Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers concluded their 2016 preseason slate with a 20-13 loss to Washington. 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 a very wet end to the team's warm-up for the regular season.
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 loss to Washington.
1. The Bucs have kickoff return options among players not on the bubble if needed.
Tampa Bay opened the preseason in Philadelphia with second-year wide receiver Kenny Bell fielding the very first kickoff. However, Bell fumbled on that play, leading to a quick Eagles score, and he never got another shot at the job. Bell also suffered a concussion in Wednesday's preseason finale against Washington.
After that, second-year wideout Donteea Dye seemed to rise to the top of the depth chart at that position, averaging 25.8 yards on four returns. Then Dye sustained an injury on the opening return of the win over Cleveland in Week Three and was subsequently waived/injured. In the finale on Wednesday night, first-year wide receiver Bernard Reedy got the majority of the work in both kick return roles, though he did muff two punts and had an additional fumble erased by a ruling that his forward progress had been stopped.
Reedy, of course, went into that game still battling for a reserve spot on the Bucs' receiving corps, so his eventual roster status will determine whether or not he's a long-term candidate for the return job. Koetter did mention one other potential option from the players who took part in Wednesdays' game.
"Injuries have affected us at that position," said the coach. "I actually like what I've seen from Ryan Smith. He's got a burst and he's not afraid and he'll hit it in there."
Smith, a fourth-round pick who is converting to safety from his primary college position of quarterback, returned one kickoff for 25 yards in Wednesday's game. He had another runback for 19 yards earlier in the preseason. Smith's chances of making the team as a reserve safety seemed to get a boost when veteran safety Major Wright was released during last week's cut-down to 75 players. No matter what happens with Smith, both in terms of the 53-man roster and the 46 men the Bucs choose to keep active on game days, there are existing options among the more well-established players.
"We've known all along that Adam Humphries can go back there and do it," said Koetter, referring to the second-year player who had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown on Wednesday night. "Adam Humphries has shown what he's capable of with the punt returning. We're pretty confident that [running back] Charles Sims can go back there. Sometimes we work some guys in practice that we don't put back there in preseason games."
2. The linebacking corps is still a work in progress but recent minor injuries have obscured some of the depth.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' preseason game against the Redskins.
The Buccaneers played Wednesday's game without almost all of their starters, including the linebacker trio of Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Daryl Smith. Smith has actually not played since the preseason opener due to a minor injury.
In their place, Tampa Bay started Adarius Glanton on the weak side, Luke Rhodes in the middle and Josh Keyes on the strong side in Wednesday night's game. Glanton joined the Buccaneers late in the season last year, Rhodes is an undrafted rookie and Keyes made the team as an undrafted free agent last year, appearing in seven contests. Rookie Micah Awe and third-year player Jeremiah George also saw action in Wednesday's game.
Rhodes led the team with eight tackles against Washington while Glanton had six and Keyes added four plus one of the team's three sacks. The one other linebacker on the depth chart who did not play in the game, due to his own minor injury, is rookie Devante Bond, a sixth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma.
Tampa Bay's defense did not play well against the run on Wednesday, giving up 245 yards, and Koetter said that there were repeated problems with players hitting the wrong gaps. That indicates an unsatisfactory level of play from the linebacking corps as a whole, though the sloppy weather conditions surely didn't help. In addition, the depth of the position will look better when Smith and Bond are back in the mix.
"That's an area that we've definitely got to improve," said Koetter. "One thing we've got to remember is that Devante Bond has been out for a while, both Devante Bond and Daryl Smith, who will be in our starting linebacker group. Those guys both missed a lot of time here in training camp. We feel that Bond did show us enough in the time that he was up that I think he's going to bolster the second group. We feel really good about our three starters, which will go down to two guys when we go into nickel defense."
3. While not confirming that the team will keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster again in 2016, Koetter did note that third-string passer Ryan Griffin was able to shake off a rough start on Wednesday night.
Almost exactly a year ago, right after the final round of roster cuts, the Buccaneers claimed quarterback Ryan Griffin off waivers from the New Orleans Saints. According to Koetter, Griffin was one of two passers on other rosters that his team was ready to pounce on if they didn't make it through their own teams' cuts. The Buccaneers kept Griffin on their 53-man roster as a third quarterback all year, a clear indication that they wanted to prevent any other team from swooping in to take him away.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' preseason matchup with the Redskins.
On Monday, Koetter said he would prefer, in the ideal situation, to keep only two quarterbacks on the active roster, with a third, "developmental" passer on the practice squad. He also sounded as if that would not be an option again for the Buccaneers in 2016, thanks to their continued long-term interest in Griffin.
"I think it's safe [to say] that we're probably going to keep three quarterbacks," said Koetter on Monday, two days before the team's preseason finale. "Two reasons: One, we put a lot of time into Ryan Griffin and I think he's proving that he's capable of being a backup in this league. And then the second thing is, obviously, it's not a big secret that Mike Glennon is going into the last year of his contract."
Glennon and Griffin split Wednesday's game as Jameis Winston was given the night off along with almost all of the starters on both teams. Neither team had much luck throwing the ball all night thanks to sodden footballs and a wet track, but Griffin did eventually throw for 190 yards and one touchdown, along with an interception on his first pass of the game.
"Similar to what I said last night, he did not get off to a good start," said Koetter of Griffin. "He made a very poor decision on that first pass. But as the game went on, as the second half went on and the conditions got better – although the balls were still very wet – Griff did a really nice job in those last couple drives. [He] had multiple passes dropped. He scrambled around a little bit. He played more like the Ryan Griffin that we've seen in practice and the way we expect him to play in the future. We saw a lot more of that as the game went further on into the second half."
The Buccaneers will make their 53-man roster decisions over the next 48 hours, and Koetter would not say whether the team still intended to keep all three quarterbacks. For the most part, though, it did not seem as if one game played in tough conditions with mostly inexperienced teammates had greatly affected the team's opinion of Griffin.
"We think that Ryan Griffin has a chance to be a solid backup," said Koetter. "But, now, we also have a guy who I think is one of the top backups in the league in Mike Glennon, so we don't necessarily need him to be the backup today. But we know we've got a guy that we can count on moving forward."