Welcome to the new Wednesday edition of Bucs Briefing! From now on, my weekly column will appear each Wednesday morning, detailing seven key observations on the team. This week we’ll focus heavily on my key observations from the Bucs second preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. We’ll also look ahead to the final preseason game and roster cuts coming up next Tuesday.
7. Alex Cappa Is Struggling
Cappa’s practices have been great, which makes his preseason struggles even stranger. Granted it has been 13 pass protection reps, so the sample size is small. But Cappa has not looked good. I would have expected some physical rust after returning from a broken ankle, but Cappa’s issues have been mostly from the neck up. For a cerebral player who has always excelled in this regard, it’s been a curious summer for Cappa.
1. Not overreacting to 6 plays, but Alex Cappa is going to be furious with how he played Im sure
2. Brady looks pretty composed knowing he could take a shot here. Good to see on the knee
To be fair to the Bucs starting right guard, working with new players in Nick Leverett and Brad Seaton definitely contributed to the confusion on Saturday. But Cappa was beaten cleanly in pass protection for the second straight week, while the whole protection scheme was embarrassed on a couple blitzes. Saturday’s game against Houston is key for several Bucs, but especially Cappa. He must play a lot better, or Aaron Stinnie could legitimately cut into his playing time.
6. Bucs Passing Offense Carries One Key Limitation
The Bucs’ lone limitation on their passing attack is the same one the team won a Super Bowl with last season, so don’t fret too much. Tampa Bay is an offense loaded with talent at all key positions, but they are not an offense that can exist outside of structure. Tom Brady is still an elite quarterback in so many ways, so that’s not a massive concern. But if you look at where the league is trending at quarterback, the ability to move and create when things break down is at an all-time importance for the position.
Bucs QBs Blaine Gabbert and Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Pat Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott and Josh Allen, the other top seven quarterbacks in the game, all have that ability. Brady is the obvious outlier when compared to the league’s other top quarterbacks. The closest good quarterbacks to Brady’s limitations are Matt Stafford and Matt Ryan, and even Stafford has proven to be just fine off-platform and throwing from unique angles. Ryan is the most like Brady, and his game has fallen off in recent years. Although, to be fair to Brady, Ryan’s arm was never as good as the Bucs’ quarterback.
To act like Brady immobility won’t or shouldn’t matter this season is silly. Of course it will. Can the Bucs be good enough to overcome it? Can Brady maintain an incredible snap-to-release time in such a vertical-based offense? Will the Tampa Bay offensive line be a Top 5 unit in the league? That’s important for a scheme like Arians’.
Success at the quarterback position is moving rapidly away from Brady’s prototype. That does not mean that the seven-time Super Bowl champ can’t buck that trend again and win another championship. But the Bucs need to be mindful of his usage in an offense that asks for a ton of high degree of difficulty throws down the field from the quarterback position. If they are as reliant on Brady as they were last year, the results might not be as impressive unless the pass protection holds up.
5. Plan C For Life Without Godwin?
When Tampa Bay’s final cuts occur in a week, expect wide receiver Travis Jonsen to be among them. But don’t expect him to sit long on the market if he clears waivers. The Bucs have a strong affinity for Jonsen and believe he could be in their future plans. If somehow Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown depart in free agency next spring, Jonsen could find himself with a real role in 2022.
Godwin is the slot receiver in the Bucs offense, but he isn’t the only player on the roster who fits that mold. Tyler Johnson would be the next man up to replace Godwin in the event of injury or if Godwin somehow departs in the offseason over a financial disagreement, which isn’t likely.
Bucs WR Travis Jonsen – Photo courtesy of Montana State
“Tyler can do it,” Arians said. “He [did] it last year. There’s only one Chris. Chris blocks like a tight end. To get wide receivers to block like Tyler does, you’re really happy. But I think Travis Jonsen is a guy in the future that might be another guy that’s got the size and the physicality to go out there and do that as a wideout.”
Jonsen is a player that Arians and general manager Jason Licht have consistently praised since acquiring the receiver as an undrafted free agent in 2020. At Montana State, Jonsen functioned as a hybrid wide receiver/running back who also threw the football on occasion. The Oregon transfer began his college career as a quarterback before ending up with the Bobcats.
Jonsen has been solid in practices, but we have yet to see an impact in the preseason. In his first game against the Bengals, Jonsen caught one of two targets for five yards. He missed last week’s contest against the Titans due to injury. Jonsen returned to practice on Monday, and should play much of the second half against the Texans on Saturday.
4. Don’t Expect To See 4 TEs On 2021 Final Roster
On most rosters in the NFL, Tanner Hudson would be a lock to crack the final 53. But on the Bucs, I just don’t see it. Hudson is a strong receiver, but Tampa Bay already has quite a few of those. Unless the Bucs have a rash of injuries, Hudson is never going to see enough targets to justify rostering him.
Where Hudson could contribute is as a blocker, but we know from Arians recent comments that isn’t happening. That’s why Antony Auclair made the roster over Hudson last year at this time. The Bucs knew they wouldn’t need him as a receiver, but his possible contributions as a blocker made him worth keeping around.
Bucs TE Tanner Hudson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Hudson is clearly superior to Auclair, but the reality is the fit just isn’t there in Tampa Bay. Arians’ scheme asks for a lot from the tight end position, specifically in the run game and as a pass protector. Hudson is never going to be able to provide bottom of the roster value because of his struggles in the trenches. He’s also not an effective special teams contributor, and in year four that isn’t going to change.
“Ever since we’ve been here he’s been able to catch the ball,” Arians said. “He gives our defense fits on the card team. When he’s had opportunities in ballgames they haven’t quite been the same. I want to see him do something besides preseason and do something besides catch the ball. He’s not a wide receiver. He’s a tight end, so you’ve got to be able to block a little bit. But just see him grow in that regard and be a physical presence on special teams with his size and his speed.”
Arians has referred to Codey McElroy as a player with more of a physical mindset than Hudson, and one or both could stick around on the practice squad. But McElroy drops way too many passes for a tight end who is still a below-average blocker. Long shot Jerell Adams won’t make the roster either.
Hudson can clearly play in the NFL, and in an offense that fits him better, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him actually produce. But there’s no fit in Tampa Bay, so don’t expect to see him make the final 53 as a fourth tight end.
3. Pat O’Connor, Moving Up The Depth Chart?
You can quibble with O’Connor’s shoddy tackling if you want, but through two preseason games, no one has been in the opponent’s backfield more. His first step looks unbelievably quick, and his hand technique has improved so much. O’Connor is legitimately controlling blocks now, where before he’d have to slip them to be successful.
After dominating the Titans for a sack and two tackles-for-loss, O’Connor was running with the first team defensive line during Monday’s practice. Granted, Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon were absent, but typically that’s Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ spot to step into. But Nunez-Roches is a run-stopping defensive tackle and nothing more, where O’Connor has flashed enough to think about his upside.
It’s just preseason, and we absolutely need to see O’Connor against better offensive linemen. He’s an undersized defensive tackle, but his technique has developed enough that he can hold his own, even against some doubles. Could O’Connor be ready to seize the rotational role the Bucs had hoped to see Khalil Davis in this season? Right now, it sure appears that way. With O’Connor a lock to be active on game days thanks to his special teams work, I would expect to see him more on defense in 2021 too.
2. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka’s Upside Could Be Special
You can say it’s too early to get crazy about Joe Tryon-Shoyinka’s projection if you want. You’d probably be right. But my job as an analyst is to use all the pertinent information I have to predict how things will go down in the near future. I’m not saying Tryon-Shoyinka will be a Hall of Famer or even an immediate All-Pro. But what he’s shown in two preseason games can only be categorized as special.
This is veteran NFL edge defender strength here from a rookie. Not many guys straight out of college can bench press opponents off their frame, especially after missing a year of football. Whatever Tryon-Shoyinka was doing during his year off, it worked.
I paused this one so you can see Tryon-Shoyinka use a double arm punch to stun his opponent. Based on his quick transition to an unnecessary rip move, I don’t think Tryon-Shoyinka expected to knock the tackle off-balance like that. He might still be coming to understand his own strength.
If he is, he’s learning quickly.
Tryon-Shoyinka was so dominant on this drive, that Matt Barkley started anticipating pressure from that side and reacting accordingly. The Bucs rookie did manage to corral Barkley once for his first sack of the preseason. Tryon-Shoyinka hit a nasty jab step into an inside arm chop, before dipping around the flailing tackle for the sack.
Ordinary starters just don’t move like that. Tryon-Shoyinka went from being a raw, bull-in-a-china shop pass rusher in 2019, to a sophisticated, leaner, highly-explosive physical and athletic freak off the edge. I know, I know. It’s preseason. But I think Licht found a winner at No. 32 overall.
1. Preseason Or Not, Saturday Night Is Vital For Bucs
Earlier this week, I wrote about how the results of two Bucs preseason games are meaningless if important players are playing well. While that has been true in the team’s first two games, we’ve barely seen the Bucs starters play. That will change on Saturday, as Arians plans to play the starters for the first half against the Texans.
Houston is a barely functioning franchise that’s entire offseason has been dedicated to tanking this season. They signed a bunch of average to below-average players to one-year deals and will eventually trade Deshaun Watson for a king’s ransom. I fully expect the Texans to be the worst team in the NFL this season. 0-16 is a real possibility.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs should be one of 2-3 teams on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Texans don’t have a single player on their roster that would start for the Bucs, with the exception of Laremy Tunsil. But the Houston left tackle remains on the COVID-19 list, so it’s unlikely he’ll play on Saturday. Tampa Bay needs to make this game an early bloodbath.
In two preseason games, the Bucs have had four early drives end because of drops on big play throws. Antonio Brown dropped a long ball from Brady, O.J. Howard dropped two deep throws from Gabbert and Jaelon Darden couldn’t dig out a first down throw on Saturday.
If the Bucs want to enter the regular season with some momentum on offense, they need to stop beating themselves. Drops have killed Tampa Bay in the preseason, but the plays have been there for the taking. On Saturday, the Bucs need to start making them. This team is way too talented to be undone by self-inflicted poor play. Against the worst team in the league, Brady and co. need to dominate.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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