Why Sunday’s matchup with Seahawks has extra meaning for the Bucs

When he worked in Arizona in 2012 and 2013, Jason Licht saw the Seattle Seahawks steamroller gaining momentum up close, and hasn’t forgotten the view.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM loves how Pete Carroll’s staff constantly adjusts its scheme to the talent. Licht admires the way GM John Schneider has turned over every rock to build a juggernaut. He likes how the Seahawks are willing to take their shots at big names like Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin, but never believe they can buy a title.

In short, Licht holds most everything about Seattle’s operation in high regard.

And that’s why this Sunday will provide the burgeoning outfit that he and coach Dirk Koetter have put together with such a golden opportunity. In so many ways, when the Seahawks visit Raymond James Stadium, the young Bucs will have a great shot to measure themselves against a group they were modeled after.

"Seattle’s a team we try to emulate," Licht said from his office on Tuesday morning. "They pull every lever. And during their rebuild, they were still focused on winning, like we are now. … They realize you can’t bat 1.000 but they’re not afraid to take chances."

These general managers are close enough to have spent time together surfing off Maui’s Wailea Beach —€” Licht actually almost broke his back on the 2002 trip with Schneider — and this Sunday is a measuring stick for one’s program to see if it belongs in the same waters as the other’s.

If you forgot about the Bucs after their rollicking season-opening blowout of Atlanta, well, that’s understandable. The franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs in nine years, and is on its fifth head coach since then. Signs of turning the corner under Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith fizzled. So skepticism is warranted.

This is a good time of year to figure out what’s real and what’s not. In fact, it was right around Thanksgiving in 2012 that a young Seattle team kicked things into a gear few knew it had — and the Seahawks haven’t looked back since. Ditto for a retooled 2014 Panthers team that set the table for bigger things in 2015.

And so it could be for this 5-5 Bucs team that marched into Arrowhead and knocked off the red-hot Chiefs on Sunday. It was the culmination of what the Bucs have been building toward since a Columbus Day win over Carolina stopped the bleeding of three straight losses.

"When we won that game, I remember thinking, OK, we’re gonna have an opportunity to make some noise," Licht said. "And for Jameis (Winston), on that last drive, to win the game for us, and the kicker (much-criticized rookie Roberto Aguayo) to come through after some misses, it was a turning point for all of us."

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The Bucs are 4-2 since, and now sit wedged between the division-leading Falcons and the tied-for-last-but-still-in-it Saints and Panthers. The idea here, though, is that the foundation for bigger things is now in place, and that’s what brings us back to the Seattle model.

Among the receivers Winston hit in Kansas City were high first-round pick (Mike Evans), a veteran journeyman (Cecil Shorts), a supposed special teamer (Russell Shepard), a guy who arrived in Tampa on a tryout (Adam Humphries), a big-ticket back (Doug Martin), an undrafted fullback (Alan Cross) and a Harvard Man (Cam Brate).

So you can see that no-stone-unturned approach across the roster. The highest drafted Division III player ever, Ali Marpet, is now an anchor on the Tampa offensive line. Licht was aggressive in moving up to get him last year, as he was two rounds later in going up to get Kwon Alexander (now a defensive cornerstone) and then again this year in pushing forward to nab Aguayo (the jury’s still out on that one).

Before getting Aguayo in April, the Bucs went with conventional wisdom on their first pick (taking Vernon Hargreaves) and then rolled the dice with their second selection (red-flagged Noah Spence), addressing their two biggest needs in the process.

So what Licht admired about Seattle and how his buddy Schneider set it up — "They’ve made stars out of unknown guys like (Thomas) Rawls, taken chances on guys like Russell (Wilson), but they still go out and get Jimmy Graham," Licht says —€” is very much playing out in Tampa.

Whether it works to that level remains to be seen. But an important element to what the Seahawks have accomplished is the way Carroll has managed so many personalities and created the kind of winning environment that demands everyone adhere to a certain standard.

And maybe the best development Licht’s seen through all this is that kind of culture — the kind he’s seen working in winning programs in New England and Philly and Arizona — is starting to emerge in Tampa.

"A lot of it is the quarterback, his message and what he’s put out there — it’s family," Licht said of Winston. "He breaks down every huddle in practice, it’s ‘Family on 3.’ And those teams in Philly and Arizona — New England’s just a machine — they had that togetherness, all fighting for the same thing. The quarterback says it a lot, if one of us is failing, you have 10 brothers to pick you up. In the locker room, you feel it.

"I know it’s cliche, but unity is a powerful thing. They said this in New England all the time, it was engrained by Belichick —€” it’s not the best 53, it’s the right 53. We’re starting to figure out what the right 53 is. It’s evolving that way."

Great chance, too, for that 53 to take another step in that direction in a few days.

For the rest of Albert Breer’s notes, including Kirk Cousins’ price tag, Jimmy Garoppolo’s next home and five names to watch in Week 12, read the original article on the MMQB.

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