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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pivotal Year for Class of 2022

The Buccaneers’ 2022 rookie class will play a critical role in the team’s 2023 success

Class of 2022 Write-Up

Each year across the NFL landscape, the old adage "second year leap" is manifested on the gridiron. The axiom expresses a generalized truth that players entering Year Two in the NFL will make progress between the hash marks after obtaining a year of experience donning a jersey in the pros. Last year at this time, the 2022 rookie class underwent the acclimation period of learning to be a Buccaneer. Running back Rachaad White was trying to cement his role alongside veteran Leonard Fournette. After playing right tackle in college at Central Michigan, Luke Goedeke was making the transition to left guard. Tight end Cade Otton absorbed instruction from veteran Cam Brate and strived to gain the trust of Tom Brady. 

Now, the page turns and the next chapter awaits for the Bucs' 2022 rookie class. The aforementioned trio will play a vital part in the success of the team in 2023 as they take on increased roles in Dave Canales' implemented offense. 

"It is a really good opportunity for us to get the ball into our hands," Cade Otton stated. "Just, easy completions is a big thing in this offense making it easy on the quarterback and then for us as tight ends, getting the ball early on downs and trying to make plays down the field. So, that is a really exciting opportunity for us…In this offense in general there is going to be more bootlegs and that poses different challenges and just getting the ball in different places. So, no matter what, you are still going to have to make plays after the catch and makes plays at the seam. It will come at different spots and different tempos."

In Canales' play-action-centric and run-heavy system, there will be an emphasis on movement. The retooled RPO system is expected to feature an uptick in bootlegs, misdirection, jet sweeps, wide zone runs and mid-zone which will cultivate "tells" by the defense, fostering a quarterback-friendly offense. The designed goal is to get weapons in space, whether the catalyst is Rachaad White bouncing a run outside, Cade Otton exploiting soft zones over the middle of the field or Luke Goedeke extending a block downfield. The added threat of a quarterback run off a read option puts added stress on defenses, as does multiple tight end sets.

"The one message he [Dave Canales] always says is, 'It's players over plays,'" said Tight End coach John Van Dam. "We're going to put the best guys on the field like we always will do to have success, whether that is three tight ends, whether that is one tight end or whether that is zero tight ends. That is our mentality in even our room – we are going to do whatever we need to do to win football games. Dave will put us in the best position to do that." 

With the departure of Cam Brate and Kyle Rudolph during the offseason, Otton will assume the role of TE1 on the depth chart. Last season, Otton was used as the prototypical 'Y' tight end and showcased the ability to become the featured playmaker for the Bucs' offense. He led all rookie tight ends with 42 receptions in 2022 and that number is poised to increase in 2023. Otton was a threat underneath and out of the flat, producing 19 first downs last season. He sustained hard hits in traffic down the seam and managed to consistently box out defenders at the catch point and sustain blocks. Whether Otton flashes in the form of a chip-and-release route, a blitz pickup or in-breaking route, he will be a key factor in the Bucs' 2023 offensive attack. 

The run game will be accentuated come fall, with Rachaad White likely serving as the beneficiary.

 In 2022, White tallied 469 snaps (38.57%). He concluded his rookie campaign with 481 yards on 129 rushes and a touchdown for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt. In the passing game, White amassed 290 yards on 50 receptions and two touchdowns. His development in pass protection on chips/stalk blocks allowed him to stay on the field for all three downs. Facing Todd Bowles' attack-styled defense daily in practice accelerated the learning curve for White and fostered development. The Bucs' reimagined run game in 2023 will look to distance itself from the 2022 output. Tampa Bay finished last in the league in rushing offense in 2022, averaging 76.9 yards per game on the ground (franchise worst). Falling behind dictated the tempo of games for Tampa Bay, forcing a pass-heavy script in a perpetual cycle of catch-up. Canales will aim to revive the Bucs' ground attack in 2023 and White's slash-running style fits the mold. He is a natural runner in the open field, with contact balance while jump-cutting and burst getting north. White possesses both inside-outside flexibility to take the Bucs' run game to new heights. 

"[I am focused on] getting better every day, getting my plays down so I can play fast," White described. "At the end of the day, it is a team game. I am focused on me and doing my job and it all comes down to my work out there, getting better footwork, getting stronger and learning in the meeting room on how to be better. Obviously, going up against this defense gives you different looks to sharpen up your tools."

Like last offseason, the Bucs' offensive line will undergo a shuffle. Stalwart Tristan Wirfs will switch to the left side of the formation and second-year player Luke Goedeke will revert back to his natural position at right tackle.

"Right now, he's [Luke Goedeke] trending towards right tackle," Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin remarked. "I think Dave has already told you guys that Tristan and Matt are on the left and now he's penciled in on the right."

Goedeke won the starting gig next to Robert Hainsey at left guard during the outset of the 2022 season. Prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay, he was a two-year starter in Central Michigan's zone-blocking scheme at right tackle, filling their vacancy. He consistently drove defenders off their spot at the collegiate ranks and made the switch to left guard in the pros. Goedeke started the first seven games of the 2022 season on the left before suffering a foot injury in the club's 21-3 loss to the Panthers, thrusting Nick Leverett into the lineup. The coaching staff had begun using both interchangeably at the left guard position and given Leverett's production during Goedeke's absence, he solidified a permanent gig in the interior of the line. Goedeke eventually served as the right tackle during the Bucs' regular-season finale at Atlanta and looked comfortable in the role. After facing a myriad of the league's best three-techniques last year, Goedeke endured unfair evaluations during his first-year campaign, drawing comment from General Manager Jason Licht at the Pro Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"Well, I think Luke last year – as a rookie coming in from playing right tackle at Central Michigan to left guard, which is a move to the other side which is never easy – started the season off well, but then went through a gauntlet of some of the top premier three-techniques in the NFL," Licht described. "He was maybe a bit unfairly evaluated for a rookie. I think he is going to take a big step up."

After building muscle memory on the left side of the line in 2022, Goedeke will revert back to the right side. In Year Two with a fresh slate, Goedeke will be tasked with mitigating the opposition's pass rush arsenal. With his power, athleticism, center of gravity and ability to anchor in pass protection, Goedeke will work to solidify his role as the Bucs' starting right tackle in 2023.

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