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The Pewter Report staff answers your questions from the @PewterReport Twitter account each week in the Bucs Monday Mailbag  Submit your question to the Bucs Monday Mailbag each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag. Here are the questions we chose for this week’s edition of the Pewter Report Bucs Monday Mailbag.

QUESTION: How did Jaelon Darden look in the first practice?

ANSWER: Bucs rookie receiver Jaelon Darden had a couple of drops that head coach Bruce Arians chalked up to nerves during his first NFL training camp practice. But Arians also said that the rookie was running “wide ass open,” too. And that’s a fact. Darden has both short-area quickness and the speed to get deep. He had some very good reps against cornerback Jamel Dean, the team’s fastest defensive back during Sunday’s camp opener.

Bucs WR-PR Jaelon Darden

Bucs WR-PR Jaelon Darden – Photo by: USA Today

While Darden figures to make his mark as the team’s return specialist, the Bucs didn’t do any kick or punt returns during the team’s first practice. The North Texas product did impress enough in Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp and the team’s OTAs to earn reps on field one with the starters. That came at the expensive of veteran Jaydon Mickens, the team’s incumbent return man, who was relegated to field two with the other reserves.

Darden will have a chance to impress in camp and the preseason and get some reps on offense on Sundays with a good showing. He’s already got a fan in Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who has raved about his fellow Texan. Now he just has to convince Arians, which shouldn’t be too hard. Arians has gone on record saying that he sees a bit of Emanuel Sanders in the rookie receiver.

Look for Darden to see about 10-15 snaps per game on offense, running wide receiver screens, some end-arounds and maybe some deep shots down the field. Whether or not that comes at the expense of Scotty Miller or Tyler Johnson in the fall remains to be seen.

QUESTION: Which receiver benefits the most with Justin Watson out for four months? And is Watson done as a Buccaneer?

ANSWER: While Jaelon Darden will see some additional reps and a higher spot on the camp depth chart with Justin Watson, a four-year veteran, sidelined four months with a knee injury, Tyler Johnson benefits the most. Johnson, the team’s fifth-round pick last year, made it on to the field on game days and had a fairly productive rookie season despite the plethora of offensive weapons Tom Brady had to throw to.

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The young, Chris Godwin-like receiver caught 12 passes for 169 yards (14.9 avg.) and two touchdowns in 2020. He added two more catches for 31 yards in the postseason, including a big 15-yard reception at New Orleans and a 16-yard catch at Green Bay. Johnson moved past Watson on the offensive depth chart last year, but where Johnson needs to continue to excel is on special teams, as he’s likely the fifth receiver on the team behind Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller.

The Bucs are high on Johnson, but he must hold off the likes of Cyril Grayson, Jaydon Mickens, Josh Pearson, Travis Jonsen and a few others. Catching the ball cleanly, running precise routes and blocking in the run game will convince the coaches he has the potential to rise up the depth chart and likely replace Brown eventually. But in the meantime, he needs to do all of those things and cover punts and kicks, too.

As for Watson, it’s too early to say he’s done in Tampa Bay. He’ll wind up on injured reserve and the team may need him on special teams or offense later in the season when he’s eligible to return. Bruce Arians is well aware of late-season receiver injuries. In his first season in Tampa Bay in 2019 he saw Evans, Godwin and Miller all sidelined with hamstring injuries in the last three weeks of the season.Who came to the rescue? Watson, who had 14 catches for 146 yards (10.2 avg.) and two touchdowns in the last four games that year.

QUESTION: Which running back got the most reps on Sunday – Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones II?

ANSWER: Leonard Fournette got the first carry in Tampa Bay’s first training camp practice, perhaps based on the fact that he finished the season strong, scoring touchdowns in all four postseason games. But it wound up being Ronald Jones II that had slightly more carries and pass-catching opportunities during Sunday’s practice.

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

We weren’t able to log all of the reps to see which back got more touches – and by how many. And chances are that the Bucs will have Fournette and Jones end up splitting the opportunities 50-50. The real test will come in the preseason games to see which running back will be more productive.

Keep in mind that both Fournette and Jones will play on Sundays (and Thursdays and Mondays). But Arians will go with the hot hand. So who starts may be irrelevant. It will actually come down to which back is the better finisher at the end of the game and winds up with the most yards and touchdowns.

We’re still a month away from seeing which back will get the first carry, but Fournette, who now wears No. 7, and Jones both ran with confidence on Sunday and seem ready for the competitive challenge. Barring an injury, look for this training camp battle to go down to the wire in September.

QUESTION: Is there any way the Bucs don’t compete for another Super Bowl again this year? This team is absolutely loaded and returns all of its starters from Super Bowl LV.

ANSWER: Yes. If injuries hit at key positions the Bucs could be in for a real letdown following the team’s Super Bowl LV victory. Tampa Bay had only two key contributors out for the Super Bowl last year – starting right guard Alex Cappa and tight end O.J. Howard, who was Rob Gronkowski’s backup. Aaron Stinnie filled in for Cappa and played great in the postseason. What a find by general manager Jason Licht and vice president of player personnel John Spytek.

Former Bucs SS John Lynch

Former Bucs SS John Lynch – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I remember in 2002 when the Bucs won their first Super Bowl only nose tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland was the only starter on injured reserve for that game. It takes to big H’s to win the Super Bowl. Teams have to be healthy and hot down the stretch. The Bucs were both last year, even seeing the return of nose tackle Vita Vea from a broken ankle in the NFC Championship Game.

When the Bucs didn’t even make the playoffs in 2003 following their previous Super Bowl win injuries were a big reason why, as Tampa Bay lost some serious star power. Starting cornerback Brian Kelly had a torn pectoral muscle. Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and fullback Mike Alstott collided, which caused Jurevicius to suffer a knee injury and Alstott injure his neck. Strong safety John Lynch also suffered a neck injury in December. All were big blows.

But egos ran wild in the locker room in 2003 and that ultimately proved the Bucs’ undoing, too. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and head coach Jon Gruden were at each other’s throats. Warren Sapp could see the writing on the wall with his contract status, as 2003 was his final year in Tampa Bay.

The good news is that this Bucs’ team appears to have its ego in check, and great veteran leadership always helps. The bad news is that injuries are uncontrollable and can strike any time. Yes, the Bucs team is incredibly talented. Injuries – and that also includes missing games due to COVID-19 – could prove to be the biggest challenge for the defending Super Bowl champions.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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1 month ago

In 2003 the Bucs also had to give up first and second round draft pics as part of the cost for hiring Gruden away from the Raiders in 2002. That also had to have had an effect on their ability to repeat. First and second round picks typically see a lot of snaps even if the prior year starters are still on the roster.

1 month ago

Chris Godwin-like receiver” That’s high praise for Johnson. Very high praise.

Let’s see him bust out this year.

Captain Sly
1 month ago

Keep hearing that the arrival of Jaelon Darden could affect Tyler Johnson reps when I think it affects Scotty Miller the more. I don’t think you guys are giving TJ his due with his rare combination of size, speed, catch, and blocking abilities. TJ is the closest thing to Godwin on the team there is while Scotty Miller on the other hand features only straight line speed with no ability to “break tackles”. If Darden works out “Big If” but he would immediately fill the Scotty Miller role while he improves on other parts of his game.

1 month ago

Good info Scott; enjoyed it. It feels great to feel like out team knows what they have to do.

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