FAB 2. RoJo Is Improving

The game of football has changed so much over the past two decades that I’ve covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Twenty years ago teams used to value a 1,000-yard rusher, knowing that you couldn’t make the playoffs without one. Having an enforcer strong safety that would lay the boom on receivers roaming across the middle of the field was just as important as having a lockdown cover cornerback or a pass-rushing defensive end.

Coaches like Sam Wyche (1992-95) got four years with losing records before getting fired. Now, if a coach has two bad years – or in some cases one bad season – he gets fired. Just ask Greg Schiano or Lovie Smith.

Ex-Bucs head coach Sam Wyche - Photo by: Getty Images
Ex-Bucs head coach Sam Wyche – Photo by: Getty Images

Draft picks like Eric Curry, a defensive end that was the first-round pick in 1993 who produced just 12.5 sacks, used to get five years to develop before the bust label was applied. Now, in this on-demand, microwave world we live in today where people no longer have the patience for the old adage “patience is a virtue,” any draft pick that does not make an immediate impact as a rookie is somehow labeled a “bust.”

Such is the case for Tampa Bay’s first two draft picks – defensive tackle Vita Vea and running back Ronald Jones II. Vea tore a calf muscle on the first day of pads in training camp, missed the whole preseason and the first three games before making his NFL debut nearly 10 months after he played in his last football game, which was the Fiesta Bowl on January 1 when Washington played Penn State.

Obviously, he’s a bust, says Bucs fans/NFL Twitter.

Jones struggled to get clean looks in a disastrous preseason in which he rushed for 22 yards on 28 carries (0.8 avg.). Sources tell me that while running behind the second-string and third-string offensive lines, Jones was hit in the backfield on nearly half of those carries, which stunted his progress.

“Yeah it was tough,” Jones said. “It was just frustrating and a little bit disappointing, you know, but not getting down on myself at the same time, too. For me, it was just knowing that there are little things I can do to be up in practice every week and try to carry it over to the game.”

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said how difficult it is to develop struggling players once the season starts because the train starts moving when the games starting counting for real.

“That’s a great question – ask Ryan Griffin that question – he’s been trying to do it for six years,” Koetter said, noting that Griffin has been in the NFL for six seasons and never seen a regular season snap. “It’s hard. That’s a hard thing. That’s the rules we’re living by. That’s hard once the season starts. That’s why you’ve got preseason and training camp. You talk about opportunity – however many practices we have, however many preseason games we have – those are those opportunities. You have to establish some kind of a depth chart and then once the season starts, it’s hard.

Bucs RB Ronald Jones II - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Jones’ preseason was so bad that the Bucs couldn’t justify putting him on the active 46-man roster on game days, which was a clear indication that he was a bust, according to Bucs fans/NFL Twitter.

If there was Twitter back in 1997 during Ronde Barber’s disastrous rookie season, Bucs fans/NFL Twitter would have run the third-round pick out of Tampa Bay because he was clearly a bust.

Jones was finally activated for the Bears game, and due to the lopsided score at halftime, Koetter used the second half as an extra preseason game for Jones with the score so out of reach. After dropping a catchable screen pass in the first half, Jones rushed for 29 yards on 10 carries (2.9 avg.) and caught one pass for minus-1 yard rushing.

Not great against a stout Bears defense, but progress over what he showed in the preseason.

“I think his development is progressing, and obviously it’s been progressing to the point where we feel the need to get him in the games to be able to make us hit some plays,” Bucs running backs coach Tim Spencer said. “He came from a system that wasn’t quite as involved as ours. Anytime you have guys come in that haven’t been out of their comfort zone and being able to look around before the play starts and say, ‘Hey, I might have this guy if this guy does that.’ It takes a minute. I think he’s getting to the point where he’s comfortable and I think he’s got a good grasp of the system. We’re looking for him to make some plays.”

Bucs RB Ronald Jones II - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

At USC, Jones wasn’t asked to do much in the way of pass protection and blitz pick up, or as a receiver in the running game. Both of those duties are requirements to play in Koetter’s system – or any modern day offensive system in the NFL for that matter.

“Most definitely, and yeah I did it at USC, but not as much to this standpoint,” Jones said. “The big thing definitely is blitz pick-up recognition and actually identifying everything on the pick-up. That’s half the battle.”

At USC, Jones routinely torched weak PAC 12 defenses like Arizona, Arizona State, California, Washington State and Oregon and had huge holes and the wide side of the field with college hash marks to run to. With 4.41 speed, Jones outran linebackers and defensive backs and turned a six-yard gain past the line of scrimmage into a 60-yard touchdown by blowing past slower defenders or benefitting from defenders taking poor angles or missing tackles.

Jones’ adjustment to the game speed in the NFL where every player is fast hasn’t been a smooth transition.

“Oh yeah, this is a much higher level of intensity,” Jones said. “It was great to finally have my number called and be out there and get a chance to make some plays, and it was finally good to get my feet wet [in the regular season]. Yeah, the holes are smaller and your decision-making time goes down – all that stuff. The hashes in college football give you a wide side of the field. In the NFL, it’s a different game, so I’m just getting adjusted to that and getting used to it.”

Bucs RB Ronald Jones III - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones III – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

At 5-foot-11, 209 pounds, Jones isn’t a small back, but he’s not necessarily a big back, either. Some at One Buccaneer Place tell me they would like to see Jones hit the hole faster, while others tell me that they would like to see Jones hit the hole harder with more power in an attempt to break initial tackles and get to the second level where he can showcase his speed.

“He hasn’t that many carries, and it’s a total team game, obviously,” Spencer said, referring to Jones not getting a lot of clean looks dating back to the preseason. “I never thought he wasn’t hitting the hole fast enough. He may need to press the hole a little bit more, but in terms of speed, he’s fine there.

“The holes close up faster, and there are guys that are just as fast as he is [on defense]. Making decisions – good, sound, quick decisions is the thing that is going to give you that edge. If you have a guy that is thinking too much all the time that slows the whole process down. We feel comfortable with the things that we know he can do. He’s getting better at the whole game. You’ll see him out here after practice that he knows he needs to work on, which is a plus. I feel good about that part of the process.”

Spencer is referring to Jones’ hands at the end of his quote, and he showed improvement in his second NFL game last week at Atlanta, catching three passes for 16 yards, including a 10-yard gain.

Bucs RB Ronald Jones II - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.

“I think I’ve got to do a better job of making people miss because a lot of times the offensive line is going to account for the guys in the box and the tight ends and receivers got their man,” Jones said. “As a running back, you’ve got to be special and make a guy miss.”

The Bucs continue to believe in Jones and feel he has the tools – and perhaps just as important, the work ethic – to be a special player. It’s just going to take some time.

“He’s fine,” Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “He’s only going to continue to get better and he has shown that. He’s continued to work awfully hard at it, so it’s week-to-week for everybody that we have – we said that a few weeks ago.

“I think he continues to improve and will continue because he’s got talent. He’s got a chance to be a really good player. Now, it’s just putting it all together.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

35 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure you guys already know that you can read past page one.

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    • NVM. Wish I could delete last post. Sorry.

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  2. I think that has been the thought at this point – a loss here means all hope for this season is lost after 6 games. Problem is, against rookie QBs, the Bucs are absolutely horrendous.

    Greg Altmann just published the following. While the past does not predict the future, this is pretty damning:

    NFL’s worst records against rookie QBs since 2011?

    Bucs 1-10
    Jaguars 5-9
    Browns 6-10
    Vikings 5-6
    Raiders 3-3
    Bills 7-7
    49ers 6-5
    Redskins 8-6
    Chiefs 4-3
    Titans 9-6
    Eagles 6-4

    So the Bucs are by far the worst team dealing with Rookie QBs going back over the last 7 years. Yes, the Bucs have been bad during this time but not winning here just means they are terrible yet again this year and probably it is the end of Koetter/Licht by the end of the season.

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  3. What scares me about Duffner as DC is that the linebackers, his unit, are really not doing anything that great this year.

    not great at blitzing, not great at gap assignments, not great in coverage. If he is not able to coach them up can he really coach up the rest of the D?

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    • Not great at blitzing?? Umm because Mike Smith rarely called blitz’s for them.

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    • How much of that is Duffner and how much of it is Mike Smiths scheme and rarely blitzing? Maybe Duffner wanted to blitz more and Smith wouldn’t let him. We will find out soon.

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  4. You want to play harder for coach Duffner because you know he cares for you? What kind of crap is that? You should play as hard as possible all the time for yourself, your team, and because you absolutely hate to lose. There’s our problem in a nut shell. We have a mentally weak defense, with mentally weak leadership who’ve been to O.K. with losing for to long. We need a defensive face lift from scheme, to so called star players who’ve under preformed these last few years. I hope Duff can get more out of this crew, I’m just not sure this is the crew that can get it done.

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  5. One word:

    APATHY….

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  6. Just get a win…. no more talk, no more excuses, no more hugs, just win….

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  7. While all games are important in a 16 game season, the notion that a single game will make or break a 16 game season is just media hype. I’m a skeptic about the current Bucs regime and team, but surprising outcomes are always possible in a 16 game season.

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  8. I do not think drafting another RB is necessary. Better to develop Barber and ROJO as this is a pass first team now. Plus, I still like that rookie Wilson. So in summary you have two rookies at RB and a third year guy starting to find his groove. No reason to panic at the RB spot.

    Once the Bucs start building leads and the defense improves so will the running attempts and rushing yards. That is how most NFL teams that have good rushing attack do it. The old school way of playing defense + running the ball with a lead.

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  9. The Browns think they can win this game. The Bucs will find a way to lose like they always do. This is the season. 4 losses in a row and a 2-4 record. its over if they lose and its over for Koetter and Licht. We need a new regime. Think Tony Dungy, President of Football Operations and go from there.

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  10. Is it really the best strategy to have the least rushing attempts in the NFL? Yes, the passing offense is doing well, but if you can’t run the ball down the stretch and into the playoffs, is there really any chance for a team to succeed? How have the RBs been inhibited by an offense that is not running that much? Rojo has the talent. The offense needs to evolve into a more balanced squad. Not running the ball also keeps the D on the field, and nobody wants to see that.

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  11. surferdudes, you are speaking with so much more clarity lately, did you get off the bong diet.
    I remember when Scott presented hiss case for firing Lovie and he changed my mind with his sound argument.
    Last year Scott didn’t call for Koetter’s firing but he sure was pining openly for Jon Gruden to return.
    Thank god that didn’t happen.
    I guess Reynolds had amnesia when it came to Gruden’s draft picks and personnel moves once he got his own lap dog into the GM office.
    The Glazer’s aren’t going to fire anyone for the rest of the season so to speculate now on the subject is ridiculous unless Reynolds has an ulterior motive.
    Let the season play out and see what happens.
    If the offense keeps operating at a high level and the defense keeps playing like a bunch of clumsy moronic girls scouts like they have been for the last 5 games, why would you fire Koetter.
    Licht put together this defense and the personnel and as good a job as he has done finding some offensive nuggets, especially in FA, he hasn’t done the same for the defense.
    So far. his defensive picks have been huge underachievers.
    So why do you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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    • Drdnest, I have been saying the same thing. Koetter is an offensive minded coach who doesn’t know a lot about defenses. He trusted Mike Smith which turned out to be a mistake. Koetter has built us the best offense we have ever had in Tampa. We are avg 28 ppg and over 450 ypg. Those are crazy numbers for us. Koetter was hired to develop Winston and improve our offense which he has done so far. We just need a great DC who can make our defense avg. With an avg defense we can make the playoffs and be a contender.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • You said the free agent pics on defense have underwhelmed. I don’t believe JPP is underwhelming.

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  12. I really want to grab Armani Oruwariye in round 1 to pair with Carlton Davis outside!!

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    • He looks good but I really like Greedy Williams from LSU.

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      • Greedy Williams, best DB name ever!

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      • Greedy goes in top 10-15. I’m wanting the Bucs to pick around 20 or a little later. That means they won 8+ games 🙂

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    • I didn’t see anything special about Oruwariye in that video other than his ability to position himself to make plays. Most of interceptions were on balls the quarterback should have never thrown. He doesn’t look like he wants to tackle either. Not starting for Penn State. PASS

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  13. I hope Tampa doesn’t draft another skill player with their high draft picks. Invest in the lines and secondary. 2017 was the year to get a RB and Tampa missed – and SR is right about Tampa’s perception of Martin. That, combined with other needs and the fact that OJ Howard was a gift too good to pass up in the first round, pushed RB down the priority list. A better O-Line will enhance Barber and Jones.

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    • Agree, I want to grab a true LT and move Donovan Smith to RT.

      2019 2nd round pick/Marpet/Jensen/Cappa/Smith 🙂

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  14. Forget the draft until after the season.
    Does anyone think we could trade McCoy for even get a fifth round selection for after the way he has played this season. I don’t.
    Scott, glad you used the Rhonde Barber example of how it takes some time for some players to develop in this instant gratification world we live in today.
    What surprises me even more is some so called “fans” are so qucik to call players busts just so they can be proven right about the choice or thier hatred toward the GM and everything he does.
    That is a big sign of narcisisism. Another character flaw more evident in today’s society.
    As for me, I make no bones about the fact I know very little about any of the Bucs draft picks when they are chosen and because I have a job that doesn’t involve being involved in evaluating professional football talent, to pretend that I did would only make me look pompous.
    I too think RoJo is showing improvement to and hope he continues to do so.
    Why would any reasonable thinking Bucs fan wish otherwise.
    Unfortunately, as we often see from some of the posts out here, there are others that don’t.

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    • Holding the GM responsible who single handedly destroyed the Bucs multi-decade legacy of strong defenses over a sustained 5 year timeframe, with his defenses (players and coaches) getting progressively worse and worse each season until now he and his work product have hit rock bottom with the worst defense in the league for two straight seasons, well, that is not called “hatred”.

      That is called “accountability”.

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    • C’mon Naplesfan, after all these years , you are still spelling Ronde with an ‘h’?

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  15. Good Article Scott. Defense I hope will stay close to LOS because of Browns running game. We need big DL in this game, not a tweener like Spence.
    Bucs should win this game.

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  16. I know the Browns are a different team now, but please don’t lose to them lol.

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  17. What was wrong with Dare O?

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  18. SR creates a straw man to defend Vea…..real shocker!

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  19. And once again, we are looking ahead to the Draft before Halloween. Boo! There’s still a lot of football left before we Bucs fans should be so eager to declare the season over; even if the Browns win on Sunday. This is the history of our fan base. As Buc-N-Phiily said, “APATHY”.

    In spite of the Browns being regarded as the NFL’s worst team the past few years, there will be thousands of their fans infesting our “home” turf to create Dawg Pound south. “Woof Woof” cheers will be heard anytime the Brownies do something positive. They still have that thing we “homers” call “hope”.

    I’ve said many times. All teams can beat you and you can beat all teams. The Browns have made a lot of Draft blunders, but also have made some good choices. I really liked Baker Mayfield’s demeanor. It’s just a matter of putting it together and gaining confidence. They have lost games similarly to our own Pewter Pirates. Those types of defeats are the most difficult to get over.

    As WNB0395 said, this Offense is as good as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, the Defense has been as bad as I can ever remember. We’re not used to this flip-flop. This sure isn’t Dungy Ball. No longer will Sapp’s 17 points win the game. Start fast and just keep your foot on the accelerator.

    Already, after a surprising 2-0 start, a couple of woulda, coulda, shoulda won close losses and one ass-whippin we’re too ready to sing, “The Thrill is Gone” and turnout Don Merrideth’s lights.

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  20. Buc stops here- I knew our Bucs had issues, but that’s worse than I had thought. Add in back-up QBs, and it’s even worse!

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  21. Do you think that our GM heard that Kareem Hunt liked our uniforms and said I could never draft a man with such awful taste?
    RoJo will run the ball when the O LINE starts blocking, easy does it on the RoJo bust talk.
    One more comment. I am glad the Duffer will be on the field, never thought or liked idea of coaching from the booth. How can you get a guy motivated unless you are looking him in the eye.
    GO BUCS

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  22. Poor product for over a decade. Now what was SR saying?

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