As Tampa Bay Buccaneers players enjoy a much-needed bye week, Buccaneers.com is using the break to assess the first five weeks in Roundtable format. Contributors Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and Scott Smith are tackling the following topics:
- Thursday: Who is the team MVP at the break?
- Friday: What has been the biggest surprise of the Bucs' season so far?
- Saturday: Which player returning from injury will make the biggest difference?
- Sunday: Who is the Bucs' unsung hero so far?
Today we're pinpointing the most surprising development so far this season. It's Andrew's turn to go first.
What has been the biggest surprise of the Bucs' season so far?
Andrew Norton: Buccaneers vs. the NFC South
I am not shocked that the Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Week One. Looking back, they are now the 4-1 Atlanta Falcons, which is more of a pat on the back for the Bucs than anything else. Fast forward through three losses against some of the NFL's top defenses and you wind up on the road against the reigning NFC Champs on Monday Night Football. According to NFL Pick Watch, 90% of their polled experts picked the Panthers.
Without Doug Martin, without Gerald McCoy, without Robert Ayers and Clinton McDonald and Luke Stocker and Charles Sims and Jacquies Smith the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a primetime road game against a division rival. Jacquizz Smith, a free agent running back who hadn't been on a team for a full month carried the ball 30 times for 101 yards. The defensive line had just one of its Week One starters.
No, the Buccaneers winning was not a shock, these players and the organization behind them know that the Buccaneers can win any week. But considering the injuries, the matchup history, the young players in a national spotlight… it was a pleasant surprise, and one that should have injected a lot of confidence for what is in store the rest of the season.
Scott Smith: 259
That's the total number of snaps that undrafted rookie defensive linemen DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward have played through the first five weeks, though neither one of them were active for the first game of the season.
There is no way that was part of the plan coming into the season. The Buccaneers obviously saw real potential in Lambert and Ward because they kept them on the 53-man roster instead of subjecting them to the waiver wire and trying to stash them on the practice squad. Still, Lambert and Ward were the last of a whopping 10 defensive linemen the team kept, as evidenced by the fact that they were the two declared inactive in Week One. Presumably, they were going to get time to develop and adjust to the NFL game before they were needed in any high-leverage moments.
Well, that plan lasted all of one snap, which is how many defensive end Jacquies Smith before tearing an ACL in Atlanta in the opener. That bumped Lambert into active game-day status in Week Two, and the same thing happened to Ward when Robert Ayers sprained an ankle in Arizona. With subsequent injuries to Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Noah Spence, Lambert and Ward were suddenly front and center.
Literally. Ward started the Monday night game in the middle of the front line, where the Pro Bowler McCoy would usually be. Lambert has started the last three games at defensive end and has, amazingly, played 70% of the defensive snaps over the last four games. The loss of all those premier pass-rushers has clearly dampened the Bucs' pass rush, but Lambert and Ward have helped keep the Bucs from turning into papier-mâché up front. Both rookies have been valuable because they can play inside or outside, and they have more than held their own in far more playing time than was anticipated this early.
Joe Kania: Cameron Brate's production.
Heading into training camp, we got a sense that Brate could have a bigger role in the offense this year. Austin Seferian-Jenkins had some struggles through the spring, and Brate had been working with the first-team offense for a good portion of the snaps during mini-camp and OTAs. Brate has not only held onto that position through five weeks, but as the Buccaneers grew thin at tight end, he has produced at the high level that the Buccaneers had hoped for.
Brate is third on the team in both receptions (17) and receiving yards (197). His 10 first downs and two touchdown catches are second among Buccaneers, trailing Mike Evans in both categories. The Bucs released Seferian-Jenkins earlier in the season and have been without Luke Stocker, their top blocking tight end, since Week 2. Still – the team hasn't seen a drop off at the position. Not bad for a player who the Bucs waived at the start of the 2015 season.