Former offensive assistant Skyler Fulton has now taken over coaching duties for the wideouts group, stemming from a change in roles for Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken, who will now exclusively focus on coordinator duties instead of splitting time with the receivers and rest of the offense.
"The room is mine now, they're my guys," Fulton said. "I'm choosing the drills and talking about the reps at practice and the routes and one-on-one. [It's] more responsibility, but I've been with the receivers before this, so I've been extremely lucky."
It's a role that Fulton feels more than prepared for given his relationship with Monken, who has been the team's offensive coordinator since before the 2016 season, while also coaching the receiver corps for the past two seasons.
"I have two years with Monk who isn't just still the best receiver coach in the building, but probably the best receiver coach in the NFL," Fulton added. "To be able to learn from Monk and still have Monk in the building to conversate with him and bounce things off him and talk about different things has been awesome.
"Monk's experience is second-to-none and now he'll be able to see and spend more time on all the other positions. I know he's just going to be able to help tighten things up and get to where we're trying to go."
Pictures from Buccaneers practice on May 17th.
As for Fulton, he's got his first rookie mini-camp under his belt and has been spending time identifying the differences in coaching the vets that he's used to and the rookies that are just coming into the league.
"I was talking to Zack Grossi, who is working with me with the receivers as well, like how much we take for granted the veterans," Fulton said. "How much they know everything and they do everything right and give the right examples. I was saying with the vets, you have A, B, C, D – I can start on E and we're rocking and rolling. Then I go with the rookies and I try to start on E and I get all these blank stares. I'm like oh, we have to start on A, let me explain that."
One rookie that he's particularly excited about (and for good reason), is Justin Watson, the team's fifth-round pick out of the Ivy Leagues' University of Pennsylvania. Fulton likes the potential Watson has showed, coupled with his size, speed and work ethic.
"The good news for Justin is that he's got a room full of guys that can show him how to do things the right way," Fulton said. "When you're around guys like Mike and Godwin and you're going behind them in line and running the route right after them, you get to sit there and talk to them like, 'hey, what did you think about that, or how did I do that or, how would you do that?' He's the type of guy that's going to those resources and run with them."
As for those vets, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what number one receiver Mike Evans can do to better his game. Fulton talked about paying attention to the nuances of the game for the playmaker and doesn't see Evans letting up, even as he gains more notoriety across the league.
"Tough thing for Mike is, everyone knows who Mike is. There are people that don't even watch football that know you have to double-cover Mike."
That may have something to do with the fact that Evans is coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season, something that's only been done two other times in league history. Granted, it was a fight to the finish, with quarterback Jameis Winston targeting Evans a total of 13 times (the most of any receiver) in the last game of the year at home against New Orleans in order for Evans to eclipse that 1,000-yard mark. Still, it was a season that was largely regarded as a subpar year for Evans, despite the accomplishment, due to the fact that Evans' production was down to five touchdowns from 12 the previous year.
"You're getting double-teamed and you still get 1,000 yards? That's not a down season to me," Fulton said. "Especially when you take into account the things that people don't watch.
"Mike plays without the ball. The things that Mike does for us when he's not even getting the ball are extremely important. Mike's selflessness of playing hard without the ball and being consistent and being on the field – we're lucky to have that."
Evans isn't the only one having more of an impact than meets the eye. Wide receiver, and notorious deep threat, DeSean Jackson has been a hot-button topic regarding his progression with the team going into 2018. It's a common sentiment that Jackson wasn't utilized as well as he could have been in 2017. Part of that is that he was getting used to his new team, but Fulton pointed out that while the statistics didn't show production, Jackson was crucially important to the offense in other, more discreet ways.
"DeSean can have a huge impact on the game and not have a ton of statistics," Fulton said. "I mean the things he can do to a defense to help our offense in other areas that people don't see if you're not watching the tape or you don't understand the scheme, are second-to-none. You show me someone that can stretch the field like DeSean Jackson still can in the NFL, then I'll show you someone who I don't think is real."
It's high praise for a deserving player who will be entering his 11th NFL season, but Fulton understands that intangibles don't necessarily satiate a production-driven league. Not to worry though, because he also thinks that Bucs fans will unquestionably see an improvement in Jackson's production this coming season, as well.
"I definitely think he'll be better this year," Fulton said. "Now you come in the second year, he has a relationship with Jameis [Winston], he knows our offense, he's comfortable in the building. It just allows you to play faster. It just allows you to communicate better and ultimately I know him and Jameis have a relationship one-on-one where they're talking, they're communicating and getting on the same page.
"DeSean has been around so long and he understands the nuances of being in the NFL and being a pro and everything that goes with it."
Fulton anticipates a lot of improvement across the board for the receiver corps. Red zone production is a big point of emphasis for his unit, among others on the offense, knowing that the 2017 team left a little bit to be desired in that category. Considering that five more touchdowns in the redzone would have put the Bucs among the top-eight most productive teams in the league last season, the threshold for improvement is close. Fulton called out increasing yards after the catch, breaking tackles and being more consistent and disciplined on routes in the red zone specifically when talking about how the unit can improve as a whole.
"The guys know that if they're not going to double-team Mike, Mike is a good answer to a lot of things if you have him one-on-one in the red zone. If they are going to double Mike, then other guys are going to need to step up."
Fulton will have to step up as well, now taking full responsibility for his unit and in turn, its production and performance. It's a task Fulton is wholeheartedly up to and as he reflects on the opportunity he has been given, wasn't shy in what he thought of the decision to promote him to his new role.
"I make that Coach Koetter made a phenomenal decision," Fulton said to a series of laughs. "I'm extremely confident. I've spent the last two years in this building with these guys. For the situation, with the vets we have in the room that know what's going on and the things we need to get out of that room to get better in that room, there's not a person better for the job. I think they made a phenomenal decision and we'll see as the season goes on hopefully you guys are writing stories about that coming to fruition."