“Chemistry”, or lack thereof, was a common refrain for the Bucs offense last year. The team gelled enough by season’s end to win the Super Bowl, but there were many moments where it looked like a lack of cohesiveness could derail the dream. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich doesn’t believe that will be the case this year, largely based on Tom Brady’s growth.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“At this time last year, we really didn’t know [Brady],” Leftwich said. “We knew him on paper. We knew what we did in practice. But it took the actual Saints’ game for us to really have an idea of [where] we were at from an execution standpoint, where we’re at from an understanding of what we need to do play in and play out. It’s a big difference. Big difference from last year. We’ve been around each other now for a full year and we have a good understanding of each other, so it’s a big difference.”
One of the biggest improvements has been Brady’s chemistry with the Bucs trio of top-tier receivers. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown catching passes from the best quarterback of all-time looks great on paper, but execution was inconsistent a year ago. Fast forward to 2021, and the Bucs feel much better about how the team’s top four playmakers are meshing together.
“They just know each other now,” Leftwich said. “The difficult part with it is that it didn’t matter if it was Tom or any new quarterback. Any new quarterback, wide receiver tandem – it takes time for them to learn each other. [That’s not] different no matter who the quarterback and who the receivers were.
“We just so happen to have Tom Brady, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, we brought A.B. (Antonio Brown) on. Just like with any other crew, it’s going to take time for them to learn and get to know each other so you can play with consistency. That’s all it is. We had days when we were lights out, but it’s hard to play consistently when you really don’t have an idea of each other. Now that they have an understanding of each other, you see us having more success just by them knowing each other and knowing what each other are going to do in certain situations.”
The situational understanding was apparent, even in the preseason. On two of three drives against the Texans, Brady and the Bucs offense marched down the field with the ball barely touching the ground. During the first scoring drive, Brady went 7-for-7 as the Bucs rolled through the Texans defense in a hurry-up offense that we barely saw last season. Both drives covered 90+ yards and ended in the Houston end zone.
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
One of the big reasons for the Bucs offensive success was Antonio Brown, who caught four passes for 42 yards. A late addition to the Bucs last season, Brown was just starting to gel with the offense when a knee injury knocked him out early in the playoffs. After offseason knee surgery, Brown has been one of the highlights of training camp.
“I think he looks great,” Leftwich said. “I didn’t know about last year [knee injury] until it happened. Didn’t know if it was a nagging thing or anything to be honest with you, because he looked pretty good to me. He looks the way he always looked to me.
“It’s hard to find when 81 isn’t looking good on the football field, because he’s always been that way since he came in this league. I think he always had an idea of a similar system with some of the words he heard before. But I think he’s been around Tom now and he’s around his teammates now. He knows what role he’s going to play for us and how he’s going to help us win football games.”
With Brown bursting onto the scene this preseason and Godwin continuing to blossom, Evans has somehow flown under the radar. It’s been a lights out camp for the three-time Pro Bowler as he vies for his eighth straight 1,000-yard season. Evans caught two passes for 20 yards in the team’s preseason finale.
“It’s kind of been under the radar,” Leftwich said. “We’ve noticed it. It’s the best he’s been – I hate saying that. This is the best he’s been since we’ve been around him. He had a hell of a camp. Like you said, no days off. He’s working on his game and the things he felt like he needed to do better for this year. You see him constantly working on those things. So Mike has had a lights out training camp and I’m excited to see him play this year.”
The Bucs open the 2021 regular season against the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, September 9.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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