The new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't need to watch much game film before he realized one of the critical factors in last year's 4-12 record.
"We're one of the sloppier teams with the football that I've ever seen, so we have to get that remedied from Day 1,'' Greg Schiano said Wednesday at a media breakfast with NFC coaches. "That'll take a lot because it's a bad habit.''
The Bucs led the NFL with 40 giveaways last season, finishing last with a minus-16 turnover differential in the final year of the Raheem Morris regime.
In 2010, the Bucs went 10-6 in large part because they turned the ball over only 19 times while posting a plus-9 ratio.
When Schiano was asked for his impressions of running back LeGarrette Blount, he tempered his enthusiasm by noting Blount's penchant for putting the ball on the ground.
"LeGarrette is a very big back who is gifted in that he has the feet of a much smaller back,'' Schiano said. "We need to get him to run consistently, the way he is capable of, and he will. And we need him to have better ball security. We need our whole team to have better ball security.
"I think LeGarrette has tons of ability, but no one who touches the football will get touches if they don't protect the football. That is one of our core covenants – the ball. It's so important, they named the game after it, so we make a big deal about it.''
Schiano said he's looking forward to meeting with players April 2 to begin preparations for his first season as an NFL coach after 11 years at Rutgers.
Quarterback Josh Freeman, who struggled last year after a stellar 2010 season, has already impressed his new boss.
"My first experience with Josh was playing against him (Kansas State) in college when he was a freshman,'' Schiano recalled. "I studied every game he had played and he scared the heck out of me. When I took this job and met him that day, I didn't realize what a great-looking guy he is, not only physically, but everything.
"Since then, we've had some chances to visit on a personal level. I think he's just a really good person who grew up in a strong family. That doesn't guarantee anything, but it sure gives you a better shot. We need to get to April 2 and start doing some football because Josh is starving for it.''
Schiano said Freeman's relationships with two new assistants – offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and quarterbacks coach Ron Turner – will be critical to his development as Freeman enters his third full NFL season as a starter.
"Josh has the ability to lead,'' said Schiano. "I don't know if he has led, but I can see he has the ability to do it. The other thing is he's bright. He gets it. It doesn't matter what you're doing, smart people get things done more efficiently.''
Schiano said he was welcomed warmly by fellow coaches during his first visit to the annual NFL owners' spring meeting, even receiving some pointers on the transition from college coach to the pro level.
"My friends have tried to help me out,'' Schiano said of the extent of advice from his peers, "but I wouldn't say there's an open run on it.''
That line generated some laughs around the breakfast table before someone mentioned Bill Belichick's name and Schiano turned serious.
Schiano arrived at the meetings determined to spend some time with New England's iconic coach, a friend and mentor who heartily endorsed Schiano to Bucs ownership in January during Tampa Bay's coaching search.
"Bill's been very good to me,'' said Schiano, who was at Rutgers when Belichick's son, Stephen, played lacrosse for the Scarlet Knights. "Every time Bill came down, we'd talk football. As a young coach, you go to clinics with a pad full of notes. As you get older, you know who you are and what you believe in.
"Maybe you'll go someplace and come away with a note or two. Bill's the one guy, still, when I sit with him I have two pages of notes. That kind of shows you how bright he is.''