Tampa Bay Buccaneers

S.S. Mailbag: Vita Vea, Quarterback?

This week, Buc fans want to discuss the running game, improvements in the defense, Vita Vea's passing ability and more


Last season, Mike Evans set a new career high with 1,524 receiving yards, and in the process broke a franchise record that had stood for almost three decades. Evans may hold onto that record as long as his predecessor, Mark Carrier…or he may only have it for one year.

Evans is having another outstanding year, with 1,043 yards through 11 games, which has him on a pace to nearly equal his record from last year with 1,517 yards. Perhaps he'll up that pace a bit and break his own mark. However, he's got competition in that chase this time around. After his huge day in Atlanta last Sunday, Chris Godwin has a team-leading 1,071 receiving yards, and that puts him on a 1,558 yards. It's a good bet that either Evans or Godwin will be very happy for his fellow wideout if the record is indeed broken again.

Don't worry, this is not yet another mailbag opening about the excellence of the Buccaneers' starting wide receiver duo. I mean, not really. The notion that Godwin could break Evans's record so quickly after Evans set it, and the fact that before that Carrier's mark had stood for so long, got me to thinking about how quickly and how often other franchise single-season records have been set and then broken. Which ones have stood the longest? Which ones were mere blips in organizational history?

So I looked it up. Below you'll find the chronological history of the Buccaneers' single-season record-holders in nine categories: rushing yards, passing yards, receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns, points scored, interceptions, sacks and tackles. For this study, I am referring to whomever held the record at the end of each season. If a player broke a record, and then broke it again without anyone else doing so, that just kept that player's streak alive. If there was a period when the record is shared by two players, that is considered a separate streak. I did not include 2019, so most if not all of the current record-holders are close to having one more season added to their streaks.

James Wilder's 1984 season has been untouchable so far, giving him 35-year streaks in two categories. On the other hand, the passing yards category has changed hands three times in the last 16 years. For obvious reasons, the original record-holders didn't last long in every category. Oh, and get ready to see the name Morris Owens a lot.

Rushing Yards:

·    Louis Carter – 2 years (1976-77)

·    Ricky Bell – 6 years (1978-83)

·    James Wilder – 35 years (1984-2018)

Passing Yards:

·       Steve Spurrier – 3 years (1976-78)

·       Doug Williams – 24 years (1979-2002)

·       Brad Johnson – 9 years (2003-11)

·       Josh Freeman – 4 years (2012-15)

·       Jameis Winston – 3 years (2016-18)


·    Morris Owens – 3 years (1976-78)

·    Jimmie Giles – 1 year (1979)

·    Gordon Jones – 1 year (1980)

·    Kevin House – 2 years (1981-82)

·    James Wilder – 6 years (1983-88)

·    Mark Carrier – 12 years (1989-2000)

·    Keyshawn Johnson – 18 years (2001-18)

Receiving Yards:

·    Morris Owens – 3 years (1976-78)

·    Isaac Hagins – 2 years (1979-80)

·    Kevin House – 8 years (1981-88)

·    Mark Carrier – 29 years (1989-2017)

·    Mike Evans – 1 year (2018)


·    Morris Owens – 2 years (1976-77)

·    Morris Owens/Ricky Bell – 1 year (1978)

·    Ricky Bell – 2 years (1979-80)

·    Ricky Bell/Kevin House – 3 years (1981-83)

·    James Wilder – 35 years (1984-2018)

Points Scored:

·    Morris Owens – 2 years (1976-77)

·    Neil O'Donoghue – 2 year (1978-79)

·    Garo Yepremian – 4 years (1980-83)

·    Obed Ariri – 1 year (1984)

·    Donald Igwebuike – 14 years (1985-98)

·    Martin Gramatica – 9 years (1999-2007)

·    Matt Bryant – 11 years (2008-18)


·    Mark Cotney – 1 year (1976)

·    Mike Washington – 1 year (1977)

·    Cedric Brown – 23 years (1978-2000)

·    Ronde Barber – 18 years (2001-18)


·    Council Rudolph/Lee Roy Selmon – 1 year (1976)

·    Lee Roy Selmon – 23 years (1977-99)

·    Warren Sapp – 19 years (2000-18)

(* Sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982 but they were still recorded prior to that season.)


·    Richard Wood – 1 year (1976)

·    Dewey Selmon – 1 year (1977)

·    Richard Wood – 3 years (1978-80)

·    Cecil Johnson – 10 years (1981-90)

·    Cecil Johnson/Broderick Thomas – 2 years (1991-92)

·    Hardy Nickerson – 26 years (1993-2018)

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.

Do you think the Bucs defense will hold up against Jacksonville, like they did in Atlanta?

- Christianpovelite, via Instagram

Basically what you're asking me, Christian, is if I think the big improvement shown by the defense last weekend – specifically by the secondary – was a fluke or the actual begin of that group turning the corner. I can't say I know for sure, but I'm leaning towards the latter.

I think what we're seeing is the rapid development of some young players who had seen some not-so-unexpected ups and downs for much of the season. The Buccaneers used six draft picks in the top four rounds on defensive backs in the last two years, and almost all of them are now getting serious playing time. M.J. Stewart is out with a hamstring injury but the young cornerback trio of Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean are close to every-down players. So is second-year safety Jordan Whitehead, and rookie safety Mike Edwards is now getting more action at both safety and in the slot.

Those guys were fantastic against the Falcons' passing attack, which has been about equally productive as the Jaguars' passing attack this season. Davis and Dean each had five pass break-ups, and no, you're not going to see that again. Those performances account for two of the six times in the last two decades that a Buccaneer has broken up at least five passes in a single game. The Bucs had an amazing 16 passes defensed against Matt Ryan and the Falcons, the most by any defense in any game this year.

Maybe you can't expect those numbers again, but the improvement seems to be for real. It's the product of all the young defensive backs choosing to put in a lot of extra time studying tape on their opponents. With a better understanding of what those opponents are trying to do, Davis and Dean and company have been able to react more quickly and instinctively. That's how they were around the ball so much in that game, a big change from the too-frequent instances of wide-open pass-catchers we've seen a lot this year. That kind of improvement should stick, and maybe even gain momentum. Bruce Arians thought the Buccaneers had solved the issue of a talent drain in the secondary in August; now maybe we're seeing what he meant. It just took a little longer than expected to get here.

There are some specifics about this week's matchup that factor into the answer for your question, though, Christian. First, who prevails in a matchup of one of the league's most powerful runners and Jacksonville's strong ground game against the Bucs' massive interior front and second-best rush defense? If Leonard Fournette gets going, the Jaguars' play-action game will have more bite and that will make it tougher on the pass defense.

Second, can the Bucs defensive front produce something close to the massive amount of pressure it put on Matt Ryan last Sunday? With Carl Nassib back and the Bucs' edge-rush rotation closer to full strength, the defense got six sacks and 13 QB hits on Ryan. Five different players had at least one sack – including Nassib and fellow OLBs Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul – and Barrett racked up five hits on Ryan. Yes, those young DBs played much better in Atlanta, but they were put in more positions to make plays by a rush that hurried Ryan and sometimes sent his passes off their marks.

I don't think it's likely that Tampa Bay's defense racks up 16 passes defensed and 13 quarterback hits again this Sunday in Jacksonville. I do think, however, if they put together a decent pass rush and they don't let Fournette get rolling, the Bucs will hold up against the Jaguars like they did against the Falcons.

What can we do with the run game?

- Omega_231, via Instagram

Rely on it as much as possible, I guess, given game situations.

Yes, the Buccaneers have had more success through the air than on the ground again this year, ranking fourth in the former category and 20th in the latter. But there are signs of life. The Bucs' 133 rushing yards in Atlanta were their most in a game since Week Three, and getting a lead in the first half allowed them to run the ball 34 times, 20 of them in the second half. Sure, 38 of those rushing yards were by the quarterback, but Ronald Jones averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

I do think the Bucs can get the ball into Jones's hands a little bit more and with a little better luck he's going to have a big day soon. Jones has had a number of big runs called back by penalties, including a 54-yarder in Los Angeles. He broke off a 25-yard run last Sunday. Arians has said all along that he wants to have balance in his offense, but that is sometimes the effect and not the cause. There's obviously no reason for the Bucs to stop putting the ball in the hands of their two best playmakers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, but establishing an effective running game early only helps the passing attack.

I know this coaching staff wants to run the ball. They say it all the time. They've been high on Jones and Peyton Barber since the offseason, and they still are. Here was Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich earlier today, talking about the blocking in the Atlanta game and the Bucs' running backs:

"We just did the right thing collectively. We were on the same page every play. I love the guys that are running the ball for us, so if we can just give them attempts, give them opportunities to run the ball, they'll do great things with them, especially the way we're getting a hat on hat up front. We're doing a very good job of getting our hands on our guys, and the guys we've got running the ball are doing an excellent job of running it when they have it."

If the Buccaneers really do want to put the ball in the hands of Jones and Barber a bit more often, this is the perfect opportunity. Jacksonville's defense is giving up 142.3 rushing yards per game and is dead last in the NFL with an average of 5.43 yards allowed per carry.

Can we see Vita pass a TD now? Thanks

- Bradtaylor89, via Instagram

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let's slow this roll down a little bit, okay?

Everybody is rightfully thrilled about the big-man touchdown pass the Bucs' 347-pound defensive linemen hauled in last Sunday. The play worked to perfection and Vea showed quickness, nimble feet and soft hands. As he told me and Jeff Ryan on our Salty Dogs podcast this week, he also used a bit of knowledge from playing on defense to help him out on the play. See, Vea often looks at a running back's eyes before the snap because sometimes they will look at the direction they're going to be going after the handoff. When the Bucs broke the huddle on that goal line play, Vea made sure he looked dead ahead as he lined up in a three-point stance as an apparent lead blocker for Ronald Jones. I think it worked – Atlanta linebacker De'Vondre Campbell ran right past him on his way to try to get to Winston.

At least three different coaches have used the word "reward" this week when referring to that play call for Vea. In the Week 10 Arizona game, Vea had gotten his first taste of offensive playing time and had amazed those coaches by taking out three different would-be tacklers on Barber's game-winning touchdown run. They wanted to reward Vea for that effort by getting him into the end zone, though they waited until Friday of this past week to actually install that play on the practice field. Vea got to practice it exactly twice before doing the real thing.

On Thursday, Leftwich said that Vea's work on offense is not a gimmick and that his touchdown wasn't a fluke. Leftwich says that Vea is simply the best option the Buccaneers have for a specific job they want done in goal-line situations. So we haven't seen the last of Vea on offense. That being said, I'd be surprised if we see him actually throw the ball.

The issue here isn't whether Vea can throw the ball well enough. It was the frequent games of catch that Vea and Beau Allen play on the sideline during practice that got the wheels turning in Leftwich's head a few weeks ago. Leftwich saw that Vea had good hands, so he was confident in throwing the football to him. Presumably, Leftwich also has a good idea of how well Vea can throw it from that same sideline scouting.

The issue, I think, is that now we're really talking about two plays in one. I don't think you're going to line Vea up as a quarterback, taking a direct snap. That means that first you're going to hand the football to a 347-pound defensive linemen – a tricky play all in itself – and then you're going to ask him to do something like a halfback pass. I don't know, just seems too complicated and too risky to me. There are plenty of other ways to get the ball into the end zone.

I suppose the next step in getting tricky with Vea could be to hand him the football and see if he can bash it into the end zone, Refrigerator Perry-style. I think a lot of people would like to see that. I'm not so sure we will, though. I think coaches are always a little leery of handing the ball to any player who normally doesn't carry it, as they are worried about a fumble, and goal-line fumbles are just the worst.

Speed Round!

How healthy is Jameis Winston?

- Hunter46516, via Instagram

He's fine. I mean, I would never presume to make the assumption that any NFL player is feeling great all over 11 games into a season. But I guess you're referring to the minor ankle injury Winston suffered at the end of the Week 11 game against New Orleans. It didn't knock him out of that game, and even though he was listed on the injury report last week he didn't miss any playing time. He had no trouble with it last Sunday and is not on the injury report this week.

Who has the most rushing yards in franchise history?

- Xcasanova25, via Instagram

The answer to that question is a name you can find in the mailbag introduction above, but you may have skipped that part and I wouldn't blame you. The Bucs' all-time leading rusher is James Wilder, who ran for 5,957 yards from 1981-89. Since then, Mike Alstott has gotten the closest, with 5,088 yards from 1996-2006.

How many career catches does Mike Evans have?

- Mshaps002, via Instagram

Through 11 games of this season, Evans has 457 career receptions, which is a Buccaneers franchise record. (Wilder used to hold that one, too.) Evans also has the most receiving yards (7,146) and touchdown receptions (47) in team history.

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