It’s the one thing that scares coaching staffs and that you cannot plan in advance for: what happens if a guy you are counting on gets injured right away?
The Buccaneers had that happen during Sunday’s workout, as #1 pick defensive tackle Vita Vea limped out of the early part of the practice with a lower leg injury. That’s the bad news. The good news is that has now been reported not serious.
For #Bucs first-round DT Vita Vea, who left practice limping today, the early word is it’s just a calf strain. I’d expect caution with his availability
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 29, 2018
Vea, who was the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the University of Washington last year, has been expected to see significant playing time on the interior early in the year next to perennial Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.
We wrote early last week that Vea that is not only trimmed down some from his 350lb. plus college playing weight, but was ready to deal with Tampa’s stifling humidity and heat index that at times in late July and early August can top 100 degrees.
Sunday’s Bucs workout had been moved inside to their new indoor practice facility.
Vea has also been raving about new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner for his teaching/mentoring the defensive line already. He will now have to rely on help from the meeting room and watching from the sidelines for a little while.
If it is only a “Grade one calf strain” for Vea, then, as outlined here, he may only be out for a few days or, so. However, the Bucs have every reason to be cautious and may decide to sit him a little longer with rest, rehab and treatment.
The Bucs will open their season on Thursday night August 9th in Miami.
Is Bucs DT Gerald McCoy “captaincy snub” sign of friction?
It has already been a soap opera type season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and things got a little more weird on Friday, when the team decided five games into their season to reveal their captains. And it wasn’t so much who was selected, but rather one prominent players named not in the mix.
For going on almost a decade, Gerald McCoy has been the iconic member of Tampa Bay’s defense. This includes six consecutive Pro Bowls that the defensive tackle has earned, while playing on mostly bad football teams.
McCoy has been a standard for hard work and keeping a good attitude on the Bucs. Further, he’s had the respect of his teammates in the locker room to the extent that they’ve named him a captain year after year throughout his career.
That is until his 2018 version of the Buccaneers and the weird vote the coach Dirk Koetter just concluded.
Weird, because the Bucs did not pick their captains for the full season at the beginning of the year, but rather waited until after QB Jameis Winston was back from suspension, and popular veteran backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had gone back to the bench, to hold the vote.
While the team did not make an official announcement, offensive players Mike Evans and Ali Marpet, linebackers Kwon Alexander and LaVonte David, and special teams player/linebacker Adarius Taylor were the five choices by the Bucs personnel.
Again, it’s not surprising that Winston stays in the background, because of his off the field problem that led to the NFL suspension and keeping it low-key for the quarterback.
What is surprising is that McCoy would not be named by his peers, especially by the defense.
A couple of important points:
There are numerous brand new Buccaneers, including McCoy’s defensive line mates like Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, and rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea. Also included are several new Buccaneers in the secondary like rookies M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis, and Jordan Whitehead.
So when you have that many new players voting, it’s entirely possible that they genuinely wanted someone different that they have all seen leading all offseason, training camp and the beginning of the regular season.
Now, another factor may very well be, that McCoy is about to be out for an extended period of time with his calf injury. He suffered the injury in the second half of the loss to the Falcons game and did not return. The Buccaneers gave no real update all week on the severity of the injury other than, McCoy not practicing all week and then being listed as out on Friday for the Browns game.
So, if hypothetically McCoy is going to miss, let’s say, a month of games, and you have this quirky/odd decision by Koetter to hold the captain’s vote after five games of the season, then it would make sense that his defensive teammates voted for Alexander and David to represent them.
And there’s one more possibility: and that’s that’s some of the guys in that locker room want a different voice or a different leader besides McCoy. It’s important to point out there’s no sign of actual friction and problems. However, it is eye opening, when a guy who has been a captain for more than five straight years on the same team and one of the best players on that team for all of that time, is suddenly not the guy.
Could you have imagined this kind of scenario over the last 20 years with Ray Lewis and Baltimore? Brian Urlacher in Chicago? What about with present day defenders that are synonymous with their teams like J.J. Watt of the Texans, previously Richard Sherman in Seattle, and Luke Kuechly of the Panthers?
So, maybe it is time for “new blood” in terms of leadership for the Bucs? Maybe there is something more to this captaincy stub for McCoy, maybe it has to do with the severity of an injury that nobody has really laid out for the public yet?
And one final maybe, is maybe McCoy told his teammates he didn’t want to be a captain?
That one is unlikely. However, until we hear from McCoy or his coach and/or how long he’s out with the calf injury, then we’re all left to speculate.
The only thing we do know is the Bucs are back home to Raymond James Stadium to play Sunday afternoon against the Browns with different leaders out in the forefront.
And naturally, if you start winninig again, no one will care who the captains are or aren’t, including McCoy.
Three things that can be immediately better for Bucs defense Sunday
The Bucs are suddenly struggling, having lost three straight games and have taken the drastic measure of firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith earlier in the week.
So now, those that have been erupting on sports radio and all over the internet screaming about how a change in defensive play-calling had to happen have gotten their wish.
Now, comes the reality of what has to be better for the Buccaneers starting Sunday, with linebackers coach Mark Duffner now at the controls of the D. And will it help their match-up at home with the Browns and moving forward for the rest of the year?
We have come up with three things that are rather obvious, seem to be essential to the Buccaneers defenders on the field executing what’s being called and playing better-more effective from week to week.
Simplify things for the young secondary
Too many times over the first five games, the Buccaneers rookies like DB M.J. Stewart and safety Jordan Whitehead and other relatively inexperienced players in the secondary have looked lost trying to cover the likes of: the Saints Michael Thomas, the Steelers Antonio Brown, the first half disaster in Chicago with a gave up five touchdown passes and last week Falcons Julio Jones catching 11 more passes.
And in most cases, those big-name receivers were running wide open through the Bucs secondary. Too many times, the defensive backs were not on the same page about who should be covering whom, and that is something that has to be simplified and iron out.
Duffner’s main task this week has to have been make sure that the players are sure of where to be and when in their coverages.
That leads to… a better pass rush knocking down and sacking the quarterback
With the exception of Jason Pierre-Paul, who we wrote about again yesterday, there hasn’t been much impact from the Buccaneers bringing in free agents and drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the NFL draft.
A year ago, Tampa Bay was dead last in sacks, the Bucs currently have only 9 Sacks through the first five games and that is 29th in the NFL.
Now, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has missed two practices with a calf injury and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Still, guys like rookie Vita Vea, DE Vinny Curry and even former second round pick Noah Spence (who’s had trouble being active) have to step up and rush the QB.
And finally, will we see more blitzing?
After “laying back” for the entire first half of the Bears blowout and not blitzing, the Bucs were much more aggressive last week in Atlanta. Time and again, they brought linebackers, sometimes two of them, and they brought pressure with safeties and even cornerback blitzes, too.
Now Atlanta still had success, as Matt Ryan threw for 354 yards and three scores.
Still, an aggressive mentality that Duffner will likely continue with his defensive play calls was there: don’t just sit back with multiple rookies in the secondary and hope to “play coverage” and succeed.
It will take players like LB’s LaVonte David (above) and Kwon Alexander and hard hitting safety Justin Evans rushing Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield and getting to him with knockdowns and sacks. David has at times over the last three seasons under Smith’s scheme been almost an afterthought.
He’s one of the best inside linebackers in football. Let’s see if he starts getting the “green light” to make more plays by blitzing.
If he and the Buccaneers do have success in that area, there is no doubt the Bucs will see immediate results.
Bucs DE Pierre-Paul- “I’m doing it for another Superbowl”
The Buccaneers defense is searching – searching for solutions after starting the season as arguably the worst pass defense in the NFL, and they have to find answers.
On Wednesday, veteran Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was trying to help come up with some of those answers, as the Bucs get set to take on the Browns back home on Sunday.
The first and most dramatic change this week is the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Smith on Monday. It really was not a surprise that the move was made, as the outcry had grown louder and louder for Smith’s dismissal with each passing week. And, when it was obvious the pass defense in particular, seemingly could not stop any quarterback for any extended period of time going all the way back to the beginning of 2017.
As for Pierre-Paul, he was acquired in March in a trade from the New York Giants- a place where he’d been to the Pro Bowl twice. And then, there’s something that should excite Bucs fans that JPP was talking about on Wednesday, the Superbowl:
"The main goal is trying to make the playoffs this year. That's the main goal."
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 17, 2018
Pierre-Paul saying “I’m doing it for another Superbowl,” will undoubtedly be mocked by some, but it’s also a standard that is worth striving for in that Buccaneers locker room.
And what Pierre-Paul means is everyone being held to that standard to improve the pass defense in specific, and get the Buccaneers back on track.
For his part, Pierre-Paul has five sacks in 5 games to go along with six tackles for loss and 10 total quarterback hits. While none of that he’s going to replace how bad the Buccaneers pass defense has been overall, the point is jpp has been doing his part so far this season.
Will the elevation of linebackers coach Mark Duffner to defensive coordinator make a difference in terms of scheme and bringing the blitz more early and often in games? Pierre-paul addressed being more aggressive in games early on Wednesday, also:
“At times, we come out flat….and then, we change it up at halftime. I think we come out like we did (after) halftime last week, and stick to that, don’t care what the score is….we’ll be fine.”
Pierre-Paul also joked about Browns rookie number one overall pick Baker Mayfield coming to lead the Browns on Sunday:
“He’s a rookie quarterback, man. I love it. Grasping be in the NFL….and I’ll be chasing him this Sunday.”
The bottom line, as stats like these from Pro Football Focus show, the Bucs are at the bottom defensively in most measurable stats against the pass. And, veteran Pro Bowl defensive tackle is Gerald McCoy is nursing an injured calf and may not be able to play this week or in the short-term.
So, it’s an even bigger role for JPP to lead the defensive line specifically, get after Mayfield and get the Buccaneers pass defense some confidence back.
And, when he speaks of the playoffs, he speaks from experience, JPP has been there for previous times in his career, including the G-Man winning the Super Bowl over the Patriots in the 2011 season.
That should be the Bucs goal.
But, first things first, they must snap their three-game losing streak, get back to. 500 Sunday and then start worrying about the postseason, much less a Superbowl.
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