Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter witnessed something on Monday that neither he nor anyone else has seen since the first series of the Bucs 2016 season-opener against the Falcons:
Defensive end Jacquies Smith in pads and taking snaps in practice.
The would-be sack-master who racked up 13.5 sacks in 27 games before he went down with a season-ending knee injury last September is back on the field and working out and that’s not even the best news.
Though Koetter may be bluffing a bit, he certainly didn’t rule out the possibility Smith could be in the lineup for the Bucs whenever it is they take on the Dolphins in their 2017 season opener.
“He’s been out for a long time and it’s a lot different doing the mock drills with the trainers than it is playing against other grown men,’’ Koetter said. “But I don’t think (he’s) too far off.’’
What would allow for such an immediate return to game-day activity for Smith is the fact that in order to be productive, all he really has to do is lean on his pure athleticism and a little bit of strength.
At this point, Smith is a situational pass rusher, and if he’s limited to working on obvious passing downs, he could still make an impact as long as the Bucs believe he has his burst and speed back.
The fear is that the long layoff has surely robbed Smith of a great deal of his conditioning and it’s in situations such as these that premier athletes tend to put themselves in even greater danger.
They can feel as if they’re in shape and ready to go but it’s when they feel that way sometimes that they have the greatest potential, especially after a long layoff, to pull a hamstring or suffer a groin strain.
That would be one reason to proceed with cautions and keep Smith out of the game but Koetter is a firm believer in playing healthy players when they’re healthy enough to play so if Smith is healthy, he could go.
By the way, it was one of Koetter’s primary objectives to see the Bucs get to start of the season healthy and with Smith returning to practice today, he appears to have achieved that objective.
Though they were without several players who were nursing injuries during the last week of the preseason, everyone that’s on the active roster was at work and working out on Monday.
That included defensive end Gerald McCoy, cornerback Brent Grimes, linebacker Kwon Alexander, right tackle Demar Dotson, wide receivers Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries and left guard Kevin Pamphile.
Barring something unforeseen then, the Bucs should get to Miami as healthy as they could possibly hope to be for the start of the season and with all 22 projected starters ready to go.