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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Three things to watch as Bucs mini-camp gets going

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field on Tuesday for the first of their three-day mandatory mini-camp. We have well-documented that the Bucs are anxious to put 2017 and their 5-11 season behind them.

And, they’re free agent additions and draft picks being added into the mix, that are giving them optimism headed towards training camp in July.

With all of that in mind, here are three things that we will be watching for this week:

-How does Rookie running back Ronald Jones (above) fit immediately into the running back plans?

Jones, who was drafted in the second round out of USC, is a speedster and definitely represents a game-breaking threat that the Buccaneers have not had in at least a few seasons. That being said he does not know the offense and has yet to demonstrate one specific aspect that will dictate playing time colon pass blocking.

The Buccaneers playing to feature Peyton Barber an undrafted player a couple of seasons ago, as their starter. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers is also there, but the assumption is Jones will be on the field a bunch. How much and how soon? We shall see.

– Who will play right tackle in this minicamp and what does that foreshadow for the season if veteran Demar Dotson isn’t fully healthy or the team decides to go in another direction?

Dotson you may remember, suffered an offseason knee injury and has had surgery and is still a question mark, as to when he can return come training camp time and the preseason?

The Buccaneers have previously used former UCLA draft pick Caleb Benenoch as a replacement at right tackle, but also drafted Division II offensive lineman Alex Cappa from Humboldt State in California in April. And GM Jason Licht made it no secret earlier this offseason that they will try Cappa at right tackle.

Will we see him some in that position this week? Likely. If he and or Benenoch excel, could the team decide to use them this fall or will they wait it out for the veteran Dotson?

– Finally, with all the additions through free agency and number one draft pick Vita Vea, will the Buccaneers defensive line start coming to life this week?

This is especially with new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who has already asserted himself as a vocal teacher to that group that includes veteran Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.

In particular, the Buccaneer pass-rush was almost non-existent and dead last in the NFL in sacks last year. However the additions of Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vea enhance the chances to succeed.

It has to all start coming together now to be ready for later this summer and the preseason

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In all of Sunday’s dramatics, don’t forget about Bucs defense

Roy Cummings

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Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

There will be a tendency among Bucs followers to say that the catalyst behind Tampa Bay’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Browns on Sunday was the decision early last week to fire Mike Smith and make Mark Duffner defensive coordinator.

And perhaps there should be.

Despite their failure to defend short fields, the Bucs turned in what was easily their best defensive effort of the season Sunday, and they did so because they did something they seemingly refused to do under Smith: They simplified the defense.

Instead of running a ridiculously complex scheme that only works if the right pre- and post-snap reads are made and communicated properly and precisely across the defense, the Bucs “dummied things down,” significantly, for this game.

Longtime Bucs fans no doubt recognized that what the Bucs were doing most of the day on Sunday was playing a lot of old-fashioned cover 2, a zone scheme that greatly simplifies duties, especially for those struggling rookies patrolling the secondary.

Now, it helped that the Bucs were playing the Browns, and it helped even more that for at least half the game the Browns played some modified version a West Coast scheme that asked little of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in terms of throwing the ball downfield.

But give the Bucs credit for adjusting and for executing. Without Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry and despite losing Kwon Alexander to a knee injury midway through, the Bucs allowed a season-low 305 yards, recorded a season-high five sacks and limited Cleveland to three third down conversions.

“This game was all about the defense,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said afterward. “Our defensive players really brought their pride and their passion today.” This was a day when most everything they did defensive worked in the Bucs favor.

For example, it was a day in which Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib (twice) and even Will Gholston all got home on blitzes to account for four of the Bucs five sacks. It was also a day in which Nassib not only dropped into coverage, but broke up a pass down the sideline against a running back.

It was a day in which Lavonte David forced a Baker Mayfield fumble that rolled out of bounds on fourth down inside the red zone. And, it was a day when the Bucs held on their ground on a fourth-and-1 at their own goal line to preserve a one-score lead late in the fourth quarter.

Sure, the Browns eventually tied the game anyway, but that was after the Bucs went three-and-out and had to punt from inside their own end zone, creating yet another short-field situation for the Browns. The Browns had three of those Sunday, starting drives at the Bucs 19-, 26- and 16-yard lines. They scored touchdowns on two of them. So, if you want to nit-pick, you can nit-pick that. After all, defenses will tell you they should at least hold their opponent to a field goal in those situations.

That the Bucs failed suggests there’s still work to be done here and that there is. The Bucs effort and performance Sunday does not suggest they have suddenly crossed the threshold and become a solid defense. They’re anything but.

But this was a big step forward. It’s just too bad that it took this long to make that step. After all, it was a simple step that could and should have been made weeks ago.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gameday- Bucs return home to face Browns

Florida Football Insiders

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Bucs (3-3) vs. Browns (2-3-1)

When: Sunday 1 p.m.

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Spread: Bucs by 3 1/2 points (Vegasinsider.com)

Here’s what we are watching:

Change at defensive coordinator

After an outcry for the entire season from fans on the radio and the internet, they got their wish Monday when the Bucs fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after another loss, where the team gave up more than 300 yards passing and more than 30 points in the game.

Will newly-promoted defensive coordinator Mark Duffner make a difference? Will he take more chances with blitzes than Smith seemed to these first few games? Will the Bucs play with more passion and fire than what they’ve shown, especially playing back at home?

All of these are valid questions.

It’s definitely the early story line of this game.

That plays into, will Mayfield succeed?

Along those same lines, Cleveland rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield will have to carry the day for the Browns on the road. The rookie former number one overall pick struggled a week ago. as the Chargers blew them out in Cleveland.

Mayfield is a playmaker with a great arm on the run, and he will definitely test what has been a suspect Buccaneers pass defense. Tampa Bay comes into the game at the bottom in passing yards allowed and points allowed in the NFL.

How big a factor will Peyton Barber be?

Without a doubt, the Buccaneers have been dynamic in the passing game. This includes, going back to Jameis Winston as their starter last week against the Falcons, where he very nearly threw for 400 yards and had four touchdown passes

Still, you did need to run at some for some balance and the Bucs Run game look the best that it has all season a week ago. In specific, running back Peyton Barber ran tough between the tackles for 82 yards on 13 carries. It was the Bucs best output of the season on the ground.

The Browns have a solid defense led by another former number 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett at defensive end.

Can they stuff the Buccaneers Run game?

If they can, it will help Cleveland chances to not only stay the game but perhaps pulling upset

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Is Bucs DT Gerald McCoy “captaincy snub” sign of friction?

Florida Football Insiders

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

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 name 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.

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