You've got questions and you're fishing for answers. I've got a boatload of them. This could be the start of a beautiful relationSHIP.
Welcome to the new S.S. Mailbag, which will be setting sail every Friday from now on. I can't promise you that we're done with the nautical puns (I've got a bad case of Dad-joke disease), but I can promise you that I'll either know the answers to your questions or find someone here at One Buccaneer Place who does.
Don't worry, I've steered a ship like this before, back when I was incognito and looked a little bit like a pirate version of Chris Kattan. I've been on deck absorbing Buccaneer information for 26 years, and I have initials that sound like a ship prefix, so I'm fully qualified.
You can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. If you'd like, you can email your question instead to firstname.lastname@example.org; it will get to me. Heck, if you prefer to lick a stamp, you can even send in a query via snail mail (to me, Scott Smith, at One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, FL 33607), but unless my Dad suddenly takes an interest in the Buccaneers I doubt that's going to happen.
So let's…I don't know…batten down a jib or something and take this thing out on the high seas for the first time. Your questions:
I'm not sure merely residing in the state of Florida would grant you innate knowledge of our indoor facility, but I suppose if you lived in Tampa and sometimes drove down Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard you'd probably have at least seen it. I mean, it's big. Like 100,000-square-feet big. Here's a fact you didn't ask for, Dan: There are 136 tons of rubber mixed into the turf. Did you know that when you walk on that kind of turf, you always end up about 700 pieces of rubber in your shoes? It's really delightful. I asked our long-time Director of Athletic Fields & Grounds Rob Julian if teams with artificial turf fields have to periodically replenish the rubber because of this phenomenon – like the artificial version of putting down sand on the grass fields – and he said that they do, in time.
That facility is also 96 feet high at its apex, so there's no problem with passing drills or field goal tries in there. Punter Bryan Anger does tend to bang some kicks off the rafters, though. In fact, I think he's secretly trying to hit it. That's okay, though. That's probably good hang-time work for Bryan.
But I'm straying far afield (get it?) from the question, so let's focus on what Dan wanted to know. How often do and will the Bucs go inside their long-desired indoor facility. Part of that answer, I think, will depend upon the weather. (By the way, it can withstand hurricane winds of up to 150 miles per hour.)
The Buccaneers are currently in the middle of their offseason program and are about to enter Phase III, which includes OTAs. Those are the first field sessions that actually resemble a real training camp or regular-season practice, though they're usually a little shorter and there is no contact allowed at all. So far, the Bucs haven't practiced much inside the facility, but that is likely to change when it gets hotter and we get to the summer weeks when it seems to rain every day in the Bay area.
The Bucs first practiced inside the facility last year in Week Four, before the Patriots game. They used it periodically throughout the fall, either to escape bad weather or give the guys a little break from the sun. It was a common place for them to hold their walk-throughs, which they had most days that they also practiced. Some practices were a combination, with certain drills outside and other ones inside.
Believe me, the team has wanted this indoor option for a long time and they will definitely take advantage of it. The outfield at Tropicana Field is a nice place for Kevin Kiermaier to roam but it doesn't make for a great football practice and the bus drive there and back is tedious. The Bucs have also used the turf field at USF a couple times, but that's not covered so it doesn't allow you to escape the weather. Now the team will never have to scramble again when a storm is threatening but a practice is critical. And when the lightning alarm goes off on the back of One Buc Place, that won't have to mean a 40-minute delay in practice anymore.
The Buccaneers have not yet announced a specific plan for training camp, which annually includes the only practices of the year that are open to the public. But there are bleachers in there that can hold 3,500 people, so it seems likely that at least some of camp will take place inside the facility. That will be a boon to both players and fans. Training camp is fun for Buc fans. Training camp plus air-conditioning is fun and comfortable.
The facility is also getting a fancy outdoor area in front of it as the project enters Phase II. That is going to be a nice place for the team to hold non-football events, so that's another way it will come in handy. You can bet the Buccaneers are going to get a ton of use out of the newest asset on their grounds.
That said, let's also not forget that the Buccaneers have what are widely considered the nicest outdoor practice fields in the NFL. Players and coaches will always prefer to run on natural grass, if everything else is equal. The indoor facility is a great option on any given day, but the Bucs aren't going to stop using their great outdoor expanse any time soon.
I know, right? I mean, what's more important here, me or the actual team? I think we all know the answer to that.
Hi Scott and Casey, [Editor: Who's Casey? I don't know any Casey. This is MY ship.]
Old retired nurse here, who loves her Bucs but doesn't know how to use Twitter. Hope maybe you'll answer this: why is Nick Folk still on the roster? I heard you say on Insider Live a while ago that not only wouldn't he be on the roster after he healed, but that we were required to cut him. (That's remembrance of what you said; definitely not a quote!)
Anyway, can you please explain the situation? Is he going to stay and provide competition for Patrick Murray in training camp.
Rusti (sent via email email@example.com)
A real timely question, huh? You may fairly ask yourself, what is Scott doing answering a question that was clearly sent months ago and is now totally irrelevant? I won't be able to hear you, though, so that won't stop me.
Yes, it's a little weird to include this one, but I felt bad because it slipped through the cracks when Rusti actually sent it in, and I didn't see it until a couple weeks ago. And nurses are awesome people who do a very tough job and are there for you when you really need them, so they deserve to get their questions answered. Plus, Rusti's recollection of what I said on an Insider Live last season is accurate, and when Folk proceeded to stay on the roster (on injured reserve) for months after that, it surely looked like I had my facts wrong. And we can't have that!
As most Tampa Bay fans will recall, Nick Folk started the 2017 season as the Buccaneers kicker but the results weren't as good as hoped and after four games the team decided to re-sign Patrick Murray, who had held its kicking job in 2014. At the time, Folk had a knee injury, and injured players cannot simply be cut. Instead, the Buccaneers put Folk on "minor I.R.," a designation for players with injuries that it is anticipated will keep them out for six weeks or less. With that designation, the player must be released when he is deemed healthy.
As it turned out, it simply took longer than expected for Folk to get cleared medically. Once he did, in February, that requirement kicked in and he was let go, by rule. So, Rusti, I didn't lead you astray way back in October; I just didn't think the process would take that long.
Of course, by now we also know that Murray became a free agent and was not re-signed, and the Bucs used unrestricted free agency to bring in former Cardinals and Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro. They did sign an undrafted rookie in Trevor Moore out of North Texas, though the team obviously signed Catanzaro with the expectation that he would be their kicker for at least the next few seasons (he got a three-year deal).
I assume we are talking about former Broncos and Rams cornerback Kayvon Webster, since he was released by Los Angeles last month and he's a former USF player. My first answer to you, Oneal, is how do you know Webster is not getting a look from us?
In at least one sense, he certainly is getting a look, because along with a college scouting staff the Buccaneers also have a pro personnel scouting staff. It's their job to keep up-to-date reports on every single player in the NFL, as well as hundreds of free agents. When a player is released, that's going to lead to an update on his scouting report.
I think any team that is interested in Webster's services must first get a feel for how healthy he is, as he finished last season with both a ruptured Achilles tendon and a shoulder injury. He must have been healthy enough for the Rams to be able to release him in April, but those issues would still be the first thing a team would have to examine when looking into signing Webster.
I'm not surprised, either, that Webster wasn't immediately signed by the Bucs or any other team after his release. That was just a few weeks before the draft, and any team that felt like it needed help at the cornerback position probably wanted to see what happened in the draft first. In the Buccaneers' case specifically, they ended up drafting not one but two cornerbacks in the second round, adding to a group that also got Brent Grimes back when he re-signed for 2018 in March.
Contrast that to a year ago, when the Buccaneers did not select a single cornerback in the draft. About a week later, on March 10, they signed veteran cornerback Robert McClain, who ended up playing a lot last season. If the Buccaneers have some post-draft interest in remaining free agents, their priorities might be at a different position than cornerback.
I know the Rams thought Webster was a pretty good pickup in free agency last year. He hadn't been a starter in Denver, but the Broncos were loaded at cornerback and Webster still played a lot and contributed. The Rams made him a starter and he had an interception and seven passes defensed in 11 games before injuries took him out. He's still only 27 and it sure seems likely that he will get another shot in the NFL, presuming he's healthy.
If you've ever listened to any of our Insider Live shows, you know there's nobody who harps on depth at the cornerback position more than I do. It's hard to develop and even harder to keep. That said, there's already a pretty interesting competition brewing for the three main jobs with Grimes back, Vernon Hargreaves healthy, Ryan Smith getting a lot of developmental time last year and the draft bringing in M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis. I couldn't tell you right now which three are going to be the primary starters at the beginning of the season, and that would get even more complicated with the addition of another veteran corner with starting experience.
Anyway, to circle back to the beginning, Webster has certainly gotten a "look" from the Bucs' personnel staff. Whether or not that look generated any interest remains to be seen.
Going to New Orleans at any point in the year is tough, and that will remain true as long as Drew Brees is there. However, if the Bucs have to play there at some point, perhaps Week One isn't so terrible. I say that for one and only one reason: It appears that running back Mark Ingram will be serving a suspension to start the season. You never wish injuries or misfortune on your opponents and some players are adamant about wanting to get a team's best punch. Still, since the Ingram suspension is a thing, one way or another, you can still note it as a potential advantage in Week One.
What else? Let's do this in bullet points.
What I like about the Bucs' 2018 schedule:
- I like that all three of our games against division opponents over the final five weeks are all at home. Sure, that means the schedule is a little tougher up front, but if the Bucs are in a race for the NFC South title at the end, that will be an advantage.
- I like that we get Baltimore in mid-December. If the Ravens happen to accelerate the Joe Flacco-to-Lamar Jackson transition, the Bucs could be facing a rookie quarterback in a key week. Now, I get it, Lamar Jackson is very talented and could become Deshaun Watson 2.0. But all in all I'll roll the dice with a rookie QB as the opponent, hoping he doesn't have it all figured out yet.
- I like that the words "at Chicago" are on the schedule. That's no knock on the Bears. I just like going to Chicago, where I spent four formative years. I plan to go to Pequod's for some pizza.
- I like that the Cleveland Browns are coming to town. I repeat, I'm interested by the Cleveland Browns. That team could be fascinating this year. They've added a lot of pieces, most notably at quarterback, but who knows how it's all going to fit together. They might be better. Okay, they almost have to be better after winning one game over the last two years. Still, they might be significantly better. I think that's going to be a fun game in Week Seven.
- Most of all, I like that the league put the Bucs on Monday Night Football, with a very interesting matchup against the Steelers. Could be a lot of offensive fireworks in that one.
What I don't like about the Bucs' 2018 schedule:
- I don't like the early bye week, just five Sundays in. Later byes are considered more favorable because a team is more likely to be more fatigued and to have more injuries the further it goes into a season. Tampa Bay hasn't drawn a lot of late byes in the last, oh, forever, until they got Week 10 off last year. Or were supposed to. Instead, Hurricane Irma forced the opener into that open slot and the Bucs got a Week One bye. And that's no bye at all. I don't think the league purposely favors any team in handing out byes, but I thought the Bucs should get a makeup late one, either by luck or mercy.
- I don't like having to go to Dallas in Week 16. That has not been a kind place for the Buccaneers in the past, and that game could be critical if they are in the hunt.
- I don't like that it doesn't start for another 114 days. I was enjoying the offseason and its slower rhythms for a while, but now that we've had the draft I'm really eager to get this thing going. I know, I know – everybody is hopelessly optimistic right after the draft, but I still can't wait to see Vita Vea and Ronald Jones, in particular, in game action.
- I don't like that the Buccaneers don't have a Thursday night game…I LOVE IT. (See what I did there? Snuck in another positive point down here amid the negativity). The Thursday game would be good for the team in terms of national exposure, and it does create a little "mini-bye" on the weekend that follows, which is nice. But from a purely strategic standpoint, I'm thrilled that the players and coaches won't have to deal with one of those Sunday-Thursday short weeks. Nobody likes those.
- I don't like playing only one home game in a six-week span from late September to early November. That sets up the favorable run of home games in the season's second half, but the Buccaneers had better make some hay in those early road games (at Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Carolina) or the later advantage may not matter.