Off a humbling lost to the mediocre-at-best 49ers team Sunday, the Bucs are now scrambling to make roster moves, as they prepare on a short week to travel and play Carolina Thursday night. And the team, is moving on from two of its starters a year ago in the process.
First Tampa Bay is placing safety Justin Evans on injured reserve due to his lingering foot and achilles problems. Buccaneers beat reporter for The Athletic, Greg Auman, had details on the corresponding move the Tampa Bay would be making:
Bucs' moves reported here — adding T Josh Wells, putting S Justin Evans on injured reserve — aren't on today's NFL transactions, so team may not formally announce until the morning.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 9, 2019
Evans, a former second round pick, has been plagued with foot injuries, as this is his third in the just two seasons. At the end of his rookie season, the Bucs put him Injured reserve after injuring his ankle against the Atlanta Falcons after making six combined tackles. He started 10 games a year ago and has 19 starts in his two seasons.
In Week 10 of the 2018 season, Evans injured his toe, and missed the next two games. In his first game back in Week 13, he was carted off the field in the second quarter after aggravating the toe injury. He missed two more games before being placed on injured reserve.
The Buccaneers have two other young safeties they’ve been counting on with Evans injured during preseason in Jordan Whitehead, who led them in tackles with eight in Sunday’s loss and 2019 third round pick, Mike Edwards. Auman further reported Tuesday morning that the team will bring back veteran safety Andrew Adams to help with depth at the position.
Adams was not re-signed as a free agent in the offseason and hooked on with the Lions. They cut him at the end of preseason and now the veteran can come back to the Bucs at cheaper cost after week one. This is because under CBA rules, players on the roster in the first week have their 2019 salary guaranteed.
It’s unlikely that Adams will play Thursday night in Charlotte, but if he were to be out there, he did have a three interception game late last season against Cam Newton and the Panthers.
Meanwhile, the addition of Wells, a former Jaguars tackle, is also motivated by the Buccaneers unhappiness with their offensive line.
That was further magnified when it was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport later on Monday evening that the Bucs were cutting last year’s starting right guard, Caleb Benenoch.
Benenoch was originally drafted as a tackle out of UCLA in the fifth round of 2016, but played every game a year ago at right guard. He struggled mightily and was regarded as one of the worst interior lineman in football on a team that went 5 – 11.
The new coaching staff led by Bruce Arians and his offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich elected to keep Benenoch on board, as he was in the final year of his rookie contract and he made the 53 man roster. He was active Sunday, but saw no action on offense sitting behind second year guard, Alex Cappa.
Wells is a four-year veteran, who started seven games a year ago and 15 games in 2017 but did not fit into the Jaguars 2019 plans.
The Buccaneers offensive line had issues with the 49ers front for pass-rush Sunday, including multiple penalties, sacks and quarterback pressures of Jameis Winston allowed during pass protection. Tampa Bay’s offense scored only one touchdown, but had four turnovers in the defeat.
Bucs will face two former head coaches at once Sunday
On the surface, the Bucs matchup with the Falcons that has both teams sitting at 3 – 7 doesn’t appear to have a lot of intrigue or subplots However, it is history-making for Tampa Bay and for their opponent.
That’s because, for the first time In franchise history the Bucs will go against a team that has two of their former head coaches on the opposing sideline at the same time.
Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter (above) was previously Tampa Bay’s head coach from 2016 – 2018. He was fired at the end of last season after back-to-back 5 – 11 finishes. Koetter has returned to Atlanta, where he was the offensive coordinator prior to coming to the Buccaneers in the same role in 2015.
The Falcons offense had been struggling, as the team began the year 1-7, but has come on strong the last two weeks behind perennial Pro Bowl QB, Matt Ryan.
And, Tampa Bay will see another one of their former coaches, Raheem Morris, on Sunday in Atlanta, too. Morris has been switched in midseason to the new secondary coach for the Falcons. He had been serving as the wide receivers coach for the past few seasons under coach, Dan Quinn.
The move has already paid off, as Atlanta’s secondary has seen improved play, as has the defense overall, in back-to-back victories at New Orleans and that Carolina. In those two games since the switch was made, Atlanta has not allowed a touchdown in either.
Morris was the Bucs head coach from 2009 – 11 and is the last coach to have a 10-win season for Tampa Bay. That came in 2010 when the Buccaneers finished 10 – 6. Greg Schiano, and Lovie Smith were both fired after two losing Seasons at the helm. Then, Koetter actually had a winning season at 9 -7 in 2016, but then the team regressed.
For his part, the new Falcons offensive coordinator said to the media this week that he will approach this game with his most recent team, as just any other game. And, that he’s actually a fan of Jameis Winston’s “except for the two games out of the year.” Those would be the ones where, they play Atlanta starting now.
Morris has kept a low profile and hasn’t had much to say, but his defense has done the talking the last two games.
If you are wondering, the last time the Bucs faced a former head coach before this weekend was in 2003. That’s when they very famously suffered a 21-point fourth-quarter collapse and lost to Tony Dungy (whom they had fired two years before), Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in overtime on Monday Night Football.
As for Winston, he currently leads the NFL with 18 interceptions and despite having thrown for 300 yards or more in each of the last five games for the Buccaneers, they have only won one of them.
So now, the pressure will be on for he and his teammates to try to get back on the winning track in a hostile Mercedes-Benz Stadium with two of their former coaches staring back at them.
Bucs coordinator Leftwich defended his offense Thursday
On the heels of a 34 – 17 defeat to the Saints that dropped the Bucs to 3 – 7, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich had his weekly scheduled media session Thursday. And, he did his best in trying to defend some of their shortcomings they’ve had.
"We’re trying to win every time we go out, and whatever the situation holds within the game, we’re going to do that to try to win the football game.”
➡️: OC Byron Leftwich pic.twitter.com/icf5qLsDNP
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) November 21, 2019
Most interestingly were when the subjects of the Bucs lack of run game balance came up and the struggles with Jameis Winston’s interceptions.
First on the lack of mixing the run (Tampa Bay ran it only six times with running backs in Sunday’s defeat) Leftwich told the media,
“We were just down early (13-0 in the first quarter). When you’re trying to win the game when it’s like that? You’re not going to have a lot of rushing attempts in that situation. It’s just how the game went.”
Still, the lack of a consistent run game has been obvious all year for Tampa Bay, and it also hinders them wanting to use play action passing.
Next, when he was pressed about Winston’s career-high 18 interceptions through 10 games, Leftwich deflected off of that by saying,
“I think we’re better as a whole…We’re trying to win football games. We’re doing things to put ourselves in the best position to win football games. When that doesn’t happen, it allows you guys (the media) to have this conversation, right? But, if we’re winning football games, it’s different, because all the numbers are not bad, right? …It’s just what you choose to pick. We got to have awareness on where we are not as good and try to improve on that.”
Some of the numbers are good, as Winston has thrown for 300+ yards, five games in a row, which is Tampa Bay record. And, WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are at the top of the NFL in combined receptions and yards.
As we wrote earlier this week, it’s the first time that coach Bruce Arians has not called the plays while being an offensive coordinator and a head coach over the course of the last 15 years in the NFL. And, there are many wondering if he shouldn’t take back over the play-calling down the stretch of this season?
For his part Leftwich made it clear in a joking manner that Arians has not let him know that anything is wrong, but that he would if he did feel that way,
“I know if he felt I was doing something wrong, he’d let me know. (Laughing) if he (Arians) felt something wasn’t going the right way, he’d let me know. That, I know.”
The Bucs head into Atlanta with a Falcons team that has stifled the Saints and the Panthers in back-to-back games, holding each without a TD. And, it will be a challenge for Leftwich, Winston, the Run game and the offense as a whole, to get it done this week.
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