Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: Depth and Competition

This week's mailbag bounces around the roster but touches on some similar issues at tight end, cornerback and the O-Line: competition for starting spots and overall depth.

Check out photos of the last day of OTA practices at One Buccaneer Place.

Related Links







*Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans.  This week, we look at depth and starting competition issue at several spots, including tight end, cornerback and the offensive line. If the Bucs do end up with Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet in the starting lineup on opening day, that will reflect a lineup decision the team hasn't duplicated in 25 years.

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at **.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.*...1. Tight End Depth?

@ScottSBucs @TBBuccaneers TE's had the inj bug & we were forced 2 sign guys off the streets n 14' How's the depth looking n 15' #BucsMailbag

— Jorge Gomez (@MEX38BUCS) June 9, 2015

Actually, last year was like a trip to the beach for the Buccaneers' tight end corps compared to the decimation of 2013. If you'll recall, undrafted rookie and converted wide receiver Tim Wright emerged out of nowhere as a pretty effective pass-catching tight end that year, but that was born out of necessity. Luke Stocker and Nate Byham hit the IR list early in the season, and Tom Crabtree – the offseason free agent pickup for which the Bucs had high hopes – got hurt early, returned around midseason, then got hurt again and landed on injured reserve with the rest. Six different tight ends saw time on the active roster that year, the above four plus Kyle Adams and Danny Noble.

Against that grisly backdrop, the fact that the three primary tight ends on the 2014 squad – Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker – played a combined 36 games with 22 starts doesn't look so bad. They did all miss some time, and their injuries converged enough around November and December to require the promotion of undrafted rookie Cameron Brate, but that wasn't such a bad thing. Brate got a chance to show what he could do and was mildly impressive. He's back this year looking for another shot.

Still, you're not completely off with that assessment, Jorge. Most notably, Seferian-Jenkins missed roughly half the season with a couple different injuries, and he was probably never fully healthy. He was hurt in the season opener after making a good impression with a 26-yard gain on his first NFL reception, and he had to fight through injury issues all year. A high second-round pick in 2014, Seferian-Jenkins was expected to produce more than 21 catches for 221 yards and two scores, and almost certainly would have if he had enjoyed better injury luck.

Well, ASJ (as he is often referred to for convenience) says he's fully healthy now and I imagine he has his sights set on a much bigger sophomore campaign. Stocker has had persistently poor injury fortune during his first four NFL seasons but he played 13 games with seven starts last year and was helpful enough as a blocker to get a new contract this offseason. He and Myers should both be full-go heading into training camp this year, too.

If those main three guys can all stay healthy, the depth will be fine. Presumably, ASJ will rise to primary starter status, probably sooner than later. If so, the position will then be rounded out by much more veteran experience (Myers and Stocker) than the team has generally had at the tight end position. They have complementary skills, too, with Myers quite capable of putting up good receiving numbers and Stocker showing off his blocking skills last year.

If injuries strike again, the depth is not optimal, but there aren't many teams that go four and five deep in experienced tight ends. As of now, there are five tight ends on the 90-man roster, with the above three joining Brate and first-year man Taylor Sloat, who was around for portions of last year on the practice squad. Evan Rodriguez is listed as a FB/TE on the Bucs' roster but has been working with the running backs so far in this offseason. From a sheer numbers standpoint, five doesn't seem particularly deep to me and I wouldn't be surprised if there is an addition to that crew before training camp, simply to spread the reps around a little more.

Interestingly, while I was composing this answer, a co-worker came into my office to tell me that the Patriots had released Wright. The Buccaneers, who traded Wright to New England last August along with a fourth-round pick in order to get guard Logan Mankins, still own the first spot on the waiver wire. That advantage has already netted the team safety D.J. Swearinger and linebacker Khaseem Greene. I don't honestly know how much the Bucs' player personnel experts like Wright, but if they want to bring him back nobody can block them. Keep an eye on that issue over the next 24 hours.

2. Jenkins' Role?

That's a good question, WOAT, but I'm not sure that Jenkins would concede your central premise. I imagine that right now he sees his role as competing to be the starter at right cornerback. It's good that you have confidence in Banks, and I agree that his development over the course of last season makes him the favorite for the job, but I don't think Jenkins is out of the running. Remember that before he got hurt in the first regular-season game last year, Jenkins was actually ahead of Banks on the depth chart.

But let's run with your premise for the sake of the argument. If the Bucs open the season with Banks and Alterraun Verner as their starting cornerbacks, what does that mean for Jenkins? Well, first off, I don't think he's likely going to be in the running for the nickel back job. It's tempting to say that, when you include the nickel position, there are essentially three starting cornerback jobs available, and if Jenkins proves he's #3 that means he'd get that role. However, the Buccaneers very specifically train their nickel corners, and the starter there is likely to be somebody who has been working at that position for months rather than the man left out in the competition for the outside spots. Presumably, free agent acquisition Sterling Moore is the front-runner for that job, with Leonard Johnson and a few others in the conversation.

To me, that makes Jenkins (or Banks if the competition swings the other way) a very valuable reserve. It's hard to get your entire secondary through the season without a few missed games here or there due to injury. Last year, Banks was inactive for one contest and Verner for two, and there were times when the Bucs' depth at the position was severely tested. You may remember some games where Brandon Dixon, a (promising) rookie and late addition to the roster as a waiver claim, played quite a bit. If you have Jenkins available at that time, rather than on injured reserve, it's likely that he would have gotten that playing time and would have brought a lot of experience to the job.

The Bucs might even have some specific sub packages for Jenkins even when Banks and Verner are healthy. I guess what I'm saying is, whoever does not win that job won't just waste away on the sidelines all season. I think the coaching staff would find a way to use all of them.

3. Hey Casey & Scott, I get that the Buccs drafted two offensive lineman that they want to start right away. That's a good thing, I guess, because the line clearly needed some more talent on it after last year. Still, isn't it a bit risky to start two rookies at the same time, especially when youre trying to protect the quarterback you just drafted? Or is that more common than I think. Have the Bucs started multiple rookie son the O line before?


Jim Tolbert, St. Pete Bucs fan!

Well, I think it's only "risky" (there's risk in every change to the lineup, really) if the Bucs' personnel department missed on their evaluations of Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, the two rookie linemen to which you refer. While neither one will be automatically handed a starting job, it's true that Plan A is for Smith to start at left tackle and Marpet at right guard. Everybody is learning a new offense this offseason, so it's not like the rookies are far behind the veterans in picking up the system. Yes, there is the issue of adjusting to the NFL (especially for Marpet, who comes from Hobart, a Division III school), but if those two prove to be better players than those they're competing against, it's no more risky to Jameis Winston for them to be on the field than the players they replaced.

Starting on the offensive line as a rookie isn't that unusual, especially for high picks. The last time before 2015 that the Buccaneers drafted an offensive lineman in one of the first three rounds was 2008, when they took Jeremy Zuttah in the third. Zuttah started the first four games of that season (albeit due to an injury to Davin Joseph, but still). Before that, it was Arron Sears in the second round in 2007, and Sears started every game at left guard. (He was quite good, too, though his career would soon be derailed by personal issues.) Speaking of Joseph, the Buccaneers drafted him in the first round and tackle Jeremy Trueblood in the second round in 2006. Joseph had to overcome a preseason injury to start his rookie campaign but he was meant to be an opening-day starter and was in the lineup by Game Five. Trueblood was a starter by Game Four.

That's the most recent example of two drafted rookies starting together on the Bucs' offensive line, though as noted they didn't start in the season opener. Actually, the last time Tampa Bay had two rookies playing together on the O-Line was 2010, when Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman handled the guard spots for the last four games of the year (Larsen actually started the last 11 games). Larsen had been a waiver claim from New England and Hardman was an undrafted rookie. Again, they were not out there on opening day, and in fact they were forced into action by a rash of injuries to other starters.

The last time the Buccaneers opened a season with at least two rookies starting on the offensive line was 1990. Fourth-round pick Tony Mayberry started at center and fifth-round pick Ian Beckles started at right guard as the Buccaneers beat the Detroit Lions, 38-21. That was actually Mayberry's only start of the year, as he filled in for an injured Randy Grimes, but Mayberry would step in the next year and begin a streak of nine straight years in which he didn't miss a start.

Before that, the last time the Buccaneers started two rookie offensive linemen in a regular-season opener was…well, never. So, yeah, it's not a common thing to do. But extraordinary measures are needed here, and the team went into Day Two of this year's draft determined to address the O-Line issue. The most analogous situation was 2006, when Joseph and Trueblood came in together and were, for all intents and purposes, starters right away, one at tackle and one at guard. Both had pretty good runs in Tampa, with Joseph achieving greater heights, including a pair of Pro Bowls. Let's hope Smith and Marpet are starting together for a long time, too.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Latest Headlines