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The PR Bucs Monday Mailbag is where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your questions from our @PewterReport Twitter account. You can submit your question each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag.
Below are the questions we chose for this week’s edition of the PR Bucs Monday Mailbag.
Question: Since the Bucs have all their starters back and no real needs this season, would it make sense to try to strike with a KR/PR specialist? They don’t have a major need for WR, especially if Antonio Brown returns. We need another Karl “The Truth” Williams.
Answer: It has been a long time since the Buccaneers have prioritized the return game. Jon Gruden inherited Karl “The Truth” Williams, who helped the Bucs win a Super Bowl. Then he found Pro Bowl return specialist Clifton Smith. It’s been a long time since Tampa Bay had a punt or kick return score. Bruce Arians’ returner-by-committee approach seems to be the common theme with Bucs’ coaches lately. It almost seems like the philosophy has been to find a sure-handed guy who will just secure the ball and not do any harm.
Bucs WR-KR Jaydon Mickens – Photo by: USA Today
The changing of the rules on kickoffs have de-emphasized returners to a degree. I understand the player safety issue, but specials teams is still one third of your football team and a dynamic returner can still flip field position, especially on punt returns. Gone are the days of keeping a roster spot for a player that just returns kicks. It doesn’t make any sense anymore with so many touch backs and few teams do that in the modern era.
The key is to find that fourth or fifth receiver, a backup running back or possibly a fleet-footed cornerback who can be that person. The Bucs have tried to find a later-round special teams ace, even as recently as last season when they drafted Raymond Calais. However with the overall talent of the Bucs roster last season, Calais didn’t make the team. And that likely will be the case again this season. Anyone drafted after the third round likely has an uphill battle to make the roster.
One player to keep an eye on in the NFL Draft is UCLA’s Demetric Felton, who the Bucs have met with twice and are thought to be high on. Felton, who was Matt Matera’s draft crush in the most recent PR Roundtable, fits the bill of a late-round player who can be a game-changer on special teams, but also contribute as a gadget running back and receiver.
Question: In the past you could pretty much nail down who the Bucs were going to draft. How does it feel being in a situation not knowing what the Bucs are going to do in the draft? Which position do you think the Bucs are leaning toward taking?
Answer: As I rub my crystal ball, I see the Buccaneers drafting … sorry, it went dark. Seriously, you bring up a valid point. I can’t ever remember a draft where Tampa Bay went into it without a glaring weakness at some position. We are in uncharted territory here and literally every position is on the table in the first round except a punter of a kicker. And with the team picking so late it’s hard to really even guess where they might go as the Bucs have no idea how it all unfolds in front of them.
Bucs director of college scouting Mike Biehl, GM Jason Licht and director of player personnel John Spytek – Photo by: PewterReport.com
Picking in the Top 10 or 15, as the Bucs have done nearly every year over the last decade or so, provides a fairly good idea of how the top half of the first round will go. Not necessarily which team will draft which player, but there is usually a consensus on who the players themselves are. But this season the Bucs have less of an idea who will be available outside of that Top 15 or so. That makes it very exciting for us media folks, but probably not so much within the organization.
I suspect the Bucs want to improve the running back room, particularly with a versatile pass-catching back. But will they do that at No. 32, move down or wait later on in the draft?
Pass rushers are always crucial to a team – even just depth. This isn’t an overly strong year for edge rushers, but it’s even worse for interior defensive line prospects. That leaves every position open and will make for an exciting first two days of the draft.
Question: Other than Tom Brady, which player had the biggest impact on the Bucs winning the Super Bowl last year?
Answer: I don’t think the Bucs win the Super Bowl without stellar play from Donovan Smith and rookie Tristan Wirfs. I even wrote last spring before the draft that the Bucs offense and the overall team will only go as far as their offensive line takes them. Then a couple weeks later I wrote that Smith would be a huge catalyst for their success in 2020. Those two articles turned out to be fairly prophetic.
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The team that blocks the best and tackles the best wins more football games than it loses. It’s important to be solid up front on both sides of the ball. And the Bucs were just that in 2020. Tom Brady can’t throw from his back. Leonard Fournette can’t have the postseason he had if he is getting tackled in the backfield.
Smith and Wirfs were outstanding. Without them, Tampa Bay likely isn’t hoisting a trophy or participating in a boat parade.
Question: Without a combine and COVID-19 limitations in place, are the coaches more or less involved with scouting the draft? Jason Licht’s fortunes seem to have risen with this coaching staff versus the last one.
Answer: COVID-19 affects how the Bucs handle workouts and interviews with prospects. But that won’t change the way that Jason Licht and his staff approach evaluating the players. Licht always includes the input from the coaching staff. At the end of the day Licht has the final say on who’s name gets written on the draft card, but his ego isn’t so big that he doesn’t involve the coaching staff.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The good news for Licht is he has a head coach in Bruce Arians, and several assistants, that have a lot of the same philosophies when it comes to what the team needs. We all know Arians isn’t going to be coaching 10 years from now. But Licht very well could be the team’s G.M. So Arians isn’t going to create a spat or division when it comes to players. Arians knows what he needs for success in 2021 and relays that to Licht. But Licht also has to look down the road a little further than Arians does.
From all indications and from the success of the last couple of drafts the two have had, the synergy of Licht and his scouts, and Arians and the assistant coaches appears to be in a great place with this year’s draft fast approaching.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org