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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: When will the Bucs announce the signing of Richard Sherman?
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ANSWER: It really depends on how serious Jamel Dean’s injury is. If Dean can play this week at New England, then the Bucs might hold off on signing a veteran like Richard Sherman, who is on Tampa Bay’s radar despite some legal issues. If Dean is out along with Sean Murphy-Bunting, the Bucs would be down two of their three top cornerbacks early in the season.
49ers CB Richard Sherman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The 33-year old Sherman played in five games last year for San Francisco after suffering a calf injury. Sherman has dealt with foot and Achilles injuries over the past few years, and there are some at the Bucs’ AdventHealth Training Center that are concerned he can’t run well anymore. Still, others in the building see Sherman as a low-risk signing because he wouldn’t cost much at this stage of his career.
The Bucs, 49ers and Panthers have all reportedly reached out to Sherman, who serves as his own agent, in recent weeks. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Sherman has great size and could play in Todd Bowles’ scheme, and his experience would be helpful to a cornerback room whose oldest players are backup journeymen Ross Cockrell, who is 30, and Pierre Desir, who is 31 and on the practice squad. Tampa Bay also brought in fifth-year pro Rashard Robinson, who played special teams in L.A. on Sunday. So the Bucs have signed two veteran cornerbacks – and did so before signing Sherman.
We should know by Tuesday if Tampa Bay has any plans to sign Sherman. That’s when the Bucs will know the extent of Dean’s injury.
QUESTION: Pass rusher or cornerback – who do they bring in to help this defense?
ANSWER: With the Bucs already signing two cornerbacks in Pierre Desir and Rashard Robinson – and perhaps another if Jamel Dean’s injury is a severe one – Tampa Bay might look at elevating outside linebacker Elijah Ponder from the practice squad. With Jason Pierre-Paul’s shoulder injury and Cam Gill on injured reserve, the Bucs are down to three outside linebackers right now. In fact, inside linebacker Lavonte David played some outside linebacker on Sunday versus the Rams for a few snaps.
If Pierre-Paul can’t go this week, or the injury looks like it may take some time to heal, the Bucs could bring in another veteran pass rusher instead of elevating Ponder, who is a rookie. Something to keep an eye on this week. Tampa Bay’s pass rush, which has generated just three sacks in three games, is as much of a concern as the secondary is. One of the reasons why the Bucs are giving up so many yards through the air is the lack of sacks and pressure up front.
QUESTION: With the pass rush nonexistent, the banged up secondary continues to get exposed. How much is scheme vs. poor execution?
ANSWER: I think it’s mostly execution. I’m not necessarily giving Todd Bowles a pass, but for three quarters of the Rams game Bowles had Carlton Davis III, Ross Cockrell and Dee Delaney at cornerback going up against Cooper Kupp (nine catches, 96 yards, two TDs), DeSean Jackson (three catches, 120 yards, TD), Van Jefferson (four catches, 42 yards) and Robert Woods (three catches, 33 yards). Davis did a great job on Woods, but he’s only one man.
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bowles can only work with the players he has available on Sunday, and the Bucs simply got out-talented more than they got out-schemed. Neither Cockrell nor Delaney is as good as any of the Rams receivers and it showed. Combine that talent mismatch with the Bucs’ lack of pass rush, and it was a long day for the secondary in L.A. Bowles called plenty of blitzes, yet it only produced one sack all day.
After facing Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford in successive weeks, the Bucs secondary should get a reprieve this Sunday night when they face rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who has struggled as a first-year starter for New England (1-2). The Patriots have a subpar group of receivers, led by Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne. Tampa Bay’s secondary won’t get over-matched in New England, but it sure would be nice to see the pass rush get revved up.
QUESTION: When do the Bucs admit they need to accept the negatives of rushing five and force a quick or bad throw?
ANSWER: Tampa Bay was one of the highest blitzing teams last year and that led to 15.5 of the team’s 48 sacks. Inside linebacker Devin White had nine sacks, which was second on the team, followed by safeties Antoine Winfield, Jr. (three) and Jordan Whitehead (two). Fellow inside linebacker Lavonte David had 1.5 sacks as a blitzer in 2020, and added another one in the playoffs at Washington.
Todd Bowles has called more blitzes this season than any other team – 18 more blitzes heading into the Rams game – but to no avail. In the first two weeks of the season the Bucs sent five or more rushers at the quarterback on 45 of 106 pass attempts, according to Sports Info Solutions. Bowles is blitzing on over 40 percent of the plays. The league average is 23 percent. Yet Tampa Bay has not recorded a sack from a blitzing linebacker or defensive back through the first three games of 2021.
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
That’s not to say that all blitzes haven’t been effective. Some have forced incompletions, and Will Gholston’s sack in Los Angeles did come when Bowles called a blitz. Remember that Carlton Davis III blitzed Matt Ryan last week and batted his pass up in the air, where it was intercepted by fellow blitzing DB Mike Edwards, who collected his second pick-6 of the game on that fourth quarter play.
The problem with blitzing now is, with injuries to both Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, there is an even greater risk in leaving less talented cornerbacks like Ross Cockrell and Dee Delaney in single coverage. The last thing Bowles wants to do is give up a quick strike touchdown.
QUESTION: What happened to Shaq Barrett? Where have the splash plays from Devin White been? After the playoffs I expected so much more from him blitzing (he gets stood up by running backs one-on-one consistently) and in pass coverage.
ANSWER: Shaq Barrett has made a couple of splash plays to start the year. He had a sack against Dallas in Week 1 and snared an interception off a deflected pass in Week 2 versus Atlanta. Yet he is not applying the consistent pressure needed from a player making an average of $17 million per season thanks to his new, four-year contract.
The same can’t be said for inside linebacker Devin White, who has yet to make a splash play all season. White has 23 tackles to lead Tampa Bay, but has not recorded a sack after posting a career-high nine last year, nor has he forced a takeaway. White came on like gangbusters in the postseason, with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
But White is off to a slow start as a playmaker at the beginning of the 2021 season. This needs to change quickly to help Tampa Bay’s defense. Both White and Barrett really need to step up.
QUESTION: Why did the Bucs draft a QB in Kyle Trask (who’ll probably never be the guy) if they were in win-now mode? Surely some more depth in the secondary would’ve been more useful.
ANSWER: It’s easy to suggest that in hindsight now that both cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean have been hurt in the first three weeks of the season. But both of those starters plus Carlton Davis III were healthy in April when general manager Jason Licht selected Florida quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round. The thinking was to draft a quarterback who could be groomed to eventually replace Tom Brady, and it was a sound decision back then.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Remember, the Bucs secondary played well in the postseason and kept Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense out of the end zone in Super Bowl LV. The expectation was for there to be growth across the board in the secondary, and unfortunately that hasn’t materialized in 2021. The early-season injuries to Murphy-Bunting and Dean are obviously playing a part in that.
Finding capable starting cornerbacks is much easier through free agency and the draft than it is finding a high quality starting quarterback. Time will tell if Trask can become one, or if the Bucs would have been better off drafting a cornerback in the second round instead.
Keep one thing in mind, there aren’t too many rookie cornerbacks that can come in during their initial season in the NFL and play really well out of the gate. If the Bucs had drafted a cornerback with the 64th overall pick, how do you think that inexperienced defender would’ve fared against Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods or DeSean Jackson on Sunday?
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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