As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' bye week arrives, Michael Johnson and Gerald McCoy are tied for the team lead in sacks. That's undoubtedly what team management envisioned when it rushed to sign Johnson in the early hours of free agency, creating a potentially dominant inside-outside duo with All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
The rub is, Johnson and McCoy are tied at just two sacks apiece, and the Bucs as a whole have only nine of them, five of which came during one half of play in Pittsburgh in Week Four. It hasn't helped that an ankle sprain suffered early in the season opener robbed Johnson of several games and has been something of a limiting factor since. The Buccaneers expect better pass-rush production when they return from their break, and expect it to start with Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati in 2012.
"Michael Johnson, he's been banged up most of the year," said Head Coach Lovie Smith. "After the bye week, you should be pretty close to being at full-speed then. But, of course, it takes more than him. We looked at different combinations right there. I'll just say that we need to get more production, led by our bell cow Michael Johnson."
Johnson also has two quarterback hits a tackle for loss and a forced fumble – and most of that came during the early rush in Pittsburgh. McCoy had a sack in that game, as well, and for a while the expected blueprint was on display. It just hasn't been there week-in and week-out, and the Buccaneers need to see more of it.
"Yeah, we've got to be more consistent – me personally," said Johnson. "I've got to do a better job at what I'm doing. It all works together. Each one of us, we've got to look at ourselves and just try to continue to improve. And we will."
Johnson is playing right end in the Bucs' defense, his natural position. Smith said he didn't see the need to start moving his primary pass-rushers around.
"What can you move?" he said. "You can go right or you can go left? As a defensive end, most of them would like to play one side, and you get used to the same step before you make your move. So there's only so much that you can do. He feels comfortable most of the time at that right side."
Johnson said he wouldn't object to taking snaps on the left side but his main concern is simply improving his output from the spot the coaches have placed him in.
"I've played at the right [end] the majority of my career," he said. "Early on, I flipped a lot more in Cincinnati my rookie year. But we have capable rushers at every position, so I'm just going to keep trying to do better."
The Bucs had plenty of topics to discuss on Tuesday as they got back together for one of two extra bye-week practices. Below is a sampling of additional thoughts from Smith, Johnson and several other coaches and players.
Head Coach Lovie Smith
On what has changed since speaking on Monday:
"Not a whole lot really. Typical bye week practice. Can't go in pads, so we're resting up some of our players. If you have anything going on injury-wise, we're resting you up. Besides that, we get a chance to work with some of the younger players we don't get a chance to work with very often. But we need to get better on the practice field though. We have two days that we can practice – we plan on using both of those and get work done. We practiced all the situations today, so that's kind of where we are. I'm going to probably give you the same answer tomorrow – not much will go on. If there's an injury, I can't talk about it. If you got something to do tomorrow, you can take off a little earlier."
On why wide receiver Mike Evans left practice early:
"Bye week probably. And guys aren't really enthused about practicing – it was probably that if you saw that. I haven't gotten that injury report yet."
On if he will use the bye week to search for a replacement offensive coordinator:
On if he will start searching for a replacement offensive coordinator soon:
"What I'm trying to do right now is get this football team ready right now. As far as next year, of course we won't be doing anything like that. We're doing everything we possibly can – coaching staff [and] player-wise – to play better once we come back out of the bye week."
On what he has seen from offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey that warrants more playing time:
"In practice [and] just his overall play. If we feel like it's not a big drop off, we want to play as many guys as possible at as many positions as possible. You do it on the defensive line, safety position – we tried rolling players. It's just a long year and you want to – again, if we think that we can be successful with a player, we'll try to roll as much as possible and play and use as many of our guys of that 46-man roster as we can on gameday."
On what makes safety Keith Tandy unique:
"The more things you can do, of course, the better your chances are of playing a long time in this league, and especially if you're in a backup role. So to have a player like Keith Tandy that [is] a four phase, special teams player – of course, he's played safety for us. He's a smart guy – ask him to talk about his degree sometime. He's a smart guy and can handle the load. So to be able to play nickel and safety, that only helps our football team."
On what he remembers about being 0-5 heading into the bye week in his first year as linebackers coach for the team under head coach Tony Dungy:
"That was 1996, right? I'm 56 years old. No, but you do remember those tough situations you've been in. We stayed the course is what I remember. We're disappointed in our play. As I told the football team out there today, 'Look at it this way: there's seven-and-a-half minutes to go in a game in the second quarter of a football game and we're behind. What has been decided?' We're disappointed in where we are, but there's a lot of football left to go. So you have to just – every chance you get – try to put together for our team one good play at a time. And for us right now, it's just critiquing everything we've done and just trying to see where we can improve, and without, 'OK, it's game week, we have to go through all the game planning and all of that.' So that's what we did back then and took a step back and evaluated everything that we're doing, what we're doing coaching-wise, personnel moves we have to make. And then eventually got back to coming out of that bye week, you want to – sometimes, for whatever reason, when you stop and you come back, there's a different vibe in the air. So that's what we're going to be working on – that as much as anything. For our football team, I want them to get work in and then of course to get away, get refreshed, get away. Last time we took a 10-day period or so off, we played a lot better when we came back. So that's what we're trying to do."
On how he plans to spend the bye week:
"I'm a football fan too, so there's a lot of football games that I'll get a chance to watch this weekend. I normally watch college football. I guess when you have a little bit of time, you go to vacation spots, right? Is that what you normally do? For me, I live in a vacation spot in Tampa. Again, we're 1-5. I won't be doing a whole lot of vacationing this week."
On if he anticipates running back Charles Sims to be back at practice after the bye week:
"We're excited about getting him back. I think it's documented how we feel about Charles. He's a good football player and we can't wait to get him on the field. The clock, of course, is ticking to get him out there. But as soon as he can go to work, we'll pretty much start him with that if he's ready to go, and we're not getting into all those details. Once he's ready to go, we'll get him out there as soon as possible."
On how he feels about the team being last in the league in points allowed:
"How I look at it, there's seven-and-a-half minutes left to go in the second quarter and we don't have good stats right now. But we have a chance to finish. I don't really get too worked up until that's over. What I'm interested in – we come back from that first game and we play a great defensive game there. In my mind, I'm going to start keeping stats from then on. And that's what we're doing right now. So wherever we are right now, it's kind of part of our past – it's what we do coming back, and I want our stats to be good when we come back. So I'm focusing more on that."
Quarterbacks Coach Marcus Arroyo
On quarterback Mike Glennon's performance:
"There were some spots where he did some good things again, some spots where I know he – we just got done looking at some of the tape we've looked at the last two days and he's looked at it on his own and some sports where 'I could've been a little better here, a better ball here and some things there.' There are some things I can do better to help him out, but for the most part, he did some really good things too, versus a really good defense and under duress some of the times."
On what he wants to address during the bye:
"I think you go through what you've done with a fine-tooth comb and find out where you can be more successful as you approach keys to victory. You have to be calculated in that because it can get expansive and you can spend your whole time just combing over and getting really finite when in fact you need to make sure the bullet points are, in our opinion, in order and parts being for example what are we doing well offensively as far as offensively when we look at the scheme? Where are we going to be? What's the protection look like? What are some things that are sticking out? Things that we're all aware of – how do we get off to a better start? How do we start making the starts of our games look like the starts of the second half of games – because right now it's manic and what is it? Let's really get into it and find out what it is. Is it mental? Is it in our guys? Let's ask our guys, what is the second half when we come out of the locker room, what is it mentally, or physically, or schematically? Because we're not changing the game plan, the game plan doesn't change in the second half. Whatever it is, we need to find out what it is that can give us a little more spark because the second half has been manic.
Behind the scenes photos from the Buccaneers vs. Ravens game at Raymond James Stadium.
We have to get off, we can't drop third downs, we can't have execution errors, we can't have some of the things that are setting us back, that's the other part and some of the bullet points, is making sure that are there turnovers and these keys to victories stick out all of the time. What are we doing with the ball? How are we doing in critical situations? How's our mental game? If you get through those first bullet points, then you've got some things to fine-tune that up. Penalties, if you look back at some of those games, did we do a better job with penalties? Did we not kill our execution in? Are we giving ourselves a chance? And are we keeping ourselves in manageable situations? Because we're finding out our third downs and manageable situations are good, our percentages are good. When we get into long situations and just like many [others], it's tough and how did we get there? Obviously we were very disappointed last week in not being able to keep fighting and starting fast and start getting through and scoring some more points, but that was a game that went out of our game plan, it got us out of our game plan. When you start having to find chunks early and you've got to go, then you have to talk to yourself about protection because you can't just drop back – we would rather not drop back 44 times in a game to have to keep pressing it down the field because then you're going to end up in a protection-world where you're going to start putting things on an island at times and guys are going to be tired and you've got to be careful. For the most part we were – there were some mixed in seven-man protections, there were mixed-in six-man protections, there were some times where you tried to help out a little bit by mixing in some quick game and knowing the ball still had to go down the field to move it. That's really in a nutshell as I talk quickly before practice – I apologize – but those are the things in the last 48 hours that we've been trying to comb through."
On why Baltimore's pass rush was able to get to Glennon:
"One, I think they're good. Let's not get past the fact that's a good defense, those are two very good defensive ends in [Elvis] Dumervil and [Terrell] Suggs and [Haloti] Ngata is a very good player up front. Our offensive line has done a very good job up until last week and we just got some guys on us and they got some push. I think a lot of it was good players and we've got to do a good job of trying to protect our guys and mix in a couple more seven-man protections and maybe that helps. But other than that, you can throw in quick game here-or-there and maybe that team is a good screen team because they're good at retracting, they've got stand up ends scanning the line of scrimmage. Schematically, certain teams are better screen teams than others. You have to find ways to put the ball into space a little bit and we're looking at all of those things. How can we get better at the screen game? Can you throw more quicks? Yeah, we'll probably throw a few more quicks to just chunk it and get a few more yards. Hindsight is 20-20 when you're trying to score that many points that fast. I'm thinking 30 points in a quarter, you're trying because that's what you have to do at certain points, and you have to think that way. It's just tough and you have to manage that and that's just part of it."
On if the team needs to throw more screens passes:
"Yes, we've got to ramp that back up a little bit and get a little more space plays to some of those guys. Our screen game two weeks ago was good and started to get a little more slow screens and things like that and it started to look good against Pittsburgh. Again, it's finding where those spots are and who it's against and how do you get them lined up, that's one of the emphasis is creating a little bit more space there and that will help. That definitely could [help] and that's what we're looking forward to, is a chance to do that."
On if there is a concern with wide receiver Vincent Jackson's reception-to-target percentage:
"Last week we were pretty excited with the way he played, he did a pretty good job last week we've built off the week before. I think whenever you're targeted and don't get the catches – we've slowly tried to find ways to continue to get him the ball and it's starting to move forward. Last week we had a chance to target him a little more, but didn't get a chance to get him the ball that much, it didn't get in his hands. It's not a lack of knowing the ball needs to go to him, it's either the coverage or a ball needs to be a little better or finding another way to do it and I think it's all of that."
On how the rookie pass catchers Mike Evans, Robert Herron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are developing:
"Good, I'm excited about their development, I'm excited about them continuing to get better and kind of keep building and staying healthy and having full guys going. They're promising, promising guys and we love having them and I'm excited to get them again today and tomorrow just to get another chance to get more stuff. I think every rep for all us including those guys who are new are vital."
On if he's gotten feedback from the players on why they have been able to start the second half off fast:
"I think we're all, as we come through that these next few days, that's going to come up a little bit more and I don't think anyone has a real definitive answer. I think in the beginning we just had some dropped balls and missed execution. We've got to figure out what it is that's – whether we have to change up what it is we put out the first few plays or something. I don't know if there's any real true exact science to that yet, I don't know the exact answer yet and we need to find a way to do better – maybe we change the way we practice offensively the first little bit of practice or something, but that's what we're going to do this week."
On if he's talked to offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford:
"Yeah, I just check in to see how he's doing. I saw Donna [Tedford] the other day and talked with her a little bit and we've just exchanged texts to see how he's doing. He's doing well. We don't talk about football. I'm just checking in to see how he's doing, that's all I'm interested in."
On the good things the offense has been doing:
"I think our red zone has been good. We've done a good job in the red zone for the most part as we look through it, we've got to find a way to build off that type of success, I think the third downs under six yards has been good, converting those down and distances, we've had some good chunk plays in the way that we've designed it in the last few weeks and again that goes back to continuing to find ways to get guys the ball and build off some of the stuff that Mike can do well and I think those are just a few components."
On the competition at right guard between Garrett Gilkey and Patrick Omameh:
"Just continuing to find ways to get those guys more reps. I think that groups going to be competitive and we expect it and they expect it and to get them more reps is important."
LB Mason Foster
On defensive tackle Gerald McCoy taking all of the blame for the defensive struggles:
"It's on every single one of us. [McCoy] is the leader of the defense, he's going to say that, he's tough on himself, but they're a good team and we have to do a lot better to compete in the NFL."
On if he is shocked with the way the defense has struggled:
"I'm definitely very shocked. We've got a lot of good guys on our defense, but you have to go out there and make it happen. We're just going to keep working and try to turn it around."
On the defense has trouble executing the scheme:
"It's one of those things where there's a lot of little things happening here-and-there that turns into a big play or somebody just gets beat straight up-and-down or he makes a good play on the ball and the guy still catches it and it's just stuff like that happens all of the time, but to be a good defense you have to be able to play through that and make more plays than they make, especially in a scheme like this. It's on us. You just have to beat the guy in front of you and start winning some games."
DE Michael Johnson
On Baltimore's offensive performance on Sunday:
"They did a good job of coming out and executing. They started out early on, and we've got to do a better job – when teams come out like that, we've got to be able to bow up and get some stops, and we didn't do that. But we had a good day today and that's step one."
On if he would be opposed to playing on the left side of the defensive line:
"I'm not. I've worked over there at times. I ran a couple [from the left side] in the Atlanta game."
QB Josh McCown
On if his injury has affected his leadership role:
"It's harder, but you can still get things done. I'm still trying to do as much as I can as far as I'm still trying to be involved with helping guys out. Like I've said all along, as far as the quarterback position goes when I got here, I want to play at a high level. My focus has shifted from helping myself get prepared to helping Mike get prepared and it does make it a little harder to lead because ultimately you want to be on the field, but you have to do what you can from the position that you're in."
DT Gerald McCoy
On the team's performance on Sunday:
"Everybody has to self-evaluate, starting with myself. 2013 is over. Gerald McCoy is not an All-Pro – that was in 2013. Sunday, he didn't play like an All-Pro. It's easy to make excuses. You can say, 'I got double-teamed most of the passes,' – which I did. You can say it was quick [passes] – which it was. But there comes a point in time where all the greats figure it out. Me personally, I work to be one of the greats. Sunday, just kind of disappointed in myself – it's unacceptable. The way we lost, I put it all on me because our performance was not up to par. Right now, you're only as good as your last performance, and right now, Gerald McCoy is very average, and I can accept that. I will accept all the scrutiny, I can accept all the criticism because criticism and stuff only comes when it's earned, and right now, I earned that. People are looking for leaders – [the] outside is looking for leaders. My performance on Sunday was not the performance of a leader, so I have to do some real soul-searching and some heavy evaluation on myself because I have to improve."
On if it is surprising to him that the team is last in the league in points allowed:
"Yeah it is, especially when you're the 'leader.' You look at a stat like that, everybody looks to the head guy, and on the defense, that's me. And that's happening. I've got to just accept fault on that. Whether it's not bringing guys with me, whether it's not doing enough myself. Whatever it is, I don't really care what people say about me. I've been getting scrutinized by even some of you guys since I was a rookie. Telling me I wasn't good enough; I got injured, I was a bust. It wasn't until I made my first Pro Bowl that I even got people to say anything positive collectively. So people are going to say what they're going to say. But I can put the load of it on my back because that's what I'm built to do, and as a leader, I have to do that. So whatever our numbers are, whatever it is, it's not the scheme. Please stop saying it's the Tampa-2. Carolina was the No. 2 defense in the league last year with the Tampa-2. It can still work. We've just got to step up and make some changes."