel you should be proud of how far you've come from this time last year and that you're going into the last game of the season in playoff contention. Could you reflect on that, if there's any gratification going into this game and talk about your hopes for Sunday?"The only thing for us that we're proud of is to be playing meaningful games in December. When you grow up as a coach and as a player, you don't dream about April, the offseason and all those things. You dream about playing in January. You dream about playing in February hopefully. That's what players dream about. That's what coaches dream about coaching in. Those are the things that you take away some gratification from in playing some meaningful games in this part of the season and going out and trying to get better. We're not satisfied yet. We certainly want to be the very best and we had the ability to be that this year and we fell short. Hopefully we can get some luck on our side this weekend with some other people doing some things for us, but we have to do our job and go about our business."
What were you saying when you said you had the ability to do that this year and fell short?"We wanted to race to ten. We wanted to go out and be the first team to ten and control our own destiny. That's what the message was when we talked about the race to ten. You want to be in contention like the Saints were last year where they were running away with the thing were able to put it away and have everything go through them as the number one seed. You have that kind of control when you get to ten first. You have to kind of control when you're the Atlanta Falcons and you're able to control that thing and possibly get the one seed. I know a bunch of people are fighting for it right now. We want to be in that talk. We want to be in that type of setup for the playoffs. We want to win this out. We're an impatient team. We're coming of age. We're not looking to wait our turn. We're going to go out and take it. We believe our future's bright and hopefully we can continue to grow and get better as we go along."
Before the game last year here, did you feel comfortable at that time with your job security compared to now?"Most coaches, we don't get in this business with thoughts of job security. We get in this business looking to win championships. If I wanted to be job secure, I probably would have been an insurance man or something, but we don't worry about that stuff. My job is to go out and win football games and give my best effort every time. I don't worry about the recipe for disaster. I have a lot more confidence in my coaching staff, a lot more confidence in my organization and a lot more confidence in myself than to worry about things of that nature."
RB LeGarrette Blount
Can you talk about your journey into the NFL?It was really hard and took a long time. It feels like it took forever to get here. I did everything that was asked of me by everyone that was an important part of my life. I continued to listen to coaches and mentors and that got me to where I ended today."
Do you think the incident that happened with you at Oregon in the Boise State game was overblown and cost you in your draft stock?I definitely think so."
Do you have any regrets about anything LeGarrette Blount?No, I have no regrets at all actually. I just want to continue to do everything I have been doing and continue to do everything right. Hopefully I will continue to be successfully."
I saw in the St. Petersburg Times that you talked about you were spending extra time working on ball security. You have only had three fumbles this season and doesn't seem like an alarming number?I think it's very alarming just for the simple fact that turnovers cause you to lose games. I have had three I believe I only lost one. We recovered both of the ones (vs. Seattle on Jan. 2) and I lost one at the Washington Redskins (on Dec. 12). I think no matter how many carries I have, fumbling the ball in general is alarming to me because it is something I am not used to doing. I am not used to a lot of guys taking the ball away from me.
"We are going to immediately start working on that when we get back to practice. We are going to try a whole bunch of different things of how I can hold the ball and make sure I secure and not let it go again. It is not like it's the worst thing, but the situation we are in right now, a costly fumble could definitely (hurt) us a lot."
Do you think holding onto the football is the toughest transition for a rookie running back?Yes, just for the simple fact that when you are in college you are not as cautious with holding the football because fumbling was never a big issue of mine. It is just that, when I am getting tackled and on my way to the ground I kind of get careless with football and that is when they start stripping at it and going for it."
What are your thoughts on the Saints run defense because they have kind of been up and down this season? They gave up a 114 yards to Falcons RB Michael Turner in Week 3 but only 48 last Monday."I think every defense in the league is good. Everybody is professional. If you are a professional in this league, you can't be sorry. A lot of teams like the Falcons, their run defense is up and down also. It just depends on how they prepare, what they got on film, what they look at and how they expect to stop certain things."
Can you reflect on how this season has been for you? Just on how it started and now you are in position to make the playoffs?"It is exciting. I wish we could have secured our spot in the playoffs with the win at Detroit but we didn't so now we are in this situation where we definitely have to win this game against the Saints. We need a couple losses from Green Bay and New York but first we need to handle our part and beat the Saints."