Dirk Koetter met with the press on Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-21, at EverBank Field in the second week of the 2016 preseason. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game, meet with his team and gain a more detailed understanding of what unfolded in the Bucs' first win of 2016.
WATCH: BUCS VS. JAGS HIGHLIGHTS
So, upon further review, here are a few things Dirk Koetter and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' preseason win over the Jaguars.
1. There is still healthy competition on the running back depth chart behind Doug Martin and Charles Sims.
The Bucs ran for just 31 yards in their preseason opener in Philadelphia, but some of that was more circumstantial than damning. The offense did not repeat any of its running plays against the Eagles, something that usually helps a ground game get into a rhythm, and they didn't make a concerted effort to stay with the running attack against a stacked defensive front.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Jaguars.
The results from the running game were far better in Week Two, as Tampa Bay ran for 158 yards and got five or more carries to five different tailbacks. The Bucs also repeated some of their plays and ran it 44 times overall, more than twice their total from Week One. This is not simply a matter of mistaking cause and effect, either; each of the Bucs' first two games were close throughout, with the final score in doubt until the end.
"We just ran it more," said Koetter. "All the backs and all the linemen will tell you, they need repeat runs. The backs want to keep getting it. So we ran it enough times that even though we still played five running backs they all got multiple carries when they were in there and we got to repeat some plays where the week before we didn't repeat any schemes. They like that, they get better at it as we go. And I thought especially in our inside running game, our offensive line did a good job of knocking them back, which is a start. We gave our guys a chance to run and I thought all of our backs ran hard."
The Bucs played without starter Doug Martin, who was held out with a very minor injury. In fact, Koetter relayed that Martin approached him during pregame warmups and said he was ready to go. Koetter didn't relent, and on Sunday added that neither Martin nor Sims would see an overwhelming amount of playing time in the second half of the preseason. (Martin is expected to practice on Monday, however.) Charles Sims got the start in Martin's place and ran five times for 20 yards, and Koetter also made a point of putting rookie back Peyton Barber in the game with the first-team offensive line. Barber led the team with 40 yards on 11 carries and also caught a 10-yard pass.
Sims is secure on the Bucs' depth chart but Barber is in a battle for the third tailback position with Mike James, Storm Johnson and Russell Hansbrough. All four contributed to the 174 yards from scrimmage recorded by the Buccaneers' backfield, which means the competition between them remains extremely tight. Even their special teams contributions have been good across the board.
"They're all doing fine and they're all also helping on special teams," said Koetter. "I think Mike James really showed last night what he is – he's just real consistent in all phases. He runs the ball pretty good; there he is catching check-downs, he's right where needs to be, Mike Glennon finds him a couple times in the red zone, including the touchdown; and he's solid on special teams.
"We wanted to get Peyton Barber a few runs with the first offensive line; we did that. Just like we thought from practice, Peyton is a good inside runner, he's powerful. He made a couple nice plays on special teams. If you're going to be a backup running back you've got to play on special teams. Peyton, he's learning. On the one drive when he caught the pass in the flat he ran the wrong route but after he caught it he did a great job of getting yards after the catch. So that's the kind of stuff that rookies like that have to improve on."
It's unclear whether the Buccaneers will keep a fourth tailback, and Koetter himself stressed that the last three or four spots on the 53-man roster are fluid in terms of the positions they represent. A fourth running back could supplant a linebacker, for instance, if he is just as productive on special teams. For now, the Bucs' quartet of reserve backs only know that they are battling for that coveted third spot behind Martin and Sims.
2. The special teams showed improvement in almost every aspect after a rough preseason opener, but rookie K Roberto Aguayo will need to begin making the kicks he's expected to make.
The Buccaneers' opening preseason game in Philadelphia included mostly good work on defense, up-and-down results on offense and very little to enjoy on special teams. The most improved group out of those three in Week Two was the kick-and-coverage game.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' preseason matchup with the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
Adam Humphries and Jonathan Krause combined to produce a 16.3-yard average on punt returns. Donteea Dye had the Bucs' only kickoff return of the night but he did well with it, taking the opening kick from the one out to the 31-yard line. Punters' Bryan Anger and Jacob Schum placed their kicks masterfully and combined for a 42.5-yard net. And the Jaguars' offense had an average kickoff drive start of the 23-yard line, which is a good figure considering the new touchback rule puts the ball at the 25.
"That kickoff return was nice to start the game, D.D. and the guys. We improved our kickoff coverage over the first week. And our punters were excellent in directional punting and our coverage was good. Russell Hansbrough had a couple of real nice plays in punt coverage."
The only blemish on the night for the special teams was a pair of missed field goals by rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo, who hit from 28 and 34 yards (plus three PATs) but was just right on tries from 32 and 49. Aguayo also missed an extra point attempt in Philadelphia last week, and every misstep from the second-round pick is destined to come under extra scrutiny.
The Bucs know that Aguayo has not yet missed any kick that actually matters in terms of the team's 2016 success, and that the rookie has half the preseason to work out any issues that have led to his shaky start. Koetter, straightforward as always, also knows that his rookie kicker needs to start getting better results.
"Well, I don't know if 'concern' is the right word, but every player on a football team has a specific role and a specific job to fill and they're expected to do their job," said the coach. "Roberto, in both of the first preseason games – I mean, he's been pretty consistent in practice – but in both of the preseason games he's missed kicks that he's expected to make. You know, he's working with two holders – we can make all kinds of excuses but the bottom line is he's expected to make those kicks. He knows it, of course. Everybody knows it and we can't hide behind it. We can't hide behind any of our mistakes and trust me, I'm making more than anybody out there but yeah, he's got to make them."
Koetter said the Buccaneers could give Aguayo more work in practice in the coming weeks and designate one specific holder (the Anger/Schum punter battle has meant a nominal holder battle as well) going forward. Chances are that Aguayo will find his groove over the final two preseason games.
3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has worked himself back into the conversation for the Buccaneers' starting tight end job.
The Buccaneers actually have two tight end spots listed on their official depth chart, with one of them taking the place of the traditional fullback spot. The second of those two positions is led by Luke Stocker, with rookies Danny Vitale and Alan Cross behind him, and that is more of an H-back type role, with blocking and short route-running responsibilities.
The other tight end position, which is led on the depth chart by Cameron Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, is the one the team hopes to use to stretch the field vertically. As an example, Brate ran up the right seam on a second-and-17 snap in the second quarter on Saturday night and quarterback Jameis Winston fired a pass to Brate that arrived just as he was crossing the goal line. The play was broken up but Jacksonville safety Peyton Thompson was flagged for unnecessary roughness after he delivered a blow to Brate's head.
Seferian-Jenkins, a second-round pick in 2014 who has looked explosive when injuries haven't kept him out of action in his first two years, seemed like the leading candidate to start heading into 2016. However, Brate, a former undrafted free agent, has performed so well in training camp that he has supplanted Seferian-Jenkins at the top of the depth chart.
The result has been the proverbial "good problem to have." Brate hasn't slowed down but Seferian-Jenkins has responded to the depth chart shakeup by improving his game. He had an outstanding week of joint practices with the Jaguars and then led the team on Saturday night with three catches for 26 yards. The biggest play was an 18-yard catch in traffic that converted a third-and-15 on a second-half drive that led to Storm Johnson's one-yard touchdown run.
"The catch in the second half that Austin made on the 'bow-out' – there's just not a whole lot of guys that can make that play," said Koetter. "He's earned a chance to get back and work more with the first group so we should give it to him."
And they will, apparently. The Buccaneers have a pair of joint practices scheduled with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday and Wednesday and both Brate and Seferian-Jenkins should expect to get time with the front-line offense.
"We're going to even out those reps with the first group with Cam and Austin," said Koetter. "I mean, Austin's worked his way right back in there and when he got moved down the depth chart, all you can ask a player when he gets moved down is that he competes and does better and tries to get back up there and he's done that. Now, he's not perfect by any means, and Cam's had a fantastic camp. [Brate] did not have a great night catching the ball last night, but we're going to need both those guys."