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S.S. Mailbag: Setting the Lines

The weekly mailbag returns with fan questions about the front lines on offense and defense, Justin Watson and more.


This week's mailbag drops on the same day that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2019 rookies come to the AdventHealth Training Center for their first bit of work as professionals. The Buccaneers won't hit the field until Friday, but the team's newcomers arrived on Thursday to meet with coaches and prepare for their three-day mini-camp over the weekend.

Devin White, the fifth-overall pick in the draft, will likely draw a lot of attention during camp, as will the trio of defensive backs taken in the second and third rounds. Here are three other players that could also pique a lot of interest:

1. LB Anthony Nelson. Nelson, the Buccaneers' fourth-round pick, could be in line for more snaps in his rookie campaign depending upon the status of veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. Either way, the Buccaneers were thrilled to land the Iowa pass-rusher in the fourth round because they think his talents fit well into their new defensive scheme. The Buccaneers want edge rushers who are fast, athletic and long, and the 6-7 Nelson fits the bill. Though he won't be going up against established NFL offensive linemen until next week, it will still be interesting to see how quickly he can get off the ball this weekend.

2. QB Nick Fitzgerald. The Buccaneers have not yet officially signed or announced any undrafted rookies, but the team's coaches discussed several of the expected arrivals last week, including Mississippi State's Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is an interesting prospect in that he put up big passing names for the Bulldogs but was also very prolific on the ground, to the point that some teams wanted to work him out at different positions. Fitzgerald comes to Tampa as a quarterback but he could be seen as a potentially versatile weapon on offense and special teams, a la the Saints' Taysom Hill.

3. LB Kahzin Daniels. Daniels is another expected undrafted addition that Buccaneer coaches discussed last week. His story was already well-known before he arrived at Buccaneer headquarters: He has been blind in his right eye since he suffered an injury in a scooter accident at the age of five. Ironically, this fact was _not_well-known until recently, even among his teammates and coaches at Charleston, where he was a dominant edge rusher. In other words, Daniels' partial blindness has not hindered him in any noticeable way on the playing field. As with Nelson, it will be interesting to see how Daniels' speed and quickness translates to the NFL level.

Expect more coverage of the rookie mini-camp here on Buccaneers.com throughout the next few days. For now, though, let's get 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.

Well first of all, no, I don't think the Buccaneers are waiting for players to be released in order to add to either of their front lines. The best available defensive linemen are probably already out there – Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh, Muhammad Wilkerson – though the Buccaneers are probably not in any position to pounce unless other roster moves are made first. There is not much in the way of intriguing offensive linemen still available, but I also don't expect any particularly impressive ones to be cut in the coming weeks.

As for the rest of this question, it's pretty broad. Are you asking for predictions as to all the players who will make up the offensive and defensive lines when the 53-man roster is set? That's a group that will probably comprise 17 or 18 players, and I think any of us could name most of the obvious ones.

On offense, all five starters from last year are likely to be back – that's Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Caleb Benenoch and Demar Dotson – though Benenoch may be in a new role after playing right guard last year. Alex Cappa, a third-round pick from a year ago, could win that right guard spot and in any case is a good bet to stick around and continue his development. That's six right there, and if you're keeping nine you could include free agent signee Earl Watford, a versatile player who can help all over the line, and returning players Evan Smith and Mike Liedtke. The Buccaneers didn't draft any offensive linemen and it's a little early to tell if any of the undrafted free agents will be able to supplant any of the veterans.

Despite my belief, noted above, that there probably aren't going to be many more opportunities to add to this group before the season, I have to concede that the door remains open, based on what General Manager Jason Licht said after the draft, when the team seemed to "stand pat" on the O-Line.

"Maybe stood pat so far – I say time and time again, we're not lining up tomorrow to play regular season week one so we still have time," said Licht. "We're working with these guys, I know the coaches are happy with the development of Alex. I know that Caleb has been doing some good things and he has in the past for us lining up at tackle. These guys are young, they do have an opportunity to get better and we like the progress that they've made so far but we still have time to make some additions if we have to. You can't address every position, every position that you may have some concerns, whether they vary from big concern to small concern, you can't – it's just impossible to do it in a small amount of time during free agency or the draft. But, we have through August to do what we can."

As for defense, we have to define what we're talking about first. In their new 3-4 defense, the Buccaneers are likely to call edge rushers like Noah Spence and Carl Nassib "outside linebackers," leaving the DL designation to hand-in-the-dirt players like Vita Vea and Will Gholston. And, again, you have to start with the returning players, like those two and Beau Allen. The biggest name in that group is Gerald McCoy, the six-time Pro Bowler, whose future has been the subject of much speculation but who remains on the roster.

One possible addition to this group is seventh-round draft pick Terry Beckner out of Missouri. Seventh-round picks are hardly a lock to make the roster and the Bucs haven't really hit on a defensive lineman in the fifth round or later since…Ellis Wyms? That was in 2001. That said, Beckner seems like he's got a good chance to buck those odds.

"[I] like the way he plays," said Licht. "He's going to compete I know and he's got a good chance to make this football team if he plays the way he did at Missouri and the way we evaluated him."

Is there a realistic chance Watson emerges as the 3rd WR?

-striaghtup_orwinbytwo, via Instagram

Sure, it's "realistic," but the Bucs do have some other options and the competition could be pretty intense

The best argument in Justin Watson's favor is that he was essentially fifth on the wide receiver depth chart last year as a rookie, and two of the four who were ahead of him are now on other teams. DeSean Jackson was traded to Philadelphia and Adam Humphries signed with Tennessee as an unrestricted free agent. A fifth-round pick out of Penn, Watson had just one catch for five yards as a rookie but that's easy to explain away with the incredible production of not only the four wideouts in front of him but also tight ends O.J. Howard and Cam Brate.

Another factor potentially working in Watson's favor: Many players make a big leap between their first and second seasons, especially if the first year is a big adjustment. It's safe to say that the jump from Penn to the pros was challenging. The Bucs' new receivers coach, Kevin Garver, can already see that Watson looks more comfortable in Year Two.

"Justin Watson's another guy that I've been really pleased with," said Garver. "The rookie year is always a transition for guys; coming from college into the league is challenging. Being at a smaller school like where he played can even be a bigger challenge. The thing I stress with him is just playing fast. He's another guy that's really smart. I think collectively as a group we have a really smart group of guys, smart players, and that's a big part of it. But learning to play fast all the time, you can't be thinking on the field. So I think that transition…I wasn't here last year, obviously, but watching the film I could see him thinking a little bit. Now, really just playing fast is ultimately what we're trying to do."

Watson is fast. He ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at Penn's Pro Day before the 2018 draft. He also ripped off a 40-inch vertical leap, and given his size and those numbers it's easy to see why his makeup as a receiver has been compared to that of Mike Evans. And, in fact, the majority of Watson's playing time in 2018 came when he was giving Evans a breather. But reprising that role, even if in a more productive fashion, would not be enough to make Watson the clear third receiver in 2019.

So, what would that number three role possibly look like for Watson? He's probably not the ideal fit for the wide-open slot job, but he could still make it onto the field with Evans and Chris Godwin, the clear number two receiver, if Godwin plays a significant amount in the slot. And that very option has been discussed quite a bit this offseason. That and the times when he spells Evans and Godwin in two-receiver sets could do the trick.

On the other hand, the Buccaneers did add a couple receivers this offseason, and at least in form they are similar to the two departed receivers (if not yet in outright production). Breshad Perriman is a speedy deep threat and a former first-round pick who seemed to revive his career with a strong second half in Cleveland last year. He's not the same build as Jackson but he could play a similar role, taking the top of the defense from an outside spot. You could easily see Perriman getting a lot of snaps in three-receiver sets with Godwin in the slot. The other addition is sixth-round draft pick Scotty Miller, who seems tailor-made for the slot. He's smaller than Humphries but he's both quick and fast. It could take a while, but Miller might eventually get a good share of snaps in the slot, which could have a domino effect on the snaps available to Watson outside.

All of that sounds like a good problem for the Bucs to have. Jackson and Humphries took 1,560 yards and nine touchdowns worth of 2018 production with them, but the Bucs have good options to replace them in Watson, Perriman and Miller, not to mention Bobo Wilson.

Who are some of you favorite players you've covered while with the Bucs?

justin_and_heatherletart, via Instagram

That's a nice question, and a timely one because my all-time favorite Buccaneer was just announced as the next member to be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor. That, of course, would be Ronde Barber. I'm probably not alone in that, either. Ronde was very easy to root for, for a variety of reasons.

He wasn't a first-round pick and he probably wasn't the most physically gifted cornerback of his era (though, obviously, quite physically gifted), but he had the production of a Hall of Famer thanks to his brains and the hard work he put in honing his craft. Oh, and because he was tough; Barber never missed a game due to injury. If you've been around an NFL training room, you would know that seems virtually impossible, especially across 16 seasons. I guarantee you there were times that Barber had aches and pains that would have kept some players out. I remember him intercepting Brett Favre with one arm because one of his hands was broken and wrapped in a huge club! The fact that he also pulled off some of the most unforgettable, jaw-dropping in-game moments during my tenure helps, too.

On top of all that game-day stuff, Ronde was always a pleasure to work with. That makes a difference when you're talking about all-time "favorites." To be honest, the vast majority of the players I've come in contact with have been great to work with, but I'd put Ronde at the top of that list. And, by the way, I wrote most of this in past tense because I was talking about his playing days, but Ronde is still all of those things now that he's a broadcaster.

Again, I've had the privilege to cover and be around countless players who were a joy to watch and a pleasure to interact with. Far, far more than the opposite. So this list could be just about endless. We don't want that, so I'll just randomly name a few.

- Mike Evans. No matter where you pick a player, even high in the first round, there's a chance he won't live up to expectations. Like every team, the Buccaneers have used some very high picks on players that didn't work out. So it really has been a lot of fun to see Evans' career unfold, as he has been pretty much everything you could want out of a seventh-overall pick. I think at this point it's safe to say that he is the greatest receiver in franchise history, and it's cool that I've got to watch that unfold…and there's so much more to go! He's still only 25! Mike has also been an easy guy to cover; one year he was given an award by the outside media as the player who most helped them do their job.

- Joey Galloway. Sticking with the wide receiver theme here. Sometimes you come in contact with a player for whom you already have preconceived notions. Maybe it's because of the trade from Seattle to Dallas earlier in his career, but I had the idea that Galloway was one of those prima donna type of receivers, of which there is no shortage in the league. Couldn't be further from the truth. Very down to earth guy and a lot of fun to watch. Underrated Buccaneer, in my opinion. Maybe the best pure deep threat the Bucs have ever had, though Kevin House did it for a longer period of time.

- Tony Mayberry. A very good player, of course, a three-time Pro Bowler. But I enjoyed covering/working with Tony because he was really funny. Simple as that.

- Lavonte David. A true pro. Deserves to be more of a household name but I've never seen him frustrated by that. I love watching him play, especially when he's in a groove, and I hope he plays 15 years.

- John Lynch. One of the nicest guys I've ever met, but I don't think that was true on the playing field, and that's a compliment.

- Mike Alstott and Cadillac Williams. I put these two guys together because this is less about their numbers and more about them unfailingly being team players. And Caddy was insanely competitive, too, which was funny to watch when he was engaged in any other activity with his teammates, like bowling.

Okay, that's enough. Like I said, I could go on forever. Thanks again for that sweet question, which sent me down memory lane a little bit. I have a feeling that five minutes after this is posted I'll think of another guy I definitely should have had on the list.

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