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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. 5 Bucs Who Need To Bounce Back

Tampa Bay’s OTAs (organized team activities) have begun and the Bucs’ veterans have hit the field with the coaching staff to work on alignments and fundamentals in advance of the team’s mandatory mini-camp next month and training camp, which begins in late July. All eyes will be on the Bucs’ newcomers, but we’ll also be watching these five players from last year who need to bounce back and have a better year in 2018.

DE Will Gholston
After recording 116 tackles over the past two seasons with three sacks in each of those years, the Bucs rewarded Gholston, its top run-stuffing defensive lineman, with a five-year, $27.5 million contract that includes $13.5 million in guaranteed money during the 2017 offseason. The last $6.5 million of that guaranteed money is payable this year, which means the Bucs can trade or cut Gholston after 2018 with no salary cap hit. In fact, his base salary falls from $6.5 million this year to just $3.75 million next year, which could give him some trade appeal if he doesn’t bounce back from a sackless season in 2017.

Of course the Bucs signed the 26-year old Gholston to a five-year deal for a reason. He’s been an instrumental force against the run and he made some strides as a pass rusher until last year. The fact that Tampa Bay signed Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein, who can both play strongside defensive end, should be a wake-up call for Gholston, who must show that he can do more than just make tackles.

Having a new defensive line coach in Brentson Buckner may shake Gholston out of the funk he was in last year and spur him to get back on track. If not, Curry, Unrein and Noah Spence will steal some of his playing time. Gholston has lost 15 pounds after playing last year too heavy at close to 290 pounds, so that should help.

DE Noah Spence
A right shoulder that has been separated multiple times over the past two years has marred Spence’s fledgling NFL career. Although he played the last 12 games of his rookie season in a shoulder harness, Spence was able to record 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles during his rookie season. Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2016 had offseason shoulder surgery, but it didn’t work as his shoulder kept popping out during the 2017 campaign. The Bucs pulled the plug on Spence’s sophomore season after five games in which he recorded just one sack and forced one fumble.

Spence had a much more involved procedure done on his shoulder this time around and the fact that he had surgery last October allowed him sufficient time to recover so that he could be ready for offseason workouts. Spence bulked up for the NFL Scouting Combine, weighing in at 251 pounds, but played much of his rookie season around 240 pounds.

With a surgically repaired shoulder, Spence has now muscled up to 257 pounds, which should help him play the run better. In a suddenly crowded defensive line room, the key for Spence room is to show that he can be a designated pass rusher at left defensive end and get to the quarterback, and quality teaching from Buckner can help. The Bucs could have used a healthy Spence last year when their 22 sacks were the lowest in the league.

QB Jameis Winston
An injury to Winston’s throwing shoulder rendered him ineffective in a few games and cost him three games last year, which is why he fell short of reaching 4,000 yards passing – a mark he achieved in each of his first two seasons. While Winston’s accuracy made a big leap from 60.8 percent in 2016 to 63.8 percent last year along with a QB rating that rose by six points to 92.2, Winston’s penchant for turnovers remained too high for the team to have success.

After presiding over nine wins in 2016, Winston was just 3-10 as a starter last year. Although his interceptions fell from 18 in 2016 to only 11 last year, so did his touchdowns, from 28 in ’16 to just 19 last season. But what was on the rise were the number of fumbles he had, which was 10 – up from six in 2016. Projecting Winston’s turnover rate of 1.6 per game over an entire 16-game season would have seen Winston have 25 turnovers last year. Any quarterback that has 25 turnovers would be hard-pressed to guide his team to the playoffs.

Winston needs to continue increasing his accuracy and keep producing touchdowns, but has to cut his turnover rate in half. Having a more robust running game with the addition of center Ryan Jensen and rookie running back Ronald Jones II will help take some of the pressure off Winston’s shoulders. Winston will also need to stay healthy for 16 games, but that’s just as much on the Bucs’ offensive line as it on Winston. A great year from Winston, who had his fifth-year option picked up for 2019, means Tampa Bay will make the playoffs. Anything less means the Bucs likely won’t.

WR DeSean Jackson
The signing of Jackson sent shockwaves through the league last year and made the Bucs one of the most talked about teams of the 2017 offseason. With plenty of hype from NFL Network’s Good A.M. Football and HBO’s Hard Knocks, the arrival of Jackson was supposed to give head coach Dirk Koetter a speed merchant at wide receiver that could take the top off the defense and open up the Bucs’ rushing attack.

Bucs WR DeSean Jackson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

That didn’t happen, but Koetter didn’t blame Jackson, as he did his part by often getting free behind the defense. Instead, it was Winston, whose deep passes failed to connect with Jackson downfield. Jackson, like any wide receiver, is at the mercy of his quarterback and play-caller when it comes to making an impact on offense. Regardless, Jackson signed a three-year, $33.5 million deal, so he’s in the cross-hairs from media and the fans to make an impact due to enormous salary, which will be $11 million this season.

It’s up to Winston to become a more accurate downfield thrower and if that doesn’t happen, it’s up to Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken to get creative in terms of how to use Jackson in underneath routes to take advantage of his speed, which can produce yards after catch. After posting 668 receiving yards last year in 14 games, Jackson doesn’t have to necessarily be a 1,000-yard receiver this year in Tampa Bay, but getting his touchdown production up from three a year ago and his average up from 13.4 yards closer to 17 yards, which is his career average, would do wonders. Now the question is, will Jackson do his part by showing up for more OTAs this spring to continue to work on the timing and chemistry with Winston?

CB Vernon Hargreaves III
There might not be any Bucs player that needs to bounce back more than Hargreaves, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said that Hargreaves has the intelligence in the classroom and the physical ability to be an NFL starting cornerback, but it hasn’t translated to the field yet. Time is running out as Hargreaves is entering his third year in the league and the Bucs just drafted two talented cornerbacks in the second round in M.J. Stewart, who can play both in the slot and outside, and Carlton Davis.

While Hargreaves hasn’t lost the support of the Bucs coaching staff yet, there have been a few of his teammates that have privately questioned his work ethic and seriousness when it comes to preparation. Tampa Bay is hopeful that the drafting of Stewart and Davis will serve as a wake-up call for Hargreaves to live up to his potential and that he is up for some serious competition in training camp.

Before a hamstring injury cut his second year in the league short, Hargreaves had rebounded from bad games against Minnesota and Arizona earlier in the season to play two of his better games against Buffalo as a slot corner in nickel defense, and against Carolina as an outside cornerback. Hargreaves plays better as a press cornerback and the hope is that with a better pass rush in 2018 with all of the new additions along the defensive line that the defensive backs will be able to be more aggressive in coverage and play more press.

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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]

15 COMMENTS

  1. The only one of those five who will bounce back is Winston. His decline– which wasn’t all that bad to start– really was injury based anyway.
    Three of those four remaining probably won’t be on the team in a year. Hargreaves will be here, but in a less prominent role.
    Bucs just need to wash their hands with DJAX. He’s never going to have the work ethic and several young receivers show much more promise. My money’s on Watson.

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    • Agree Pete, and with mesean not showing for voluntary workouts again, I’d love to see Godwin take his spot. Jackson will be gone after this year anyways so why wait? We get a solid run game and this offense could be explosive. James has had a good run game for one year as a pro, that’s horrible.
      While James had a down year ,this article shows how awful the team was around him.
      Hes just got to get those fumbles cut way down.
      http://www.footballperspective.com/jameis-winston-had-an-unusual-2017-season/

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    • Agreed as far as Godwin. He fits our scheme better, is a better WR fit for Jameis (an elite intermediate passer), fits our culture change better with his work ethic.

      Would love to see him and Evans start outside. Let Djax compete in the slot with Hump, and then we can dump his contract after the season.

      I think Hargreaves can be a top 10 NICKEL CB, so in a wayyy thats a bounceback, just not the ideal for a top 15 draft pick.

      I do think N.Spence can bounceback as well playing in relief of Curry and JPP or potentially as a blitzing LB. Bucs cant continue to afford all this talent, so I see Noah being successful as a rotational player before taking over fulltime in 2019 or 2020 as JPP/Curry decline or are moved.

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  2. I think 3 of the 5 will have a bounce back year in Jameis, Gholston and Spence. Gholston(from reports)has already approached Buckner and said he wants to improve his game, losing and extra 15lbs at his height has helped with that 1st step.

    Spences surgery from what I’ve read has taken this time round and SHOULD be good to go so I’m expecting him to be a terror especially since rumors have him being a rush specialist and not an every down back any longer.

    JW, I’m expecting big things because this is his “show me” year, especially now that we’ve added more help to the line and backfield. Besides, he has to feel it and know that there are absolutely no excuses this year, there’s far too much talent for him to flop.

    I didn’t add VHIII because he just seems like his confidence has been shaken while Gholston, Spence and JW seem to exude confidence. I want VHIII to succeed, I don’t hate the guy but, he just seems to play with this childish demeanor which makes me think the kid’s self-contious.

    Djax is who I was hoping to make our offense blow up! I understand JW has fault in that but not as much as Djax IMO. I was happy to see them training off-season but there’s no way they fixed what they needed to in those few days that they spent together. Djax had the chance to change that by showing up to OTA’s and respond with a physical presence. I know he’s in Cali doing his typical training but why not have your trainer come here? There are inside track facilities in the area AND he could still get time in with Jameis. I hope he and JW prove me wrong but it’s valuable time lost either way you look at it.

    Scott, I’m curious as to which teammates were harping on VHIII’s lack of work ethic?

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  3. Great post Pete. I would give you a thumbs up if the site let us still.

    When Jamies finally started to get healthy he was the #1 QB in the league in fantasy points per ProFootballFocus over the last four weeks of the season.

    He also was their top rated QB that is under 25: ‘Winston has flashed the potential that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2015. including this past season, he was more productive than any quarterback not named Tom Brady while under pressure, producing a passer rating of 84.4.”

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  4. Meant to say “every down DE” when referring to Spence, not an every down back lol!

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  5. Great Fab Five Scott. I think 4 of 5 have a shot to come back. DJAX is collecting a paycheck and will show flashes, but will take a dive going over the middle and trot out of bounds on the sidelines. My guess is the WR will come around where we’ll trade him to the Chargers so we can let him go back home, develop our guys and maybe pick-up a low draft pick for next year.

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  6. I think the one person, of everyone in this organization, that needs to shine the most is coach Koetter. All of the pieces are there. No more excuses.

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    • Agreed…and Mike Smith…

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  7. So… basically… almost every one needs to play well this season.

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  8. Donovan Smith? I don’t know what to say…that write-up must be under the wrong player profile.

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  9. Another good article Scott. My thinking on this team right now is ” a lot of maybes”?

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  10. Great Fab 4-1/2 Scott. Can’t give full credit to Fab 5 since it’s a lot of pimping sponsors and yourselves.

    Since there are so many folks on this site believing the team is destined for a season in which it won’t win a single game; I’m thinking the Pewter Reporters might want to update their resumes’.

    Folks sure were surprised when that 5-11 1978 team went to the NFC title game after so many were predicting another losing season with a QB who couldn’t even hit 50% of his passes, a running back who should have been Tony Dorsett and a defensive lineman who was too polite. Maybe we should change the old 1979 fight song.

    Hey Hey Tampa Bay the Bucs are going to suck.
    Hey Hey Tampa Bay look out for more bad luck.
    When we’re in trouble that’s the norm, we’re still down and out.
    Because we know we are the worst, when we sit down, sit down and pout.

    Or how about the other one.

    Ho hum ho hum we’re the Buccaneers.
    Ho hum ho hum we’re the Buccaneers
    No offense, no defense, now we’re here to say.
    Our ship has sunk so there’s no plank.
    We’re floating in Tampa Bay.

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  11. As always, thanks SR. Watched all the position coach interviews & got to read a Fab5 this week. A great week. Amped for football in May. (Damn you) You highlighted some key players/positions that must step up. But, don’t we All think that our coaching is the real suspect? I’m not asking you to burn any bridges, but I’m curious as to your take on the current staff. Wouldn’t the best way to develop some of this talent be with better coaching?

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  12. Another great SR, Scott. You are the best. I just have a different view of D. Smith. I like his durability and his size but he is not great at pass protection as his leading the Bucs in holding on passing downs proves. If he does not improve markedly his pass protection I don’t see us being over .500 at our week off. They then need to give Cappa a shot at LT. If not they will be risking getting Jameis injured and out again. It would be nice if Benenoch can step up this year and win the starting RT position early so they can cut Sweezy and train Cappa as a LT or at least as a RT. Tackle is his best position and he played LT in college. I do think D. Smith has a lot of potential at LG
    and I would prefer they move him there and put Marpet back at RT.

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