Friday was another slow day from a coverage standpoint at One Buc, but that’s not uncommon for the last practice of the week.
Desean Jackson (ankle) and Robert Ayers (shoulder) are officially out this Sunday, while Lavonte David (hamstring) and Gerald McCoy are questionable. Head coach Dirk Koetter spoke highly of Antony Auclair, who could be more involved in the absence of O.J. Howard, and of the difficulty of getting new guys off the practice squad up to speed.
Here are four things we learned from One Buc on Friday.
Antony Auclair Finishes Plays, Should See More Time In Final Weeks
With O.J. Howard (ankle) on I.R. and Cameron Brate nursing a hip and knee, Auclair should see considerable time over the next two weeks.
The Quebec native, who didn’t play at all in eight of the first nine games, has lined up for 85 snaps on offense and 60 on special teams in the last five outings. He hasn’t made a name for himself as a pass catcher in the Bucs crowded group of tight ends – two catches for 25 yards – but head coach Dirk Koetter has been impressed with his fight.
“He works at it, he cares, plays physical,” Koetter said of Auclair, who played at Universite Laval in Quebec City. “He had a couple nice plays last week where he finished right until the whistle – you can usually tell a guy who finishes if the team is taking a swipe at him after the play. That usually means he’s a good finisher.”
Koetter said he and the front office targeted him all the way back to the East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg last January, after seeing his tape in Canada. They even had a draft grade on him.
If there was any downside to O.J. Howard falling to the Bucs, Koetter said, it was that it made the prospect of landing Auclair in the free agency period less likely. But he’s here now and could be featured more on offense, in addition to his consistent role on special teams, starting in Carolina.
“For a guy who’s made the transition from how they play in Canada to how they play here, he’s [shown he’s] a good student,” Koetter said.
Next Man Up To The Bench
Not only is it tough to start multiple backups but it’s also challenge to bring the new backups up to speed.
In the wake of five players’ placement on IR on December 20, Tampa Bay promoted three guys from the practice squad and signed two more to replace them.
“When you are bringing new guys in, they don’t know your system,” Koetter said. “That is why you see teams many times bring back guys that they’ve had before. We’ve done that too, because you just don’t have enough hours in the day to teach them even in the language that you are speaking.”
So what’s the solution? See below.
‘Big Basketball Baller League’ For NFL?
Koetter said he wished there were a red-shirt or minor league system in the NFL so players could stay involved with the team without taking up a roster spot.
He’s hardly alone on that idea. And if LaVar Ball can start a league, surely NFL coaches and executives could come together on one.
“Shoot, there is talk about the, ‘Big Basketball Baller League’ too,” Koetter joked. “There is talk about a lot of stuff. I still think I’ve got a chance on that.”
Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David Questionable
Many fans would like to see the Bucs play the long game and shut two of their best players down for the final two weeks of the year. But if they’re ready to go, McCoy (biceps) and David (hamstring) could return to the field in Carolina.
“Yeah, they are both possible,” Koetter said. “Of course, we’d love to have them back – two excellent players.”
Not the most telling answer, but their presence is something to watch for Sunday. Both were limited at practice this week. If David can’t go, or only plays some of the game, look for one of the guys off the practice squad – Nigel Harris and Riley Bullough – to see time.