PewterReport.com began a new offseason feature this year, giving readers an opportunity to get their questions answered by the PR staff. Today, Zach Shapiro answers five questions taken from Twitter submissions using the hashtag #PRMailbag. Each week, five of the questions used will earn the person who asked it one of our new Tampa Bay schedule refrigerator magnet.
Question 1. Chef BoyarTall asks, Of the undrafted free agent rookies, who do you see as a favorite to make and contribute to the final 53-man roster?
Answer: Tough to predict, Chef BoyarTall. If I had to choose one offensive and one defensive player, though, I would go with RB Peyton Barber out of Auburn and LB Luke Rhodes out of William & Mary.
If you’re unfamiliar with Barber’s story, he left Auburn after a 1,017-yard, 13-TD sophomore season to help support his family. It’s reasonable to think another year or two in college would’ve improved his stock tremendously, especially if he continued on that trajectory. He’ll likely be in competition with Storm Johnson and Mike James for that third RB role, and age and upside would appear to be in his favor. Read more about Barber here.
The reason I think, as of now, Luke Rhodes has the best chance to make the final 53 is because Dirk Koetter brought his name up when asked about undrafted rookies who have impressed at minicamp. If Rhodes’ name was the first to come to Koetter’s mind, then clearly he’s done a few things to impress the Bucs head coach. Also, as SR pointed out in his Fab 5 on May 13, the Bucs need depth at Mike LB behind Kwon Alexander. He was a tackle-machine in college (341) and could prove to be a nice piece on special teams – the ultimate ticket for any UFA to make the final 53-man roster. Also keep in mind that the Bucs could look to the waiver wire this August and possibly snag one of their targeted UFAs that initially signed elsewhere.
Question 2. Isaac J Hall II asks, How will Mike Evans be utilized this year to be more productive?
Answer: Tampa Bay brought in Todd Monken, the former head coach of Southern Miss who worked previously with Dirk Koetter in Jacksonville, to serve as Koetter’s chief assistant in meetings and work closely with the wide receivers.
As SR wrote in his most recent Fab 5, Monken’s first job will be to improve Evans’ focus and hands, which will ultimately improve his temper and ability to find rhythm. Evans had plenty of targets in 2015 – and receptions to eclipse 1,000 yards – but he could’ve been better and he’d be the first to admit it. Cleaning up the drops, a stat he led the league in 2015 with 10, will be step number one. From there, the third-year pro will see his fair share of targets and look to become the sure-handed No. 1 WR he has the potential to be.
We know Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston like to stretch the ball downfield, so Evans will have his opportunities to be productive in this offense. As both he and Monken continue to stress, improvement is all about repetition and seeing the ball well in practice.
Question 3. DraftSharks asks, How big a role can Kenny Bell hope to carve out this season?
Answer: Good question, DraftSharks. Bell’s had a good summer so far but that’s nothing new, as he appeared to be the penciled in No. 3 WR until the preseason last year – an underwhelming showing, followed by a hamstring injury in Week 3 of exhibition that sent him to IR, put his future in Tampa in question. This time around, it’s likely he’ll be competing with Donteea Dye to round out the WR corps (behind Evans, Jackson, Humphries and Sheppard), and while Bell has upside and ability as a kick returner, Dye has a little experience on him. It’ll be a battle to watch this summer.
Monken has said that he considers Bell to be a rookie – which could be seen as a significant advantage, given that he was a fifth-rounder and Dye and Spencer were undrafted – only with better knowledge of the offense. If he can put together another strong training camp and show decent chemistry with Jameis Winston during the preseason, then Bell could join Humphries as a slot receiver and possibly give the Bucs their primary kick returner.
As a fifth-round draft pick (from Jason Licht’s alma mater), Jameis Winston’s former roommate and someone who knows the playbook, a lot seems to be working in Bell’s favor. It’s on him to earn a spot.
Question 4. Rob Pickett asks, With the difference in hash marks from college to the NFL, do you think that could help with Aguayo’s accuracy from 40-plus yards?
Answer: Jason Licht sure seems to think so, Rob. That was a hot topic in the Fab 5 on May 20, where Licht made the eye-opening point to SR that Aguayo would’ve been perfect the last two years on field goals within the NFL’s hashes. Of course that was just one reason Licht gave for why he thinks Aguayo was well worth the second-round pick. Read more about Licht’s experience with the Patriots and the lesson he learned from Bill Belichick when it comes to valuing a franchise kicker.
While narrower hashes makes for a stronger case for drafting Aguayo, there are still aspects of the kicking game that will be new to him in the NFL. For example, there will be some kicks late in the season in under 50-degree weather, a temperature he’s never kicked in.
So to answer your question, Yes, I think the NFL’s hashes will help his accuracy in above 40 range. But at the same time I think the pros presents some new challenges in the kicking game, too. We’ll find out how it all effects him soon enough. The Aguayo pick has certainly made the Bucs’ kicking game a more exciting development to pay attention to this season.
Question 5. Riley Auman asks, Who do you think will make the team at receiver?
Answer: Always a popular question heading into training camp, Riley. With Koetter’s use of tight ends and the drafting of Dan Vitale, I think the Bucs will keep four tight ends and therefore five wide receivers – Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Adam Humphries, Russell Shepard and Kenny Bell.
The first two are a given and Humphries came on strong last year, building a solid rapport with Jameis Winston. From there, I think Russell Shepard is a proven special teams ace and while Koetter has been candid in his assessment of Shepard as a WR – “If you have five guys up on game day, he’s probably going to be the number five” – the LSU product has been reliable enough on offense to earn a depth role.
The battle for slot receiver between Bell, Murphy and Dye will be exciting in camp. As of now, I think it is advantage Bell. He was healthy throughout OTAs and mimicamp and performed well; Murphy is continuing to recover from a bad ACL tear last season. Bell was a fifth-round pick from Nebraska; Dye was undrafted out of Heidelberg. More things than not seem to be tipping in Bell’s favor, but I could be completely wrong. It will likely be a tight competition until the end and ultimately come down to whoever is more productive in exhibition games. Don’t count out Evan Spencer, either, or Bernard Reedy or Andre Davis – though all three would appear to be competing for a spot or two on the practice squad.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: [email protected]
Well Buc Fans this is George Hicks I think this bucs team could ba a special group of men, and I believe Tampa bay could get back in respect and win more games then the past year. I have already putting together my list of potential prospects for the positions for 2017 Nfl Draft for the Bucs. One Thing Tampa needs more of at least 1 safety and an Edge rusher for the first two picks in not that order.Go Bucs
I was thinking we need to draft another WR in the top rounds. Jackson’s career is in the twilight and we could use another weapon for Winston.
The competition at wide receiver will be interesting to watch at Training Camp practices. In my view a Special Teams player needs to first make the team at his position and only if two or more candidates are equal, the better Special Teams player might win out. Yes, Russell Shepard (known as Streeter to Owlykat) is a good gunner, but as a WR he’s an afterthought. Injuries will affect the selection of the final 5 or 6, but I think Shepard’s time here is nearing the end.
It’s nice when that can work out that way and go well, but excellent special teamers really aren’t that easy to come by. And if you cut a Russell Shepard, then you’re probably forced to keep another guy on that would have been cut otherwise at another position. Your options with special teamers are really pretty limited. Generally speaking, those units are comprised of LBs, WRs, and CBs. None of the receivers who are most likely to make the roster – Evans, VJ, Humphries, or Bell – are going to be assets in special teams coverage. The CB group is short on special teamers, too. We’ve got some among our linebackers, but no gunners like Shepard. So if it’s not him, then it’s got to be someone else. I’d rather just keep the guy who we have and is already really good at the job.
As a graduate of The College of William & Mary myself, now I’ll be watching Luke Rhodes more in the run up to the season. W&M has traditionally not seen many players get drafted and also not many see NFL action. It’s more of an academic school than athletic. I don’t follow the college scene in general and have never really followed the Tribe’s Football team very closely. But I’m always an instant fan of a W&M player. Good luck Luke.
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