Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The S.S. Mailbag: Heavy Weather

Among the topics advanced by Bucs fans this week is whether or not the team will utilize a heavy rotation on the defensive line this fall

SSMailbag600x360.jpg


This mailbag is primarily fed by Twitter – tweets are the wind in the S.S. Mailbag's sails, if you will – so I have to periodically stroll back through my mentions to make sure I didn't miss a good question. Occasionally, things other than what I was looking for jump out at me, and that was the case this week.

Specifically, it was kind of fun to see the different reactions to various bits of Buc news I've helped put out there in recent weeks. Before we get to your questions, here's an incomplete list of recent news items and the best and/or most common reactions:

- The Buccaneers have re-signed WR Bernard Reedy.

Rocket emojis! Oh my goodness, rocket emojis everywhere! Okay, so Bernard played at the University of Toledo, whose sports teams bear the excellent nickname of Rockets. There are enough Tigers and Wildcats and things that are Red or Fighting out there. We should have more teams named after awesome modes of transportation, like Bullet Trains or Teleporters. The Rockets are a good start.

Anyway, I guess there's some overlap of Toledo and Bucs fans, because Rocket supporters came out en masse with their rocket emojis. And I have to say, I'm not a big emoji guy, but this is a very appealing emoji. See:

Bedlam, and thunderous sighs of relief bordering on what you might hear in the doctor's office when she delivers favorable lab results. There were not a lot of Buc fans on Twitter who were on board with RoJo being 22, so this bit of "news" (delivered by Jones himself in a little video clip) brought down a torrential rain of celebratory gifs. You know that one where Will Ferrell is beating up groceries? Yeah, got that one, plus the one with Bernie Mac in church, and much more. It was fun.

- Bucs like what they see in tryout cornerback Mark Myers, give him a shot on the roster.

#gofire

Myers played at Southeastern in nearby Lakeland, which only started a football program four years ago. He was one of their very first recruits! Frankly, it's kinda ridiculous that a player from that program is already getting a look in the NFL, and I'm impressed not only by that but by how excited it is making other Southeastern alums. Their teams go by the nickname "Fire" (not great, but we'll give 'em a pass) and they have a lot more dialed-in fans than you would expect. I'll be honest, I'm rooting big-time for this kid.

- Bucs draft Auburn CB Carlton Davis late in the second round.

Honestly, I included this one just to embed the following tweet.

We can only hope. Now on to your questions from the past week. Before we get to that, let me remind you that this is an ongoing thing; you can send in questions whenever you like. As is exhaustively noted above, I'm going to get the majority of them from Twitter, where my handle is @ScottSBucs and where I'd love it if you used 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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

That depends, Freeze. If by "heavy" you mean having larger men in the rotation than before, then my answer is yes. If, instead, you mean a "heavy rotation" – that is, a lot of men in the rotation, and frequently coming in and out of the lineup – then my answer becomes yes.

Let's start with the first interpretation. Since the end of last year, the Buccaneers have added 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea and 327-pound defensive tackle Beau Allen. They are essentially replacing Chris Baker and Clinton McDonald, who were listed at 320 and 297 pounds, respectively.

(I should probably pause at this point to note that listed heights and weights are sometimes a few years old and not completely accurate. For instance, Channing Ward is listed at 279 pounds on the Bucs' current roster, which is the number the team would have first imported when he arrived as an undrafted free agent in 2016. He's probably closer to 300 pounds now. But this is what we have to work with, and most of them are probably close enough.)

Defensive end is a little trickier because the Bucs had a lot of injury issues and lineup changes throughout the 2017 season at those two starting spots. William Gholston (281 pounds) and Robert Ayers (275) made the most starts, followed by Ryan Russell (275) and Noah Spence (251). While Gholston and Spence could still play big roles this year, the best current guess at a starting duo would be Jason Pierre-Paul (275) and Vinny Curry (279). So that's essentially a wash, in terms of weight, but 301-pound Mitch Unrein should be in the rotation as a reserve both inside and out, and 320-pound DT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu could work his way into the mix, too.

Last year, the Bucs started the season with a 10-man D-Line crew, and those 10 men stood an average of 6 feet and 3.4 inches tall. They weighed an average of 287.9 pounds. The 2018 roster is harder to figure because there are currently 15 defensive linemen on the 90-man roster, so we'd have to guess at which ones make up the 10-man group for the regular-season roster (and, really, if it is going to be 10 again this year). Pierre-Paul, Curry, Allen, Vea, Unrein, Spence, Gerald McCoy, Will Gholston and Will Clarke seem like decent bets to make up nine of them, barring injuries. I really don't want to do any of the others a disservice by only picking one, so it is with a relatively random choice that I add Tu'ikolovatu to that group to up it to 10.

That 10-man lineup averages a height of 6-3.8 and a weight of 295.6. So it would be a bigger group than last year, though not drastically so. The key is how the snaps are distributed, and it would be a surprise if Allen and Vea don't see a lot of time on the field. That alone gives the Bucs a more stout line in 2018.

I think however, that you're asking if the Bucs' are going to have a deeper and more frequent rotation of defensive linemen. And yes, barring injury, I expect that to be the case, too. Last week, Defensive Line Coach Brentson Buckner seemed to hint rather broadly at a wider distribution of the snaps this fall. Without specifically referring to one of the Bucs' current linemen, he spoke about a pass-rusher who was used to playing 60 snaps a game, and how he could be more productive on a per-snap basis – could more regularly go "all-out" – if he was only playing, say, 40 snaps a game.

Now, if you have one pass-rusher who is clearly better than the rest of your options, you're probably going to give him those 60 snaps anyway. But if you have three such players to play two positions, you could give them all 40 snaps and have a four fresh legs on the field far more often. That would be one way to handle the McCoy-Allen-Vea logjam that is the very definition of a "good problem to have."

On the outside, this may come down to how much impact Spence can make. He has looked like an edge-rusher with significant potential during his first two seasons but has had terrible luck with shoulder injuries. In his case in particular, playing fewer snaps and settling into a designated-rusher type of role could be the way to maximize his talents. If he's making an impact, you might be able to rest JPP and Curry a bit more, or push Curry to the inside for some pass-rushing snaps. The two Wills – Gholston and Clarke – have a chance to make that outside rotation deeper.  The former could make an impact if he can return to his excellent run-stopping form of 2016, and Clarke has shown the ability to get into the backfield. Also, as noted earlier, Unrein can take snaps at end, as well.

If you've been following the Bucs this offseason, you've probably heard the phrase "on paper" about a million times. Nowhere is that caveat more applicable than on the defensive line, which has had such a massive overhaul. There's a lot to like about every player the Bucs have added to that group, but it still has to get to the season healthy, it still has to jell and it still has to produce on the field the way it looks like it should on paper. If all goes well, the Bucs will be running eight or nine deep along the line on game day and they'll be using all of those players, much the way the Philadelphia Eagles did to such great effect last year.

It won't be this year. As Mike Evans was noting, the Buccaneers did not draw a Thursday night game this year, which made him a little sad. Evans likes the short practice week before a Thursday game and the "mini-bye" on the following weekend. Understandable. I'd be willing to be that Dirk Koetter and his coaching staff, and even plenty of Mike's teammates, disagree. The mini-bye is nice, sure, but two games in five days is tough on some players.

Kai's response does underscore, however, that the Bucs have not won a Thursday night game since Mike's arrival. Tampa Bay is on a bit of an unhappy-Thursday streak, having lost their lone game on that night in each of the last five seasons. The opponents in those games, starting at 2017 and going back to 2013, were New England, Atlanta, St. Louis, Atlanta again and Carolina. The Patriots game last year was the first one in a while that was close at the end.

The last win for the Bucs on a Thursday night was a rousing game in Minnesota in 2012 in which Doug Martin had his first really big game, rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown in a 36-17. That was just an hors d'oeuvre for Martin, who the following week would record his own personal game-for-the-ages with 251 yards and four touchdowns in his hometown (and new NFL home) of Oakland.

Overall, the Buccaneers are 2-6 on Thursday nights, having beaten the Rams way back in 1980 (it was a small bit of revenge for the Rams' victory in Tampa in the 1979 NFC Championship Game) and lost to the Lions in 2000. The Bucs have also played once on Thursday afternoon, drawing a Thanksgiving assignment in Dallas in 2006. The Cowboys won and got the turducken.

It's not a prime-time thing, anyway. In contrast to Thursdays, the Bucs have had decent success on Monday nights, even recently during their mid-week struggles. The Bucs have won 11 of the 21 games they've played on a Monday, including three of the last four, all since 2011.

So put me in the opposite camp from Evans: I'm perfectly cool with no Thursday game this year.

DeSean Jackson signed a three-year deal with the Buccaneers last offseason, and until I see a reason to believe otherwise, I'm going to assume he'll be here for those three seasons. It's important to note that while Jackson's production was less than expected last year, the coaching staff does not believe that had anything to do with Jackson's effort or quality of play. Jameis Winston and the Bucs' offense just didn't take advantage of his skills as well as they had expected.

Jackson and Winston are focusing on improving their connection, much as Winston and Evans did in their second year together. If it works and the Bucs do get all those explosive plays they had anticipated getting from Jackson – the type he produced better than any other player in the NFL in his first nine seasons in Philly and Washington – that might give the Bucs more motivation to keep him in the mix in 2019.

In a larger, less specific sense, I do understand that the majority of multi-year contracts for veteran unrestricted free agents don't play out to the end. In some cases, they're not even really designed to do so. It's the exception when a player like Vincent Jackson signs a five-year deal in Tampa and then plays five years in Tampa. So for Jackson and any other veteran signee, I acknowledge that it's reasonable to wonder if they will play the full contract. And in Jackson's case, it is easier for the team to move on after the second year than it would have been after 2017.

So I think the point of your question would be, if Godwin emerges as a starting-caliber player to field opposite Evans in 2018 (as a lot of people inside One Buccaneer Place are clearly expecting), might the team prefer him as a younger and cheaper option in 2019? Again, it's a reasonable question, and that kind of decision is made all the time around the NFL.

But it's also quite possible that the Buccaneers will feel best heading into 2019 with a receiving corps that includes Evans (he's early in a massive and deserved contract extension), an emerging Godwin and the still dangerous Jackson. At the same time, Adam Humphries will potentially be getting a shot at unrestricted free agency and the team's newest addition at the receiver spot, Justin Watson, might not have fully established himself in the offense yet.

I understand speculation about any veteran with a large contract, and I know salary cap concerns could be different a year from now than they are at the moment. That said, I prefer to see a future in which DeSean Jackson is coming off a more typical DeSean Jackson season, Chris Godwin is looking like a budding star and the Bucs want to keep both of them in their offense in 2019.

You didn't specify this year, so I'll say Cadillac Williams. Or Warrick Dunn. I win.

Alright, I know that doesn't count, but I'm also trying to make a subtle point here. Caddy and Warrick are the only two Rookie of the Year winners in franchise history, and they both played the same position. I think you know what that is.

(Quick note: I'm only going to be considering the Associated Press Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards here, which have been in play since 1967. There is a Pepsi NFL ROTY award that's been a thing since 2002, but it's determined by fan voting. Williams also won that one, and Jameis Winston won it in 2015. There are also various publications that give out similar awards, but I'm considering the AP honors the official word. Dunn won in 1997 and Williams followed eight years later.)

So, starting in '67, there have been 51 NFL Offensive Rookies of the Year. This is how they break down: 33 running backs, nine quarterbacks, nine wide receivers.

You'll notice no offensive linemen in there, so sorry Alex Cappa. No tight ends either, and all of the Bucs' rookie tight ends are undrafted free agents, so one of them winning this award would be The Greatest Story Ever Told. The Bucs aren't going to be starting a rookie quarterback, so forget that. They did draft a wide receiver, but it would be a huge upset for fifth-rounder Justin Watson to put up ROTY-style numbers in an offense that already has Evans, Jackson, Godwin, Humphries, et cetera. I think we might have discussed all of that above.

So if the Bucs are going to win an Offensive *Rookie of the Year award, it's going to have to be second-round pick Ronald Jones. And that's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. This year's draft class was seen as deep in running backs, though Penn State's Saquon Barkley – taken second overall by the Giants – was considered the best of the bunch. If you were answering this question from a league-wide standpoint, rather than just the Bucs' class, Barkley would probably be the heavy favorite. That said, the next tier of backs – Jones, Sony Michel, Rashaad Penny, Nick Chubb, Derrius Guice and so on – could have gone in just about any order. I'm not saying Jones should be the *favorite for this award, but he's probably got as good a shot as any of those other backs if Barkley somehow doesn't light the league up.

So that's one shot. Now, how about defense? Let's do the same positional breakdown: Out of 51 DROTY winners we find 24 linebackers, 10 defensive ends, eight cornerbacks, seven defensive tackles and two safeties. The linebacker dominance is a little misleading because it's a mix of traditional run-and-tackle guys like Luke Kuechly (2012) and 3-4 pass-rushers like Von Miller (2011). To be thorough, I should note that there were co-winners in 1980, but they were both linebackers so I counted that as one for the position.

The Bucs have a bunch of defensive rookies. You have to think of your first-round pick as your best bet – both due to his expected talent level and the likelihood that he's going to play a lot – and that would be Vea. The big hurdle for Vea is that, no matter how well he plays this fall, he probably has little shot at the DROTY award if he doesn't put up big sack numbers. Defensive tackles don't win this award often, but when they do it's because they're smushing quarterbacks, like Aaron Donald (9.0 sacks) did in 2014 or Ndamukong Suh (10.0) did in 2010. Tim Bowens was a weird choice in 1994 with his three sacks, but Dana Stubblefield had 10.5 in 1993 to win the award.

I'm not saying Vita Vea isn't going to challenge the double-digit sack line, I'm just saying I'm not counting on it with all the other guys on that line (McCoy, JPP, Curry, Spence, etc.) vying for the takedown. If Vea is in the running for that award, however, that would bode extremely well for the Bucs' defense.

Cornerbacks don't win the award too often but they have in two of the last three years (Marcus Peters and Marson Lattimore), and the key is picking off passes. That's a fickle, unpredictable stat, so maybe M.J. Stewart or Carlton Davis can rack up the INTs, but that's a tough bet, particularly because their potential roles in the defense are so up in the air. A guy like the Cleveland Browns' Denzel Ward, who is almost certainly going to be their number-one corner like Lattimore was in New Orleans last year, is a much better choice if you're making DROTY predictions.

Add it all up and I think the answer is clear: If the Bucs are going to have a third NFL Rookie of the Year this season (either offensive or defensive), the most likely choice is running back Ronald Jones.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content

Advertising