Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: Nutrition, Numbers and 19

This week, we cover player diets, a certain jersey number that hasn't been worn in a long while and another potential draft pick for the Buccaneers at #19.

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Photos of the Buccaneers' complete roster.

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 the ways a team helps its players handle their nutrition choices. We also look into jersey #14, which has not been worn by a Tampa Bay player since Brad Johnson, and discuss the possibility of Florida LB Jarrad Davis landing with the Buccaneers in Round One.*

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 *tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.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.

*1. Eating Right.

*Hey scott Alex from hawaii here, my question is given that each player needs to maintain a certain weight for their respective positions does the team mandate what should be eaten or is it on each player to make sure they maintain their game time shape through their own choices of nutrition? Thanks for your time Go bucs! *

Hello, Alex from Hawaii. I think if I lived in Hawaii I'd always introduce myself as Scott from Hawaii, too. I know you made me jealous with that line.

Anyway, I'll elaborate below, but the short answer is: Players make their own diet decisions but they have access to a great deal of help from the team.

Of course, all of what I'll be passing along is specific to the Buccaneers, but I'm pretty certain every team has some sort of nutrition program. It's just too obvious of a thing not to do in the ongoing effort to help players make the most out of their abilities.

The Buccaneers employ a Team Sports Dietitian by the name of Kevin Luhrs, and believe me, he is very much involved with the players on a day-to-day basis. And this isn't a new development: Luhrs is heading into his eighth season with the Buccaneers. As his bio notes, Luhrs's "duties include the coordination of all meals and snacks for all players. In addition, Luhrs instructs players how and what to eat based on their individual goals and nutritional needs. He is heavily involved in player rehydration and weight management programs, along with recovery strategies."

Luhrs helps some players craft very specific meal plans. He's more than happy to walk with a player through what he calls the "training table" in the dining room at One Buccaneer Place, pointing out exactly what he should put on his plate. Even beyond that, however, everything that is served in that dining room is marked with nutritional information using a "traffic light system." Green is good, yellow is okay on active days and red should be avoided. If you're going to eat something that maybe isn't so great for you, you're going to do so knowingly.

Luhrs describes his two goals in working with the players as helping them recover and expanding their careers. You can hear about that in more detail in this video. He says his job is to educate the players on healthy eating; he wants them to know not only what to eat, but why it's the right thing for them.

Last year, the Buccaneers allowed Luhrs to convert part of the players' lounge into a "recovery bar," which is also colloquially referred to as the "shake station." As you can imagine, one of its main offerings is a variety of protein smoothies (not to mention fresh and dried fruit, granola bars and other healthy snacks), and since the lounge is in the direct path from the practice field to the locker room, it's a popular stop for players after they've put in several hours of very hard work.

Now, you mention players needing to be at certain weights for different positions. That's somewhat true, though some positions have more room for variance than others. Running backs and receivers, for instance, come in a lot of different sizes. Those guys, defensive backs, linebackers – they generally know on an individual basis what weight works best for them and most are very, very good at maintaining that. Most of these players are just in ridiculously good shape.

You're probably most likely to see offensive and defensive linemen having to put in the most effort to stay in a certain weight range. Keep in mind, too, that a player's needs in this regard can change as the year progresses. It's a long and arduous season, and sometimes it can become an effort to keep the desired amount of weight *on.

*Occasionally, a player and a team will work "weight clauses" into a contract, which obviously provides some very powerful incentive to reach their goals. For instance, running back Eddie Lacy's new deal with Seattle reportedly has a series of bonuses he can receive by hitting weight benchmarks on specific weigh-in days.

That kind of thing can be a good idea for a player who sees his weight fluctuate more than most and has been proven more effective at a certain size. For the vast majority of NFL players, though, maintaining their best playing weight is something they accomplish with little trouble (effort, sure, but not trouble) and they get a lot of help from their respective teams in doing so.

2. The Bull's Number.

Look, I'm all about paying homage to the Bull, who I would claim was a bit underrated as a Buccaneer, but this is just chance.

First of all, let me verify that you are correct: Brad Johnson started the first four games of 2004, his fourth season as a Buccaneer, all while wearing jersey #14. That would be his last year in Tampa; his best, obviously, was 2002, when he started for the Super Bowl-winning squad. That season, Johnson had a 10-3 record as a starter during the regular season while throwing 22 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. Though he missed the last two games of the regular-season with a back injury, he returned to start all three postseason games as the Bucs ran the table against San Francisco, Philadelphia and Oakland.

Since that 2004 season, no player has worn the #14 jersey for the Bucs in a regular-season game. Of course, the only types of players who could wear that number are quarterbacks, receivers, kickers and punters, so that reduces the field of possibilities quite a bit. And while receivers have increasingly favored numbers in the 10-19 range since the league began allowing that in 2004, they more often choose from the edges of that range than the middle.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' safeties.

Notice that I said the #14 has not been worn in a regular-season game since 2004. Well, that's because it has been worn in any number of games since '04, but all of them were in the preseason. In fact, if you rewind all the way back to the second-most-recent preseason game for the Buccaneers, on August 26 of last year, you find wide receiver Andre Davis participating while wearing #14.

Now, before you protest, Adam and/or Laura, I know full well that you were only referring to regular-season games in  your question. I agree that the streak is unbroken since '04 because preseason games do not count. But I do have a reason for bringing this up. Let me ask you this: Do you think the #20 has been worn for even a preseason game since 2012. How about 40 or 47? In recent years, 55 and 99 have joined 63 as officially retired Buccaneer numbers, but even before that happened, you didn't see any rookie linebackers or defensive tackles running around in those numbers in training camp.

My point is, there are numbers that the Bucs are clearly avoiding giving out again, even if they're not retired. The #14, although not worn since Brad Johnson, is not one of them. In fact, it could make its return as soon as this season. Jameis Winston (#3) is entrenched as the team's starting quarterback, but it appears there will be a pretty good battle for the top back-up spot between Ryan Griffin and newcomer Sean Renfree. Renfree has been assigned #14, at least for now. (He wore #12 while with the Falcons, and #12 is currently available with the Buccaneers, so there doesn't seem to be any specific number attachment for Renfree). If Renfree wins the job, or even makes the roster along with Griffin, there could be another 14 sighting at some point.

3. Another Gator First-Rounder?

Scott-
I'm not a Gator fan or anything so don't hate on me but I thought the Bucs did a good job picking Vernon Hargreaves last year. I think he's going to be really good. Any chance the Bucs go back to that same UF well and take linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round this year? He really killed it at the Florida Pro Day. I like where the defense is headed but think it needs some more playmakers.

Anyway, just a thought. What do you think?
Thanks,
Mark Richards (via email totbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Man, you ain't kidding about Davis killing it at his Pro Day, which was just held on Tuesday. I wrote about that on Tuesday – Davis ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, leapt vertically higher than any linebacker did at the Combine and cleared nearly 11 feet in the broad jump. Wow. He was already considered a strong candidate to be a first-round pick; I think he may have just cemented that.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' cornerbacks.

Now, is he a good pick for the Buccaneers at #19? Part of me wants to agree with you, Mark. It does seem like a good idea to find more playmakers on defense, as you say, and the offense already got its own new playmaker (DeSean Jackson) in free agency.

However, a bigger part of me thinks that pick is unlikely. For these purposes, let's assume that Davis is available at #19 and the Bucs have the option to pick him over, say, a safety, cornerback, wide receiver, tight end or running back. Here's why I think they would not do so: The position he would likely play for the Buccaneers would necessarily limit his impact, at least right away.

Allow me to explain. The Buccaneers play a 4-3 defense under Mike Smith. The middle linebacker spot is filled by Kwon Alexander, who the team views as a rising star. He won't turn 23 until training camp and he's headed into just his third season. Hopefully, he'll be entrenched there for a while. Lavonte David plays the weakside linebacker spot at a Pro Bowl level and is headed into the third year of the big five-year contract he signed in 2016. He, too, should be entrenched for quite some time.

The third linebacker spot is on the strong side, and that's also the position that generally comes off the field in the nickel alignment. It doesn't have to be that way – the Bucs would surely leave their two best nickel linebackers on the field no matter what positions they played in the base defense (although one of them would need to be the player with the receiver in his helmet for play-calling). But Alexander and David are both excellent nickel linebackers.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' linebackers.

Thus, whomever plays the strongside linebacker position for the Buccaneers is only going to be on the field for about half the defensive plays. I know Davis is listed as an inside linebacker, but given his athleticism, he could probably thrive at any of the Bucs' three spots. So, presumably, if he was drafted by the Buccaneers he would at least start his career as the SAM linebacker. I just can't see the Buccaneers pursuing a draft strategy that would push Alexander or David out of their current roles. It seems more likely to me that a team needing an immediate starter at an inside linebacker spot would jump on Davis.

I think the Buccaneers would love to have Jarrad Davis on their team. That would be a pretty amazing trio of linebackers. However, I also think the team is more likely to use the #19 pick on a player who would fill a more important position right away. And I'm pretty sure Davis will not be available to the Buccaneers in the second round, the way Lavonte David miraculously was in 2012.

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