Buccaneers DB Ronde Barber can usually detect by Opening Day whether he's part of a good team, a bad team or one somewhere in the middle.
Not this year.
Barber is getting ready for his 200th consecutive start and 16th NFL season, but said this week that he can't tell if 2012 will be a successful season for the Bucs or a disappointing one.
"This is one of the few years, where I can't say for certain, because I really don't know how these coaches work yet and I don't know how we're going to respond to adversity under this new system,'' Barber said.
"Obviously, we've been trained to deal with it, but I was so comfortable in everything we had here before – the way the defense played, what the offense was doing. I don't know any of that right now. I'm figuring it out day to day.''
One thing Barber thinks he has figured out is how to shift to safety after playing 15 seasons at cornerback. As for the rest of the team making a successful transition to first-year head coach Greg Schiano and the new schemes he installed, Barber is still waiting for that answer.
"I am cautiously optimistic, because I know we have the talent, especially the front-line, first-team guys,'' Barber said. "But we have to be a deep team that understands its roles. Are we there yet? I can't say for sure.''
All grown up
The Buccaneers are no longer the youngest team in the league. According to STATS, Tampa Bay ranks ninth in average age at 26 years, 100 days.
The Bucs had the youngest team in the league each of the past three seasons, but that title now belongs to the St. Louis Rams at 25 years, 300 days. The oldest team in the league is Detroit at 27 years, 326 days.
Captain, my captain
WR Vincent Jackson, who signed with in March as a free agent, is one of six team captains selected by Tampa Bay players.
Jackson and QB Josh Freeman will represent the offense while Barber and third-year DT Gerald McCoy are the defensive captains. Special teams captains are LB Adam Hayward and LS Andrew Economos.
"It's an honor," said Jackson, who played his first seven NFL seasons in San Diego. "These are my peers and to get that respect is very much appreciated.''
McCoy, who described his teammates as "brothers,'' is determined to prove they made a sound choice.
"My teammates mean everything to me,'' McCoy said. "I told you guys when I first got to Tampa that I was going to be a leader. That's what they drafted me to be. Apparently, I've done it enough that my teammates want to put me in that position. I would be doing them a disservice not to wear the title proudly.''
DE Michael Bennett acknowledged it's disappointing Sunday's opener against the Panthers will be blacked out locally, but said it's the responsibility of Tampa Bay players to generate excitement.
"It's up to us to bring the fans back in terms of winning games,'' Bennett said. "It's on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start winning. When you win, people will show up.''
For Tampa Bay, WR Arrelious Benn (knee) is questionable, and CBs E.J. Biggers (foot) and Anthony Gaitor (hamstring) doubtful. For Carolina, LB Jon Beason (thigh) and WR Steve Smith (foot) are probable, RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle) is questionable and OL Jeff Byers (knee) is out.
Roy Cummings, Ira Kaufman