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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 to answer for this week’s edition.

QUESTION: Has the PR/KR position been solidified yet in your opinion?

ANSWER: In my opinion, it should be settled. Jaydon Mickens is the more experienced returner and I think he should keep the job because I didn’t see enough from fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden in the preseason to tell me he’s won the job. Mickens was solid, but not spectacular last year for the Bucs, averaging 24.3 yards per kick return and 6.2 yards per punt return. In the postseason, his punt return average improved to 7.8 yards, while his kick return average declined a bit to 22.2 yards.

Bucs WR-PR Jaelon Darden

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

Darden started the preseason with a 6-yard punt return and a 12-yard kick return against Cincinnati, then averaged 11.3 yards on three punt returns against Tennessee with a long of 19 yards. He fumbled on one return, but was able to corral the loose ball. Against Houston, Darden had a 17-yard punt return and a 16-yard kick return. That’s seven return opportunities for the rookie, who averaged a respectable 9.5 yards per punt return in the preseason. Kickoffs were a different story, as he averaged just 14 yards on two returns.

Mickens only had two opportunities in the preseason with a 6-yard punt return against Cincinnati and a 33-yard kick return. It’s clear that Darden has more of a feel for punt returns than he does kick returns at this stage of his rookie season. But I wouldn’t necessarily trust him to do either in Week 1 on a nationally televised game against Dallas in the NFL season opener. That’s too big of a stage for a possible rookie mistake.

The Tom Brady-led Bucs offense is potent enough, averaging over 30 points per game. The major role of Tampa Bay’s return specialist is simply to keep possession of the ball. Fumbles cannot be tolerated by the return specialist, whoever it is, because that nullifies a scoring chance by Brady and Co.

For some reason, the Bucs burned a lot of kick return opportunities by allowing second-year running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn to handle six returns in the preseason. Six! I could tell from the Cincinnati game where Vaughn averaged just 14 yards per return on three opportunities – with a long of 18 – that he was not cut out to be a returner. Vaughn runs without a sense of urgency on kick returns and doesn’t have the juice to rip off big returns.

He averaged 15.5 yards per return on two attempts versus Tennessee with a long of 22, and had a 17-yard return at Houston. Vaughn fumbled at the end of that return, but Bucs defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter recovered the loose ball. Personally, I would have rather seen Darden or Mickens get three more return opportunities rather than Vaughn in the preseason. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong mismanaged the return allocation in the preseason.

“As a runner he’s fine and he did a heck of a job as a gunner,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said of Vaughn. “His return ability is up in the air. He’s more of a running back looking for a hole instead of just hitting it as a kick returner. But he gets us out of a ballgame. He’s a good off-returner for sure because he will block.”

Bucs KR Jaydon Mickens

Bucs KR Jaydon Mickens – Photo by: USA Today

You asked me for my opinion, but ultimately it’s up to Arians and Armstrong to decide. I would sit Darden, who appears to be the sixth receiver on the depth chart behind Tyler Johnson, out of the season opener at Dallas and use Mickens instead. But that’s assuming Tampa Bay keeps seven wide receivers.

If Mickens doesn’t stick, then Darden will be the return specialist by default. Let’s hope he’s a quick learner and doesn’t put the ball on the ground by trying to do too much. Better blocking for Darden would certainly help.

“Return game-wise, he’s fine,” Arians said of Darden. “We’ve got to block for him better, give him a chance, but he showed his speed getting around the corner and doing some of those things. Receiver-wise, he’s still learning the nuances of different coverages – do you run this route versus that, and this and that? So, the dependability isn’t quite where it can be. When he knows what he’s doing, it’s impressive. We’ve just got to do a better job of getting him to know what he’s doing.”

QUESTION: How much longer until we see a significant change to the special teams? Another blocked extra point and a fumble on the return. Personnel or coaching change – one of them have to be addressed. It is the biggest glaring hole on the team.

ANSWER: There’s no doubt that special teams was the Bucs’ weakness last year, and it looks to be the team’s weakness again this year, unfortunately. Tampa Bay uses quite a fair amount of starters on special teams, and there will be some new reserves who will play a big role on kicks, punts and field goals this year, too. The Bucs even invested a fourth-round pick on Jaelon Darden, who will eventually be the return specialist – if not in Week 1.

Bucs RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Bucs RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

As to the blocked kicks and the fumble from the Houston preseason game, tight end Codey McElroy whiffed on his block and allowed Jose Borregales’ kicks to be blocked. He won’t be on the 53-man roster. Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn fumbled at the end of his 17-yard return against the Texans, and was unimpressive as a kick returner in six attempts in the preseason. If Keith Armstrong trots Vaughn out there to return kicks during the regular season than his role as special teams coordinator really needs to be questioned.

I know Bruce Arians is a loyal head coach and trusts his staff, but if special teams – coverage and return units specifically – don’t improve this season he needs to seriously contemplate a change at the special teams coordinator position. The Bucs had enough talent on offense and defense to overcome a woeful kick coverage unit and lackluster kick and punt return units last year, and might have to do so again in 2021. Special teams doesn’t have to win games for the Bucs – but it can’t lose games for Tampa Bay either.

QUESTION: Any chance Mike Edwards starts over Jordan Whitehead?

ANSWER: No, I don’t think Jordan Whitehead will lose his starting role due to injury. Whitehead missed all three preseason games with an undisclosed injury after missing the first week of training camp due to COVID-19. Entering a contract year, the fourth-year safety should have a big season if he’s healthy. He was playing his best football down the stretch, and his forced fumble at Green Bay in the third quarter was one of the biggest plays in the postseason.

Bucs FS Mike Edwards

Bucs FS Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs are fortunate to have another starting-caliber safety in Mike Edwards, who had a really strong camp. If Whitehead were to miss games due to injury Tampa Bay would feel totally comfortable with having Edwards start next to Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Look for Edwards to see action this year and relieve Whitehead and Winfield for several series during games. And I expect defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to deploy some three-safety sets this year just to get Edwards on the field more. Edwards is a ballhawk and may be the best interceptor in the secondary. He might not beat out Whitehead this year, but he may replace him in the starting lineup next year if Whitehead hits free agency and cashes in with a big contract that the Bucs won’t be able to match or afford.

QUESTION: Are the Pewter Report live streams during games going to be a consistent thing?

Yes. Pewter Gameday, which is three hours of instant and analysis from Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Paul Atwal, launched on Saturday night during the Bucs at Texans game. The live streaming Pewter Gameday show can be viewed right here on PewterReport.com during all Bucs regular games, in addition to our Pewter Report TV YouTube channel, which is where you can find all of our archived Pewter Report Podcasts.

No part of the Bucs games are shown on Pewter Gameday, so the idea is to watch the broadcast at your home or on a mobile device. Then tune in to Pewter Gameday where Ledyard and Atwal react to the action live and offer up in-game expert analysis and commentary, as well as answering questions and interacting with our live chat participants. If you missed the Pewter Gameday from last Saturday, you can watch some of it below to get a feel for the show.

Our next Pewter Gameday will be Thursday, September 9 at 8:20 p.m. when the Bucs host the Dallas Cowboys to kick off the season. We’ll have a Pewter Pregame show a few hours prior to Pewter Gameday, as well as our typical Pewter Postgame podcast about 40-60 minutes after the game concludes. Be sure to join us for the fun in less than two weeks.

Our Pewter Report Podcasts happen four days per week – typically on Sundays (game days), Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Please be sure to hit subscribe on our Pewter Report TV YouTube channel. We’ve just surpassed 5,000 subscribers and need your support to help us get to 10,000.

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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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Dman
Dman(@dman)
3 months ago

Catching the ball is Priority #1. Start Mickens.

drdneast
drdneast(@drdneast)
3 months ago

As you stated, the fact that the Bucs use many of thier starters on special teams concerns me.
Not to long ago, the Bucs used their best pass rusher on kickoff returns and he ended up blowing up his knee in the first game of the season during a return. He was never the same afterwards and was cut.
I say this because I understand Joe Tryon is used on special teams and I think it unwise to use such a valuable commodity and risk them to injury on special teams.

Spitfire
Spitfire(@spitfire)
3 months ago

So the Falcons brought Josh Rosen in huh? I wonder how much of our playbook he got to see? And, I would venture to say he would have done better this preseason as our backup than Gabbert. I know he’s got his issues but I would still have liked to have seen our QB depth chart be Brady, Rosen and Trask with Rosen and Trask battling it out to take over in a few years.
Still interesting they couldn’t bare to let Rosen sit number 3 last year over Griffin.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
Reply to  Spitfire
3 months ago

Rosen Sucks! Let it Get over it. He’s on his 5th team in 4 years for a reason. He had his opportunity here and couldn’t even beat out Ryan Griffin, that should tell you all you need to know.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
Reply to  Spitfire
3 months ago

Say it out loud Josh Rosen Sucks!. 5th team in 4 years, he had his opportunity here and could even beat out Ryan Griffin. Should tell you all you need to know Move On!

Spitfire
Spitfire(@spitfire)
3 months ago

The blocked kick thing is mind boggling to me. All last year if a kick wasn’t blocked, teams were far too often getting far too close to blocking it. Pretty sure it was on the left side. Multiple times a game someone would come diving through and just miss the block. How can the coaches watch that happen and continue to do the same things and not instal some kind of fix either in positioning or personnel. Luckily everything worked out for us last year but a Super Bowl run often comes down to a few plays here and there… Read more »

Swash
Swash(@yomammy)
3 months ago

Scott, look again. That was Hudson who wiffed the block on the kick attempt, not McElroy.

fredster
fredster(@fredster)
Reply to  Swash
3 months ago

Good catch on that but honestly Both of them can’t block for shit and the main reason both won’t be on final roster.

The Freeman
The Freeman(@the-freeman)
3 months ago

blocked XP was for Cappa and Wirfs

fredster
fredster(@fredster)
3 months ago

We don’t have to have great returns with this offense and I agree I’d stick with Mickens for now. The kickoff and punt coverage is what scares me. You can really change momentum or outcome of a game when you allow return for td. I just have not been impressed at all with special teams overall either. I also agree Armstrong needs to go if they don’t improve to at least average this year.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
3 months ago

Scott you seem to be a little upset about Vaughn & Darden getting all the reps at KR/PR vs Jaydon Mickens. All Mickens did last year was fair catch punts and on Kickoffs in the Endzone instead of fair catching it he would foolishly run it out falling short of 25yd line every time. Not worth an entire roster spot IMO.

bucballer
bucballer(@bucballer)
3 months ago

Mickens all day long receiving kicks and punts. Darden, has been a bit of a disappointment to me. I thought he would flash back there receiving punts and kickoffs. It’s amazing to me that the Bucs just can’t get this position right! U have the reigning super bowl champs who r just stacked on both sides of the ball yet STs will be our weakness again! Unacceptable!

Swash
Swash(@yomammy)
3 months ago

Are y’all forgetting Mickens is likely to be suspended for 2 games?

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
3 months ago

Was that last question really posed by an “inquiring mind” or a segue into a PR commercial?

Mb Nfl Double Your First Deposit Football Team Vs Bucs Pewter 728x90 Jpg