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Bucs embracing 'Hard Knocks,' not concerned with distractions

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will appear on the HBO television series "Hard Knocks" for 2017, giving the Bucs rare national exposure that they haven't had for at least a decade.

"The whole world gets to see how great of an organization this is and see the great people that we have within the organization," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "We’re out there doing it for the fans, we’re out there doing it for the city, and 'Hard Knocks' -- they’ll just show the whole world."

It's an opportunity for fans around the league to get an up-close look at Winston. The first overall draft pick in 2015, Heisman Trophy winner in 2013 and the Bucs' passionate leader, Winston, despite zero trouble off the field since he got to Tampa, found himself at the center of controversy earlier this offseason because of comments made to an elementary school class. The controversy has done little to slow Winston's work in the community.

They'll also get to see rising star Mike Evans fresh off his first Pro Bowl season. His life story was the subject of a widely discussed E:60 feature that aired on ESPN last year, where he and his family opened up about the tragic death of his father and the domestic violence he encountered as a child. It's also a chance for fans to hear from him after his decision to sit during the national anthem last year in protest of President Donald Trump.

The most compelling story of all, though, may be how the Bucs and the show's producers handle the situation with running back Doug Martin. The two-time Pro Bowler and fan favorite abruptly left the team with one game remaining last season to enter a drug treatment program after he tested positive for performance-enhancing substances. The team has been noncommittal about his future, saying only that their primary focus is on his well-being.

While the tone with Martin would be serious, there will be plenty of opportunities for laughs elsewhere. Gerald McCoy is one you can always trust to ham it up for the camera. Whether he's showing up to camp in a bathrobe and slippers or a bright red streak in his hair, boarding a team plane in a Santa Claus outfit or dressing up as "Bruce Tannen," McCoy was made for TV.

Will the show be a distraction? McCoy doesn't believe so.

"We’ve still got a season to prepare for, whether there’s a camera watching or not," McCoy said. "We play the games on Sundays with cameras watching, so if you think you can’t go out to practice and practice with a camera on you then you’re probably in the wrong profession. If we get picked, it is what it is, let’s be professionals and go to work."

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who appeared on "Hard Knocks" when he was the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons in 2014, is not concerned with the spotlight the show brings being a distraction.

"This is the NFL. There are bright lights," Koetter said. "I look at it as just part of the deal. I think we'll be fine. There's gonna be see some stuff ... but it's a TV show. The real TV shows are Sundays in the fall. [Those] are the ones I'm worried about.

"I think it could be good. ... I think when a team has not been one of the main faces of the league for a while, I think it can contribute to that, but the No. 1 thing that contributes to that is [to] win football games."

Is a "Hard Knocks" appearance a precursor to a losing season? In some cases. The Los Angeles Rams were on the show last year and finished 4-12, which led to Jeff Fisher's firing. They had finished 7-9 the previous season. The Falcons finished 6-10 after appearing on "Hard Knocks" in 2014, but they had finished 4-12 the previous season, so they actually improved.

The Miami Dolphins and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill were featured on the show in 2012 and finished 7-9, but it was the fourth straight year that they missed the playoffs.

In one of the most memorable "Hard Knocks" to date, the New York Jets appeared on the show in 2010 and finished 11-5 to reach the AFC Championship Game. The Cincinnati Bengals were on the show in 2013 and finished 11-5 to win the AFC North. The Houston Texans were on the show in 2015 and finished 9-7 to win the AFC South.

Bottom line, Winston believes, is to do your job, whether there are cameras or not.

"Our job is the play football," Winston said. "They add the glitz and the glamour and all that comes with it. It’s an amazing show, but we’ve got to play football.