The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their 2018 preseason opener in Miami thanks to a sharp two-minute drive led by Ryan Griffin that set up Chandler Catanzaro for the game-winning field goal. The Buccaneers will suit up again on Saturday night at the Tennessee Titans' Nissan Stadium to try to go for two in a row.
The last time Tampa Bay started out 2-0 in the preseason was 2008, the final year of Jon Gruden's tenure as head coach. That summer also started with a win at Miami, followed by a home victory over New England. The '08 Bucs finished their warmup slate with a 3-1 record, and the team commonly did well, from a W-L standpoint in the preseason under Gruden.
The last time the Buccaneers were undefeated in the preseason was 1999, under Tony Dungy, and that year joins 1983 as the only 4-0 August campaigns in franchise history. So, is 4-0 in the preseason a goal for the Bucs to shoot for, an indicator that this team is going to make a strong run at ending its postseason drought? How about just the first 2-0 start in a decade?
The answer, of course, is no. And emphatically so. The Buccaneers (and their opponents) take the field for every preseason game with the goal of winning it, and the players on that field are just as competitive in August as they are in November. However, teams do not necessarily make lineup or playbook decisions based on optimizing their chance for victory. Getting players healthy to the regular season and avoiding putting too much on tape that is useful for opponents take priority.
In other words, if 2-0 or 4-0 happens, that's great, but it likely won't be an indicator of success. Nor would a 1-3 finish to the preseason tell you anything about the Bucs' chances once the games that count begin.
Want proof? The only two teams that have gone 0-16 since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 – that's a span of 40 years – are the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns. Guess how both of those teams fared during the preseasons that preceded those winless campaigns. Yep, 4-0.
And lest you think Dungy got that 4-0 August record with the Bucs in 1999 (admittedly, a year that went great in the regular season, too) because he purposely chased preseason wins, just look at his run in Indianapolis. From 2005-08, the Colts won 51 regular-season games and a Super Bowl following the 2006 campaign. In that four-year spin, those teams went 3-15 in the preseason.
I'll be rooting for the Buccaneers to take down the Titans on Saturday night and I'll be disappointed if they lose. But that disappointment won't last long. As long as the team stays relatively healthy into September, gets the evidence it needs to make final roster decisions and gets the offense and defense ready to roll, it will be a successful preseason.
Now, on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. As you'll see from time to time, I also unilaterally appropriate for myself – as any good pirate captain would – questions I like that are meant for our Insider Live show or are simply responses to one of my previous tweets (I also found another source this week, as you'll see below). As always, if you'd prefer to email your question and maybe bust past that 280-character limit, you can do so to email@example.com.
You guys were talking the other day about Alan Cross and I know he made the team as an undrafted player in some recent year. (Don't remember exactly which one and don't want to look it up. I figure you'll know, so why waste my very precious time?) I also know that somebody usually makes it from each year's group of undrafted guys. I've been a Bucs fan since the late 1990s (good timing, I know) and I think my favorite undrafted guy since I've been watching is Earnest Graham. That guy killed it when he got his shot! So, yes, I do have a question for you in all of this. My question si, what undrafted player that made it SURPRISED you the most by making it. Like, I know Scott has been talking up Shaun Wilson this whole camp so that would NOT be a surprise. Give me somebody you really didn't expect to see still there when the dust settled on the roster. Thanks, and keep the great old Bucs guests coming!
- Stephen from St. Pete
Okay, full disclosure: This question was not meant for the S.S. Mailbag. As anyone who is a little familiar with the new Salty Dogs podcast probably recognizes, it was emailed in to be used on that show, which I co-host with Jeff Ryan. Jeff and I may still get to this one next week, but I purposely stole it for the mailbag in order to plug our new podcast. I hope you'll give it a lesson. So far we've done three of them and we've had a murderer's row of former Bucs as our guests, as alluded to by Stephen: Ronde Barber, Dave Moore and Mike Alstott. Who will be next?!
We finish each Salty Dogs episode by reading and answering questions sent in by fans, who are encouraged to have fun with their questions. You can join in the fun by sending a question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, sales pitch over. Let's get to Stephen's question.
There are probably tons of great answers to this question that would pop up if I went through the years one by one. For instance, I remember being a little surprised in September of 2016 when both DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward made it as part of the Bucs' defensive line. That proved to be a good move because the line was hit by a rash of early-season injuries and Lambert and Ward helped keep it running with some effectiveness (the win in Carolina, in particular, comes to mind).
But I'm going to go with the first two that popped into my head when I read this question. It's important to note that my "surprise" at these guys making it doesn't indicate that they were lacking in obvious talent. It was really more of a situational thing in both instances.
The first player that came to mind was tight end Todd Yoder, who came to the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt in 2000. At the time, I was working in the team's public relations department and was responsible for maintaining the depth chart, and I vividly remember that we had seven players listed in one tight end slot. The seventh was Todd Yoder.
This was probably somewhat arbitrary, as there were only two really established tight ends in Dave Moore and Patrick Hape. The other four besides Yoder included fifth-round draft pick James Whalen and a trio of young guys who had seen a little time in the league: Lovett Purnell, Henry Lusk and Jason Freeman. Freeman had been with the Bucs in 1999 on the practice squad. Given all that, it's not surprising that Yoder started out on the last line of the depth chart. He was the only tight end who didn't start out that camp with a jersey number in the 80s (he was 44), which might have seemed ominous at the time.
The current Buccaneers under Dirk Koetter list two separate tight end spots on the offensive starting 11, so it's no surprise when the team carries four or five players at that position. At the time Yoder was trying to break into the league, though, the Buccaneers almost always maxed their one tight end position out at three. That meant five guys, including a draft pick, were fighting for one spot.
And Yoder came out on top. He quickly became a very useful player on special teams, and that helped him win a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers following the 2002 season. Yoder ended up with a very nice career, playing in 134 games with the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Redskins. He hit career highs with Jacksonville in 2004 in games started (eight), receptions (14) and receiving yards (157). In his last season in Washington, Yoder caught four passes and three of them went for touchdowns.
I also recall that in 1996, Dungy's first year at the helm, the team brought in a whole bunch of undrafted rookies from Texas A&M-Kingsville. I had not previously heard of this school, although it had previously been known as Texas A&I and it had produced a number of NFL players, including all-time greats Darrell Green, John Randle and Gene Upshaw.
If memory serves, the Buccaneers had a scout or several scouts go to Kingsville to scout a guard named Jermane Mayberry. The Bucs didn't get Mayberry, as he was drafted in the first round by the Eagles, but they did find some other offensive linemen they liked in Jorge Diaz and Kevin Dogins, as well as a receiver named Karl Williams. They signed all three as undrafted free agents.
And all three made the team! I find that pretty remarkable. Both linemen lasted four seasons in Tampa, though Diaz ended up with a lot more starts. Karl Williams ended up as the biggest prize out of that Kingsville crew, as he played eight years and 113 games as a Buccaneer and was on the Super Bowl championship team. Williams remains the team's all-time leader in punt return yards and punt return touchdowns. In fact, Williams has five of the 11 punt return touchdowns in franchise history; nobody else has more than one.
I gave Dan a quick answer on this on Twitter but thought other Buccaneers fans might be interested given how good the early buzz has been around Carlton Davis (and fellow second-round cornerback M.J. Stewart, for that matter).
Dan sent that question in response to a different tweet, but I think what prompted it was this one I sent during Thursday's joint practice with the Titans in Nashville:
Amari Coleman is a rookie cornerback who the Buccaneers just picked up just last Friday, so it might have surprised some fans that he was suddenly running with the first team. In reality, it was probably just a brief situation created by circumstances at the moment. It didn't end up lasting long, and it certainly was no indication that Davis's momentum had stalled.
The Buccaneers have been banged up at the cornerback position for more than a week, which is one of the reasons the team signed Coleman in the first place. On this particular day, Brent Grimes was manning one cornerback spot for the first-team defense, while Ryan Smith was taking most of the reps on the other side to start practice. With Vernon Hargreaves sidelined by a groin injury, Davis might have been getting that first-team exposure that went to Smith but he is coming back from an unspecified injury of his own that kept him out of practice in Tampa on Tuesday, and he wasn't taking part in full 11-on-11 work.
At one point during practice, Smith left the field with Buccaneer trainers to look at an injury of his own. It was during this time that Coleman stepped in opposite Grimes. Smith's injury obviously wasn't serious because he later returned to the practice field and to the first-team group.
All that said, it is at least mildly interesting that Coleman was the one chosen over a couple other options, such as recently-acquired third-year man De'Vante Harris, who has some starting experience with the Saints. The Buccaneers haven't had much time yet to evaluate Coleman, who started the offseason with the Detroit Lions after signing with them out of Central Michigan, but perhaps they have seen something early on that looks promising. The prospect profile that NFL.com ran on Coleman prior to the draft pegged him as either a seventh-round pick or a priority free agent, with analyst Lance Zierlein concluding that "there is enough athletic ability and cover talent to give him a shot at making a team." Color me intrigued. This guy agrees:
Anyway, to get to what I'm sure is the main concern of this tweet-inspired discussion, there is no reason to worry about Davis. I'm not sure if he will be cleared to play in Saturday's game against the Titans, but the fact that he was at least taking part in portions of the two practices in Tennessee indicate he is not being bothered by anything serious. Beyond that, he has looked very good in his first couple weeks of training camp, he had a strong preseason debut in Miami and I think he is very much in the competition to start opposite Grimes.
This question came up at the tail end of a discussion about undrafted rookie tight end Tanner Hudson and the Buccaneers' potential plans for the position. And it's a really good question that sent me back poring through the team's week-by-week roster over the past three seasons, all of which have had Dirk Koetter at the helm of the offense.
The first answer is that the Bucs haven't "regularly" kept any particular number of tight ends over the past three seasons. That number has tended to fluctuate over the course of any given campaign, landing anywhere between three and five.
The second answer is that four seems to be the most common number, and it's probably what the Buccaneers are targeting for the 53-man roster this year. That could change based on which players at the back ends of the tight end, wide receiver and running back positions are most impressive the rest of the way in the preseason, and which can help most at tight end. You might look at those three positions as something of a zero-sum game; that is, a fifth tight end would probably come at the expense of a sixth receiver or a fourth or fifth running back.
Last year, the Buccaneers did open the regular season with five tight ends on the roster: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Luke Stocker, Alan Cross and Antony Auclair. About a month into the season, the Buccaneers moved Cross to the practice squad and ran with four tight ends for most of the middle of the campaign. After Week 12, the team released Stocker but called Cross back up, keeping the tight end group at four. It only went down to three for the final two weeks when Howard hit injured reserve and the Bucs did not replace him with another tight end.
In 2016, Tampa Bay started the season with four tight ends: Brate, Stocker, Brandon Myers and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. A few weeks in, Seferian-Jenkins was released but Cross was brought up from the practice squad to keep it at four. It stayed that way until the last game, when Brate went to IR and the team ran with three tight ends.
In 2015, when Koetter was the offensive coordinator under Head Coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs started the season with only three tight ends but then added Brate in Week Three and ran with four the rest of the way.
All of that tells me that four is the targeted number, but the team is willing to be flexible. I don't think that Koetter and company like running with just three, but since one of the four tight ends is often a game day inactive, they might be able to get away with that if the fourth viable tight end is kept around on the practice squad for quick promotion.