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Chris Godwin to Do 'A Little Bit of Everything' in New Offense

As supremely effective as Chris Godwin is working out of the slot, the Bucs' new coaches want to tap into some of his other skills and, in the process, hopefully can keep him on the field for more games

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The first touchdown of Chris Godwin's career, which came in the final game of his 2017 rookie season, was a thriller. With 15 seconds left in regulation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' tie game with New Orleans, Godwin lined up just outside the right numbers at the Saints' 39-yard line, with tight end Cam Brate in the right slot. At the snap, he runs a fly, just bending his route out a little to get around cornerback Ken Crawley. The primary purpose of this route was to clear out some defenders so quarterback Jameis Winston could find another target underneath, perhaps Brate on an out to the sideline, and pick up enough yards to kick a game-winning field goal.

However, Winston made a snap decision to go for it all and went up top to the rookie wideout, who caught the ball in stride at the eight and dragged Crawley into the end zone with nine seconds left. The Bucs won the game, 31-24 and Godwin, a third-round pick out of Penn State, ended his debut season on a high note.

That play would be a harbinger of many more ultra-productive games and seasons for Godwin, who is now the second-leading receiver in team history behind his teammate, Mike Evans. Over the last four sesaons, Godwin is seventh in the NFL in receiving yards per game, with 78.2.

However, that play was not necessarily a blueprint for how Godwin would produce such significant numbers. As the Buccaneers discovered how effective Godwin could be out of the slot – not just in terms of receptions but his contributions to the team's blocking efforts and his ability to pick up important yards after the catch – they started using him inside more and more. Last season, Godwin played 60% of his snaps out of the slot. Throw in some formations in which he was lined up tight with the offensive line or in the backfield, and only 27% of his snaps came on the outside, where he started on that first fateful touchdown.

That is likely to change in Godwin's sixth season. The Buccaneers have a new offensive coordinator in Dave Canales and a new wide receivers coach in Brad Idzik, both former Seattle assistants, and they appear to have a different vision for Godwin's role in their schemes. Will Godwin play out of the slot in 2023? Get split out wide? Pick up YAC? Stretch the defense? Get moved around the formation?

Yes.

"You'll see a little bit of everything," said Idzik. "And I know that sounds like coach speak, right? 'Oh, I don't want to give away our trade secrets.' Chris [has shown] early on that he can stretch the field and that's what I want to remind him of. He can stretch the field. I know he is coming off of the knee injury from last year, but he has already shown it out there. When you put him outside, this guy is a problem one-on-one.

"The thing that he brings in the slot, for me, that is a benefit to Chris and those are things that he naturally does. That just opens his window up. We talked about coming from a room in Seattle where with D.K. [Metcalf], we continued to develop his slot work from being an outside receiver. Chris has already shown that, and he already has experience with that, so we can use him in a lot of different ways right off the bat. But yeah, I don't think we're going to lose some of that outside stuff too when you just say, 'Hey Chris, go win one-on-one, or hey Mike, go win one-on-one outside.'"

In describing his impact above, we used receiving yards per game rather than total yards in that span but it helps to account for the fact that Godwin has missed time due to injury in each of the last four seasons. He still had over 1,000 yards in three of those four seasons, and 840 when he was limited to 12 contests in 2020, but the Bucs' coaching staff believes he can produce even more simply by being on the field more. Godwin is such a willing blocker and fearless runner over the middle that constant work on the inside invites a lot of collisions for him. Idzik said swapping some of that slot work for outside duty 'absolutely' will spare Godwin some wear and tear.

"Really, the first call I had with him was, 'We want to keep you on the field the best we can. I know you're ready to run through a brick wall for your brothers, but we're not going to ask you to do that every play,'" said Idzik. "You look at a [player's] progression, I gave him the example of Larry Fitzgerald. Towards the end of his career, when he started to lose some of his explosion, his downfield ability, then he was limited to the slot. Chris is not there yet. Chris still has that ability to win outside, so we don't need him banging every play. And when we ask him to do it, he'll do it, willingly, and we love that about him. But we do want to preserve him, too. We want him playing here for a long time."

Godwin must be liking the messsage because he's been a very positive presence at the Bucs' offseason workouts so far. Idzik called him an extension of himself as a coahc on the field and Canales said he has been very supportive of the coaching staff and what they are trying to teach to all of their new charges.

"Chris Godwin has been such an encourager – really positive, just supporting us and letting us know, 'I got you, this is great," said Canales. "For me, I just [tell] the veteran guys who've been around, 'Hey, I get better when you tell me what's giving you angst. If there's something where there's a little bit of gray area or you're not sure what to do here, that's where we need to work.' We've had a good line of communication that way."

For Godwin, a key part of that communication is the coaches' belief that he can be effective in many different roles in the Bucs' new offense. That will surely still include plenty of work in the slot – he's simply too good at that particular job to totally eliminate it – but there's much more he can offer, and hopefully he'll be on the field much more often because of it.

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