Each week PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your submitted questions about the Bucs. You can have your question answered by asking on Twitter using the #PRMailbag hashtag. Here are this week’s five questions.
Question: How important was it for Mike Smith to return to the Bucs as defensive coordinator?
Answer: I have said it a number of times this offseason, but getting Smith back for the next couple years may have been the Bucs’ best offseason move they made – even more so than adding O.J. Howard, or free agent DeSean Jackson.
Had Smith left, you would have had to believe the Bucs would have promoted from within to try and keep some sort of continuity. But there was no guarantee of that. So, take linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for instance. Now, all of a sudden they have another defensive coordinator? How many does that make? For McCoy it would have been five in seven years and for David it would have been his fourth. Even if the scheme stayed relatively the same, and you would have to believe it would, it would still be conveyed by a different messenger, who undoubtably would have changes or tweaked a few things.
Smith talked about his decision to return and some things he wants to see from his 2017 version of the the Bucs defense last week during a press conference at One Buc.
“Well, I’m very excited about being here. I think it’s absolutely the best decision for me and my family. Working with Dirk [Koetter] is a joy, working with these guys is really fun. I’m excited about what we’ve got to improve on and get better at. It was really a decision that my family and I made, that we want to be here.
“I think – first thing is I’ve got to do a better job with the players. We had some growth this year, we had some times that probably didn’t look like we wanted it to look like. The first thing is for me personally, is I’ve got to do a better job getting these guys prepared. I do think that as we’ve started this offseason program, the knowledge that our players have, what they’ve been able to retain from last season to this season has been very good. We’re not starting at ‘2+2 is 4,’ we’re into calculus. That’s a good thing for us as a coaching staff and as a football team. We’re able to install a lot quicker, we’re going to be able to put in a few more wrinkles and hopefully it’ll be effective. The big thing for us is we know these guys now. We know what they’re capable of doing and we’ve also added, I think, some guys that are going to come in and help us at all three levels.”
Things are coming together from a talent and coaching standpoint for the Bucs this year, and I dread to think about what the loss of Smith to this defense might have done to stunt the overall development of the franchise. Fortunately, I don’t have to.
Question: With the addition of Robert McClain who do you think will win the slot CB spot? There is good depth there.
Answer: It is way too early to tell who ends up winning the job as the slot corner, but I do agree there is some solid depth at that position. Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliot and McClain will battle and the competition should make all three better in the long run. The team liked what they saw from Elliot in relief of Adjei-Barimah late last season, but it doesn’t mean the former FSU walk-on starts off as the starter. Like many positions, it will be a wide open competition that begins when the veterans get back on the field later this month.
If forced to guess I would say Adjei-Barimah is the favorite in the slot, with Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves on the outside. But that is just speculation and not based on any inside scoop.
Question: What position, besides quarterback, do you feel the Bucs could least afford an injury to a starter?
Answer: I think losing a tight end would be pretty devastating for this team. Especially with the excitement of the Howard and Cameron Brate combination. Dirk Koetter started drawing up plays on the napkins in the Bucs war room on draft night to be able to expand the offense and if one of those was lost for the season, then it is basically back to where the team was before the drafting of Howard.
You could also probably add middle linebacker to the fear factor list too. Kendall Beckwith is probably, in the coaches minds, as of now, at least, the backup to Kwon Alexander. Smith’s defensive scheme makes the middle linebacker the star of that group, and losing Alexander would be a big blow. I think that factored into the decision to take Beckwith, as the team knew they were in trouble with depth at the middle linebacker position.
Left tackle, just based on how important it is as the blindside protector, would certainly cause some sleepless nights around One Buc, if Donovan Smith were to be hit with a major injury.
Question: If the Bucs were to regress in their record (6-10, 7-9) in 2017, do you think Lichts and Koetters job would be safe?
Answer: Wow, that is something no one really wants to think about, but a fair question to ask. And the answer to it depends on why the team regressed. For instance, if Jameis Winston was lost early in the year to injury then a 6-10 or 7-9 record wouldn’t be terrible. But if this team stayed healthy and players like Chris Baker and DeSean Jackson have terrible seasons, then I think it would be more cause for concern. However, I think the Glazer family is as tired of the revolving coaching door as the fans are, and it would probably take a disaster of a season to create a scenario where Koetter and Licht would be fired. And I am talking a 1-15 or 2-14 type disaster. But I also don’t see any scenario where that will happen.
Question: Do you think a 3-4 front could be used to give McCoy rest without losing as much as we would if we ran a 4-3 w/o him?
Answer: In theory, yes, but I am not buying this team doing much as a 3-4 defense. It absolutely does not play to the strengths of the personnel. I do believe the team would like to get McCoy some more breathers throughout the game, and will, as the team has William Gholston back who can move to the three-technique and Robert Ayers who also can and will play on the inside. McCoy wants to be a more dominant fourth quarter player, and giving him some rest in the first three quarters should help him.
The addition of Baker was made, I believe, to line him up next to McCoy and collapse the middle, allowing the outside pressure to get the quarterbacks. I do believe Noah Spence will get some looks as a standup edge rusher, but not from a 3-4 scheme. Smith will look to get his best pass rushers on the field on passing downs, but this team is still trying to sort out exactly who those guys are. Giving Spence an opportunity to play linebacker, in some formations, is just another option the team will experiment with in the offseason and in the preseason.
However, making a jump to a 3-4 is not something I see this team doing on a regular basis in 2017.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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