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Discussions of Depth | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about positions with a lack of depth, Baker Mayfield's potential in 2023, the most exciting matchup on this year's schedule and more

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced on Monday that they will be bringing back a version of their classic Creamsicle uniforms when they play the Detroit Lions at Raymond James Stadium on October 15. This marks the first time since 2012 that the team will wear orange and white uniforms, and the return of Bucco Bruce has been highly anticipated by Buccaneers fans for years. A new single-helmet rule in 2013 had halted the franchise's four-year run of Creamsicle games but a revision to that policy allowing each player to have two helmets in a given season has allowed the tradition to be rekindled.

The Buccaneers adopted a new logo and color scheme in 1997, at the beginning of one of the most successful runs in franchise history. The team has now won two Super Bowls in red and pewter and are rightfully proud of their current uniforms; still, an annual Creamsicle game – which also always includes an entire theme change at the stadium and on its videoboards – successfully taps into nostalgia for the full history of the team, which dates back nearly a half-century.

Tampa Bay won its first Creamsicle throwback in exciting and surprising fashion in 2009. With rookie quarterback Josh Freeman making his first career start and throwing three touchdown passes, the orange-clad Bucs, who came into the game with an 0-7 record, upset the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers, 38-28. That was a fitting way to bring back the team's original colors because the Buccaneers and Packers shared a division, the old NFC Central, from 1977 through 2001.

The Lions were also in that division, which is now the NFC North, and they were the last visiting team ever to play in Tampa Stadium before the Bucs moved into their current home. Tampa Bay beat Detroit, 20-10, in the Wild Card round of the 1997 playoffs, at the end of their first season in red and pewter.

Obviously, the Bucs don't play their former Black and Blue Division opponents as often now that they reside in the NFC South, but they have definitely fared better in those matchups since switching to red and pewter. Overall, Tampa Bay has a losing record against all four NFC Central foes while wearing orange uniforms (including recent Throwback games). They were 9-29 against Chicago, 14-22-1 against Green Bay, 17-21 against Detroit and 12-26 against Minnesota, which added up to a 34.8% winning percentage within the division. Since switching to red and pewter, which occurred five years before the Bucs changed divisions, they have winning records against all of those teams except Green Bay (9-12) and an overall success rate of 52.4%. (All of those figures included playoff games and recent Throwback games.)

Again, though, it is fitting that the Bucs will face Detroit in their brief return to orange and white uniforms. Their 17 wins against the Lions are the most against any team while wearing those colors.

In case you were wondering, the Buccaneers have also fared better against the teams that now make up the NFC South when wearing red and pewter. In orange and white duds, the Buccaneers have gone 12-24 against the Falcons, Panthers and Saints for a win rate of 33.3%. In red and pewter, they are 62-69, which works out to 47.3%. The team the Buccaneers have beaten most often in their red and pewter uniforms is Atlanta, against whom they are 24-20 in those outfits.

A long, long time after they last beat the Lions while wearing orange uniforms – a 1994 game famous for Vernon Turner recording the first punt return touchdown in franchise history (and not the Bucs' defense "holding" Barry Sanders to 166 rushing yards) – the Bucs will have a chance to do so again this coming October.

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. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

What position is the team in most need of adding depth to before training camp?

- caleboursler (via Instagram)

The gist of this question, as I read it, is identifying positions at where the Buccaneers might still add a free agent veteran or two before they start training camp, and I'm not certain that's going to happen. There are sometimes a tweak or to the roster right before camp – it was Julio Jones and Kyle Rudolph last year, but nobody in 2020 or 2021 – but I'm not sure there are such plans this year. Those were all-in-while-Tom-Brady-is-here type of additions.

Much more likely, in my opinion, is a veteran addition or two after the team has been in camp for a couple weeks. By that point, it will be more evident if a specific position or two needs to be bolstered, whether due to injuries or the lack of development among young prospects. Think of LeSean McCoy, A.Q. Shipley and Ryan Succop in 2020. (Yes, there was the Leonard Fournette signing that year, too, but that happened right at the end of camp and was more a matter of sudden opportunity after he was cut by the Jaguars.) Or Carl Nassib and Genard Avery last year.

Don't get me wrong – there are definitely a couple spots on the Bucs' depth chart that look thin on paper, not necessarily in terms of sheer numbers but in overall experience behind the starters. However, at most of those spots, I think the Bucs' plan is to develop that depth through some of the younger talent they've accumulated over the last couple years. At tight end, for instance, the Bucs' most experienced player is second-year man Cade Otton, but Ko Kieft could see his playing time increase in his second season and fifth-round draft pick Payne Durham will get a shot to play extensively in 12 personnel. If the Bucs decide to keep a fourth tight end, they may find an option amid the trio of David Wells, Dominique Dafney and undrafted rookie Tanner Taula.

You could make similar judgements at running back, inside linebacker and cornerback, but again, I see the team trying to develop young depth rather than adding veterans. Rookies Sean Tucker and Ronnie Brown could have a shot at grabbing a fourth running back spot; undrafted free agent cornerback Keenan Isaac might fill in at the back end of that group; there are plans to bring fifth-round inside linebacker SirVocea Dennis along quickly, and undrafted rookie Jeremy Banks could have a shot, too.

All of that said, I will answer your question as it was intended. If there is one spot the depth chart that seems a little worryingly thin, it's safety. The Bucs felt very fortunate to land Ryan Neal when the Seahawks' unexpectedly rescinded their restricted free agent tender offer this spring, and its understandable why. If Neal hadn't been available, the Bucs would only have one sure starter in their safety room right now in Antoine Winfield, Jr. There are four other safeties currently on the roster and they have combined to play one offensive snap in the NFL.

The Bucs saw three of their four main safeties from last year's roster depart this offseason. Mike Edwards, who started 12 games last season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs; Keanu Neal moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Logan Ryan remains an unsigned free agent. That's after former starter Jordan Whitehead cashed in in free agency with the Jets a year ago. The Bucs have definitely lost more than they've gained at the safety position over the past 15 months.

Now, I do think the Bucs see some promise in undrafted free agents Christian Izien, Kaevon Merriweather and Kedrick Whitehead, and Izien in particular has flashed at times this offseason. They also still have Nolan Turner – he's the one in that group with the single defensive snap – and he's had a year to develop in the system. There's also some positional versatility in holdover Dee Delaney and the aforementioned Josh Hayes. I still think this is another position at which the Bucs will look to build depth rather than go in search of outside help, but it's also the one at which a pre-camp signing would make the most sense.

What about Baker excites you the most? Why are you glad he's a Buccaneer?

- sting_like_ab (via Instagram)

I'm excited about the possibility of a significant rebound for Baker Mayfield in Dave Canales's offense.

Now, it's important to start this by noting that he first has to win the starting job over Kyle Trask, and Canales along with Head Coach Todd Bowles have said on multiple occasions that this is a very real competition and they are in no hurry to make the final decision. There would be things to be excited about regarding Trask if he were to win the job, but in this case you asked me about Mayfield so that's who we're going to discuss.

I know there are varying opinions out there on how well signing Mayfield is going to go for the Buccaneers after he had what was statistically his worst season as a pro in 2022, split between the Panthers and the Rams. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I'm the more optimistic side of that spectrum, but I would understand the other side of the argument. But here's one thing that we know is true: He's done it before.

In 2020, Mayfield's third season with the Cleveland Browns, he stayed healthy for the entire season, threw for 3,563 yards, had a strong 26-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, compiled a 95.5 passer rating, was sacked just 26 times and even ran for 165 yards and a touchdown. The Browns went 11-5 and drubbed the Steelers in the playoffs, 48-37, behind an outstanding performance from Mayfield, then lost by just five points to the Super Bowl-bound, Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs.

That's an objectively good season for an NFL quarterback. Mayfield was 25 years old at the time and he's 28 now. He's past some injury issues that bothered him, primarily in 2021. Canales has said he thinks Mayfield is in a very good spot mentally – he's still driven to prove doubters wrong but he's not bothered by the noise. If a healthy Mayfield could produce the kind of season that he did just three years ago, why can't we reasonably hope he can do so again.

And we may find that the Canales scheme is a good avenue for Mayfield to get back to that career peak. The offense will obviously be rooted in what Shane Waldron ran in Seattle, where Canales was the quarterbacks coach, and we saw what that did for Geno Smith. If anything, a sudden breakout season for Smith would have seemed even less likely at this time last year than a rebound by Mayfield does this year. Smith had started a total of five games over the previous seven seasons and had a career win-loss record as a starter of 13-21. All he did under Waldron was lead the league with a 69.8 completion percentage, throw for 4,282 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 100.9.

I'm sure we're all a bit spoiled as Bucs fans after three years of Tom Brady under center, in particular his incredible 2020 and 2021 campaigns. It's hard to move on from that, and it's unfair to compare any successor to the G.O.A.T., but there are reasons to be excited about what a new offense, and a new (to the Bucs) quarterback, will look like in the post-Brady era. For one thing – and this is obviously no knock on Brady and he would say the same thing – the Bucs' offense the last three years did not involve very much moving around by the quarterback. As Chris Godwin noted the other day, the Bucs' receivers are going to have to start working on scramble drills again now that they will have a quarterback who is likely to be at least somewhat more mobile than Brady.

Multiple Bucs players have already noted that the Canales offense has more plays with the quarterback on the move, and I think Mayfield could thrive in that kind of action. In addition, the entire Bucs' coaching staff seems intent on making sure the offense is much more balanced in 2023 after the team finished dead last in rushing yards last year. Even a league-average rushing attack, and the realistic threat of the run game at any time, should help whoever is playing quarterback for the Buccaneers.

I'm glad the Buccaneers signed Mayfield because I think it gives the team a better chance of having good quarterback play in 2023. That may come from Trask if he wins the job, and if he has to beat out an experienced veteran option to get it that would probably mean he performed above expectations in camp and in the preseason. If it turns out that Trask is not ready to seize that job, the Bucs at least have that experienced vet to turn to. If the Bucs hadn't signed Mayfield, or a comparable option, they'd really be putting all of their eggs in the Kyle Trask basket.

What is your favorite matchup of the season?

- camthete87 (via Instagram)

I think I'll go with Tampa Bay at Green Bay in Week 15.

I'm motivated in part by a historical perspective. After the Buccaneers finally turned things around as a franchise in the mid-90s and started giving Brett Favre and the Packers a run for their money, every Battle of the Bays seemed like an event, at least for us Bucs fans. Something about that still lingers with me; I get excited every time the Bucs are scheduled to play the Packers. I'd imagine there's some extra motivation on the other side, too, since Tampa Bay's last visit to Lambeau Field was the 2020 NFC Championship Game. The Packers would surely like to avenge that loss in front of their home crowd.

Oh yeah, Lambeau Field. That's a big part of it too. As I've said before, I know it's a selfish answer because I'm not the one who has to be out on the field in potentially frigid weather, but what is more football than playing at Lambeau Field in mid-December?

There's also intrigue to this matchup because both teams are trying to move on from all-time great quarterbacks. Is Jordan Love ready to thrive as Aaron Rodgers' replacement? We've already discussed the Bucs efforts to move on after the Tom Brady era above. There's a very wide range of outcomes that could be true for these two teams by December 17. What if both teams do end up getting good quarterback play? There's enough talent on both rosters that would make them legitimate playoff contenders if the quarterback is playing well. In such a case, a Week 15 showdown between these former NFC Central foes could be critical in the conference race.

What is the best part of your job?

- dhanipatel77 (via Instagram)

I guess it's feeling like you're a part of it when the team is winning. Now, let me be clear: I know I have absolutely nothing to do with the Bucs winning games. Nothing I write or say into a camera has any bearing on the team's fortunes on the field. That's obvious. Winning belongs completely to the owners, players, coaches and team architects.

However, there has always been a very inclusive atmosphere here on the team staff, and I'd bet that's true with most pro sports teams. It's something that we all appreciate.

Fans get the feeling too, I know. They use the word "we" when talking about their favorite teams, as well they should. I know that passionate Bucs fans get just as much joy out of a big team win as I do. I happen to be a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan and I still live and die with every win and loss (I've been dying a lot this year).

So I know you don't have to work for a team to get that "we" feeling and that rollercoaster of emotions during a season. But to answer your question, perhaps the most rewarding thing is being right there when great things happen to your team. Watching the players celebrating in the locker room. Walking past a coach or a scout or a trainer in the hallway and seeing how satisfying it is to them that all their hard work paid off. Boarding a raucous charter plane after a big win on the road. Congratulating a player you've grown to know pretty well over many seasons, like I was so happy to do with Lavonte David after Super Bowl LV. All those things go into that feeling of being a part of it, even if it's really in a peripheral way.

Oh, and getting a Super Bowl ring is a close second.

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