The S.S. Mailbag takes on a variety of topics this week, from the rookie rushing race to a player who could be his university's first-ever NFL product to throwback uniforms, and more. One question I received and did not include was when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would start training camp and which days would be open to the public.
That information has not yet been released by the team, but I expect that it will be very soon. Last year it was released on June 20; in 2016 it came out on June 22. You get the picture. This week's mini-camp wrapped up the offseason program and sent the NFL into its one extended down period before the start of training camp. It's near the beginning of that time, with the offseason program now in the rear view mirror, that the Bucs typically announce their training camp schedule. So stay tuned!
I will give you one little trick, however, when it comes to guessing when training camp will begin. The NFL has a rule that states that teams cannot begin their full-roster training camp more than 15 days before their first preseason games. Now, you won't find too many NFL coaches who are going to give away training days, so most teams are always going to start as soon as they can. That means each year you can look up the date of the Bucs' first preseason game (in this case August 9), count back 15 days and have a pretty good idea of about when camp will start. I'll let you do the math.
Now, on to the questions I did answer.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. As you'll see from time to time, I also unilaterally appropriate for myself – as any good pirate captain would – questions I like that are meant for our Insider Live show or are simply responses to one of my previous tweets. As always, if you'd prefer to email your question and maybe bust past that 280-character limit, you can do so to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does he have a chance? Of course he has a chance. The great thing about rookie running backs is that they often can contribute right away, particularly if they are at least competent in their pass protection. The book on Ronald Jones (RoJo) is that he put some good pass-pro snaps on tape at USC, so that probably won't hold him back.
(By the way, don't be shy about asking fantasy questions. I actually like those! I'll just assume you're a fan of the Buccaneers and fantasy football, like me.)
Now, I don't think Jones is the favorite to lead all rookies in rushing this year. There were a lot of running backs taken early this year – six among the first 43 picks and eight among the first 71, and most of them will have prominent roles on their teams this year. I think the mantle of favorite in the campaign to lead them in rushing has to go to a back with a clear path to the vast majority of carries on his team. So I don't like Sony Michel (Patriots) or Nick Chubb (Browns) in this competition as there are obvious candidates in those places to split backfield time. I'm not sure about Derrius Guice in Washington; I think he could become the bellcow right away but they do still have Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine.
Really, the obvious answer is staring us right in the face. I'd like to get trickier about this, but the running back most likely to lead all rookies in rushing yards this year is the New York Giants' Saquon Barkley. I really went out on a plank there, huh? The second-overall pick in the draft, the player drafted earlier than any other running back since 2006, is going to be the most productive rookie runner? You don't say!
Obviously, Barkley is supremely gifted, but he's also a lock to be the starter and the man taking most of the Giants' handoffs. Joining him on the depth chart is longtime Panther Jonathan Stewart, who is pretty deep into his career, and Wayne Gallman, who got a bit of a look as a rookie but is no threat to Barkley's job. You don't take a running back with the second-overall pick unless you're going to use him a lot. Actually there's a popular school of thought that I should have ended that sentence after, "You don't take a running back with the second-overall pick…" I know Giants G.M. Dave Gettleman has scoffed at that criticism, and he may be right. In any case, the Giants are going to run Barkley early and often, hoping to get a Todd Gurley-type of season out of him.
Could Jones hang with Barkley in the rushing race if he's also getting the lion's share of carries in Tampa? I think so, but I don't think it's clear yet what percentage of the rushing load he will carry. The Buccaneers do still like Peyton Barber quite a bit, and I think they like the contrasting styles that Barber and Jones give the rushing attack. It seems more likely that the Buccaneers will do like most teams do in today's NFL and utilize at least two if not three running backs with great frequency.
That said, the Buccaneers do have a pretty good history of throwing their highly-drafted running backs right into action as rookies and getting good results. Both Warrick Dunn (first-round pick in 1997) and Cadillac Williams (first-round pick in 2005) won Rookie of the Year awards after big seasons. Dunn didn't lead rookies in rushing that year (Cincy's Corey Dillon did) but he did lead them in yards from scrimmage (1,440). Caddy did lead all '05 rookies in rushing despite missing several games due to injury, recording 1,178 yards.
Doug Martin had 1,454 rushing yards in his magnificent rookie campaign of 2012, but that actually was second in the league to Washington's Alfred Morris. Other Buccaneer running backs who had good to great rookie campaigns include a quartet of second-rounders: Mike Alstott (1996), Errict Rhett (1994), Reggie Cobb (1990) and Lars Tate (1988). Alstott made more of an impact as a pass-catcher in his rookie year, while Rhett and Cobb had the misfortune of entering the NFL in the same seasons as Marshall Faulk and Emmitt Smith, respectively.
Assuming injuries don't play a part in the chase for any of the rookie backs involved, Jones's best chance to emerge on top is to come out of the gates hot and provide some early explosive plays, the kind that the Bucs have been craving on offense for the last two years. Director of Player Personnel John Spytek recently told the Good Morning Football crew that Jones brings a new dimension to the offense, something the team hasn't had for a while. If he proves that quickly, the Bucs could choose to stick with the hot hand and give Jones a bigger share of the load.
I saw where you said that Mark Myers could be the first NFL player out of Southeastern University, which is relaly close to where I live. That would be pretty cool for Myers! My question is, would that make him the player in Bucc history with the most surprising or unexpected college background? The only one I can think of-because he's on the team right now-is Ali Marpet, who came from something called Hobart. (I admit I had to look that up.) Maybe there were some really small school players from a long time ago that you would now about. Thought it was worth asking. Thanks!
Tim Dennis, Lakeland (via email to email@example.com)
There have been plenty of players from small schools that have made their marks on Buccaneers history, and Tim is right to note Ali Marpet, who is the first NFL product out of Hobart since the 1930s. Hobart is a Division III school in Geneva, New York, a private liberal arts college that is definitely not known for its athletics. Four Hobart products appeared in the NFL in the 1920s and 1930s, but each one only played a single year. Marpet has already played three seasons all by himself. He's essentially the first real NFL player ever from that program. We might not have to look any farther to find the best answer to your question.
Marko Myers could essentially be the first NFL player from the Southeastern University program, which was only established in 2013 and has only been playing since 2014. Except take out the "essentially" in that sentence, because he could literally be the first Southeastern Fire player to make it on this level. I should note that Myers has in some sense already broken ground by signing with the Buccaneers, but in this case I'm talking about actually playing in the regular season.
(You'll notice that I called him "Marko" instead of "Mark." I'd seen both in print, and I asked him earlier this week which one he prefers. So Marko it is!)
Another Southeastern player, wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez, also signed with the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted free agent this spring and is in line for the same distinction. It would be somewhat neater in Myers' case, if you ask me, because Myers played four full seasons in the Fire program while Gonzalez just transferred in last year. Myers, in fact, was part of the first recruiting class in the program's history.
Okay, to this point I haven't really added much new to what Tim already gave us. He wanted some examples of players from obscure schools who have dotted Bucs history. How about I give him some?
One of my favorite is 1977 quarterback Randy Hedberg, who is one of two players ever out of Minot State, a school in Minot, North Dakota. Hedberg actually started four games for the Buccaneers that year, which is impressive. They, uh, didn't go particularly well, but not much did for the Bucs that season. Hedberg later returned to be the head coach at his alma mater for eight years in the '80s.
- Running back* Ian Smart*, who was born in Jamaica, played his college ball at C.W. Post, which was named after a "breakfast cereal innovator" and I guess is now called "C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University." Eight other C.W. Post alumni got their Kix in the NFL before Smart, but none have done so since he played in four games and returned eight kickoffs for the Bucs in 2004. He clearly was not the school's Lucky Charm.
- Another current Buccaneer, wide receiver Freddie Martino, played his college ball at North Greenville University, a small Baptist school in Tigerville, South Carolina. Honestly, I can't find mention of another NFL player from that program, so perhaps he is the first and only. Fun fact: Freddie's hometown is the wonderfully-named North, South Carolina. Even though that's a very small town of just a few hundred people, it was also home to Chartric "Chuck" Darby, who started next to Warren Sapp in Super Bowl XXXVII.
- Running back Derrick Ward lasted eight years in the NFL after playing his college ball at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, not to be confused with Ottawa University in Ottawa, Ontario. Well, he played one season for the Braves after starting out at Fresno State, but it still counts. Only one of his NFL years (2009) was with the Buccaneers, and it was a pretty memorably bad season, but still. Ottawa had one NFL player in the '30s and another one in the '60s and '70s, but none since Ward.
- Current Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes played at Shippensburg University, which is a school in Pennsylvania with a cool name and a weird-sounding mascot (they're called the Raiders and the mascot is a hawk wearing a pirate hat, because of course). Honestly, it's not that obscure of an origin; Grimes wasn't even the only Shippensburg product in the NFL last year. There was also New Orleans fullback John Kuhn, who had a long career with the Packers and was a fan favorite in Green Bay. Kuhn hasn't yet signed with a team for 2018, so his career may be coming to a close, but even if it is, he lasted 12 years in the league. That's why I brought this one up. There have only been five Shippensburg players who made it in the NFL, but three of them will have played at least a dozen seasons, assuming Grimes is still on the roster this fall (a pretty strong assumption). In addition to Grimes and Kuhn, there was long-time Packers center Rob Davis in the 2000s. That's a pretty amazing success rate.
- Hey, and does "none" count? The Bucs have had four players who attended no college at all: punter Chris Bryan (four games in 2010), defensive end Ray Seals (47 games from 1989-93) and kickers Mirro Roder (two games in 1976) and Garo Yepremian (19 games from 1980-81). Seals, who the Bucs found in a semi-pro league in New York, actually had some pretty good seasons as a pass-rusher in the NFL.
- But here's my final answer to your question, Tim: Vince Anderson. The Buccaneers signed this defensive back well into training camp in 2010, after he had spent the previous year on the Giants' practice squad. He didn't survive the final cuts a few weeks later but did land on the practice squad, and late in November he was promoted to the active roster. When he stepped onto the field against Atlanta on December 5, 2010, Anderson became the first player ever from Webber International to play in the NFL. WIU isn't too far from Tampa; it's a small private school in Babson Park, in Polk County. Anderson would see action in three games that year, which comprised his entire NFL career. Still, he was the first WIU Warrior to play at football's highest level, and that's a notable distinction, one that Myers will try to duplicate.
You won't see throwback uniforms this year, Jake. Teams have to clear it with the NFL more than a year in advance if they are going to wear throwbacks, so we would already know if that was going to happen in the fall of 2018. Sorry if I'm the bearer of bad news on this, but then again, people generally don't expect good things when they see a pirate ship approaching.
As for which uniforms the Bucs should throw back to if the Bucs did throw back, I find that to be an interesting question. Let's discuss!
When the Buccaneers got in on the throwback craze for a stretch of four years, from 2009 to 2012, it was an easy decision. At that point, the team was still wearing the same design it had unveiled in 1997, so the only thing to throw back to was the orange and red uniforms the Bucs originally wore from 1976 through 1996.
And it was great! Fans really got into the orange; I honestly think it was much more popular as a throwback than it ever had been when the team was wearing it every week. Maybe it's better in small doses, or maybe absence just made some hearts grow fonder. In any case, the Bucs got into it, not only bringing back the old colors and logos but totally decking out Raymond James Stadium in orange.
Of course, the franchise subsequently unveiled a new look in 2014. The basic colors and logos stayed the same but were updated in a variety of ways. One of the biggest changes was a much bigger flag on both sides of the helmet. Though it wasn't the complete overhaul of 1997, the new uniforms are distinctly different from the ones the team wore from 1997 through 2013.
So now, theoretically, you could throw back to first red-and-pewter set or continue to bring back the original orange togs. As Jake points out, throwing back to the middle set could even have something of a theme – you could specifically say you were bringing back the uniforms of the 2002 Super Bowl season for a cameo. From the standpoint of emotional resonance, I think that would probably beat out another run in orange.
That said, I think I would still pull for a complete throwback to the early days, simply because the difference in the uniforms would be far more stark. I think if you are going to wear throwbacks, you want to go back to a look that is completely different from what you have now, like when the Packers end up in blue and yellow or the Steelers break out those shirts with the stripes and the numbers in white boxes.
Anyway, that's a conversation for another day because, as I said, throwbacks are not on the table in 2018.