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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.”

PewterReport.com analysis:
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

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.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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Ken Grant
3 years ago

The idea that we have a top half offensive line is delusional. I really hope Licht and the front office are more objective otherwise it will be a lame duck year for the entire franchise followed by a full house cleaning.

3 years ago

This is the problem. Now no one will evaluate this talent properly because this regime will keep trying to defend its decisions. 2018 is already over. 6 and 10 at best. Its another wasted year. We need a real head coach. Koetter is a 2 time failed coordinator. He’s out of his league.

3 years ago

Was this a Senior Bowl press conference held today or a reference to his end of year press conference held some time ago?

3 years ago

That was from his year end presser. If D. Smith was taken in the top of the first round, I’d say he was a bust. Considering he’s a second round pick, only 24, I’ll cut him some slack. This will be a make, or break year for him, we’ll see how it goes. Marpet should’ve stayed at guard, and the Bucs should’ve brought in an up grade at center long ago. If the Sweezy signing panned out, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but like most of Lichts F.A. signings it hasn’t. So what do we really have? D. Smith,… Read more »

Reply to  surferdudes
3 years ago

The Bucs need 1 tackle (if not to start, at least to back up Dotson who hasn’t finished a season in 3 years); and either 2 guards or 1 guard and 1 center. The Buc front office is the only place where anybody thinks they have an average to above average OL. They rank in the bottom half of average yards per carry, and in the top half of sacks allowed. An article earlier this week said to plan for the worst outcome, not the best possible outcome. The Bucs need to plan on D. Smith being a bust and… Read more »

3 years ago

DSmith is terrible
Sweezy is terrible
Pamphile is terrible
60% of our starting OL is terrible
Does anyone else feel like Koetter is peeing down your back as he tells you dont worry it’s just a bit of rain?

3 years ago

Best thing the team could do for Smith is to provide him some legitimate competition for his starting spot. He appears to lack either the desire or ability to stay focused, but seems to excel once an opponent pisses him off. Maybe the threat of having someone on the bench (or RT) that can replace him at any moment might be enough.

3 years ago

Remember the good old days when we fans would just go by what we see on the field and not rely on some geek to tell us what we should know?

I don’t think Donovan Smith is the second coming of Paul Gruber, but he’s no Kenyatta Walker either. Yes, he got a few untimely penalties as the entire O-line did, but he’s not as bad as some folks think. He’s just the latest in a long line of whipping boys.

Reply to  scubog
3 years ago

Scubog;. I think you called it correctly.

3 years ago

PFF is not a good source of anything but toilet paper material. That being said, the current regime told us they intended to stand pat with the offensive line in 2017, and overall, the performance of the line was bad, producing the 27th ranked run game and 19th in sacks allowed. The same regime says everything on the line is just fine again.

Does anybody seriously believe that? That the same regime and same line that promised effective performance last year, and didn’t, and now promises effective performance again this year?

Yeah. Right.

Groundhog day.

3 years ago

We have two starting caliber OL and one of them is old enough that you can’t count on him to finish the season. Which means we have one. If DS was our #3 OT I’d be fine with that (putting aside the fact we reached in the draft and projected him to be our LT starter) but we need 2 OTs next two drafts and as others have said a G and a C.

If coach K is so happy with DS let him stand behind our line with his back turned. And rev up the spleen cart.

3 years ago

Somebody needs to stomp on Koetter’s rose colored glasses. He is dead wrong about our Offensive Line and if he doesn’t tell Licht to fix it Licht will throw all the blame on Koetter trying to keep his job when 2018 is another bust. If the Owners want to right the Ship here they need to bring in an expert to do an evaluation of all our player’s efforts in 2017 just like their Father did years ago. Then they need to take that report and tell Licht to stop trying to just take the best player available in the… Read more »

3 years ago

I don’t think pretty good gets us to the playoffs or wins a super bowl. Maybe Koetter needs to realize that. Improve our OL and DL. Build the team from the inside out.

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