*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 opens with a fan's question about the impact of Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter's arrival, then moves on to recent league rule changes (and non-changes) and, as always, the upcoming draft.
*1. OC's Impact?
Oh, yes. Very much so, Darragh.
I won't be the first to say it, but it's worth repeating at the top here: This should not be considered a slight to Marcus Arroyo, last year's quarterbacks coach. Arroyo wasn't brought to Tampa to call plays and he didn't spend the 2014 offseason preparing for that role. Rather, the role was thrust upon him when Jeff Tedford ran into health issues very late in the preseason. It would not have been fair to expect him to handle the job like a seasoned OC.
But that's what the Buccaneers have now, a seasoned and proven offensive coordinator. The changeover in Atlanta's staff made Dirk Koetter available and Lovie Smith happily kept him in the NFC South. As Smith himself pointed out during his breakfast interview at the league meetings on Wednesday, Koetter has had success with several different offensive styles, including one that was centered around a pair of outstanding wide receivers, like the Bucs currently have.
What Arroyo's experience emphasized is that there is an art to calling plays in the NFL. That may be an art that Arroyo has an opportunity to develop over time, but it's one that Koetter brings with him to Tampa. Including his time in the college ranks, Koetter has been an offensive coordinator for the better part of three decades. He's not going to run into any situations next fall that come as a surprise.
After Tedford was sidelined, and for much of the 2014 season, the Buccaneers rightfully circled the wagons regarding the offense and the play-calling issue. The team and the coaching staff simply tried to make the best of an unexpected and difficult situation. Near the end of the year, however, when the season was essentially decided, there were some tacit admissions by the likes of Josh McCown and Lovie Smith that the loss of one's OC just before the season had proved to be a very difficult hurdle to clear.
Especially considering the strong chance that the Buccaneers will have a rookie under center, it seems very important to me that the offense will be led by a steady and knowledgeable hand. So again, without intending any disrespect for Arroyo, yes I think the arrival of Dirk Koetter will make a big difference in the team's offensive outcome in 2015.
2. Hey Scott, I don't know about you but I was a little disappointed that the NFL didn't pass more of their rule changes this week in AZ. Mainly, I wanted them to do something about what's called a catch and not a catch. I was on the side of those who thought Dez caught that pass in Green Bay, although I didn't mind seeing Dallas lose that way, especially after the way they beat the Loins. What do you think? Should they have passed a rule about that, or any of the other rules they were talking about this week?
Thanks in advance if you use my question – Steve T.
I was on the other side of that Dez Bryant debate, Steve. I was watching that game and thought immediately that he had a problem when I saw the ball move upon him hitting the ground. I wasn't the least bit surprised that the catch was overturned and I thought they called it correctly according to the rule.
But you're saying two things, Steve. One, you thought it was a catch (and I know a lot of people who agree with you and not me); and two, you think the rule should be changed so that, going forward, there won't be any debate that that was a catch.
Well, that's a noble idea, Steve, and one I think we can all get behind. The league would be better off if there was an easy-to-understand and easy-to-apply rule on exactly what constitutes a catch. The problem is in the execution. The Competition Committee apparently spent quite some time discussing this exact issue this week but, apart from one change in wording that may not even make things clearer, didn't come up with a new solution. The issue just might be too complicated to govern with one very easy-to-understand rule that is applied in exactly the same way on every occasion.
The change in wording was replacing the "make a football move" criteria for a catch to "establish himself as a runner." The way I read it, even if the rule had been written this way last year, Bryant's play still would not have been ruled a catch. I think all they really did here was clarify to some extent what they meant with the previous wording.
The part of the catch criteria that always comes into play when we're having these debates – as with the one involving Calvin Johnson a few years ago – is the about maintaining possession through contact with the ground when the receiver is falling in the act of completing a catch. In Bryant's case, some people are going to see him jump, catch the ball, become tangled with the defender and fall, all as part of the act of making the catch. Other people are going to see him jump, catch the ball, land on his feet and take several steps before hitting the ground. (And, of course, in his case, it was the attempt to reach the ball out towards the goal line that got him in trouble, because he likely would not have lost control of it when he hit the ground otherwise.)
Seems to me that to remove the discord, the NFL would have to forget about the distinction between falling and not falling and go with a specific number of times that feet hit the ground. If they did that, Bryant's play would be a catch and a dive and a momentary fumble that he recovered. I guess that type of rule is possible, but I would be surprised if the league went in that direction.
As for other rule proposals, it wasn't a big year for drastic changes. The new rule to have an independent injury spotter in the stadium seems like a good move in the direction of player safety, and there were a couple other safety-related rules (e.g. no peel-back blocks) that seem like common sense. They made a new rule about forcing players declared as ineligible receivers to be inside the tackle box, which seems awfully reactionary to me after the Patriots' cool bit of strategy last year. The other changes, like provisions for opening retractable roofs at halftime and a new range of legal jersey numbers for linebackers, are mostly tangential to the action.
There were a lot of proposals that were not adopted, Steve, and I think the one that disappoints me regards using instant replay to challenge personal foul calls. The explanation the Committee gave for rejecting that one is that a personal foul call is subjective (as opposed to, say, the factual decision of whether a ball crossed the goal line) and the review of such plays at the league office often takes 20 or 30 minutes. If that's the case, I suppose I can see why you wouldn't want to add that kind of deliberation to the middle of a three-hour game. Still, I find game-turning personal foul calls on hits to the quarterback to be one of the frustrating things about watching an NFL contest. Protecting quarterbacks from vicious hits and blows to the head is important, but getting nailed with a huge penalty on what, in replay, looks like a team and legal hit is hard to swallow. I wish they could figure out a way to make that rule work.
3. More Cornerbacks?
Once again, I start with an emphatic "yes."
The Bucs recently signed former Cowboy Sterling Moore, who will hopefully prove to be a strong nickel back and become my second favorite Sterling after Mr. Archer. Don't forget that the Bucs also re-signed veteran Mike Jenkins, who missed almost all of 2014 but looked like he was going to be a key figure in the secondary before his pectoral injury. You can't discount the possibility of him getting a good number of snaps, either. And I'm personally high on last year's starting duo of one-time Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner and on-the-rise third-year man Johnthan Banks.
But I'm still a big yes to your question, Count. As two of the Bucs' last three seasons have demonstrated, apparent depth at the cornerback position can go away in a hurry, forcing you to try more and more untested options. Last year, the Buccaneers gave at least 100 defensive snaps to six different cornerbacks, plus two more (including Jenkins) with fewer than a 100. In 2012, the Bucs saw a whopping seven different corners hit triple digits in snaps, with two more getting a lesser amount of playing time.
What I'm saying is, I just don't think you can have enough depth at cornerbacks. Depending upon how your safety position is set up, teams sometimes carry six or even seven corners on their 53-man rosters. That's partially because a lot of young cornerbacks double as core special teams guys, but it's also because teams are always looking for competent corners. If you have six of them you like, you're probably finding a way to keep all six.
So let's get some more. There's no guarantee that a cornerback picked in the draft will end up being a helpful part of a secondary rotation, especially if we're talking about a Day Three selection, but it's worth a try. And in contrast to such positions as offensive and defensive line, the Bucs have had some success finding cornerback value after the first two rounds. Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham and Dwight Smith were all third-round selections. Al Harris was a sixth-round pick who never played for the Bucs but did enjoy a great NFL career elsewhere. E.J. Biggers gave pretty good returns for a seventh-round selection, and fellow seventh-rounders Anthony Gaitor and Torrie Cox returned some value.
I don't think the Buccaneers will go into this draft specifically targeting a cornerback in, say, Round Four or Round Five. However, if they get to this rounds and a cornerback or two just happens to be among the top-rated players left on the Bucs' board, I personally would be in favor of going in that direction. I'm glad the Bucs got Sterling Moore. Now I want even more.
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.*