Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano is obsessed with time. He urges his players not to waste a second of the 1,440 minutes allotted them each day and posted a countdown clock in the locker room to remind them how long they have — down to a tenth of a second — to prepare for their next game.
"Time is our enemy,'' Schiano says.
Perhaps, but the Carolina Panthers are at the very least a comparable adversary. Furthermore, they possess in quarterback Cam Newton an antagonist so viable the Bucs will spend a lot of the time left between now and Sunday's season opener scheming in an effort to stop him.
"He's an escape artist,'' defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
Newton is an artist all right, one who works in several mediums. As a rookie last year he sculpted out a true masterpiece, becoming the first NFL quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards, run for more than 500 and score more than 13 rushing touchdowns in a season.
With his 35 total touchdowns (21 passing, 14 running) Newton established himself as a dual threat the likes of which NFL defensive coordinators have seldom, if ever, seen. Schiano, though, is no stranger to players of Newton's skill set.
Now on the brink of his first game as an NFL head coach, Schiano spent the past 11 years running the program at Rutgers University, where he prepped the Scarlet Knights almost weekly for dual-threat quarterbacks like Newton. That experience should give Schiano a frame of reference to work from this week.
"He adds a dimension to the game that coming from college I'm probably more used to than some of the guys that have been in this league for a while,'' said Schiano, who will have defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan running a defense that he designed and mostly will orchestrate on Sunday afternoons.
"Of course, just because you're familiar with it doesn't mean you can stop him. Not many people have. But it really isn't about stopping him, because players like that are going to get their plays. What you do then is you just try to limit them, because that offense is an explosive offense.
"They've got an explosive player in (Newton), two explosive (running backs in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams) and explosive players at wideout and tight end. So you have to kind of pick where you're spending your resources and hope the other guys don't get you, which doesn't sound very reassuring, does it?''
It sounds more reassuring than the results Newton and the Panthers produced against Tampa Bay last year. In two lopsided victories, the Panthers outscored the Bucs 86-35 and ran up 718 total yards of offense, 594 of which were attributable to Newton runs or passes.
Newton won't be facing the same Bucs this time around, though. First of all, McCoy, who tore a biceps muscle for the second year in a row and didn't play after Week 4, was not a part of either of those two losses. Neither was rookie safety Mark Barron or weakside linebacker Lavonte David.
The Bucs drafted Barron in the first round and David in the second with weapons such as Newton in mind, knowing they needed attack-oriented players to fill the box and keep him contained. Throw in Schiano's new attack-oriented scheme and his experience fighting off dual threats and the Bucs like their chances.
"On every play someone is going to (be assigned to watch) the quarterback, somebody's going to (be assigned to watch) the running back and somebody's going to (be assigned to watch for) the pitch out,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said. "It's just a matter of doing your job. It's about scheme, tackling and discipline.''
Newton is pretty disciplined himself, more than some may think. Barron, who played against Newton while at Alabama two years ago, noticed as much watching tape of him from last year.
"He was quick to take off and run more in college but now he's a little more patient,'' Barron said. "I also think he was a little underrated as a passer in college. Now, with that year under his belt, I don't think he's underrated at all.''
Even so, Newton threw 17 interceptions and was sacked 35 times last year while completing 60 percent of his passes, which was just a notch below the league average. McCoy believes the Bucs can force Newton to produce some like results this weekend.
"I had to watch him from the sidelines last year and it stunk because of what he did to us,'' McCoy said. "But the thing about it is, we never made him uncomfortable. So our goal this time is to make him uncomfortable and see how he reacts to that. The thing you got to remember is, it's a different year.''