PewterReport.com began a new offseason feature this year, giving readers an opportunity to get their questions answered about the Bucs by the PR staff. Today, Mark Cook answers five questions taken from Twitter submissions and our message boards using the hashtag #PRMailbag.
Question. Went to my 1st game this year yesterday, and loved it. However, I have no clue who Ryan Russell is. He played well, who is he?
Answer: First off all you went to your first game and didn’t bother to look us up and say hello? You aren’t the only one who was wondering where Russell came from and earned the amount of playing time that he received on Sunday. But he did, and he played well. Russell came to the Bucs following his release from the Cowboys back in September. Tampa Bay signed him to their practice squad but with injury concerns on the defensive line they promoted him to the active roster earlier this month. Obviously he impressed the coaching staff enough to get on the field the last three games, including seeing more snaps (35) than Will Gholston.
Russell played his college ball at Purdue and was a fifth round pick by the Cowboys in 2015. He struggled in Dallas, but it appears the proverbial light has come on. Sometimes guys need a change of scenery, or maybe the scheme fits him better than what it did in Dallas. Regardless, the Bucs are pleased with his development.
Is it time to pay Gholston now? I don’t know if the fans realize exactly what he means to this defense.
Answer: In the words of many on the PewterReport.com message boards, pay the man! Seriously, Gholston is one of the most versatile lineman the Bucs have had in years, able to line up at any position on the defensive line. He is so big and strong, and provides matchup nightmares for opposing offenses. And he plays with a mean streak and an edge. The crazy thing is, Gholston is so young still, and has a ceiling that is yet to be met. He is still learning the game, understanding how to utilize his strengths, and should only get better if he stays healthy. I joked with him after the game yesterday, if he needs an agent, I am available. Someone is going to pay him very well this offseason, and hopefully it will be the Buccaneers.
Question: Is Adam Humphries too valuable to the offense to be returning punts?
Answer: Yes and no. Certainly he is a contributor and if that continues to grow in his Bucs career, then at some point, the coaching staff may look to take him off of kick return duties. For now though, his contributions to special teams are important, as the Bucs haven’t been able to secure a dependable kick returner over the last two years. Humphries isn’t the biggest or fastest player on the team, but he is one of the toughest. You need a fearless kick returner, and that is what you have in Humphries. I texted him a picture of one of his against Seattle earlier on Monday, and the first thing he said to me was, I should have scored on that one. He did return one for a score against Cleveland in the preseason, so we know he has the ability. And I think he gets one this year.
How do you see the team ending the season? Do they crumble like last year or soar into the playoffs?
Answer: After the Seattle win, there isn’t game left on the schedule I don’t think the Bucs can’t win, including beating the Cowboys. Now, I am no way predicting that they run the table, by any stretch, but tell me who you guarantee they lose to. If you had asked me that a few weeks ago, I would have said pretty much every one on the schedule, but this team has made a believer out of me. Putting me on the spot, I see the Bucs winning in San Diego, losing at Dallas, splitting with the Saints, and beating Carolina in the final game of the season. That would leave them at 9-7 on the season.
Question: Do the Bucs keep Verner around next season after his contributions the last two games? Is he finding a place in the D?
Answer: That is really tough to say at this point. I think Verner is a terrific backup, but unless the Bucs part ways with Brent Grimes in the offseason, I don’t foresee Verner getting back in the starting lineup. His contract calls for him to make $6.5 million next year and I am not sure the Bucs are willing to pay him another salary like that to be a part time contributor and backup. With that said, I absolutely believe Verner has a role on this team, and believe the Bucs would like to see him back in 2017, but it may come down to if Verner would play for less. This is all just speculation on my part, however.