TAMPA – Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter wrapped up training camp this past Thursday by making a rather bold statement, saying this is the deepest Bucs team he’s been a part of.
We could find out tonight just how deep it really is.
Based on what we saw in practice this past week, it’s likely the Bucs will sit out at least half a dozen starters tonight in an effort to keep them from turning minor injuries into major ones.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander, right tackle Demar Dotson, cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and wide receiver Mike Evans are among those who may not dress for tonight’s “dress rehearsal.’’
With that in mind, here’s a look at three areas of play that will be most interesting to track as the Bucs potentially test their depth against the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium.
Red Zone Play
The Buccaneers first team offense has done a great job this preseason of moving the ball between the 20s. What it’s done a miserably poor job of so far is turning those long drives into touchdowns. The Bucs first-team attack has produced just one touchdown in four opportunities inside the 20 thus far, that on a 2-yard run by Doug Martin. The Bucs have a vast array of red-zone weapons, led of course by tall pass catchers such as Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, but poor execution and poor decision making by quarterback Jameis Winston has prevented the team from taking full advantage of those weapons where they’re needed most. It would be one thing if this were only happening in preseason games but the issue has been a constant in practice as well, so this is an area the Bucs really have to clean up before the regular season starts.
The Running Backs
If this is indeed a dress rehearsal for the opening game of the season then this will likely be the game in which the Bucs show us their plan for replacing Doug Martin, who still must serve out the last three games of the four-game suspension he earned last year for violating the league’s PED policy. The general consensus is that Jacquizz Rodgers will be the early-down back and that the team will then turn to Charles Sims as its third-down pass-catching option. Rodgers, though, had a rather quiet training camp and he’s had an even more quiet preseason, running just seven times for 15 yards and catching two passes for seven more. There’s a chance Peyton Barber could step up and take some of those early-down reps from Rodgers, but Rodgers can secure his role with a good outing tonight. If he fails, the Bucs may have to go to Plan C.
The bold decision to dump Roberto Aguayo didn’t solve the Bucs kicking issue. It simply placed it squarely on the foot of Nick Folk, who has yet to prove he’s a vastly better option. Folk, who was virtually matching Aguayo miss for miss before Aguayo’s departure, is coming off the kind of game that ultimately cost Aguayo his job, one in which he had a PAT blocked because he kicked the ball too low and missed a 47-yard field goal attempt. Folk had a big day in practice last week, going 5-for-5 including making a 56-yard try at the end, but it’s in games where he has to perform. Anything short of a perfect night tonight could put the Bucs back on the lookout for an answer to this dilemma. The Bucs do have a challenger in camp in Zach Hocker and while he did make a 61-yarder in practice last week, his history suggests he’s too inconsistent to be the answer.
Report- Bucs have extended GM Jason Licht’s contract
Hoping to practice some form of continuity, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reportedly extended the contract of GM Jason Licht.
This after a report Saturday morning from Bucs beat writer for the Tampa Bay Times, Rick Stroud, that Licht has been given a five-year contract extension to remain with the team:
Bucs signed general manager Jason Licht to a new five year deal https://t.co/g8fswc0gyJ
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) August 17, 2019
A big part of the reason why the Glazer family, which owns the team, wanted to keep Licht is: his ability to lure former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians to come out of retirement and join them this past January.
Further, Stroud reports that Arians made it a condition of his coming out of retirement that Licht remain with the team long-term and that the Bucs keep embattled starting QB Jameis Winston.
Licht had been given a one-year extension for 2019 before this offseason, and the Buccaneers had already committed to keep quarterback Jameis Winston for the fifth year option of his rookie contract. Then, once former coach Dirk Koetter was fired in January, Licht’s previous relationship with Arians helped the Bucs get their new coach.
Licht was the assistant general manager with the Cardinals, when Arians was hired in 2013 and led them eventually to the NFC Championship Game in 2014.
Licht became the Buccaneers general manager at that the start of that same season, but has had a rocky tenure of results. This includes only one winning season out of five and several free agent moves and draft picks that have backfired.
None bigger than when Licht traded up in the 2016 draft for FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round, only to have Aguayo falter and be released the following year in training camp.
Licht has also had free agent busts like former Redskins defensive tackle Chris Baker and last year, Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry. Both of whom we’re paid heavily but did nothing in their one season before being released.
Licht and his staff do deserve some credit for finding unheralded players like tight end Cameron Brate, running back Peyton Barber and former wide receiver Adam Humphries. All of whom were undrafted and have been quality contributors over the last couple of seasons.
The team had no official comment on Stroud’s report of the extension.
Bucs rookie PK Gay likely won job with clutch Friday night boot
It’s not over, but it’s almost over. For all intents and purposes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicking competition ended Friday night with :06 remaining in their second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. That’s when rookie Matt Gay hammered a 48-yard game winning field goal that almost certainly confirmed that he will be the Bucs opening-day placekicker.
Relive the moment here, as the Utah rookie put it through the uprights and gave Tampa Bay a 16-14 win over the Dolphins:
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) August 17, 2019
“I owe it all to those game situations that we practice every day in practice. Bruce [Arians] does them for a reason and when you get out there in the game, it just feels like the practice situation because you’ve done it. So, you’re able to have the nerves calm to be able to go out there and do what you need to do,” Gay said to the media post game.
The Bucs were seemingly beaten when Dolphins backup quarterback Jake Rudock led Miami into the endzone in the final :45 and the Fins also got the two-point conversion for a 14 – 13 lead.
However, Buccaneers backup quarterback Ryan Griffin returned the favor, moving Tampa Bay into field-goal range quickly with a 27-yard completion to backup tight end Tanner Hudson that set up Gay’s game-winning attempt.
The rookie, who had made a Heinz Field record 55-yarder to end the first half in Pittsburgh in the preseason opener Last Friday Night, responded with a booming kick the curled perfectly down the middle. And, it gave Coach Bruce Arians a victory in his second preseason game as new Bucs head coach.
“We’ve done that 34-second one with two timeouts before and I thought Griff executed it to perfection and obviously Matty hit the field goal so it was a big win,” Arians told the media post game.
Gay, whom the Buccaneers drafted in April with 5th round pick, has been expected to win the kicking job from veteran Cairo Santos, who finished 2018 on the Buccaneers roster. Gay has the much stronger leg and Santos’ best hope to make the team was: if he continued to accurately knock field goals and extra points through and have Gay repeatedly misfire.
That has not happened.
And, it seems at this point academic that the rookie will be the Bucs opening day kicker.
However, what happens after the regular season begins is a whole other discussion.
As we have written repeatedly, the Bucs have been a revolving door of kickers over the course of the last five years. This includes, Tampa Bay infamously picking Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016 only to have Aguayo falter badly in his rookie year.
And, he was cut after the first preseason game of his second year in 2017.
Gay does not lack for confidence, as he’s talked throughout the build-up to preseason that he embraces the pressure that comes with trying to solidify the Buccaneers kicking woes. Now, it appears that the only thing that would prevent him from having the chance in the regular-season to do that is, if he were to somehow get injured at the start of the year.
But, after Friday night’s finish, Gay looks like everything the Bucs and GM Jason Licht hoped he would be- a stone-cold clutch performer who can deliver, when is team needs him the most.