Each Thursday, the media gets a chance to talk to both the offensive and defensive coordinators. Ahead of the Bucs’ first home game since September 22, Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich took to the podium to talk the improvement he’s seen from running back Ronald Jones, some positive takeaways from last game and the fight he sees in his players. Here are some of the highlights:
1. Second-year Running Back Ronald Jones is Starting to ‘Come into His Own’
Running back Ronald Jones got the start in Seattle and proceeded to have himself a productive game. He rushed for 67 yards and scored the team’s first touchdown of the day – an eight-yard scamper into the end zone on the Bucs’ opening drive. More than that, Jones showed flashes of explosiveness, waiting patiently for his blocks to develop before taking off to the outside on more than one occasion. He’s been able to do those things more consistently, which is what earned him the bolstered workload, according to Head Coach Bruce Arians earlier this week. But it’s not only his improvement on the field that contributed to him seemingly taking a step forward in his coaches’ eyes. Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich said on Thursday he’s also grown off the field.
“He just started coming into his own,” Leftwich said of Jones. “He started growing and understanding what it’s like to be a professional. He started really getting rid of the silly mistakes [and] the young mistakes. He started focusing more on his craft and getting better. You saw it as he had success within practice, you see him push himself more and that’s what normally happens with a young guy. They’ve got to have a little success here, then they push, a little success there, then they push. I think he’s a kid that believes now. He’s a kid that believes he’s an exceptional talent. He’s an explosive guy, a very explosive guy, and he’s just working on his game, working on his craft, trying to become a better football player every day. You see it every day when you go out to work.”
Jones has been showing flashes for a few weeks. He had not one but two big runs called back due to penalties in the game against the Rams in Los Angeles. It would have given him his first 100-yard game as a pro. But Leftwich is working on getting him more opportunities to do that again.
“Imagine if those had [stood],” Leftwich said of those two plays in LA. “It just goes to show what he can do when given the opportunity and we’re going to try to give him some opportunities to make those types of plays consistently.”
2. Leftwich Feels this Team is Better than its Record Shows
Coming off probably their best collective performance as an offense in Seattle, Leftwich praised his team's effort. He quickly qualified it in myriad ways, all along the lines of, ‘But we lost, so it doesn’t matter.’ It does matter, though, because it provides an argument at the very least that this team is better than their 2-6 record. Coach Arians has a saying, “You are what your record is.” And while Leftwich subscribes to that notion, too, it doesn’t mean he can’t see the potential and what this team is capable of – or that their capability is a better indicator of what kind of team they are.
“It’s unfortunate that our record is really 2-6, but this is the team that I knew. The team that played Sunday – this is the team that I know,” Leftwich said. “But, what we’ve got to understand – to win football games, it takes a little bit more. We’ve got to always understand that. We’ve got a good football team out there that it’s unfortunate that we’re 2-6. These guys work as if they’re good [and] they compete as if they’re a good football team, which they are. The record may not say that right now and we’ll take what comes with the record. You are what you are. We’re a 2-6 football team, but I think we all feel as though we’re better than what that number may say, and we’ll see what we can try to do the second half of this year, but we feel confident in our football team that we have here.”
The Bucs are putting up the fourth-most points per game in the league as an offense. They have the top-ranked rushing defense, too. They’ve been in every game they’ve played and had a chance at the end of each to win. It’s no consolation, but it could be a sign that this team truly is ready to turn the corner.
3. The Team is Coming Together as a Whole – and They’re Going to Fight
Speaking of putting it all together, that’s just what Leftwich sees happening. An instant turnaround is a tough, if not impossible, feat. The only thing is that Coach Arians has done it. However, remember that this team is not only young overall, they are in the first year of entirely new systems on either side of the ball. Drastically new systems. It takes time to get a grasp on said systems individually, and even longer for everyone to get on the same page. But Leftwich isn’t concerned about the timeline.
“We’ll be fine as a team,” he said. “We’re just coming together as a team. We’ve got a young team and people don’t understand that. We’ll get in these situations and we’ll win these football games where we’re supposed to win them. We’re going through the process where we’re fighting and learning how to do that, and in that process sometimes, you come up a little short. But, I think we’re a couple wins away from being in those situations and winning those games, and it’s truly building a certain type of confidence with this team. There’s one thing I know about this team – when they go out and play on Sunday’s, it’s going to be a tough out for whoever we’re playing just by the competitiveness of the guys, the way these guys practice [and] the way these guys compete. You’ve got to enjoy that as a coach and have so much respect for that and just try to put them in the best situation week in and week out. But these guys love the fight – they’re going to fight.”
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 10 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.