TAMPA – Since the Buccaneers began training camp workouts three days ago, Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter has twice been asked to name which position battles will be the most hotly contested. And twice he has given the same answer: kicker and safety. In that order.
Koetter added the spots at the bottom of the depth chart at wide receiver, tight end and linebacker to that list on Saturday, but once again forgot to mention what he later admitted was indeed one of the more important battles in all of camp: slot corner.
“It is (one of the more contested battles) ,” Koetter said. “I should have mentioned that. Good competition there. We’ve got three guys there that have all started at slot corner in this league and they’re all battling right now.’’
The ever-increasing use of three- and four-receiver sets has forced most NFL teams, including the Bucs, to treat the slot corner spot as if it’s a starter’s position because the slot corner is usually on the field for more than half of all plays on any given Sunday.
What teams tend to do is swap out a linebacker for a slot corner, who’s primary job is usually to cover the slot receiver but is sometimes asked to cover a tight end or running back. No easy task there, of course, so it’s a spot that requires a vast array of skills.
A slot corner has to be part cornerback, part safety and part linebacker and as Koetter pointed out, the Bucs have three players who have started NFL games at the position in Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliott and Robert McClain.
What makes this battle even more interesting is the fact that Adjei-Barimah had the job all but locked down until he was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s PED policy last year and therefore had to yield some starts to Elliott, who proved to be just as good.
Then the Bucs brought in McClain, who had played for coordinator Mike Smith in Atlanta, for depth, and McClain has been one of the more impressive players in camp drills so far, picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown on the first day of workouts.
The battle in the Bucs camp for the slot corner spot won’t get as much attention as the battles for the kicker’s job or those at the starting safety positons but it’s still one of the most important and it will likely prove to be just as intriguing as the others.
Gamenight- Bucs look to continue rolling in battle with Steelers
Who: Buccaneers (2-0) vs. Steelers (0-1-1)
When: Monday Night 8:15 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Steelers by 1 (Courtesy VegasInsider.com)
It’s a massive early season game for both the Bucs and the Steelers for different reasons. Tampa Bay is trying to be 3-0 for the first time since 2005, while Pittsburgh doesn’t want to drop to 0-2-1 already on the young season.
Here’s what to watch:
Will “Fitzmagic” continue?
Through two weeks, there’s no better story involving a journeyman player than the Buccaneers QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in back to back weeks, which is the first time in Tampa Bay franchise history that anyone has done that. Fitzpatrick has also become the first QB in league history to have 400 or more passing yards and four or more passing TDs in the first two games of the season.
Will it continue tonight against a Steelers defense that was butchered at home a week ago by the Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes? Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in a K.C. rout in the Steel City.
Clearly, the Bucs weapons, WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson plus tight end O.J. Howard are on fire, too. So, the stage is set for the 14 year vet to play another good, if not great game, now will he?
Steelers in disarray
There is no doubt that Pittsburgh has talent, but they currently are a mess. As we documented already, All Pro RB Le’Veon Bell is a holdout, refusing to sign his “Franchise Player” tender offer for the second straight year. You couple that with back to back poor performances on the field in a tie at Cleveland and then, the bad loss last week, and the Steelers are reeling.
And it didn’t help to see coach Mike Tomlin call the entire defense around him on the sideline in the first half last week to scream at them about they way they were playing. Then, you had star WR Antonio Brown visibly upset during discussions on the sideline with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last Sunday, too.
Can the Steelers rally around Roethlisberger? Or will they continue to flounder?
Finally, will Bucs defense rise in Monday Night Spotlight
So much has been made of Fitzpatrick’s success, but the Buccaneers defense also has come up large, when needed. This would include last week in the home opening win over the Eagles. LB Kwon Alexander had a sack fumble, and the Buccaneers defensive line not only stuffed the run but pressured, harassed and knocked down/sacked Nick Foles repeatedly.
Players like Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy (above), Jason Pierre-Paul, LaVonte David, and Brent Grimes (who’s expected to play despite groin injury) are chomping at the bit to win a game like this with the country watching.
The Bucs haven’t been dominant, but rather opportunistic with stops and turnovers (three so far in two games), and that must continue tonight, if Tampa Bay wants to remain unbeaten.
Le’Veon Bell to Bucs trade rumor is juicy- but not reality
It’s certainly a messy situation in Pittsburgh with running back Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers feuding over him not receiving a long-term contract. However, despite the juicy rumor dropped Sunday that the Buccaneers could be a trade partner for Bell’s services, there are multiple reasons why it doesn’t make sense/won’t happen:
Steelers now listening to trade offers for RB Le’Veon Bell, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 23, 2018
Look. This obviously fits in perfectly to the Monday Night Football narrative that the Steelers are playing against the Buccaneers in Tampa, in a game on Schefter’s network.
Yet, there are numerous reasons why trading for Bell doesn’t make any sense for the Bucs.
The first and most obvious, is the Bucs have already won two games and have a great shot to be 3-0 against Bell’s team tonight. So the argument can be made: “you don’t mess with success you currently have.”
That would include having an explosive second round draft pick running back, Ronald Jones, who hasn’t been active for the first two games. But whom, they still believe as an organization will be a tremendous running back in the future.
In other words, if GM Jason Licht and the Bucs front office were to pull the trigger on this kind of a trade, now, they would almost be admitting that Jones was a bust draft pick before he’s ever set foot on the field for regular-season game. That’s hard to fathom.
Here’s another important reason why the Bucs won’t be making a trade for Le’Veon Bell: because this is the second consecutive year that Bell is under the franchise tender from the Steelers. And that means by CBA rules, he cannot receive a long-term contract during this season from anyone other than the Steelers.
It also means the Buccaneers and any other trading for Bell (shown in January’s playoff loss to the Jags above) would not have any assurance that he would sign a long-term contract with them, and would still be slated to be an unrestricted free agent in March of 2019.
The reason to make this move is: the future and multiple years of having Bell on your team. So, that is almost a non-starter for a trade right now.
Further, Bell and his side understand that at the moment, the Steelers are completely vulnerable, especially if they lose Monday night.
Their locker room is basically fractured over Bell not getting paid with a massive long-term deal like Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have. So, if Bell truly wants to remain in Pittsburgh he may be about him to be in a great position to get a longer-term deal for big money.
That brings us to the next point though: the Steelers may have made up their mind that they’re never going to give Bell a long-term contract. However, again he has all the leverage with that, too.
This is because, if Bell shows up by week 10 for work, and plays out the rest of the 2018 season, he is eligible for unrestricted free agency. And, most importantly again by CBA rules, the Steelers cannot put the franchise tag on him for a third consecutive season.
At that point, Bell very simply will have won the standoff with Pittsburgh management.
So it goes with trade rumors, intriguing as they may be, the more you dig deep, the less likely they are based in reality.
It’s a much more likely reality that the Steelers continue to play hardball, possibly losing a bunch while doing it. Then, Bell will appear in early November to collect his year of service and at that point have all the leverage in the world, as a 27 year old free agent about to be on the open market.
Oh, and the Steelers will have gotten nothing in return, if it comes to that point.
However, you view it, it’s a mess.
But, not one that ends with Le’Veon Bell being traded to the Buccaneers.
Former Bucs coach Dungy- “You can’t make that move”
It remains a huge topic for now in Tampa Bay, what happens when former number 1 pick and franchise quarterback Jameis Winston comes off of suspension after Monday night’s game with the Steelers?
For now, the answer appears to be simple, Ryan Fitzpatrick has played tremendous football for two weeks. This includes being named the NFC offensive player of the week for both weeks to start the season as the Bucs are 2 – 0.
Former Buccaneers coach and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Tony Dungy weighed in on the Winston debate Friday morning on “ProFootballTalk Live” and NBC Sports Network:
“If Ryan plays like he played these last two games, if he does it again Monday night, how can you say ‘we have a better chance to win with a quarterback who hasn’t been in the building for three and half weeks….You can’t make that move.” Dungy continued, “Right now, you have to say ‘Ryan Fitzpatrick gives us the best chance to win.'”
Dungy, who’s the commentator now in the studio for NBC on Sunday nights, will actually be at the Monday night showdown between the Bucs and the Steelers. This is because he’s being placed in Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor, acknowledging Dungy having turned around the Buccaneer franchise in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Dungy went on to reference the example in the early 70s of the Dolphins and Don Shula facing this dilemma when Bob Griese had broken his ankle at the beginning of a season. And veteran journeyman backup Earl Morrall replaced him, and ended up being the MVP of the NFL regular season that year. Morrall played all the way until he was ineffective in the AFC Championship Game. Griese replaced him and the Fins won it all with a perfect season.
Dungy’s point was the Shula chose to “ride the hot hand,” even with a great player and established quarterback waiting in the wings, and Miami ended up making history.
Dungy, the former Super Bowl coach of Colts, then even told Florio how he would handle the situation in his locker room and with the media after Monday night, if Fitzpatrick leads the Bucs to a win:
“I don’t think you can say with Ryan, ‘you’re our guy no matter what.’ … You’ve gotta say, ‘I’ll make the decision, when I feel like Ryan doesn’t give us the best chance to win, we’ve got a great player (Winston) ready to play. But, for now? Don’t ask me any questions, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s playing. I’ll let you know when he’s not gonna play.'”
It’s obvious that if Fitzpatrick just plays decently and the Bucs win, he’s going to remain their quarterback. Also, if FitzPatrick plays well and the Bucs narrowly lose, he more than likely is going to remain the quarterback, for now.
However, few believe that this situation is going to remain the same throughout the 16-game schedule and more than likely, the Bucs will turn back to Winston at some point and maybe soon.
However, as Dungy put it out there Friday, that time just isn’t right now.
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