S.S. Mailbag: Defining Roles

JWat

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their 2019 preseason schedule on Friday night in Pittsburgh, marking the sideline debut of new Head Coach Bruce Arians. However, the Buccaneers will be without the services of one of their most experienced and productive players, inside linebacker Lavonte David. David recently had a procedure to address a torn meniscus in his left knee and will be sidelined for "a little while," according to Arians.

This is not a great tragedy. David is a starter and starters rarely play very long into the first preseason game anyway. This would be a more pressing problem for the Buccaneers if David was still on the shelf when the regular-season games begin in September, but Arians said that is not a concern. Barring some setback, David should be in the lineup as one of the team's two starting ILBs, next to rookie first-rounder Devin White.

And that's a comfort for Buccaneer fans, who have become used to seeing David patrolling the middle of the defense and producing year after year. David has occasionally missed games – two in 2014 and five over the course of the last two seasons – but he's never missed an opening game. In fact, if he is in the lineup on September 8 when the Buccaneers open the regular season against San Francisco, he will join a very exclusive club in franchise history.

That would mark David's eighth straight opening-game start for the Buccaneers, something only eight other players in team history have done. Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, the franchise's most obvious ironmen, lead the pack but there are other notable names on the list:

Most Consecutive Opening-Game Starts for the Buccaneers

1t. Ronde Barber: 14 (1999-2012)

1t. Derrick Brooks: 14 (1995-2008)

3. Tony Mayberry: 10 (1990-99)

4t. Gerald McCoy: 9 (2010-18)

4t. Warren Sapp: 9 (1995-2003)

4t. Lee Roy Selmon: 9 (1976-84)

7t. Mike Washington: 8 (1981-88)

7t. James Wilder: 8 (1981-88)

All three of the Buccaneers' Hall-of-Fame players is on the list, and Barber may eventually join them in Canton. The list also includes David's long-time teammate, Gerald McCoy, and the franchise's all-time leading rusher in James Wilder.

So we won't miss David too much on Friday night when the preseason begins, but we'll certainly be rooting for him to make history with an opening-game start a month from now. Now, on to your questions!

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. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Who will be the rookie with the most impact this year on offense?

- joarmartinez18, via Instagram

That's a good question because, while the defense could eventually end up with three or four rookies playing prominent roles and possibly starting, the offense isn't in need of much immediate help from the youngsters. In fact, I wrote just a couple days ago about how that unit has had an unusual amount of continuity and stability, which Jameis Winston thinks is going to be a big plus this year. Tampa Bay's first depth chart, just released two days ago, doesn't have a single rookie listed in the first or second spots at any position.

By default you'd probably have to go with Scotty Miller, the small but speedy receiver the Bucs drafted out of Bowling Green in April, as you would think he has the best shot of winning a roster spot. But even if he does, there isn't necessarily an obvious path to significant playing time with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson plus a pair of pass-happy tight ends in front of him. It's pretty much the exact situation that Watson was in as a rookie last year, and he ended up with three targets and one catch on the year. This whole thing is also complicated by the hamstring injury that has recently sidelined Miller.

You could alternately be higher on undrafted rookies Anthony Johnson or DaMarkus Lodge. Still, if either of them makes the roster instead, they'd still be in the same place in the pecking order as Miller. The only other possibility I see is undrafted running back Bruce Anderson, but even if he makes it I'm not sure he's seeing immediate playing time in the offense. Think of Shaun Wilson last year.

But I really hate to give you what is essentially an "n/a" of an answer, so how about this: Let me add one word to your question and then try again. "Who will be the rookie with the most impact this year on THE offense?" You asked me for a player on offense who will have an impact. By adding that one word, now it can be interpreted as any player who would have an impact on the offense. And that rookie could be kicker Matt Gay.

Gay is listed among the specialists on the depth chart, not with the offense, but he could still have an effect on what those offensive players do, or more to the point, how the coaches strategize with those players. A fifth-round draft pick out of Utah with a big leg, Gay has made field goals between 55 and 62 yards look routine during the first two weeks of training camp. If he wins the kicking job over incumbent veteran Cairo Santos, who has also had a very strong camp, he could give the Bucs a different kind of weapon than they are used to having in the kicking game.

If Gay shows he really can routinely make extra-long field goals in games, that would almost certainly play into the decision-making for Bruce Arians when his offense is between midfield and the opposing 35-yard line. That's why I say this is the one rookie with the best chance of having an impact on the offense.

Hi Scott,

As a rookie it was discussed the Devante might be a good stand up pass rushing linebacker. Since versatility can be important to a player making the team I wonder if he has been getting some snaps as an OLB in this new defense?

- Jim Griffiths of Lenoir, NC, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com

That's a good question, Jim, and for those who don't know, he's talking about fourth-year linebacker Devante Bond, who is designated as an inside linebacker in the Buccaneers' new 3-4 base defense. Jim wants to know if Bond might do a little cross-training and work with the outside linebackers, who spend most of their time rushing the passer off the edge. Carl Nassib, for instance, was a "defensive end" in the Bucs' previous defense but is now referred to as an outside linebacker, or OLB.

There's a couple reasons why I'm complimenting Jim for his question here. One, he's right to say that versatility is a very big advantage when it comes to earning a roster spot. Just look at this quote from Bruce Arians regarding that aforementioned initial depth chart, which was released yesterday:

"It's changing every day. Guys who can play different positions will move up; guys who are stuck in one position will move down."

And, two, Jim is also correct in that, when the Buccaneers drafted Bond in the sixth round back in 2016, they did indeed bring up the possibility that Bond might have some value as an occasional edge rusher. He showed that ability at times while playing at Oklahoma. There was even a stretch late in the 2017 season, when the Buccaneers' defensive end depth chart was depleted by injuries, that Bond and fellow linebacker Kendell Beckwith saw a little work in that capacity. Nothing really came of it, though; Bond recorded just one quarterback pressure.

All of that said, I don't think is necessarily something the team is going to have Bond, or any of their "inside" linebackers do. To answer Jim's question directly, no I have not seen Bond do any individual-drill work or take any team snaps at outside linebacker. And with Lavonte David now sidelined for a little while, the Bucs are going to need some more snaps from ILB reserves like Bond.

And here's why I think that, even while acknowledging the importance of positional flexibility, I don't think you're going to see Bond playing outside linebacker: Todd Bowles is more than happy to rush the passer with his inside linebackers. That's something we definitely have seen on the practice field during training camp, and not just once or twice. I know the Buccaneers think their top two ILBs, David and rookie Devin White, are good blitzers; if Bond does indeed possess the talents to make an impact as a pass-rusher in the NFL, he can do it from the position he currently plays.

Hi Scott,

Is there any recent news on Kendall Beckwith?

- Chris Howard, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com

Well, there hasn't been any new news for some time, but my guess is that the last development regarding Beckwith slipped by you, Chris. The Buccaneers placed Beckwith on the reserve/non-football injury (NFI) list on May 10, the same day they signed a bunch of undrafted free agents and pushed the roster to its 90-man offseason maximum. Once on that list, Beckwith stopped counting against that 90-man limit.

There have been no subsequent roster moves regarding Beckwith in the three months since. Beckwith's placement on that list means he will not play for the Buccaneers in 2019. I don't wish to speculate about his NFL future because, as I said, there's been no further information released since May. Anything on his future should probably come from Kendell himself. What I do know is that he was on the receiving end of some pretty terrible luck, given that he was coming off a very promising 2017 rookie season when he sustained an ankle injury in an offseason car accident last year.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

**

Speed Round!

What’s your prediction for Winston’s passing yards?

zachroberts31, via Instagram

Jameis Winston has averaged 261.2 passing yards per game during the first four years of his career, and that average has gone up each season, from 252.6 in 2015 to 255.6 in 2016 to 269.5 in 2017 to 272.0 last year. I'm actually not going to predict that trend continues because I expect a better rushing attack and thus a more balanced offense in 2019, plus hopefully fewer second-half air-it-out sessions during attempted comebacks.

So, let's just go with his career yards per game average. Next prediction is that he starts all 16 games; injuries are a somewhat uncontrollable part of that, but I don't think he'll get pulled for performance. Easy math, then: 261.2 times 16 equals 4,179.2 yards. Four thousand-yard seasons are hardly rare in the NFL anymore, and Winston already has two of them. I'll take that as a starting point but walk it back to 4,100 yards to be safe. Boom.

Who’s the starting nickel?

- carsoningber, via Instagram

Until we see otherwise, it's M.J. Stewart. He's getting the snaps in practice so far. I don't think that battle is over and I'd personally like to see what rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting can do in there, but for now it appears to be Stewart.

Will Lavonte David be 100% by game 1?

- _zoom.031, via Instagram

I really hate speculating on injuries because it seems like I guess wrong most of the time. But the extent to which Arians is stressing that David's injury is not a serious thing and not a threat to the regular season makes me believe that's the case. I suppose if he is only cleared in the week of the first game he might need to knock off a little rust, but I'll happily take a 95% Lavonte David in the starting lineup.

When does Bucs camp end?

- nick.n.10, via Instagram

The official last practice of training camp is next Wednesday, August 14. That's the second of two joint practices with the Miami Dolphins before the two teams meet for a game at Raymond James Stadium that Friday, August 16. The Bucs also have a practice on their own on Monday of next week, and all three of those workouts are open to the general public. Click here for more information.

Of course, the only thing that really changes when camp "ends" is the public availability and the team's daily schedule. The Bucs will continue to work at the AdventHealth Training Center, taking advantage of both their three outdoor fields and their indoor facility, and they'll continue to carry a 90-man roster until the cutdown after the last preseason game.

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