For most NFL teams, in most in-season weeks, Tuesday is the player's day off. It's a chance to rest, regroup and – win or lose the previous weekend – turn the page to the next opponent.
It's also a perfect time for us to discuss the hottest topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for that reason, the One Buc Mailbag is back! Every Tuesday, I'll be fielding a handful of questions from the fans, but you can send them in all throughout the week. The easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter (@ScottSBucs, using #BucsMailbag), but if 280 characters aren't quite enough to get your point across, you can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, we discuss the potential of adding to the secondary in the offseason, the root of the resolve the Buccaneers showed on Monday night and why the Buccaneers call Alan Cross a tight end. Let's get to it.
1. Secondary Concerns?
Actually, Chris, the Buccaneers almost have to address the secondary in draft and/or free agency in 2018, particularly if you include the option of re-signing their own potential free agents as part of the equation. Cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Robert McClain are set to become unrestricted free agents in March, as are safeties Keith Tandy and T.J. Ward. Cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah (currently on injured reserve) and Javien Elliott would become restricted and exclusive rights free agents, respectively; the Bucs wouldn't be in much danger of losing either one if they want to keep them, but that still technically involves re-signing them.
If you re-signed all of those potential UFAs, you would be addressing the secondary in free agency, and if you did not re-sign any or all of them, those are players you're going to have to replace one way (free agency) or another (the draft). I don't have a crystal ball so I don't know how many or which ones out of that group the Buccaneers will try to bring back, but considering a normal season-to-season roster turnover rate, it would probably be an upset if all four were re-signed.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 15 matchup with the Falcons.
Now, I'm being a little technical here when in reality what you want to know is if the Buccaneers are going to seek upgrades or at least additional talent in the secondary in the offseason. To that question, I would say, yes, I think that's likely. The Bucs do have talent in their current collection of defensive backs, but it's also completely fair to note that the team ranks last in pass defense this season. We can't put all of that on the secondary, as a conspicuous lack of a pass-rush is at least an equal part of that problem. But that's an issue that needs to be addressed.
Furthermore, without making any judgment whatsoever on the current players on the team, I think the Buccaneers are always looking for more talent in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. It's a difficult thing to find, either in free agency or the draft. The Bucs hit a home run with the signing of Grimes almost two years ago, but the previous import of Alterraun Verner didn't work out as well. I don't believe that either Vernon Hargreaves nor Ryan Smith – both of whom have shown plenty of potential – are established enough yet to know for sure they will be your starting duo for many years to come.
The reason I often state my own personal hope that the Buccaneers will address the cornerback situation in the draft is that I've seen how many of them it usually takes to get through a season. At some point you're going to be playing your fifth and maybe even your sixth cornerback. Even if you are very happy with your starters, or at least believe your young players are going to develop into players you're very happy with, you're always going to need more at that position.
Given that the Bucs drafted safety Justin Evans in the second round this past season and he looks like a long-time keeper, I think it's more likely the team would use a first or second-day pick on the cornerback position. We'll see, though. It's a long way to go before the draft and the prevailing wisdom on what the Bucs will target will probably change multiple times between now and then.
2. The Root of Their Resolve
You know, Dwight, I share your feeling Jon Gruden's induction into the Ring of Honor was a great part of Monday night's entertainment. I think it was quite clear that it meant a lot to Gruden, and the crowd's response indicated that he meant a lot to them, too. His speech was what you would expect, entertaining, funny and heartfelt. And the reenactment of Mike Alstott's Super Bowl run was a fun little touch.
I also agree that the Buccaneers showed amazing resolve on Monday night in the face of some pretty difficult circumstances. That said, I think it's a bit insulting to the players and the coaching staff to suggest that they needed that Ring of Honor ceremony to give them the boost they needed to fight so hard. How about we give credit to the men – players and coaches – who worked hard all week, practicing and game-planning, so that they could perform well against a tough opponent, and be able to overcome all the injury-related hardships?
I mean, it's not like this was a new thing that suddenly developed in Week 15. It was particularly noticeable given all the injuries and the fact that the game was played before a national audience, but these guys have been fighting like that all season. How many second-half comebacks have we seen this year in games that – with a team no longer truly invested – could have gotten totally out of hand. It is a shame and a source of significant frustration that almost all of those comebacks have gone for naught, but you have to at least like the tenacity of this team. They definitely have not given up, even after the draw of a potential playoff spot was removed.
Look, Jon Gruden can definitely motivate players. I don't mean to indicate otherwise. The 2002 playoff run was his masterpiece in that regard, and I wrote about some of that last week. I also can tell that you meant that question in a friendly way, so I'm sorry if my answer came off a little pointed. I just think we need to acknowledge that resolve these current Buccaneer players and coaches are showing in a tough time comes from within.
Why do the Buccaneers refer to Alan Cross as a tight end? I watch the games and he sure looks like a fullback to me. Not a big deal, just curious. Thanks! Go Bucs!
Mark McKinney from Pasco (via email email@example.com)Usually people use the email option rather than Twitter to send in a question when they want to be long-winded and go into great detail, but Mark gets right to the point. And it's a decent one.*Yes, if you look at the 6-1, 235-pound Cross you probably would peg him as a fullback given no other information. And when you watch him play, lining up in the backfield in two-back sets and splitting out on the line rather than next to a tackle, you would get a definite fullback vibe. Maybe some teams might call him an H-Back, but he doesn't function in a role similar to that of, say, O.J. Howard. When both Howard and Cam Brate were out of Monday's game for a while, it was rookie Antony Auclair who saw all the snaps as an in-line blocker. *
View photos of the Buccaneers' Week 15 game against the Falcons.
The truth is it is largely irrelevant how the Bucs label Cross. Opposing teams watching tape are going to see what he does and call him what they want to call him. I have had our coaches and pro scouts tell me about opposing players and they do the same thing. As an example, an opposing linebacker might technically be his team's starting MIKE (middle linebacker), but the Buccaneers on offense are going to determine who they consider the MIKE on each play based on where all the defenders are lined up.*Dirk Koetter and his staff simply prefer to put the responsibilities of the tight ends and "fullbacks" in one group and have them in the same meeting room. When Austin Johnson was on the roster, the Bucs called him a tight end for some of that time even though he had always been termed a fullback while playing for the Saints. It makes sense, because the Buccaneers under Koetter don't really give any handoffs to the fullback. He's a blocker and a potential pass-catcher, just like the tight ends. The 49ers call Kyle Juszczyk a fullback and he's a similar size to Cross, maybe a bit bigger, but he has also carried the ball seven times this year. The Bills have given two carries to Patrick DiMarco, the fullback they signed away from Atlanta. The Jaguars, who run the ball a lot, have given five carries to fullback Tommy Bohanon. Cross hasn't had one carry in parts of two seasons with the Buccaneers, and he *was a tight end in College at Memphis, not a fullback. **So call Alan Cross what you want; his position listing on the roster isn't all that important. And if you want to be like Cross's teammates, you'll call him, "Honcho."