Oniel Cousins played well at tckle in Cleveland last week
When it’s the midpoint of the season and a team’s winning percentage isn’t even sniffing the Mendoza Line, position battles should be a given.
But uncertainty at a keystone slot like left tackle can make any fan queasy, and that may be where Tampa Bay is headed.
Veteran backup Oniel Cousins stepped in for injured starter Anthony Collins last Sunday and performed well enough to gain praise from fellow players and coaches.
“Did a great job,” said quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo on Wednesday. “We’re really excited about the way [Cousins] played. I think he stepped into that role and did a nice job, really graded out well. Excited to see him with another week [of practice] to see how he can help us out. He did a really nice job in that game. I pointed it out during the game, and then after the game it’s what we thought. So another week will be really nice.”
As of right now, Cousins is keeping the seat warm for Collins as the Buccaneers’ $30-millon man recovers from a foot injury sustained two weeks ago against Minnesota. Collins started the first seven games of the season and has yet to live up to the expectations that come along with signing such a lucrative deal.
Considering Collins’ status for last Sunday’s game in Cleveland wasn’t revealed until the weekend, the same will go for this week leading up to Atlanta. Collins was shut down in practice all last week and did not participate today.
“I’ll let coach talk about starting roles,” Arroyo said before reiterating his desire to see Cousins continue to play with the starting unit. “But I thought Oniel did a nice job so I’m excited to see him work again this week.”
Cousins, a seventh-year pro out of UTEP, spoke from the locker room Wednesday about getting his first start as a Buccaneer and said his weekly preparation hasn’t changed since training camp.
“I’m always ready to play, whatever my role is,” he said. “I prepare myself like I’m a starter because you never know. One guy can go down and you’re playing just like that.”
In Cleveland – Cousins’ NFL home for the past three years – the Bucs offensive line put together one of its better days in both run and pass blocking. Tampa Bay picked up 96 rushing yards in the first half before mostly abandoning the run for the final 30 minutes, and the line provided time for quarterback Mike Glennon while surrendering just two sacks for minus-8 yards.
Tampa Bay’s ground attack has produced erratically all season as the team bounces between featuring oft-injured Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey. That uneven distribution of carries coupled with play calling that’s been criticized for running between the tackles too often has helped result in the Bucs ranking near the bottom of the league in yards per game (89.8).
According to NFL statistics, Tampa Bay’s had 18 rushing attempts that were stopped behind the line of scrimmage and 12 were on runs to the left side.
Like Cousins, Rainey also took up a starting role in Cleveland and head coach Lovie Smith said they were both key contributors to the team’s first-half success on the ground.
“Again, a lot of what I go on is based on what happened last,” Smith said. “Oniel Cousins played a pretty good football game; the best game he’s played. Bobby Rainey, when we were really running the football and committed to running Sunday, got a lot of positive yards. Both of those players have done good things for us.
“There’s reason to believe that they can keep the train going in the right direction while some of our starters get back.”
Playing next to Cousins at left guard is Logan Mankins. The 10-year vet said there’s obviously room for improvement, seeing as it was Cousins’ first live go at left tackle after working primarily at guard for most of his seven NFL seasons, but that he held up well given the circumstances.
“I thought he did a great job for us,” Mankins said on Wednesday. “He wasn’t perfect and he knows that. No one’s ever going to be perfect in a game, but he did a good job. Communication was good, he played physical and I thought he pass blocked pretty good.”
If Cousins turns in another game where he grades out positively against Falcons edge rushers, Collins’ starting job won’t be quite so secure when returns to the mix.
Here’s hoping for the best. Go Bucs!
Formerly the most vilified player on the Bucs. From zero to hero. Only in America!
I’d be cautious to anoint him the starting LT of this team. He hasn’t faced any top tier pass rushers, and won’t again this week. If he plays against Washington, let’s see how he does against Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy.
Wanting The Quarterback is one thing, but is there That Quarterback in this draft. We have 6 months to contemplate this; I say let’s get through these next eight games and see what we actually need and what is actually available. I’m tired of reaching for things that aren’t actually there. Go Bucs!
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