It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay lost its first preseason game, 33-30, at home against Detroit. The starters and second-stringers built a 27-6 lead before the third-stringers blew it at the end.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Humphries To The House
If you are one of the few Bucs fans who wondered why the Buccaneers value wide receiver Adam Humphries so much, he showed you on Friday night with a 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown right before half. In a play dubbed “kick-six,” Detroit attempted a 62-yard field goal, and given the distance of the kick, the Bucs put a man back in the end zone to catch the ball if it fell short.
Although that person was safety Chris Conte, and head coach Dirk Koetter wanted to make a switch, so he called a time out and inserted Humphries instead.
“I knew it was going to be short and I knew there was an opportunity to return it,” Humphries said. “We actually repped that in practice about two-and-a-half weeks ago. So, I’m glad Coach Koetter called a timeout and was able to get me in there and the defense did a great job blocking for me. So, it was awesome to get that in the end zone.
“It’s funny. The crowd kind of lets you know when you have it. I made a couple of cuts, got past the kicker, and I heard the crowd get real loud. I looked up at the videoboard when I was running in and saw it and there was just a bunch of white jerseys behind me. So, I knew there about the 20-yard line in that I had the touchdown.”
Humphries fielded the ball, took it out of the end zone, made the first Lions would-be tackler miss around the 15-yard line, got some great blocks, sidestepped a few more Lions and finished an incredible 109-yard jaunt into the end zone as time expired in the first half to give Tampa Bay a 20-6 lead.
“That fires everybody up,” Koetter said. “You’re always working on situational plays like that, because in the NFL they always come up. And to see those guys execute that, that was awesome.”
Koetter says that the Bucs have four starting wide receivers – and that includes Humphries
STATEMENT 2: Barber Primed For A Big Season
Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken was at it again – engineering an early touchdown drive in the first quarter. This time it was running back Peyton Barber leading the way with five carries for 34 yards and capping off the scoring drive with a 14-yard touchdown that featured Barber’s patented wiggle jump-step and a broken tackle.
That’s right. The Bucs actually had a touchdown run longer than two yards, which is something they didn’t have a year ago.
What was impressive about Barber running the ball on Friday night was that the Bucs only had two starting offensive linemen in the lineup – center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Demar Dotson. Left tackle Donovan Smith was injured in practice earlier in the week, and both starting guards – Ali Marpet and Caleb Benenoch – also sat out with minor injuries.
Barber, who has averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the first two preseason games, averaged 6.8 yards per carry against the Lions in limited duty. The Bucs used Alan Cross at fullback quite a bit on that first drive, serving as a lead blocker on several of Barber’s runs. That has proven to be successful, so look for Monken and head coach Dirk Koetter to make more use of Cross as a lead blocker during the regular season.
Barber’s preseason is over and it was incredibly efficient as he averaged 5.8 yards per carry while rushing for 87 yards on 15 carries and scoring two touchdowns. He enters the season as Tampa Bay’s undisputed starting running back.
“Peyton’s done a nice job and we’d initially planned to play him a little bit longer tonight but he played so well on that first drive and you do start to get a little bit paranoid the closer that you get,” said Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter. “Especially with our offensive line being a little banged up. We decided to pull him and I just told Peyton that I thought he’d done what he needed to do tonight and from now on we’ll just be getting him ready for New Orleans.”
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Where Was Spence?
Bucs defensive end Noah Spence was hardly seen on Friday night. Early in training camp Spence was used as a situational pass rusher with the first team, as defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul would get kicked inside to defensive tackle next to Gerald McCoy.
But Spence has really struggled to get to the quarterback this preseason and has just half a sack. The Bucs didn’t play Spence at all in the first half and he saw extensive in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.
The problem was that Spence, a former second-round pick, was struggling against Detroit’s third-string left tackle. Spence isn’t in danger of being cut is he? He’s actually had a good training camp and given left tackle Donovan Smith fits on occasion.
But Spence is kind of a one-trick pony that doesn’t play the run well. So if he isn’t rushing the passer well, how much value does he have to Tampa Bay? The guess here is that he needs to have a really good fourth preseason game on Thursday against Jacksonville.
QUESTION 2: Is Griffin Really This Good?
I’ll admit it. Tampa Bay’s third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin is winning me over. I’m a Griff believer.
No, he doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world. Nor does Griffin have ideal size at a lanky 6-foot-5, 210 pounds.
For you middle-aged Bucs fans, Griffin is Steve Walsh. He’s Craig Erickson. He’s Tim Rattay.
Coming off his third straight impressive preseason performance, Griffin may not be a great quarterback, but he’s a good enough quarterback to play in the NFL. On Friday night, Griffin was 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) for 100 yards and one touchdown with that scoring pass going to wide receiver Freddie Martino against Detroit’s first-team defense.
“We pulled our (starters) at halftime just because of the conditions,” Koetter said. “We didn’t want them to sit and then have to go back out. I think the Lions left their starters in for another series or two. Griff’s really throwing the ball with touch. I’ve always had confidence – we’ve always had confidence – in Ryan. He just hasn’t been able to get that game experience preseason-wise. We know he’s going to be the backup for those first three games and I think that if he goes in their the guys will have confidence in him leading our team.”
Griffin has been rock steady through three preseason games. After completing 20-of-26 passes (76.9 percent) for 179 yards with a game-winning touchdown at Miami, Griffin completed 6-of-11 passes (54.5 percent) for 88 yards and a touchdown in a win at Tennessee. Through three games, Griffin has completed 34-of-48 passes (70.8 percent) for 367 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Griffin is having the kind of preseason he envisioned having last year before a shoulder injury in the preseason opener at Cincinnati cost him half of the 2017 campaign.
“The one year wait was not fun,” Griffin said. “You play football to play football, not to watch. It’s been great to get out there and just play. It really renewed my love for the game. Getting out there with these guys has been a lot of fun. There have been a lot of guys that have stepped up and made plays.”
Griffin is one of them.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Barber Will Be A 1,000-Yard Rusher This Year
Going out on a limb? Not really. Have you seen Barber run the ball during the preseason? He’s a man on a mission and running with a great deal of power and confidence, so why can’t he run for 1,000 yards this year?
For a running back to hit 1,000 yards rushing he must average 62.5 yards per game. That’s totally doable. Barber would hit that with 13 carries per game if he averaged five yards per carry. With second-round pick Ronald Jones struggling to find his groove Barber should get 18-20 carries per game. Even averaging four yards per carry with 18 carries per game puts Barber over 1,000 yards.
Mark it down. It’s happening.
PREDICTION 2: Wilson Will Be The Bucs’ Kick Returner
Although the Bucs just watched Humphries return a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown against Detroit, undrafted rookie free agent Shaun Wilson made a statement as a kick return candidate. Wilson averaged 28.3 yards on four kick returns, the longest of which covered 39 yards.
Wilson also got a shot as a punt returner, fair catching a punt in the second half. Humphries will likely assume the punt return duties again – his 109-yard return was actually more like a punt return – unless DeSean Jackson is used in that capacity. Jackson actually fielded a punt Friday night, which was a bit of a surprise.
“We wanted to see Shaun and he couldn’t play in the Miami game and he didn’t get many opportunities in Tennessee last week,” Koetter said. “So tonight and Thursday, for a guy like him, are a good chance to get out there – not only in the return game, but as a running back as well. I think he showed well on himself tonight. That’s exactly the kind of guy we’re talking about with these final cuts.”