Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hot Topics, Bruce Arians Monday PC: Josh Wells Held His Own

With Donovan Smith missing a game for the first time in his NFL career, Josh Wells stepped in at left tackle and helped provide strong protection for Jameis Winston…That and more from Arians' Monday presser.

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their fourth straight game on Sunday in Detroit but it came at a cost, as wide receivers Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller joined Mike Evans in the injured hamstring club. As of Monday, Head Coach Bruce Arians was still waiting on some MRI-generated updates on those two and other injured Buccaneers, but it certainly sounded as if the Buccaneers would be looking for reinforcements at the receiver position.

"Injuries are something that everybody's got in December, so it's never an excuse," said Arians. "It'll be the next man up. We're actively looking at who's going to be healthy and who is going to be able to play receiver for us this week and have a game plan for what they can do."

That statement came from Arians' weekly day-after-game press conference on Monday, during which he touched on a number of other topics, including:

1. The offensive line held up well in Detroit without stalwart left tackle Donovan Smith, but they may not have to operate without Smith for long.

The Buccaneers' Week 15 game in Detroit featured something it hadn't had since December of 2014: somebody not named Donovan Smith playing left tackle.

Smith's career-opening streak fell just shy of the 80 starts Paul Gruber recorded at the beginning of his career from 1988-92, a Buccaneer record. Gruber played the same position as Smith, and it often isn't easy for a team to weather the loss of a starter at one of the most difficult positions in the NFL to handle. That looked like it could be a major concern for the Buccaneers on Sunday when Smith's replacement, Josh Wells, holding and illegal block penalties within the game's first four snaps, but no disaster followed. Winston was only sacked twice in 44 dropbacks and had plenty of time to throw for 458 yards and four touchdowns.

"I think you have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line and tight ends and Earl [Watford] for really giving really good protection all day," said Arians. "Because we weren't throwing a lot of short passes."

Wells, in particular, settled down after those two penalties. It was his second start this season but the other one came at right tackle so this was his Buccaneer starting debut on the blind side.

"Other than the first two penalties I thought they played really, really solid," said Arians. "I mean Josh, he went down field a little too fast on the screen and got a block in the back. It was a legitimate hold on the other plays. Other than that he played pretty solid."

After the game on Sunday in Detroit, Arians indicated that Smith had tried to prove that he could play in a pregame warmup but was unable to handle a bull-rush from fellow O-Lineman Ali Marpet. Arians called Smith "close" in Week 15, so there's a chance he'll only miss one game.

2. The Bucs may be getting some extra use out of their JUGS guns this week.

The biggest defensive play of the game in Detroit was Sean Murphy-Bunting's 70-yard pick six, which turned a suddenly tight game into a two-score Bucs lead with five minutes to play. Murphy-Bunting undercut an out intended for Danny Amendola and caught it cleanly with his arms extended out from his body while on the run.

After the game, Murphy-Bunting, with a wide smile and with his teammates listening, claimed to have the best hands among the team's young defensive backs. Arians would probably agree, and he'd like to see the other guys close that gap a little bit. Both Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis failed to come up with potential interceptions on balls that hit them in the hands earlier in the game.

"We've dropped seven interceptions in the last two weeks," said Arians. "Jamel Dean – I'm going to get him a tennis racket or something. You can't get an easier pick-six. He's just like Sean, he's studying [tape], but we have to work on the JUGS machine."

Of course, both Dean and Carlton were credited with passes defensed on the plays in question and both rank in the top five in the NFL in that category, with 16 and 18, respectively. In Dean's case, all 16 have come since Week Nine, when he first started to get defensive playing time. With the exception of holding onto the football, the Bucs' young secondary seems to have turned the corner in the last month due in part to a lot of extra tape study. Murphy-Bunting's big play was an indication of what he's capable of with more knowledge in his head.

"It's a film study thing, showing the blitz, making them run a hot route, and then jumping it," said Arians. "It's a very veteran move and he's a very smart player. That's why I think he has such a great future. And he can catch."

3. Jameis Winston spread the ball around quite a bit on Sunday, partially out of necessity.

Winston's career-high 458 passing yards Sunday went through the hands of 11 different pass-catchers. That was actually the highest possible number of targets available to Winston, excluding any trick plays in which a usually ineligible player, like Vita Vea, is declared eligible. The Buccaneers kept five receivers, three tight ends and three running backs active on Sunday and all of them caught at least one pass.

Running backs Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber and Dare Ogunbowale combined for 52 yards on four catches.

"I think we're doing a really good job of finding backs underneath stuff now, not just forcing it down the field – when it's there take it," said Arians. "If not, the backs are very capable of making a lot of yards for you. That's something we have to really look into, who's available, what to do in this game plan on a short week."

Indeed, the Buccaneers may need to get a bunch of backs and tight ends involved next week against Houston if the injury report doesn't take a turn for the better. That was part of the reason for last Sunday's wide range of targets – Miller and Godwin both left with hamstring injuries and tight end Tanner Hudson came out of the game to be evaluated for a concussion. Among those who subsequently caught passes was rookie Ishmael Hyman, who was only promoted from the practice squad earlier in the week.

"In the second half, we started using the tight ends and back and stuff – whoever's available," said Arians. "Again, for me I thought the coaches did a good job of not asking somebody to do something they can't do just because Mike or Chris did. Put them in a situation to be successful and I think we did that."

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