A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 3 matchup with the Vikings.
For most NFL teams, in most in-season weeks, Tuesday is the player's day off. It's a chance to rest, regroup and – win or lose the previous weekend – turn the page to the next opponent.
It's also a perfect time for us to discuss the hottest topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for that reason, the One Buc Mailbag is back! Every Tuesday, I'll be fielding a handful of questions from the fans, but you can send them in all throughout the week. The easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter (@ScottSBucs, using #BucsMailbag), but if 140 characters aren't quite enough to get your point across, you can also send an email to email@example.com.
This week, we discuss Ali Marpet's move to center and expectations for the next game, and then finish with one more Hard Knocks question. Let's get to it.
1. Marpet's Move?
I should mention, I occasionally grab questions sent to me on Twitter for the mailbag even if they don't have the hashtag. Sometimes a fan's question concerns a topic in which I think other fans may have interest, and this is such a case.
Tyler's question springs from my tweet regarding Dirk Koetter's unequivocal statement that the Buccaneers are going to continue playing Ali Marpet at center. That statement was in response to a question about Marpet having a few off-target shotgun snaps on Sunday in Minnesota. Koetter was making it clear than any growing pains for Marpet in his position switch were not going to derail the plan. Koetter clearly believes that Marpet is destined to be a very good NFL center.
Tyler's question is fair, though. The Bucs traded up into the bottom of the second round in 2015 to grab Marpet, who had played his college ball at the Division III school of Hobart. They had fallen in love with him during the pre-draft scouting process and believed he could step right in at guard (he played tackle at Hobart) despite the big jump up in competition level. They were right, and Marpet had two very good seasons at right guard to start his career. He might have eventually risen to Pro Bowl status there.
So the question is, if Marpet was already a very promising guard, why move him to center? I believe there are two answers to this.
One of them is more immediate. The Bucs have pretty good depth and experience on the offensive line, particularly at the interior spots. Former starters Evan Smith and Joe Hawley are now reserves (though Smith is splitting snaps at left guard with Kevin Pamphile right now). That depth was spiked when guard J.R. Sweezy, a big 2016 free agency acquisition who unfortunately missed all of last season with a back ailment, returned to the field in the spring. Koetter mentioned the team's plan for the O-Line repeatedly throughout the offseason and training camp: Get the five best players on the field.
Sweezy fits best at right guard, where he played in Seattle and was a rugged run-blocker. Pamphile proved in 2016 that he was a starting-caliber guard after converting from center. Marpet is clearly one of the team's five best linemen and needs to be on the field. So how do you get three guards into the starting lineup? Make one of them a center.
Now, you don't just do this on a whim. You need to believe that the converted guard is indeed going to be a very good center, and you need to believe you're better off with him on the pivot. That's the key right there, and the second part of this answer.
The Bucs clearly like Hawley as a center. He has history with Koetter from Atlanta. He started most of the last two seasons and he plays with an intensity that rubs off on his teammates. But Marpet is a bigger player and the Bucs like the idea of him and two large guards forming a bigger, more secure wall in front of Jameis Winston. Winston is tall enough to see the field over those linemen, so that's not an issue. Like Hawley, Marpet is also a very smart player, so it makes sense to put him in a position where his mind is more of an asset. The center is essentially the quarterback of the offensive line.
Yes, Marpet had a few less-than-perfect snaps on Sunday, in his first NFL regular-season road game. It was quite loud and that was probably a factor. He will need to get better at handling those situations, but that's part of his process of becoming a standout center. Diverting from the plan after a couple bad snaps wouldn't make much sense and would disrupt at least two positions in the middle of the season.
2. Back on Track?
There is not a single thing I will see this Sunday that will convince me that the Buccaneers are Super Bowl contenders.
Of course, there's nothing that will convince me, on October 1, three games into a 16-game slate, that the Buccaneers are not Super Bowl contenders. I'm sorry, in this early season of inexplicable results, it will be far too early at the end of Week Four (really, Week Three for Tampa Bay) to say with authority which teams are going to be there at the end.
I mean, in just the last two weeks, the Buccaneers easily handled Chicago, the Bears upset Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh wiped out Minnesota and the Vikings rolled over the Buccaneers. Which result out of those do you want to believe as the baseline truth?
But I'm just being difficult here. I get what you're really asking. After a great opener, the game in Minnesota was like a splash of cold water to the face. You see the injuries mounting up, you see the defense having some of the same big-play issues it had early last year, and you see turnovers from the quarterback and you start envisioning how this season we all consider so promising could go downhill.
So what you're really asking me (I think) is, what would l like to see on Sunday against the Giants that would restore my confidence that that this season is going to go more like the way we originally envisioned it. Personally, I'm adhering to Coach Koetter's frequent admonition to not get too high with the great games or too low with the bad ones. I'm not panicking after one loss, even if it was an ugly one. But it's fair to hope for some sights in the Giants contest that would be uplifting to the soul.
You took the first answer, FJ, though I would pedantically say that I would like to see fewer interceptions, not less interceptions. (Sorry. Sometimes I can't help myself on those. My wife really loves that.) This is an obvious and clear first choice, but that doesn't make it wrong. Game results hinge on turnover ratio, we all know that. Some games the Bucs' defense is going to provide takeaways, as they did against the Bears. Some games they won't, and if the offense is giving the ball away in those games, it's well-nigh impossible to win.
Pictures of some of the Giants' top players.
I'm not concerned about that being a problem yet. This offseason, Winston worked hard to hone his decision making and get better at recognizing when it makes sense to take a chance. I think we've seen the results in the preseason and through much of the first two regular-season games. His first interception in Minnesota was a good decision but one of what were very few poor throws in that game. His second interception apparently came from a bad zone-vs.-man read of the defense. The last one, yes he forced it in there, but given that the Bucs were down by two touchdowns with about five minutes left, it was somewhat understandable.
So if we see a clean game with good decision-making from Winston throughout, that will make me more confident in the immediate future. What else? My next pick would be a more robust pass rush. I know that injuries have played a factor in this, but however it is achieved the Buccaneers need to affect the quarterback more before his throws. The Bucs got pretty good pressure on Mike Glennon, albeit with only one sack, but they didn't harass Case Keenum much. It is so much harder for a secondary to hold up for 60 game minutes when the quarterback consistently has time to throw. The pieces are there, if healthy: Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker on the inside and young Noah Spence leading a rotation on the edges.
One more? Well I've been a bit surprised at the Bucs' troubles on third downs on defense so far. They had the best third-down defense in the league last year, but this year opponents have converted on 51.9% of their attempts. A third-down stop is akin to a turnover; it's a way to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense. The Bucs don't have to be the best in the league again for the defense to be playoff-caliber, but it needs to be better than 51.9%. Admittedly, this is partially a function of the note above. A good pass-rush will stop a lot of third downs.
3. Encore Performance?
Hey, scott. Bucs fan since the 80s here. I absolutely loved the hard knocks show with the Bucs. I'm pretty sure a couple teams have been on the show more than once. Is there any chance the team liked it so much that they would volunteer to be on again next year? I wish it was on the Bucs every year- you get to see so many things you don't otherwise. Is this just wishful thinking on my part?
Thanks for taking my question,
Paul Carroll, displaced Tampa native, still a Bucs fan
Unfortunately, Paul, I think it is just wishful thinking. I'd be shocked if Hard Knocks was back in Tampa next year, or anytime soon.
You're right though, it was great. And this is coming from someone who originally was a little bit skeptical about the experience. Once I realized how happy I would be about the opportunity to peer behind the curtain if I was a fan of the team in question, I changed my mind and decided it was a good thing to be chosen. And we weren't disappointed, were we? I've been with this team for quite a long time, and there were things in those five hours of TV that I've never seen before, either. What an incredible opportunity that was.
Still, while Coach Koetter (and the rest of the team) made sure that the omnipresence of the cameras wasn't a distraction, I don't think he would sign up for it again next year. As he said after it was all over, Koetter is a fan of the show but not a fan of being on it. I think it was a great experience that doesn't necessarily need to be duplicated for a while.
You're right that Hard Knocks has returned to the same location before. Both Dallas and Cincinnati have been the show's subject twice, but never in consecutive years. The Cowboys' appearances fell six years apart (including the 2003-06 seasons when the show did not air). The Bengals were on in the summer of 2009 and then again in 2003.
As you may or may not know, there are now some guidelines in place as to how teams are chosen for the show. There are several qualifiers that allow teams to remove themselves from consideration, which usually leads to a pool of about eight or nine possibilities. Teams in that pool can be compelled to be on the show, though there is usually a volunteer. Teams are exempt for one of three reasons: They've been on the show in the past 10 years, they have a first-year head coach or they reached the playoffs in either of the past two years.
That first one means the Bucs don't have to agree to be on the show again for another decade if they so choose. Hopefully the second qualifier won't be in play for quite some time, and hopefully the third one will be, and soon. It would be a massive surprise and an unprecedented occurrence if Hard Knocks came back to Tampa for a second year in a row.
Though it would be a good show!