It is time for the first new Bucs Mailbag of the year, and as you could guess, the majority of the questions were about Dirk Koetter keeping his job, and his announcement that he will not be giving up play calling duties in 2018.

Remember you can submit your questions each week via twitter by using the hashtag, #PRMailbag.

Question: Dirk seemed to hint at changes in coaching staff, but then also seemed to hint at no changes. Will there be changes at all?

Question: Don’t you think Koetter needs to give up the play calling AND all the defensive staff if he wants to have a job until 2019?

Question: Do you see any kind of coordinator change coming in 2018? If not, how did Koetter convince the Glazers to keep him on for 2018 without changing a thing?

Question: I just don’t see how Koetter can’t make any changes and expect to be successful next year. One can think that decision alone may still get him fired. I can’t be that far off base can I? Thoughts?

Answers: We knew late last week that Koetter could end up staying, and Scott Reynolds reported what we learned about Jon Gruden not coming to Tampa Bay. Even the last few weeks we wondered if there was a chance Koetter could save his job based on the competitiveness of the team over the last few weeks. But, even if he somehow did manage to save his job (which he ultimately did) we assumed it would include making some staff changes and possibly giving up play calling duties, as Koetter himself said he was considering last offseason.

So far, at this point, none of those things appear to be imminent.

First, let’s look at the play calling aspect. Again, as Reynolds pointed out in an article from Tuesday Koetter’s offenses have moved the football up and down the field. But, as offensive coordinator Todd Monken said earlier this year – yards without points is just window dressing. The Bucs offense in 2017 dressed a lot of windows, but none have turned into showcase winners. And while the defense hasn’t held up its end of the bargain, the offense can’t be left off the hook. Play calling, particularly in the red zone, left plenty to be desired.

Look, being a head coach of an NFL football team is a tough job. Maybe the toughest in all of sports. 53 players, numerous assistant coaches, 22 guys on the field at one time, 40-second play clock, personnel groupings, a player comes off the field injured, numerous voices in the headset, oh and now let’s add in you have to get a play called. It is obvious by the constant turnover in the league every year that not everyone is good at it.

Koetter is taking a gamble by continuing trying to do it all. He basically has one season to figure it out and turn around a 5-11 season. Of course it is his call, and I suppose if I were essentially on a one-year deal I am not sure I would put my hands in the fate of someone else. But, it is a gamble. The good news is, this will be his third season doing it, and every year should make you better at it. I suppose that is what the Glazers believe – or hope, at least – will happen.

I will say this, the Bucs issues in 2017 were not the result of  a lack of effort and desire to win by Koetter. He is as hard a working coach as the Bucs have had since Gruden. He is consumed with football, to the point where he believes meeting with the media or other media obligations are a complete waste of his time. (He literally told us that last year at one of the East West Shrine practices, saying how does talking to or meeting with the media help him win football games?)

I guess he has a point, but the arrogance is frustrating at times. Even Greg Schiano respected the job we have to do. He didn’t particularly like it, but we always felt he respected us and it was part of the job. Again, that is his prerogative, and, as stated, Koetter is a hard worker. We will have to see how it works out in 2018.

Next I will address the assistants, in particular, defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Let me first off say, I like Smith. As a person, he is as solid as they come, and this guy works his tail off; he cares. I have seen him following games, literally sick to his stomach, face red and a look of disgust on his face. And I will defend he didn’t exactly have an all-star cast to work with, especially as injuries began to take a toll. Noah Spence, Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, Robert Ayers and Clinton McDonald all missed games with injuries this season. That is eight of 11 starters just off the top of my head.

Still, Smith will be the first to tell you that doesn’t matter, you have to play the players you have and it is his job to put them in the best place to succeed. At times, that didn’t happen this year. Whether it was the players not doing their job, or the assistant coaches not coaching very well, ultimately it falls on Smith. And he will tell you that.

So it is not written in stone at all that Smith is back, or that his assistants are all back. I think there is a chance Smith and/or some assistants could still be let go. With the number of firings that have happened, I think Koetter wants to look at those now unemployed coaches and see if he feels there is an upgrade.

It won’t take long most likely. Any changes would happen most likely over the next two weeks as other staffs are assembled, and prior to the start of the college all-star games. PewterReport.com will of course be on top of any changes as soon as they happen. If any changes do in fact happen.

Question: What is your realistic dream scenario for the Bucs FA and the draft, to give us the best chance to reach the playoffs next year?

Answer: Pass rushers, more pass rushers, and some players that can rush the passer. Pretty much clear what my dream scenario is, huh? Seriously, the Bucs will struggle to ever be more than a .500 football team, regardless of how potent the offense becomes.

The problem is addressing it in free agency will be difficult. There just aren’t many out there slated to be free agents, and the ones who are will command a Brinks truck full of cash, IF they even make it to free agency. The Bucs aren’t the only team who are lacking elite pass rushers, and like offensive tackles, they just don’t often make it to the open market. Greg Schiano told Scott Reynolds and I that players that make it to free agency most of the time have some sort of red flags. Teams can almost always creatively find ways under the salary cap to keep a player they want. Yes, occasionally it does come down to a team having to make choices based on their current salary cap situation. But a lot of times it is players who have issues or are on the tail end of their careers.

That doesn’t mean the Bucs shouldn’t try, however. In fact, if I am Jason Licht I am stockpiling middle-tier or young defensive ends from now until training camp and letting them prove who belongs and who doesn’t. And hope to find that diamond in the rough. Or more than one.

Cornerback is another need for this team. I have been a strong proponent of bringing Brent Grimes back all year. Of course part of that decision is also Brent’s to make. I watch him in the locker room, watch how he practices and overall demeanor and really like him. And I didn’t see any drop off in talent this year. Eventually it will happen, but he is a proven player. We have seen the difficulty many rookie corners have in being impact players, so while I still say you draft one, why not try and keep a known commodity like Grimes for at least another year?

I would like to see the Bucs address the running back position in free agency, in order to concentrate more on defense in the draft. Now I am not one of those who de-values running backs like some do. I think an impact running back is important, and while I like what Peyton Barber has done when given the opportunity, I am not 100 percent sold on him being the long-term answer. That doesn’t mean he can’t be productive, I just don’t see a 1,300 yard rusher. Yet.

However, I think the focus this offseason and draft should be defense almost strictly. Even over improving the offensive line. It wouldn’t bother me one bit for the Bucs to use every draft pick on defense next April.

I picked this team to go 12-4 in 2017. I was just a tad off. I bought the hype, and wasn’t expecting the rash of injuries or the regression on defense. I won’t be picking them to be 12-4 again anytime soon. However this team is better than 5-11. Now they need to rebuild a pass rush, hope the injury bug doesn’t kick them in the rear again next year, and pray Jameis Winston doesn’t star the season on the suspended list.

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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, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. 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]

17 COMMENTS

  1. Mark, you got it about mostly drafting defense.

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  2. I think, at least for the first couple of picks, that we need to stick to the board. Its why we took OJ last year and it was the right move. Collect the best players you can and let the coaches figure out how to get the most from them. The failures this year had more to do with bad coaching than bad personnel.

    Good coaches build a scheme around players. Stop trying to force guys into your “scheme” and put them in position to use their skill sets most effectively. And for the love of god do not draft for scheme fits. That is how you end up with Hargreaves over guys like Rankins or William Jackson III. After coaching staffs get canned the scheme guys are the first to go and you start all over. Just pick the best football players and let the coaches do their job or find someone who can.

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    • In a normal situation I would agree with you, but this is not normal. We are way behind when it comes to players on this team who can effectively pass rush. We have none. I repeat none. We have to draft for need at this point. Rounds 1 & 2 DE’s, Rounds 3 & 4 CB & Safety.

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  3. The “rash of injuries” excuse is ridiculous.

    It’s the NFL, every year star players and starters go down, show me a team that doesn’t have injuries? For one, when Jameis went down for 3 weeks Fitzpatrick went 2-1 including a fairly good comeback attempt against the Cardinals that no one would have expected. It’s not like you can blame Jameis’ int’s or fumbles this season on his shoulder but rather poor choices. So where is the record getting hurt by injuries?

    The majority of the star players on the team played throughout the season, it wasn’t as if Gerald McCoy or Mike Evans went on IR on week 2. Hell, Carson Wentz was essentially the league MVP and after he goes down Nick Foles takes the Eagles 2-1 including a win over Derek Carr and the Raiders. The Green Bay Packers beat this team with BRETT HUNDLEY, so enough with this idea of one or two injuries costing this team a good record.

    The incredibly poor ‘Madden Style’ building of the roster with draft picks and contracts going to TE’s, WR’s and LBers while neglecting the line did this team in. You don’t win football games if you get manhandled on the line every week. Most people at the Pop Warner level know this, but the “greatest Bucs GM in history” apparently did not. Go figure.

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    • You don’t think Winston was going to win those games? Both were counted as wins before the season started, even Griffin could have won them. I do put the target on Licht and Smith as to lack of pass rushers. They better get their shit together in this draft. Unless we trade for a decent pass rusher it’s all about the draft getting pass rusher.

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      • The point I clearly made Horse was that it did not COST them any wins. The idea that injuries played some large role in this team’s demise is, as I stated, ridiculous.

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  4. The turning point to me this year was the New England game. If the Bucs had a decent kicker, they would have won that game. They played hard the rest of the season, but they seemed like a different team to me.
    I think the Bucs could have won twelve games this year. A decent kicker all season and stronger coaching and they would have won those close games. I really like Koetter, but he has to learn from 2017. He has to start making better game time adjustments.
    I like the idea of getting a RB in free agency. I want defense in the draft and O-line. I take a great deal of comfort in our draft in 2017. Except for the miscue at RB pick, we couldn’t have done much better.
    Bucs will improve in 2018. Just a question of how much.

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    • I’ve been saying that all season Pete. It was the New England game that served as the early downward turning point. Bucs outplayed the “Flying Elvises” in our home stadium infested with disbelieving Patriots fans. They lost because we didn’t even have an average kicker. That loss sent the team into a funk. The NFL game is as much about a team’s psyche as it is physical talent. The hype and swagger were gone.

      In spite of the close losses, the team managed to get itself ready to play the next week. They never showed signs of quitting. There never seemed to be any friction in the locker room. That’s something to take into the off-season.

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  5. I also agree that the NE game was possibly the game that broke this season. If we win that, I think we win more of those close games. However, Licht not bringing in more kickers after the final roster cuts and not letting Folk have competition early was a mistake. The delay in picking up a better kicker cost us.

    I too was fooled by the Hard Knocks hype too this season, I thought the team would be 10-11 wins and I won’t be quick to predict that record again. Like Cook says, bring in every young and old DE we can find, draft at least two DE in April and hope we can find a rush until we can draft some more in 2019. I don’t think I would ignore the offensive line though, Smith was below average at LT and Sweezy just wasn’t good and it cost us this year. Maybe we should do as some others have suggested here, draft a LT at #7 and move Smith inside. Then draft DE in the 2nd and 3rd.

    I do hope that Koetter makes some staff changes though, while I don’t necessarily believe that Mike Smith needs to go, some position coaches (defensive line, offensive line and special teams coach) should definitely be replaced if we can.

    Licht has found some diamonds in the rough on the offensive side of the ball, he really now needs to find some players for the defensive line and a cornerback for next year.

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  6. Everything on defense will get better with a pass rush make it happen Licht!

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  7. “He is consumed with football, to the point where he believes meeting with the media or other media obligations are a complete waste of his time. (He literally told us that last year at one of the East West Shrine practices, saying how does talking to or meeting with the media help him win football games?)

    I guess he has a point, but the arrogance is frustrating at times.”

    I’m sure it will all be better after Scott spent the last month professing his undying love for Chucky, while basically campaigning for Koetter to get the axe.

    Let us know how that works out. Lol.

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  8. I disagree bc Chubb will be off the board at 7 and the rest of the players available won’t impact our team like the G from ND can. He gives us the ability to keep Marpet at C and actually have a solid interior to establish the run game this entire team desperately needs. You know what would solve our red zone issues? A productive running game. You know what would help our defense? Keeping them off the field by running the ball well. You know what would help Jameis the most during next season? Balance and a legit threat for run or pass on any down. Selecting another small DE/LB hybrid like Arden Key will be talked about but he’s small in size and guess what fresh off a shoulder injury at LSU, I’ll pass. There are enough veteran DL available in FA that should be able to change our pass rushing issues. Michael Bennett is old but fresh off an 8.5 sack season while playing hurt and would probably welcome the opportunity to finish his career where it started. Kony Ealy will be on the market with the chance to play the team that drafted him twice a year, seems like enough of a motivating factor to me. The defense needs a overhaul but if we want to make the best use of the 35 year old CB we wish to re-sign and an aging GMC then we should get players that are ready to play not kids that need to adjust to the speed, scheme and personnel which could take a full season. After the first 2 round then I’m all for a defensive draft but putting together a dominant running game will have more of a team impact than any defensive player not named Chubb that we could select at 7.

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    • Michael Bennnet didn’t start his career here. He was a Bronco. They cut him.

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  9. Part of being a head coach is talking to the media. If you’re not going to give anything up, like actually letting your O.C. do the job, don’t bitch about not having enough time. Koetter needs to do a better job of head coaching this year, more so then being a better play caller. I hope it works out better this year, but to quote one of my favorite shows, I’ll “curb my enthusiasm”.

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  10. Football is also a game of attrition and a little luck. What do I mean by that? The majority of teams that make and playoffs and win Super Bowls manage to keep more of their players playing that year than those teams that have a large amount of injuries.
    The Bucs have had a few recent drafts that have produced good players, and a few free agent signings that have not paid off.
    The ONLY thing that I feel good about going into next year is that there will be consistency in the coaching staff. Let’s see what another draft and another year does for the growth of this team and it’s 23 year old QB.
    As much as I wish there was a quick fix, these constant coaching firings are the sins we as fans are now paying for. Building through the draft, having consistency, and a patient approach is unfortunately the only proven way.

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    • Amen to what Charlie C said.

      No, I don’t know that things are going to be wonderful next season. I do know that constant regime change has accomplished nothing in the past 10+ years.

      Ever optimistic as a fan … I will swallow my disapointment for this past season and move on.
      __________
      Go Bucs!!!!!!

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  11. Slbucsfan above makes an excellent point about fixing the OL first; however, we need an elite LT, that Smith will never be, and can only get picking this high (and this may be our only chance for a long time). Move Smith to LG, start Howley at Center but draft his understudy in the third round, move Marpet back to RG, start Dotson at RT with Pamphile as his and the new LT’s backup. This will give us a solid OL to open holes in the running game, protect Jameis from injury and give time to throw deep routes, and also get third down completions and rest our Defense. In a three four Defense we only need to grab one of many good 250 pound DEs in the second round to convert to OLB with Green as the other OLB or one of our two other 250 lb DEs that were hurt this year; and our two LSU LBs as our two MLBs. In the fourth round or in Free Agency get another RB and let our overthehill high priced RB go or be traded. Our current CBs and Safeties can cover long enough with a good pass rush hurrying their QB. Get a stronger legged field goal kicker to win games at the end and kick off deep to stop any run backs. Sign some back up fast LBs to play Special Teams who can tackle and block. Go Bucs in 2018!!!

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