S.S. Mailbag: Pre-Camp Concerns

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In case you haven't noticed, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are asking their fans to pinpoint the greatest moment in franchise history. Every team in the league will be doing the same thing this summer, in fact, as part of the celebration of the NFL's landmark 100th season. The selection process allows each team to present four big moments, and then the fans vote for the single greatest one.

The four moments in contention for the Buccaneers are Derrick Brooks' game-sealing interception in Super Bowl XXXVII, Ronde Barber's pick-six that shut down the Vet, the Bucs' impressive win over Philadelphia in their first-ever playoff game, and the historic single round of the NFL Draft that produced two Hall-of-Famers. Personally, I feel confident that the franchise's single greatest moment is included in that short list, but I do understand that 43 seasons of football will produce a lot of memorable occasions, and that some will be more meaningful to certain people.

In fact, in introducing the Greatest Moment vote, I mentioned a few others that instantly came to my mind, moments that stuck with me but weren't quite big enough to unseat any of the top four. That wasn't meant to be an exhaustive list of "honorable mention" moments; rather, it was just a random sampling. Well, perhaps I should have included a few more, because a handful of fans let me know about it on Twitter.

So, in an effort to acknowledge some of those great Buccaneer moments that didn't quite make the top four cut, here is what you had to say:

Okay fans, you have spoken. Now speak to me with some good questions this week.

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 is the best turnaround you can think of statistically?

- bgcarnage via Instagram

Casey Phillips, Carmen Vitali and I discussed this a little bit back when we were doing our Roundtable Week earlier this month. Specifically, the topic for discussion was, "In what area will the Buccaneers make the biggest statistical improvement in 2019?"

Casey went with one that I think would come quickly to the mind of any Buccaneers fan: Turnover ratio. The Bucs were negative-18 in that category last fall, their worst mark since – get this – 1991. I don't think it's a stretch to say that even getting back to even in that category would probably mean a few more marks in the wins category. Carmen chose sacks by the defense, which could be tough with Jason Pierre-Paul likely out for a while. I went with rushing average differential, which was a stat I sort of made up on the spot. Basically, I thought the offense could improve significantly on its 3.9 yards per carry while the defense could give up a lot less than the 4.7 per tote it allowed last year.

So take your pick from any of those, because any one of them would make a big difference in the Bucs' fortunes. How about all three while we're at it?! Honestly, if you're asking me which one I think is most likely to happen and most likely to have an impact on the bottom line – wins and losses – I think it's turnover differential. Last year was just such an outlier, and it wasn't just a problem with the offense giving it away; the defense went nearly a half season without producing a single takeaway at one point.

However, just picking out a stat from an article we posted weeks ago seems like a cop out, so I'm actually going to choose a different one to answer your question today, bgcarnage. And that stat is: Field Goal Percentage.

Think of how persistent this problem has been, as the Buccaneers are about to start an eighth straight season with a different opening-day kicker. It's been particularly problematic the last four years, in which Tampa Bay has ranked 29th, 28th, 32nd and 30th in the league in field goal percentage, never getting higher than 74.1% in any of those seasons. The league average from 2015-18 was 84.4%; the Buccaneers were last in that span at 72.7%.

Had they even been league average during that time, the Bucs would've made between 15 and 16 more field goals, or about four per season. You think four more successful field goals wouldn't make a difference? Last year an NFL-record 73 games were decided by three points or fewer, and 68% of all games finished within a margin of one score (eight points or less). Most importantly, the Buccaneers lost four games by a field goal or less last year. Four more boots between the uprights would've come in mighty handy.

It's not as if the Buccaneers haven't tried to fix the problem. Using the draft to add Roberto Aguayo and spending a premium in free agency on Chandler Catanzaro were bold moves, but neither worked. They are trying again this year, with fifth-round draft pick Matt Gay set to battle veteran holdover Cairo Santos, who did well as Catanzaro's midseason replacement. The strong-legged Gay is coming off two very good years at Utah and is probably the favorite, given the team's draft investment. However, if Santos beats him out that would likely mean that the veteran is locked in, as he was in his early years in Kansas City. Either way, I expect the Bucs' kicking game to finally catch up with the rest of the NFL this year, and that could make an impact in the wins column. And, of course, that is the statistical improvement we all want to see.

View the top photos of the Buccaneers' defensive backs during the 2019 offseason.

Do you think our secondary can hold up in the Todd Bowles defensive scheme?

- putthemonyinthebag, via Instagram

Well, I think Bruce Arians and his defensive staff believes it will be able to do so, and that's all we really have to go on at the moment. The proof will soon be in the pudding.

Remember these words from Arians near the end of the offseason program, when asked where the team appeared to be most improved from what he had inherited back in January:

"Probably secondary. I think we're really, really good. … So, yeah, I think – earmarked as a problem set back in January, that's totally fixed. Let's knock on wood they stay healthy."

That's an important caveat by Arians at the end there. The Bucs' secondary was beset by injuries last year, with Vernon Hargreaves, Justin Evans, Brent Grimes, M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and Chris Conte all missing time. There's reason for optimism on that front because of the youth of the Bucs' current crew. Grimes and Conte are gone and three new rookies are in with the draft additions of Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards. Pretty much the entire secondary is under 25 years old. That could mean some growing pains in adjusting to the NFL, but on average younger players are less injury prone than their more weathered counterparts.

Beyond the injury issue, I think it's less a matter of the young players "holding up" in Todd Bowles' defense and more a matter of that scheme actually getting more out of them. It's the common school of thought that Bowles' more aggressive, press-man scheme is better suited for the likely starting corner duo of Hargreaves and Davis. It's probably a good match for the style of play shown so far by Evans and Jordan Whitehead, too.

Like I said, there will probably be some bumps in the road along the way as these young players adjust not only to the NFL but to a new defensive scheme. And a more aggressive approach can lead to more big plays by both the offense and the defense. But there is a lot of room for improvement after last season, in which the Bucs' secondary was one of the most porous in the league. Simply getting this group back to league-average numbers – just as I said about the kicking game – would be a great complement to what is obviously a very productive offense.

Of the younger/new players who do you think will step up as a leader?

- cdouble_d via Instagram

…and…

Which of our DBs will step up as a leader this year?

- philbrasil10 via Instagram

I put these two questions together since they're asking much the same thing. cdouble_d's question is a little broader, so let's start there. The obvious answer is first-round linebacker Devin White, who apparently was already emerging as a leader during the offseason program. That's pretty impressive for a rookie, not only to be a vocal player on the field right away but to be able to do so in a way that doesn't cause older teammates to tune him out. Apparently that's just an innate trait for the former LSU star, who did the same thing as a young starter on the Tigers' defense. The LSU defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, said this about White, who was a team captain last year at the age of 20: "People listen to him and respect him…his passion shows both on and off the field."

White will also be playing a position that lends itself to the leadership role. The insider linebacker(s) is/are often the quarterbacks of the defense, calling the plays and making adjustments both in front and behind them. White surely knows this and will be looking to establish his authority on the field. His fellow ILB, Lavonte David, will be able to help him with that and provide a quieter and more experienced type of leadership as a complement.

Arians brought up White's maturity and leadership as the Bucs reported for training camp on Thursday.

"I think that was a big part of the evaluation process, of how mature he was and the accolades from that we really trust, that were around him every day," said Arians. "You hear them say now that they can't replace him. So the sky's the limit."

The other new player who might be a leader, perhaps simply by style of play, is defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Arians and Bowles want the Suh who has played with fierceness throughout his career, and he wants that to rub off on the players around him. "I want to see him play that way," said Arians, "and I want everybody around him to play that way."

Arians, in fact, is already seeing the impact Suh is making on the rest of the defense.

"For Suh, just be you," said Arians of his advice for the newcomer. "You don't have to come in here and be a rah-rah guy. Just be you and play hard like you always do and guys will follow you. He's already helping guys, giving them tips. To me, that's leading. When you're helping your room gets better, that's leading.

The question from philbrasil10 is a little tougher. The secondary, as noted above, is a very young group, and there aren't a lot of overly vocal guys in that group, either. I would expect most of those players to follow the lead of the Davids and Suhs until they feel more established. That said, each room should have some type of leadership, so perhaps this is Hargreaves' opportunity to step up and take the lead for the defensive backs. In the long run, I think rookie safety Mike Edwards will be that guy, but that's probably asking a bit too much at the moment. For Edwards, the first order of business is trying to win a starting job.

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