One Buc Mailbag: Preparation and Versatility

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Photos of quarterback Jameis Winston from his rookie season.

Each week during the remainder of the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week, we're discussing a new position on the coaching staff, the possible future of rookie linebacker Devante Bond and the lack of additions to the receiving corps.*

One additional note: I got a great question from Matt in New Jersey asking me to come up with the Bucs' all-time depth chart, using whatever criteria I liked. However, it didn't get to me until Thursday morning, so I'm going to punt it until next week, as it requires a little more time to get it right. I mean, before you can even start picking players you have to figure out how many you're going to keep at each position (I'm going on a 53-man roster), whether to have some specific specialists like return men, and even what base defense you're going to go with. That last question isn't insignificant, as the Bucs were a 3-4 team for most of their seasons through 1990. So stay tuned, Matt.

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. Management Approach

My thoughts? I love it. It's easy to see Dirk Koetter's reasons for doing so, while I can't see any reason not to do it.

For those unaware of what Chris is asking about, he's referring to Andrew Weidinger, who was first added to the Buccaneers' staff in 2015 as an offensive quality control coach. That's a common job title on NFL staffs, and it refers to a coach who spends most of his time in analysis and game preparation as opposed to being assigned to a specific position on the field. Teams often carry one for offense and one for defense, sometimes more.

Weidinger has a long history with Koetter and Mike Smith, the Bucs new defensive coordinator. He was on the Falcons staff in a variety of roles from 2007-14, which included Koetter's three years as the team's offensive coordinator and Smith's entire run as head coach. Like Koetter, Weidinger joined Lovie Smith's staff last year, and now that Koetter has moved from OC to head coach, he has decided to give Weidinger a new role.

Weidinger's title is now "Assistant Wide Receivers/Game Management." Obviously, that means he's now working with a specific position, for one thing. It's an interesting assignment, too, given that the Bucs' new wide receivers coach is also its new offensive coordinator, Todd Monken. But it's the second half of that title that Chris is asking about, and he probably heard about it after Jason Cole conducted an interview with Koetter for Bleacher Report. In the Q&A with Cole, Koetter discusses why he wanted a coach on his staff dedicated to advising him on what to do in certain game situations, such as challenges, fourth-down decisions and timeout management. Koetter says this to Cole:

"There are just so many situations that come up in NFL game, whether it's clock management or just game-ending situations, to have someone that they're fully dedicated to that preparation in leading up to the game and on game day made sense.

"When I was the offensive coordinator, if I was up in the box, we always had a designated coach on the field that if I said, "This situation is up" and the head coach was on the other side of the phones talking to the defensive staff, that coach on the field would go remind the head coach about this or that. There is so much pressure when that clock is ticking, you have to have somebody who is on top of that and looking ahead."

I encourage you to go read the whole thing; Cole and Koetter go on for a while about what Weidinger will do and why his boss thinks it's a good idea to have him in this role. The new title for Weidinger makes him stand out – it made Cole take notice – but it's not really a new concept for Koetter (or other coaches). He said his teams in Jacksonville and Atlanta always had somebody in that role.

What we need to understand is that Koetter is not turning over decision-making to Weidinger or anybody else. If there's three minutes left and the Bucs are trying to get the ball back for one more chance at a go-ahead score, it will be Koetter who decides when and if to use his timeouts. But Weidinger, who will have studied ahead for that and many other situations, will be the one he listens to for advice at that critical moment. Why not have somebody who specializes in such things to provide information in such critical moments.

Frankly, I think it's a smart move by Koetter. Last year, he was the play-caller. Moving forward he's still going to be the play-caller, but now he'll also be in charge of overall game strategy. Last year it was Lovie Smith who decided whether or not to go for it on fourth-and-goal, and Koetter who called the specific play when he did. Now Koetter will be making every part of that decision, and many more.

How many times have you heard head coaches criticized for being poor game managers? I feel like that stigma has always followed Andy Reid around, for instance, even though by the simplest measures he has been an outstanding NFL head coach. Over 17 seasons in that role he has a fantastic .594 winning percentage and 11 playoff appearances. Still, Google "NFL bad game management" and see what name comes up. The perception of Reid may not be fair, but clearly there is a widespread belief that head coaches can sway the outcome of games, in good or bad ways, with how they handle some of the pressurized decision-making moments. Seems reasonable to me. I'm glad our head coach is thinking ahead and making sure he'll have as much useful information as possible – and be able to access it quickly and without interference from other voices – for those key moments.

**2. A Mission for Bond? This isn't really a mail bag question. I have an observation and would like to know if you think I'm on the right track or as lost as Inspector Clouseau. FYI I'm a poor speeler and my little toes are turnt in from wearing to tight of shoes while growing up, but the latter shouldn't effect this email.

I'm very pleased with the job Jason Licht has done since coming over from the Cardinals. Easily Lovie's best FA pick up. 1st I love how he's not afraid to move up in the draft to get his guy. Maybe the pick doesn't work out, but you made a call and went for it. 2nd I like how he is bringing in players who can help at multiple positions. i.e. Ayres DT/DE, D.Smith LB/DE, that was a nice little nugget. Hargreaves CB can play outside then move inside. R.Smith S/CB, Vitale FB/TE and Benenoch can play T or G.3rdly Jason is always looking towards the future. Not just next year but beyond. Which finally brings me to my "observation". I had the hardest time coming up with a reason why the Bucs drafted Devante Bond. I mean you can even argue Aguayo has versatility with deep KO or "mortor" KO. That was until I heard Mike Smith say that Daryl Smith may line up on the DL in certain sub packages. At first I assumed they were grooming Bond for the SAM LB position. Which I still think they are, but given Bond's JuCo numbers, 27 TFL 17 sacks 11 GP, could the Bucs be grooming a DE to play across from Noah Spence? Bond was just a pure pass rusher till he got to OU. Also compared to games played his tackle for loss and sacks were up there. So what I'm asking is a Spence and Bond as DL bookends in the cards or am I a spoon in a drawer full of knives? **

- Douglas O'Connor (via email to *tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)*

Well, first of all, I have to disagree: There is a question in there, and I'm not talking about the silverware reference at the end. Sure, it took you a little while to get around to it, Doug, after a couple observations, some kind words for Jason Licht, a few jokes and the occasional (intentional?) spelling error, but it's right there in the fourth paragraph. Did the Bucs draft Devante Bond to eventually turn him into a defensive end?

Really, I don't think it's particularly mysterious. Bond is a player they can groom to potentially take over as the strongside linebacker – Daryl Smith's tenure in Tampa isn't likely to be a long one – while probably helping on special teams from Day One. Behind their three starters, the Bucs don't have a lot of experienced depth at linebacker, so it makes sense to add some developmental talent to that crew. And in the sixth round, if you can find a player with some traits you can develop and some traits that help on special teams, it's a good pick. Think Geno Hayes or Dekoda Watson or Adam Hayward.

You say initial that you can't come up with a reason for drafting Bond, but that's because you're choosing to view it through this lens of "drafting/signing versatile players." I completely agree that Licht and company did that on several occasions this year, and that versatility is a trait the team values, but that doesn't mean it has to inform every pick or signing. Yes, they drafted Ryan Smith with an eye towards converting him to safety, but that doesn't mean they had a conversion in mind when they drafted Bond. They may have simply liked him for who he is.

That doesn't mean I'm completely dismissing what you're saying about Bond's future, though. For those unaware of what Douglas is talking about, it stems from a comment made by new Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith last week. Smith was asked which of the Buccaneers' defensive ends could also play inside on the line and he responded as such:

"Well, I think KB can do it – Kourtnei Brown – I think he has the size and again – Ayers had very good success last year in New York in terms of his production at the defensive tackle position. We’ve got some linebackers – Daryl Smith is a guy that has played multiple positions – so we’re going to line these guys up at different spots and try to confuse the quarterback, keep it simple for us and make it complex for the offensive staffs."

Now, Mike Smith didn't specifically say, "Daryl Smith is going to be a defensive lineman at times," and I don't think that's what he meant, either. (So many Smiths on this team!) But he was responding to a question about moving guys around on the line and he happened to throw the linebackers into the mix. I think that Douglas has since heard me speculating on Insider Live that this could mean that the defense will have a sub package or two that includes linebackers up in pass-rushing roles, like you would see in a 3-4. Since Bond seems like a candidate for the same position as Smith – the SAM 'backer – you could see how Douglas would think he would get some opportunities to rush the passer.

Plus, Douglas is right that Bond has shown an ability to get to the quarterback in his past, particularly in junior college. He had three sacks for Oklahoma last year, too, including one in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. At the NFL level, I think that makes him an outside linebacker with pass-rush abilities, not a defensive end. He's listed at 6-1 and 236 pounds, which is actually just a bit smaller than Smith (6-2, 250).

I don't think you're a spoon in a drawer full of knives, Douglas, but I also don't think Devante Bond is necessarily the Swiss Army Knife you're envisioning. Sometimes a spoon is just a spoon.

3. No New Wideouts?

I think the main reason the Bucs didn't draft a wide receiver this year is that the NFL turned down the team's request for a couple extra draft picks. Turns out none of the other teams were giving them away, either. Really disappointing.

My point, S dot Kimble, is that you just can't address every need in a single draft class. You can increase your chances of hitting more of those needs by stockpiling extra draft picks, but that's easier said than done and not a feasible approach every year. And even with small flotilla of picks you're still going to skip some positions, whether it's by design or simply how the draft falls. After a number of trades, the Cleveland Browns ended up with a whopping 14 picks this year but didn't take a single defensive tackle in a draft that was absolutely loaded with them.

So the Buccaneers didn't draft a wide receiver because they did draft a cornerback, and a pass-rushing end, and a kicker, and so on. All of those positions were arguably (I would certainly make the argument) bigger needs than wide receiver. Could the team have used, say, a sixth-round pick on a wide receiver rather than a linebacker or a fullback-slash-tight end-slash whatever Danny Vitale's position should be called? Sure, but how often do sixth-round wide receivers make a big impact? What you want, I assume, is a guy who could add something new to the offense right away and be a potential replacement down the road for, say, Vincent Jackson. I don't think the Bucs had a great chance of finding one of those on the third day of the draft, so you'd have to give up somebody like Noah Spence to get one. Plus, this wasn't considered a particularly strong year for wide receivers, perhaps because so many great ones came out early the last couple years.

In fact, it's not just me saying this. Who would be happier about a draft pick being used on a receiver than receivers coach? Well, here's what Bucs Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach Todd Monken said about this very topic:

"I thought [Tampa Bay's receivers] played well last year in terms of the effort, so we're just trying to build on it and develop some of these younger players. That's part of it. You only get a certain amount of draft picks every year, so the receivers that we have, you have to develop the guys we have. That's draft, develop, free agency, coach better – that's what it is. You've got to draft players and then everybody upstairs counts on me to develop the receivers. That's what I'm paid for first."

The Buccaneers drafted almost exclusively offense in 2014 and 2015. I know I was hoping that we would devote most of this year's draft to restocking the defense, even if that meant you had to pass on a position like wide receiver. That group got Mike Evans two years ago and Kenny Bell last year. Bell didn't play in 2015 after suffering a hamstring injury in August, so he's essentially a new addition to the receiving corps, and potentially an exciting one. As Monken also pointed out, the Bucs have another young draft pick in that group in Evan Spencer, who was taken in the sixth round by Washington a year ago.

"I think we've got a good group of young players," said Monken. "Someone asked me the other day about not having many draft picks to add to the mix, and that's not true. We have Kenny Bell, who was injured last year. We have Evan Spencer; both were draft picks who add to the mix and will get a chance in the slot."

Veteran Louis Murphy, who has proved to be a good third option when healthy the last two years, will also return for training camp, so that's another potential piece to the puzzle. And Vincent Jackson is healthy again after a pair of very unlucky knee injuries limited him quite a bit in 2015. Sure, it would be nice to add talent to every spot on the depth chart every year, but sometimes you have to focus on other spots and do your best to develop the talent you already have.

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