TAMPA – “I don’t know if the defense was a little bit tired, but the offense came alive a little bit today, starting in that two-minute period. They went right down the field. DeSean Jackson and Jameis [Winston] had it going a little bit today. This might have been Jameis’ best day at training camp.”
If you’re a fan–and of course if you’re reading this why wouldn’t you be? This is exactly what you want to hear from your head coach before the end of the first week of camp has completed. Forget what he said about the defense, because that will happen and it’s the offense that’s going to make this team a playoff contender this season. On Thursday, we introduced the 2017-18 version of your Tampa Bay Buccaneers and what we felt was of biggest interest and concern with regards to the defense. Now, it’s time to give you our thoughts regarding the offensive side of the ball.
If it felt like the Bucs won in spite of their offense last season, and that most times they felt unbalanced, you would be accurate in your assessment. At least that’s what the numbers seem to confirm. Tampa Bay in their second season with Jameis Winston under center amassed 5,542 yards last season, good for a middle-of-the-pack finish overall in the league. What’s telling without seeing a single second of film is that 70-percent of that offense came through the air. Granted, that approach works when you’ve got a supersonic connection like Winston to Evans, and to a lesser, yet perhaps emerging connection(s) between Winston and Tight End Cameron Brate and WR Adam Humphries.
Speaking of Brate and Humphries and their emergence last season, let’s discuss the potential aerial assault that is the Bucs Offense this season. We emphasize potentially, because none of us have the magic crystal ball that predicts when injuries will happen. There are a few players (obviously) that the Bucs simply cannot afford to lose at any moment in time beginning and ending with #3 in your programs and #1 in your hearts, Mr. Winston. It’s his team. Period. End of story. So, assuming injuries DON’T happen, the Bucs have speed, and speed for days at that. Most specifically within the wide receiving corps.
That means guys like Bernard Reedy, Josh Huff and Donteea Dye Jr. must be able to contribute in addition to the main components like Evans, Humphries and DeSean Jackson. With those guys providing the ability to stretch the defense, perhaps that will be the magic elixir needed for the running game AND the pressure off Mike Evans to make ALL of the plays. Oh yeah, there’s also that Optimus Prime’d specimen from Alabama named OJ Howard that should be a nightmare once acclimated to the pace of the NFL. By all accounts, those mentioned plus Rookie Chris Godwin from Penn State have flashed during the first week of camp. And by all accounts, this wide receiving corps may end up one of the scariest–and deepest–in the NFL before it’s all said-and-done.
Yeah, about that franchise QB and WR we’ve been referencing in name. We’d be foolish not to dedicate an entire section of this piece to these two pillars of the team, forget how important they are to this team. Jameis Winston has thrown for 8,000+ yards his first two seasons and has already broken the All-Time Passing and Rushing totals in Franchise History his first two seasons. 2016 is #1, while his 2015 season sits at second. His QB rating has improved his first two season from 84.2 his rookie season to 86.1 last season. It’s his team, and why wouldn’t it be?
If his numbers continue to rise from his first two seasons, even in small increments, that could mean 2-3 extra wins this season alone. He’s doing the little things that make the difference and Koetter acknowledges that: “Coming from the program he came from and the record he has, when we’re talking about the stuff Jameis has to work on it’s microscopic. This stuff is so tiny – knowing when to take the check-down, knowing when to go for the big play, knowing when to scramble. Some of our best plays come off Jameis’ scrambling.” said Koetter.
Evans’ last three seasons have produced three of the top fifteen all-time performances in terms of receiving yardage and last season, Evans scored the second-most touchdowns in Bucs History in 2016 and recorded the third-most receiving yards in franchise history with 1,321. His last two seasons have produced over 2,500 receiving yards. Without question, Evans’ impact is felt beyond the field since he’s one of the veterans that is expected to lead by example. It’s his mental impact on opposing defenses coupled with his physically freakish frame that ultimately put him on the list of WR’s waiting to be elevated to elite status.
Other concerns to be addressed? Well, there’s plenty. So far this camp, one of the biggest concerns has been the progression of the running backs and offensive line. One of those reasons for concern in the running game, aside from the obvious, is the 3-game suspension looming for Doug Martin. In the few short days of camp, Martin has been an absolute beast, but more importantly guys like Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Simms III have been pretty good at taking some of the stress off folks that worry about the drop-off in performance. Martin will be available for the New York Giants game week four, which shouldn’t be THAT much of a loss as long as the rest of the components do their job.
In addition to the irreplaceability of the QB, we can add the entire OL to that equation. Whether you like the guys that are in place or not, they’re in place. Things could be A LOT worse in fact. The Bucs OL gave up a ton of sacks last season at 35, but not all of those are on the line, as Jameis does have the tendency to hold on a little longer than needed at times. While these things take some time to mature like a fine wine, OG/C Ali Marpet likes the progression of his crew, and that’s a good thing. “There’s been a lot of improvement in a very short amount of time, but there is still a long way to go as a team, 90 percent of the looks are very manageable and then there [are] just these little subtleties that you need to get right – those exotic looks, and things like that – so that’s where it gets complicated.” said Marpet. “When we get hip-to-hip and we’re working double teams, we are able to get a lot of movement. When we are doing things the right way – it’s impressive. That’s a big difference.”