In a move completely expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after the team’s latest dismal performance on defense in Sunday’s 34 – 29 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Five games into his third season, Smith had been embattled for the last year and a half with a defense that was consistently unable to pressure the quarterback and constantly giving up tons of yardage and points.
The Buccaneers announced Smiths firing in a press release Monday afternoon and then Coach Dirk Koetter addressed the media about an hour later:
Tune in to Dirk Koetter's day-after-game press conference. https://t.co/BurkxVrqov
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 15, 2018
“We thank coach Smith for the effort, passion-everything he brought to the Bucs…..This is a production business, and we have to play better on defense.” Koetter was asked whether it was his decision alone to make the move and quickly and tersely answered “Yes.”
Koetter later described the move to fire Smith, as “the second toughest thing that I’ve ever had to do in coaching.”
He hand-picked Smith to come to Tampa Bay, when Koetter was elevated as the Buccaneers head coach in 2016. He had previously worked as Smith’s offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.
While Koetter was adamant that the decision was his and his alone, there’s been a firestorm of criticism on the airwaves, the internet and elsewhere around Smith and the lack of defensive success this season.
Sunday was the 17th time that Smith’s defense had given up at least 300 yards passing during his 2+ years tenure with the Buccaneers. It also came on the heels of Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky lighting them up for six TD passes in a 48-10 win two weeks ago before the bye.
Sunday was also the fourth consecutive loss to Smiths old team, the Falcons.
During Smith’s first season as defensive coordinator, the Buccaneers were struggling in the first half of the year. However that was being blamed on the new defense taking time to learn and adjust to. And to the credit of Smith, his staff and the players, the Bucs defense was significantly better the second half of that season creating turnovers and getting sacks, as the team won five straight games. The Bucs finished 9 and 7 and just missed the playoffs.
Smith coached the Falcons for seven seasons from 2008 – 14 and had winning seasons in each of his first five years with four playoff appearances. Koetter was his offensive coordinator for the last two seasons in Atlanta before Smith was fired.
Smith had previously been the defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars for five years from 2003 to 2007.
The Buccaneers have named linebackers coach Mark Duffner, as their defensive coordinator on an interim basis. Dufner is a longtime NFL assistant, who was also the Bengals defensive coordinator earlier in the 2000s.
Bucs WR Mike Evans still not practicing
The Bucs were back on the practice field Wednesday morning getting ready for their third preseason game on Friday night with the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium. However, once again, they are without their top receiver, Mike Evans, who remains sidelined with an injury.
Buccaneers beat reporter for The Athletic, Greg Auman, tweeted that Evans was not out on the practice field during the portion that is open to the media:
Mike Evans not practicing today means Mike Evans isn't playing Friday, and he's not playing next week, which means he'll finish the preseason without a catch. He's as known a commodity as the Bucs have on their roster though.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 21, 2019
Evans pulled up during a drill in Sunday’s practice and head coach Bruce Arians made mention of the injury on Monday:
“Mike tweaked yesterday…it’s nothing serious,” Arians told the media.
It is reportedly a leg injury to Evans’ quadriceps that is hampering him.
The Bucs are not required to talk about injuries, much less the severity of them, at this stage. And, it’s not believed that there will be any further updates on Evans this week.
However, it’s easy to conclude the Tampa Bay will not risk playing him in the third preseason game and is Auman tweeted, the starters never play in the fourth preseason game which will be next Thursday in Dallas.
So clearly, Tampa Bay is resting and rehabbing Evans for the season opener with the 49ers.
Evans, a Pro Bowl wide receiver from a year ago, is the top target of QB Jameis Winston. A year ago he caught for a career high 1,524 yards and also career high 17.7 avg with 8 TDs.
Evans had 86 receptions, which were the second most of his five year career, in 2018, and he’s one of three receivers in NFL history to have 1,000+ receiving yards in each of his first five seasons. Hall of Famer, Randy Moss and A.J. Green are the other two.
Evans previously dealt with a hamstring injury in the 2015 preseason and missed the season opener with Tennessee but returned the following week. However, he’s been very durable since then, playing in 47 of the 48 games the last three years, having missed only a 2017 game while suspended for his role in a fight against the Saints.
This info comes on Evans’ birthday, as he turns just 26 today.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones back at Tuesday practice
Bucs fans can exhale on the knee injury for running back Ronald Jones, at least for now.
Jones was seen at the portion of practice open to the media Tuesday afternoon with his left knee heavily wrapped but, most importantly, participating in drills in full pads.
Ronald Jones back at practice today with his knee heavily taped but moving pretty good. Certainly not 100. %Mike Evans still out but it’s not a serious. pic.twitter.com/RHDR80qfqn
— FanStreamSports JP (@FanStreamJP) August 20, 2019
Jones had not practiced the last two days of Bucs training camp with what was described as a swollen knee suffered after playing in Friday night’s preseason game with the Dolphins.
As we wrote yesterday, coach Bruce Arians provided a brief update after practice into Jones’ situation,
“Ronald’s knee swelled up a little bit and just trying to take it day to day with him.”
Traditionally, the third preseason game is the final time, where starters for the regular season play significantly. The Bucs are set to host the Cleveland Browns Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.
When asked about Jones’ chances to play or whether the team would play it safe, Arians briefly said:
“We’ll see how it is. We still got a few more days. I think Ronald’s gonna be ok.”
Jones appeared to have suffered some kind of left knee hyper-extension returning the opening kickoff on a rain-slicked turf against the Friday night. That’s what can be seen this photo on social media from Tampa Bay sports reporter Kevin O’Donnell showing Jones knee clearly in an awkward spot when he planted:
Wondering why #Bucs runningback Ronald Jones knee is sore? This is the opening kickoff Friday night against the Dolphins. Rojo didn’t practice yesterday. Looks like a hyperextension to me. pic.twitter.com/mVmW86E96x
— Kevin ODonnell Fox13 (@ODonnellFox13) August 19, 2019
Jones did carry the ball twice for 7 yards later in the first quarter of the game before being shut down for the night.
Jones has been one of the standouts of the Bucs offseason and training camp with glowing updates repeatedly from Arians about his progress and his chances of seeing significant playing time. He missed three games with a hamstring injury in a disappointing rookie year.
However, he is expected to challenge incumbent starter from last year Peyton Barber for playing time/carries, once the regular season gets underway in two weeks.
Another obvious point, if his knee was sprained or worse, the Bucs would not have had on the field in full uniform trying to run and cut, even at a reduced speed. So, that’s also a positive.
For now, we await Arians’ and the teams plans for using Jones, or not, against the Browns later today and tomorrow.