Each week during the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from Buccaneer fans. This week, the discussion starts with Dirk Koetter and the Bucs' approach to play-calling in 2015. We then progress to the timing of the 2015 NFL schedule drop and the idea of using a draft pick to add a spark to the kick return game.
1. Hello Mr. Scott, bucwild fan here and my question is what do you think of our new offensive play caller do you think we will have a more aggressive offensive attack with all the weapons we have or back to the basics? Thank you, Coach Ramsey, via email firstname.lastname@example.org* *
The hardest part about answering this question, Coach, is parsing what you mean by "aggressive." I suppose you mean a higher pass-to-run ratio than league average, more downfield throws, maybe more cracks at the end zone from the red zone and the fringe of the red zone. I don't think there are any real passive offensive approaches in the NFL, though there are obviously some teams that run the ball more than others, like the 49ers and Seahawks.
I guess I should look at the fact that you contrast "aggressive" with "back to the basics." Do you fear that a new offensive coordinator is going to be starting from square one with the Bucs' personnel and is going to employ a conservative approach that fails to take full advantage of the likes of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Doug Martin and Charles Sims, and so on?
I don't see how that's a legitimate concern. The Bucs have moved on from an inexperienced play-caller who was forced into that role due to Jeff Tedford's 11th-hour health issue to a coordinator in Dirk Koetter who has nearly 30 decades of play-calling experience. Koetter has all offseason to work with the rest of the Bucs' offensive staff to devise a full-fledged offense. Yes, a new coordinator does mean a steeper learning curve for the players, but I don't think that means we're going to work with a scaled-back attack in 2015.
If you look at Koetter's track record as a coordinator for the Jaguars and Falcons, he has an impressive history of molding his approach to the strengths of his teams. Jacksonville had a lot of success with a run-heavy attack centered around Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Later, Koetter's Falcons centered their offense around the passing-game group of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
Now, as erratic as the Buccaneers were offensively in 2014 (to put it nicely), the obvious strength on that side of the ball was the receiving duo of Evans and Jackson. If Austin Seferian-Jenkins emerges in his second year as an impact tight end, and if the new quarterback grasps the system quickly, it certainly looks like the Bucs would have the makings of a passing attack like the one Koetter had in Atlanta. I highly doubt he would go "back to the basics" with such a group.
If anything, it's that quarterback situation that should give you pause in terms of how aggressive the Bucs' offense will be in 2015, not the identity of the new play-caller. Obviously, we all know that there's a decent chance the Buccaneers will have a rookie under center this season, perhaps from opening day on. As talented as that player may be, there will be some kind of adjustment period to the NFL, and that certainly could affect the aggressiveness of the play-calling.
Look at Ryan, for instance. The third-overall pick in 2008, he started from Day One in Atlanta and he had a fine rookie season, throwing 434 times for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. (That was before Koetter's arrival, of course.) Those are good numbers, but they represent his career lows in every category among his 16-game seasons. Increasing those totals almost every season, Ryan reached a point last year in which he was throwing 628 times for 4,694 yards and 28 TDs. Under Koetter's direction.
So, Coach, I'd say that, assuming the presence of a rookie starting QB doesn't hold things back too much, you don't have to worry about the Bucs' backing off in the aggressiveness of their play-calling in 2015.
2. WHEN IS THE SCHEDULE COMING OUT?! Isn't it usually out by now. I want to know when the Bears are coming to town. I've been a Bucs fan for a long time-back to the nfc central days-and the Bears were always the team I wanted us to beat the most. I'm glad their back on our schedule now. Thanks! Mike Harolds, via email email@example.com* *Soon, Mike, soon. No need to yell.
I can't tell you yet when the Bears are coming to town, but I can tell you which team will visit first in 2015. That's not quite as exciting as it sounds, because I'm not talking about the regular-season opener but rather the four-game preseason schedule. That was unveiled on Thursday, and after a Week One game at Minnesota the Buccaneers will take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Two at Raymond James Stadium. The cool part about that: It's a nationally-televised Monday Night Football game on ESPN on August 24.
Who the Bucs will be playing in 2015.
The good news, Mike, is that this marks the beginning of the NFL's gradual rollout of the full 2015 schedule. The next thing you'll see will be a couple teaser games, such as the probable kickoff game between the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots and some juicy opponent. Then, at some point very soon, the full 2015 schedule will drop in all of its 256-game glory.
When will that be? Well, the exact date hasn't been announced yet, but in each of the last four years it has fallen between April 17 and April 23. So I think you're looking at a wait of two more weeks, at the most. You can be sure that this will come out before the start of the 2015 NFL Draft, which kicks off on Thursday, April 30. I doubt the league will even let it get that close to the draft, so if I were a betting man I'd say it's the week before. A specific date prediction? Wednesday, April 22.
3. Hey Scott, any chance the Bucs will try to find a return specialist in the draft? It's been awhile since we've had a really dynamic return man. I think Phillip Dorsett or Tyler Lockett could really be good returning punts in the NFL. What do you think? Thanks alot! Kevin W., via email firstname.lastname@example.org* *I agree that Dorsett and Lockett are really intriguing prospects in this year's class, and Dorsett really seemed to help himself at the Combine in February. The dude is really, really fast.
Here's the problem: Those guys are legitimate slot-receiver prospects, too. Dorsett, in particular, could be drafted as high as the end of the first round or the beginning of the second round. Yes, the Buccaneers have a pick in that range, holding #34 overall, but it might be hard to justify the selection of a receiver when there are more obvious needs on the depth chart. Picking Dorsett at #34 would mean the Bucs were not finding a potential starter on the offensive line or a very helpful edge rusher at that spot.
How about if we set our sights a little lower and consider some of the other small, fast receiver/return prospects in this year's class. Duke's Jamison Crowder and West Virginia's Mario Alford, the latter of whom opened eyes with a blazing 40-yard dash time at the Combine. Crowder could be drafted in the Round 3-5 range, while Alford might be in the Round 5-7 range. Would the Bucs consider using a late-round pick on a possible slot-receiver/kick-returner option, like they did just last year on Robert Herron? I could see it happening.
Whether or not the Buccaneers feel like they can devote a draft pick (a valued resource at any spot in the draft) on a return specialist – considering the diminished role of that position in today's game – may depend on how many picks they're holding on Day Three. Right now, the team has one pick each in the fourth, sixth and seventh rounds and two in the fifth for a total of five. Trades during the first two days of the draft – or even during Day Three – could raise or lower that total, depending on whether the Bucs find themselves trying to move up or down. If the Bucs end up with a few extra picks, then just maybe they'll take a chance on somebody like Crowder or Alford.
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 *email@example.com. The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.*