Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter addressed the media to recap the 2017 season and look ahead to 2018, which will be a critical year for the embattled Koetter, who is coming off a disappointing 5-11 campaign in his second year at the helm in Tampa Bay. PewterReport.com’s Bucs beat writers were on hand to cover the press conference and ask questions.
Now it’s time to dissect Dirk, breaking down exactly what Koetter said in his press conference and ultimately went he meant when addressing the future of the Bucs in the conclusion of the PR Analysis series.
Koetter defending left tackle Donovan Smith and the Bucs offensive line from the criticism that comes their way:
“I really still think that Donovan Smith’s three-year run in the NFL, I mean, there’s another guy that if you listen to rumors you’d think Donovan Smith should never play football again but all Donovan Smith does is play hurt, play consistent, play against the best pass rushers in the world Donovan Smith is a pretty darn good football player and I think Demar Dotson was having his best year in the three years I’ve been here. I know our O-line is heavily criticized. I think our O-line is in the upper-half of the league. I don’t know where the line is because I can’t rank them all, but when I’m looking at tapes of other teams, I see some bad offensive line play. Part of that are injuries, okay? But I think our O-line play is pretty good.”
Pro Football Focus gives Smith a 51.9 grade, which equates to poor, and has him ranked as the 53rd offensive tackle out of 64 starting NFL tackles, which is not good. However, inside the building at One Buccaneer Place, there is a higher opinion on Smith. Folks within the Bucs organization will point to his three-year consecutive start streak, the fact he’s only 24 years old and will ask you to name a dozen left tackles that you would rather have instead.
There is some merit in those arguments. At age 24, Smith is still learning how to become a consistent pro player, and his durability has been a plus. Naming 10 better starting left tackles around the league may be easy, but after that it becomes more difficult and it’s apparent that Smith is an average left tackle – perhaps an above average left tackle when focused.
Lions DE Ezekiel Ansah and Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Smith has gone up against some premier rush ends and fared well at times, such as allowing one tackle and one sack to Minnesota Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen in 42 pass attempts, and allowing Jason Pierre-Paul to get just three tackles, half a sack and one QB hit in 39 pass attempts. In other games, such as Detroit, Smith struggled, and allowed Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah to record seven tackles, one sack and one QB hit. We’re not sure if Smith ever develops into a Pro Bowler, but it took former Bucs left tackle Donald Penn five years to make the Pro Bowl.
Smith, a former second-round pick, is entering a contract year, so the Bucs will be expecting his game to rise to a new level. The key for Tampa Bay’s evaluation of Smith will be to determine that any growth that takes place in 2018 is continued ascension of a developing player in his fourth year, or is it just simply a player focused on cashing in during a contract year with a letdown coming the following year after receiving his big payday?
As for the rest of Tampa Bay’s offensive line, Koetter is right that Demar Dotson had a very good season, finishing the year on injured reserve, but with an 85 overall grade and a No. 7 ranking among offensive tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Center Ali Marpet was rated the seventh best center in the league, and finished with a 79 grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
The guard play in Tampa Bay was sub-par, though. Left guard J.R. Sweezy was a liability in pass protection at times and didn’t get the expected push in the running game that the team was expecting coming back from back surgery. Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith both platooned at left guard in what was a contract year for both of them and they underachieved. The Bucs could either find another left guard and perhaps a right guard to bolster the offensive line around Marpet, or move Marpet back to guard and find another guard to compete with Sweezy in addition to a new center. Either way, this offensive line only has three real keepers in Dotson, Marpet and Smith – for at least one more year.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.