Lovie Smith met with the press on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a 34-17 decision to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. In the interim, Smith had an opportunity to review the tape from that game, meet with his team and gain a more detailed understanding of what unfolded in Week 14 of the 2014 season.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Lovie Smith and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' loss to the Lions.1. Danny Lansanah continues to make himself more and more valuable to the Buccaneers.
The roster move was made just over a year ago, and it didn't exactly rock the NFL's waiver wires. Needing some depth at linebacker and on special teams after placing Jonathan Casillas on injured reserve, the Buccaneers plucked Danny Lansanah off the New York Jets' practice squad. It did make for a nice little story, given that Lansanah was working on a long-term NFL comeback, having last played in a regular season game with Green Bay in 2008. It wasn't necessarily a story many expected to last, however.
Three-hundred-and-sixty-nine days and an entire coaching staff later, Lansanah is still a Buccaneer. The man whose spot he took, Casillas, has since been traded to the New England Patriots, not too long after Lansanah took his job as the team's starting strongside linebacker. Not only has his story had staying power, it has only grown more remarkable. After seven starts at the SAM 'backer spot, Lansanah filled in quite capably for All-Pro Lavonte David on the weakside for two games. Then, this past Sunday in Detroit, he moved into the middle in the absence of Mason Foster, becoming the first player in Bucs history to start at all three LB spots in a 4-3 front in the same season.
On Monday after Lansanah's debut at the MIKE spot, Smith casually made a statement that, upon closer examination, indicates how far he has come in one calendar year.
When one thinks of the core foundation players on the Bucs' roster, the list usually starts with David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans has put himself in that group quickly, and the Bucs made a series of moves in last year's free agency to add more parts, such as defensive end Michael Johnson, tackle Anthony Collins and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. The cornerback duo of Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks seems like one of the team's strengths all of a sudden, and Smith referred to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins as the "tight end of the future." The internal list of "core" players in the minds of Smith and General Manager Jason Licht may differ here and there from those names, but the fact that Lansanah has a chance to be a part of it is remarkable.
Right now, Lansanah is proving invaluable by helping out the defense wherever he is needed. Eventually, if he is going to be around for years to come, the Buccaneers will have to decide where best to play him on the field.
"He won't be our WILL linebacker," said Smith with a grin, knowing that spot is locked up long-term by David. "From there I think his talents are suited probably better at the MIKE or the SAM linebacker position and he's had success at both of those. Again, we'll find out more these next three weeks, like we found out more about him each week he's played.
"You can't just move anywhere in our system and it's real easy to pick up, that's not the case. Linebacker-wise, the position has as much responsibility and it's hard when you move. All three linebacker positions are different. Again, Derrick Brooks played the same exact position his entire career, Hardy Nickerson did, it's hard doing that and for a guy to have to do that at all three positions is pretty much – almost series-to-series a little bit – it's just unheard of."
Lansanah's story remains, and it just keeps getting better.2. The Buccaneers have not and will not take risks with injured players.
Behind the scenes photos from Buccaneers vs. Lions at Ford Field in Detroit.
Actually, this should be fairly obvious based on empirical evidence. Lovie Smith is known to be particularly cautious with certain injuries, such as hamstring strains, preferring to do what is right for the player and the team in the long run as opposed to one Saturday afternoon. Tampa Bay has had a long list of players who were considered questionable and "game-time decisions" in recent weeks, and almost none of them have been able to convince the staff to let them play when game day rolled around.
Extrapolating that caution on muscle strains to potentially more serious injuries, including concussions, it's not surprising that Smith seemed a little irked Monday when asked to comment on a report that McCoy had been sent back into Sunday's game after dislocating a knee cap. Smith left no room for interpretation in his response.
"There's no truth to that," said Smith. "Gerald bruised his knee and stayed out a few plays and then went back in. We would not put Gerald McCoy back in to the game…Gerald McCoy would not go back into the game if he could only play with one leg. So that's not the case."
As for David, he'll have to advance through the league' concussion protocol in order to have a chance to play this week, and he'll have to prove he is 100% healthy in order to get clearance. Even if the Buccaneers were 11-2 instead of 2-11, they would not take chances with a concussion with any player, no matter how important he is to the team.
"Tough lick by him," said Smith. "For Gerald, Lavonte and any of our players, if there's anything that we need to do to protect our players, we'll always do that. They will never get back out on the football field until we're all 100 percent certain that it's okay for them to come back out there. We won't take any chances with them. We never have and we never will. Hopefully – yes, Lavonte has started that [protocol] process and we'll see how it goes throughout the week."**
- Smith didn't elaborate on the possibility of lineup changes, but there aren't too many young players who haven't already been given a shot.**
The Buccaneers were officially eliminated from the playoff race with their loss on Sunday, but that doesn't seem to have drastically changed the team's approach for the final three games. The Bucs have no postseason to hunt at this point, but a win or two could still make a difference in the long run.
"What I've told our football team is that I like our football team and eventually we'll be good, but right now we're not," said Smith. "Two-and-11 says that, there's no other way to put it. If we don't like it, we'll do something about it. We have an opportunity to at least get that 2-11 to 5-11 and we'll feel better about it…or maybe even just 3-11 and we'll feel better about it."
Since the playoffs are now out of the question, would Smith and his staff choose to give some more playing time to younger, untested players? Obviously, the words "Mike Glennon" are implied in that question, but Smith didn't directly address the possibility of the second-year quarterback re-emerging at some point over the next three weeks. The coach seemed willing to consider some changes, but not if they were going to be an obvious detriment to victory in those three games.
"We're going to do what gives us the best chance to win," said Smith. "If playing a player in a position that won't hurt our football team to win the football game, we'll always look at that. Haven't made it that far. But we won't give up a game just to see – to put a player in a situation like that."
And, of course, beyond Glennon there really aren't too many corners of the depth chart that need to be cleaned out. Players such as Lansanah, Jacquies Smith and Bradley McDougald might be worth some additional exposure, but they have already come to the forefront. Each of the last two games, the Bucs have used six of their seven inactive spots on injured regulars, which means the team's depth has been significantly tested already. One could possibly stump for rookie tackle Kevin Pamphile or cornerback Brandon Dixon, but it's hard to imagine any changes being too sweeping.
"I would like to think that if there's a young player that we haven't played…and when you go through a 2-11 season, you would have looked at that option a little bit earlier," said Smith. "So I don't think that we have a lot of those situations around."