The annual NFL Owners Meeting was held this week in Boca Raton, Florida and PewterReport.com was on hand all four days. On Wednesday morning the NFC coaches met with the media for breakfast and Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter spoke to a number of local and national media regarding his team and the upcoming 2016 season. Here is the third report from the breakfast.
Speaking at the NFL league meetings in Boca Raton Wednesday, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said Mike Evans, who led the league with 11 dropped passes in 2015, needed more consistent work habits in order to take his game to the next level. Of course he later added that it’s hard to call a 1,206-season a bad year, suggesting that, with just some minor improvement, Evans could transform his undeniable talent into elite-status by 2016.
As for Tampa Bay’s other third-year pass-catcher, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the vote of confidence wasn’t quite as convincing.
While Koetter defended Seferian-Jenkins’ ability and quickly reminded reporters that he had over 130 yards receiving before a prolonged shoulder injury in Week 3, he acknowledged the legitimate health concerns surrounding the athletic tight end. Since joining the team as a second-round draft pick in 2014, Seferian-Jenkins has missed 16 games due to injuries.
“He’s been in the league two years and he hasn’t been healthy,” Koetter said. “His talent flashes every time he’s on the field. This guy has got huge ability, but a coach told me a long time ago that the best ability is availability.”
Koetter put to rest any notion that Seferian-Jenkins was holding out by choice, insisting that no one worked harder at rehabbing or was more anxious to hit the field than the third-year pro himself. His shoulder injury was significant and it was clear to the coaching staff.
“When you watch a player on film, you can tell when he’s not naturally right because your body will naturally try to protect it,” Koetter said. “He couldn’t hit or be hit on that shoulder. He tried to come back and was just not playing at full capacity there. It was frustrating for everyone, but trust me, no one was more frustrated than him.”
Luckily for the Bucs offense, Cameron Brate exceeded expectations in Seferian-Jenkins’ absence. The undrafted pro out of Harvard seemed to improve every week while developing chemistry with Jameis Winston that Koetter said is hard to replicate.
If there was any silver lining to Seferian-Jenkins’ injury, it was that Brate got exposure and, as a result, set the Bucs up with two capable tight ends for the future. Brate finished the season with 288 yards and three touchdowns on 23 receptions.
“(Winston and Brate) had a good feel for each other in the red zone and on seam routes, and Cam made the most of his opportunities,” Koetter said. “Cam is an ascending player and our hope for him is that he takes it and runs with it. That’s what you want. It would be a great story and great for our team.”
Koetter added that both Seferian-Jenkins and Brate are versatile players who will be expected to run- and pass-block as needed. The offense’s personnel groupings are often dictated by the tight end position, so whoever is out there – Seferian-Jenkins, Brate, Luke Stocker or jumbo TE Kevin Pamphile – will need to execute at a high level.
Without even mentioning Vincent Jackson or Adam Humphries, the ceiling appears to be very high for Buccaneers pass-catchers in 2016. If Evans can sort out the minor focus issues and Seferian-Jenkins can stay on the field, with Brate coming in for situational downs, then Tampa Bay could be poised to have a prolific pass-offense led by second-year quarterback Jameis Winston.