Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: Rare Opportunities

Now that Super Bowl LV is likely headed to Tampa, could the Bucs do something no other team has ever done…Plus safety preferences and O-Line conversions.

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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, following the news that the Tampa Bay area is likely to play host to Super Bowl LV in 2021, we take a look at the history of teams trying get home field advantage in the biggest game. Also, one fan wants to know why the Bucs chose Justin Evans over some other safety options, and another asks about the history of converting guards to centers, as the Bucs may do with Ali Marpet.*

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. Home Field Advantage

At least one team dreams of this every year (two when it was at the Meadowlands) but none has yet to make that dream come true.

That's right – no team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that the streak is still alive. I mean, we've had 51 of the dang things by now, and there have been between 24 and 32 teams in the league (or leagues, before the merger) in each of those 51 seasons. I know it's not as mathematically simple as saying, '51 chances and 24-32 teams,' but it does seem like some conference champ would have lucked into a home game on Super Bowl Sunday by now.

Of course, there are plenty of teams that have never had the opportunity, and aren't likely to get one in the foreseeable future. I don't think they'll be playing a Super Bowl in Buffalo anytime soon. It's the Dolphins or the Saints or the Rams/Chargers or … hey! … the Buccaneers who are the best bets.

Yes, the obvious reason this came up was Tuesday's sudden and shockingly-great news that Tampa is in line to play host to Super Bowl LV (that's 55) at the end of the 2020 season. The game would be played in February of 2021, and that's not nearly as far away as it sounds. The new decade will be on us before you know it, and Tampa will likely be the center of the football world again, for the fifth time. The game was originally going to be played in Los Angeles but a delay in the construction of the Rams' new stadium means the big game had to find a new home. It's not terribly surprising that the first choice was Tampa, as the Bay area has been pretty close to winning several other recent Super Bowl bids.

The Tampa Bay area has been the home to four previous Super Bowls: XVIII in January of 1984, XXV in January of 1991, XXXV in January of 2001 and XLIII in February of 2009. It would be pretty cool of Super Bowl LV is indeed played at Raymond James Stadium, as expected, because that would mean the 25th, 35th and 55th Super Bowls all came to the Bay area.

For the Buccaneers, the two Super Bowls that had the team and the whole area dreaming of a big-game homecoming were the ones following the 2000 and the 2008 seasons, and especially the former. In 1999, Tampa Bay went all the way to the NFC Championship Game in St. Louis and came within minutes of winning its way to the Super Bowl, falling 11-6 after grounding the Greatest Show on Turf. After that, it was certainly reasonable for the Bucs to be considered one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the next Super Bowl, especially after the big offseason trade for Keyshawn Johnson.

The Bucs did make the playoffs in 2000 but lost in the Wild Card round. By the time they had climbed all the way to the top, two years later, the Super Bowl was in San Diego. (No complaints on that front.) In 2008, the Bucs were once again coming off a playoff appearance the year before, and they raced out to a 9-3 record. A division title was in reach, and the possibility of playing the Super Bowl at home was still alive…and then the Bucs lost their last four games and missed out completely. That was Jon Gruden's final season at the helm.

Personally, I hope we don't have to wait until February of 2021 to see the Bucs back in the Super Bowl; maybe Jameis Winston will be looking for his second ring by then. Still, it will be fun trying to be the first team to accomplish that feat, provided it isn't done this year by Minnesota, the following year by Atlanta or the one after that by Miami.

Two teams have participated in a Super Bowl very close to home, but not in the same stadiums they played in that season. The San Francisco 49ers played Super Bowl XIX in Stanford Stadium but their own home venue was Candlestick Park. The Los Angeles Rams played Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl, rather than their own home of the Coliseum.

I guess you could also say a team got close to playing a Super Bowl at home if it lost its conference championship game in a year when the final game was scheduled for its home park. Surprisingly (again), even that hasn't happened. The Texans made the playoffs and won a game last year but didn't make it to the AFC title game before Super Bowl LI was staged in their home park. Heck, the Colts were good for about a million years in a row, and then they put the Super Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium after the 2011 season and Indy completely bottomed out in its transition year from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. It's almost like there's some kind of curse!

*2. Safety Rankings *

Scott,  When picking Justin Evans in the draft with safeties still available like Obi Melifonwu, what is it, may I ask, that tilted our decision away from Obi and more towards selecting Justin Evans? Obi seemed to have the bigger size, height, vertical, broad, and 40. What do we see/like/prefer in Evans?

​Thank you in advance.​ -- Denver JohnsonIn a word, Denver, I'd say "production."*By the way, before I go any farther, let me share that I verified that the questioner here is *not the same Denver Johnson the Buccaneers drafted in the eighth round in 1981. That would have been pretty cool. The player drafted by the Bucs in '81 never got into an NFL regular-season game but he did play three seasons in the NFL, followed by a long and successful college coaching career. In fact, he's currently the head coach at Missouri Southern. So, yeah, that's not particularly relevant to the discussion, but I found it interesting. **

Anyway, back to Justin Evans. Let's be clear: This was a very good draft for safeties, considered one of the deepest in years. They went early and they went often. Jamal Adams was drafted sixth overall, Malik Hooker 15th and Jabrill Peppers 25th. Three more went among the first 10 picks of the second round – Budda Baker, Marcus Maye and Marcus Williams. And then the Buccaneers were thrilled that Evans was still sitting there for them at #50. One gets the impression that, in a normal draft with fewer great safeties on the board, those guys picked in the second round might have slid up into the first round. Here's what General Manager Jason Licht had to say about Evans on the night he was drafted:*"He's a big hitter. He's a tough guy, he's smart. We talked yesterday about guys that are the right kind of guys and we feel that he is one of those guys. [We] spent a lot of time with him during this process, had him in for a visit, workouts, Combine, all that stuff. [He] just kept growing on us more and more. He's not afraid to stick his head in there, that's for sure. He's rangy, he makes a lot of plays on the ball, he plays with a lot of anticipation. He's got good speed, ball skills, so he's going to be in the mix too, to compete for a starting role." READ: BUCS ADD INTERNATIONAL PLAYER*

The safety alternative that Denver mentions above is UConn's Obi Melifonwu, who went six picks later to the Raiders. There were other options, too. Josh Jones was picked 61st by the Packers and several more came off the board in the third round. Why did the Bucs' like Evans over those other options? Like I said, I think production had a lot to do with it. Yes, Melifonwu showed off very impressive athleticism at the Combine, much like his former UConn teammate, Byron Jones, did two years ago. I do not know what Buccaneer scouts really thought of Melifonwu; obviously they liked Evans better, but they could have had both players rated very highly. I do know that Evans had superior production at the college level, including four interceptions last year. You know the Bucs want more of that out of their secondary. He's also an aggressive hitter, maybe too aggressive at times, as Licht conceded after the draft. That's a coaching issue.

I know Melifonwu opened a lot of eyes with what he did at the Combine, but Evans is also a superb athlete. In fact, after starring in both baseball and football in high school, he actually went to college to play baseball initially. The football coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast College, where Evans went for baseball, was a former NFL player who talked Evans into playing football, too. After two very good years for Gulf Coast, he was the top-rated JuCo safety headed to Division I in 2015. After the Bucs' OTA practice on Thursday, I asked Defensive Backs Coach Brett Maxie why the Buccaneers specifically liked Evans in such a deep safety class. I did not ask him to compare Evans to the other safeties, but get this: It sounds like the Bucs might have even taken him over some of the safeties that were drafted before pick #50.*"I just thought he was in the conversation with the top two guys, based on the way he played and the athlete that he was," said Maxie. "I thought he was just as good as those top two safeties that were coming out. I think he has a complete game, in terms of physical play, in terms of understand the game, his ball skills and his athletic ability." Obviously, we'll need a couple years to see if the Buccaneers got their safety rankings right. If Evans is as productive as players like Adams and Hooker, then the pick will be a home run. If safeties taken after him, Melifonwu or whomever, end up being clearly superior players, well then, we might have re-evaluate that decision. We'll see! 3. Becoming Centered With Ali Marpet attempting to move to center, I have two questions. Ali spent two years at guard before moving to center. I believe that Ryan Kalil spent one year at guard before becoming a pro bowl center. How common is it for a player to start at guard then move to center. Maybe a better way of asking is, how often do players get drafted and start at center their first year? Ali is know to sweat a lot. Is there any concern with him handling the ball. Thank you, Jim Griffiths Lenoir, NC *Honestly, Jim, I like football research, but I think it might take me quite some time to study the frequency of drafted guards moving to center versus players being drafted directly to play center. We can look at some recent drafts quickly. According to the excellent reference site DraftHistory.com, there were seven players drafted this year who were identified specifically as centers. Who knows if they all actually start their careers at center, though. The Seahawks, for instance, used the 58th overall pick on LSU's All-American center Ethan Pocic but he may actually end up at right tackle in Seattle.

Still, there are plenty of recent examples of players being drafted specifically to play center. The Colts did so last year at #18 (which is high for a center to be drafted) with Ryan Kelly, and he started all 16 games at center. Colorado State's Weston Richburg was identified as a center when the Giants drafted him at #43 in 2014, and he has indeed turned into a very good NFL center. Probably the most prominent example from recent years is Travis Frederick, drafted #31 overall by the Cowboys in 2013. I remember some analysts panning the pick, suggesting it was too high for a center, but Frederick has been a three-time Pro Bowler and well worth that draft status.

Again, it's a bit much to try to identify all the instances of an offensive lineman moving from another position to center, but it obviously happens. The Bucs' own Evan Smith was a guard when he got his first few opportunities to start in Green Bay, then moved to center for good in 2013. He started at center for Tampa Bay in 2014 after signing as an unrestricted free agent, but in the two seasons since has been a valuable and versatile fill-in at all three interior-line spots.

Pictures from the Bucs' OTA practice on Thursday.

I'm not sure your example of Ryan Kalil is right on the money, though. He was a highly-decorated center at USC and identified as a center when he was drafted in 2007. I think he got a little playing time at guard during his rookie season but otherwise has been a starting center for the Panthers for a decade.

Ali Marpet actually played tackle at Division III Hobart but it was clear that he was going to be an interior lineman in the NFL. The Buccaneers obviously liked him first as a guard, but as you mentioned Jim, they are now actively experimenting with the idea of moving him to center. So far in the first week of OTAs, that's exactly where he's been working on the first-team offensive line. Now, the Buccaneers' current coaching staff has been cross-training pretty much all of their interior linemen at center for the last couple years. Obviously, Smith and Joe Hawley can both play it, and Kevin Pamphile has worked at snapping the ball. Still, that's mostly for the purpose of having flexibility on game days. The Bucs want Pamphile to be able to play center if needed; that doesn't mean they're actively thinking about moving him there permanently.

It seems to be different with Marpet. The Buccaneers obviously believe that their best starting five might include Marpet at center instead of guard. On one hand, that's a way to get both Pamphile and J.R. Sweezy into the lineup, if they are eventually judged to be the team's two best guards. But it's also a nod to the idea that Marpet may make an even greater impact at center after two very good years at guard.

Pictures from the Buccaneers' OTA practice on Tuesday.

So I asked someone who would know, Buccaneers' Offensive Line Coach George Warhop, what a team might see in a specific player that would prompt them to move him from guard to center.

"I've done it multiple times," said Warhop of shepherding a player through such a transition. First of all, he's got to be smart. He's got to have a good intellect and he's got to have a good feel for the game, naturally. Then he has to have good athletic ability, good lateral movement skills and good at the second level. And the other thing is, we like guys at center who finish, because the center tends to set the tone for down-the-field finishing and whatnot. So: smart, leadership skills, good athletic ability and the ability to finish downfield."

I think that sums up Marpet pretty well, and makes it clear why the Bucs are potentially making this move. And as for whether or not Marpet's sweating is an issue, Warhop laughed that off: "All of our guys get sweaty out there!"

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