Bucs D-Line coach Brentson Buckner and his players - Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
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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.
Imagine going from being unemployed to being hired to do something you love.
Before you work your first day on the job, your new boss gives you an unexpected raise. Then he tells you to go ahead and take a paid two-week vacation before you start.
When you come back from that vacation and finally show up for work you are given an unexpected bonus to start on top of the unexpected raise – and you really haven’t done a damn thing yet to benefit your new employer.
This fantasy sounds good, doesn’t it?
We all would love to walk into this dream job, wouldn’t we?
Well, that’s kind of what happened to new Buccaneers defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who was hired in February to replace Jay Hayes and help re-ignite Tampa Bay’s pass rush, which ranked dead last in 2017 with a paltry 22 sacks.
Brentson was hired and less than a month later he had a new starting nose tackle in Beau Allen and a versatile, key reserve in Mitch Unrein via free agency, and Will Clarke was re-signed. Then Tampa Bay signed Allen’s teammate, defensive end Vinny Curry.
A few weeks later, Bucs general manager Jason Licht shocked the NFL when he traded for New York Giants pass rushing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
As if that wasn’t enough, Buckner received the good news that a bulked up Noah Spence has been cleared to work out and has recovered from his second shoulder surgery in a year.
And to top it off, the Bucs spent the team’s first-round pick on 6-foot-4, 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea – all before Buckner takes his first step out on the grass practice fields at One Buccaneer Place.
Call it fortunate, call it blessed – call Buckner overjoyed.
“The day we signed Beau and Mitch, Buck sent me a text in all caps that said, ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ME!’” Licht said. “Then we signed Vinny and he said, ‘LET THE GIFTS KEEP COMING!’ I wanted to text him and tell him we were after JPP and say, ‘Your birthday is right around the corner!’”
Tampa Bay’s revamped defensive line looks great on paper.
DT Clinton McDonald (98) and former Bucs DE Michael Johnson (90) – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
There are a few others, but chances are that the eight or nine defensive linemen that make it to Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster will be comprised of these 10 men.
I included Lambert, who broke his wrist last August and spent the year on injured reserve, on this list because – well, Licht told me to.
“I’m not counting Lambert out of the mix, either,” Licht said.
Mix is the key word. This is a mix – a mix of some very talented accomplished players.
The Bucs revamped their defensive line in 2014 by adding nose tackle Clinton McDonald, who was fresh off a Super Bowl win in Seattle, and prized defensive end Michael Johnson to a line that featured a younger McCoy, who was perhaps more in his prime from a health standpoint at the time. It didn’t translate to wins, as Johnson was a bust – as were most of Tampa Bay’s free agents that year – and the team finished with a surprising and disappointing 2-14 record.
In other words, be excited over the possibilities, Bucs fans, but don’t crown this unit yet. They haven’t recorded the first sack in 2018, nor have the Bucs won their first game.
Right now it’s a collection of what seems to be very talented parts. Yet like any offensive line, a defensive line has to come together and work together to be effective. As Bucs Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp once told me, to be effective, a defensive line has to become a fist rather than a hand featuring four individual fingers and a thumb.
If Buckner seemed like a kid at Christmas this offseason, unwrapping a bunch of toys under the tree, now it’s time for him to take them out of the box and assemble them.
History suggests that out of the free agent additions of Pierre-Paul, Curry, Allen and Unrein that one or two may not work out as the team anticipates. In fact, Licht will tell you that batting .500 in free agency is actually a high percentage.
And history reveals that 50 percent of first-round picks will be busts. Will Vea be a bust, or will he be closer to a “boom” player for the Bucs?
The fate of Tampa Bay’s defensive line this year may not even rest on the team’s new additions. One of Buckner’s main missions will be to get more out of the players he inherited when he became a Buccaneer back in February.
Bucs DE William Gholston – Photo by: Getty Images
Having more talent around McCoy should help his sack total, which has slid each of the past three years from 8.5 in 2015 to just six this past season. But can Buckner help the 30-year old McCoy finally turn into the double-digit sacker he could before he’s out of his prime?
Perhaps more importantly, what can Buckner do for Gholston and Spence, two holdover defensive ends that figure prominently into the team’s plans after two disappointing seasons?
Coming off two really good seasons in which he posted a combined 116 tackles to go along with three sacks in each of those years, the 26-year old Gholston signed a five-year, $27.5 million that included $13.5 million in guaranteed money. As the team’s strongside defensive end, Gholston is instrumental in run defense, yet had only 36 tackles last year, which was his fewest total since recording 30 his rookie season in 2013. Perhaps more disappointing, Gholston failed to record a sack or a takeaway for the first time in his five-year NFL career.
“Will was the first to admit that he didn’t have a good year last year,” Licht said. “He’s had a great attitude this year and he looks really good. He’s changed his body quite a bit. He looks better and is moving around a lot better. He’s lost some weight. He looks a lot leaner, which is good for him.
“In 2016, he was one of our better defensive players. Even our new D-line coach felt like when he watched him in Arizona he was one of the better six-techniques that he saw that year. I’m pretty excited that we have him along with Vinny, JPP and Noah.”
As for Spence and his surgically repaired right shoulder, Licht is eager to see what type of player he can become as a situational pass rusher with Buckner’s help now that he’s healthy.
“We still have a long way to go, but he could be a big factor for us in that role,” Licht said. “I’m not counting him out whatsoever. He looks great. He’s 257 pounds right now. He looks much thicker and is still moving around the same as he did around this time.
“Knock on wood – we think the surgery worked this time. It was a little bit different surgery. Hopefully it’s fixed for good – for the long run. I hate to use clichés – you’ve heard iron sharpens iron a thousand times – but that’s the type of attitude he has right now. I do know that a healthy Noah Spence is going to make an impact for us in some way shape or form.”
Bucs DL coach Brentson Buckner – Photo by: Arizona Cardinals
Licht has seen Buckner’s work first hand in 2013 when the two were with the Arizona Cardinals organization. Licht’s good friends – former head coach Bruce Arians and current general manager Steve Keim – raved about the job Buckner did for the past five years before Arians’ retirement promoted a coaching change and a new staff.
“We’ve got some guys he can work with,” Licht said. “I’ve seen Buck firsthand take guys like Darnell Dockett in his last year in the league and have one of his best years. Jacksonville got the most of out Calais Campbell’s ability last year, but at the time, I saw Buck turn Calais into the player that he has become. John Abraham – he was a castoff for the last couple of years of his career and have one of his better years in Arizona. Buck has also taken undrafted free agents and waiver claim guys and got the best out of them. He’s the happiest guy in this building right now with all of his new players.”
Vea, the newest defensive lineman, is in great hands as not only has Buckner coached defensive line at the NFL for the past five years, he played nose tackle in the league for 12 years, including five years in Carolina where he helped lead the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
“With Vita, Buck can speak from experience and he is not the kind of guy to sugarcoat anything,” Licht said. “He’s been at all ends of the spectrum as a player, and that’s invaluable. It doesn’t always have to work that way. You don’t have to have played to be a coach, but the fact that he has played and is a very good coach is a bonus to our guys, especially Vita.”
Although the Bucs have yet to hit the practice field for the first OTA yet, head coach Dirk Koetter has marveled at Buckner’s energy.
Bucs DE Noah Spence and DL coach Brentson Buckner – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
“Buck is off to a fast start,” Koetter said. “It’s well documented that he did a great job [in free agency recruiting] with Vinny Curry. I love his energy. He’s a very upbeat guy. He’s definitely brought something to our building and our coaching staff. Jason had worked with him before in Arizona. We did our research when we were talking with other coaches he had worked with around the league. So far, it’s been all positive.”
Licht shares Koetter’s excitement about Buckner, and the mission that lies ahead in revitalizing the play of Tampa Bay’s defensive line.
“It’s going to be a little different this year with Buck here,” Licht said. “I’m really excited about Buck. I’m not comparing him to Jay or wanting to take a shot at Jay, but the fresh voice, the fresh face and his style – it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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: [email protected]
I like the energy and experience Buckner has!
On a unrelated subject can anyone tell me what to do with PR I CAN NOT give thumbs up or down. I have emailed them 2 times no response and called no response.
You called them over that?? In addition to 2 emails? It’s such a trivial thing.
Your Opinion is your Opinion.
We are working on it.
Is Buckner the DC in waiting, and, if so, how long do the Bucs wait?
I believe he is but I don’t know how long they wait. Depends what the defensive production is outside of the d-line!
Buckner may need to be HC in waiting.
I know one thing, those are some big boys up front now!
It’s interesting to hear Licht talk about taking guys off the board for character issues, yet he drafted Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead was suspended for three games by Pitt last season for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Also interesting is that there were consensus higher ranked safeties still on the board. I really hope that pick pans out!
On your podcast last week, Mark and Trevor were adamant that Derwin James would have been the better pick. They kept calling Vea a “complementary” player because he would be on the field less than James. My response: so what? Even though a starting safety is on the field more often, what percentage of plays do they actually affect? Meanwhile, Vea will affect things just about every play he is on the field. Also, James didn’t impress last year. FSU defense was soft and weak, where was James? That’s the reason he slipped to 17.
Are we there yet? No! But we are pretty close. We’ve had the offensive skill pieces in place and with the addition of a quality RB or two, they have the table set to be a complete offense. A couple of questions remain on the O-Line, but I think those questions will be answered in training camp. The defense on paper looks to be significantly improved – and as Scott opined, the depth is substantial. The secondary is a work in progress, but the draft pieces added will be an upgrade and should benefit from the improvements in the D-Line.
So what’s left? All eyes should be on the coaching. GM Licht went all out to give them the pieces to be successful. Now it’s incumbent on the coaches to mold and shape this team into a contender. On this front I should be more optimistic, but we shall see. No excuses! Bucs win!
Good Article Scott! I’ve got a concern as to the third backup QB? Why Griffin and a small guy like Allen? I believe this will force us to use a 3rd or 4th round pick for our back up. We obviously won’t know our answers as to where we stand at CB until a couple games into the regular season. Still not sure where we will actually stand in game wins, but it’s better than last year for sure. Go Bucs!
David Logan deserves consideration for RoH.
There comes a time when mistakes bite you and paying JJP so much money cost Bucs a shot at Dez Bryant .
Jamies could have used Dez more than any other QB in league .
Did you really just say that? So the Bucs, who had one of the worst pass rushes in NFL history last year, should have not signed JPP, to have a chance to sign a WR Dez Bryant(not a position of need) who’s a complete head case with basically no playoff experience. You realize that Jameis if you just take the games he started and finished, was on a 16 game pace of almost 5000 yards, 30 total TD’s, 64.5%, at 8.2 YPA and a QB Rating of over 100. The Bucs had a top 5 passing offense, as the absolute worst pass rush I’ve seen in a long long time. So yeah let’s take Dez Bryant, over JPP. You’re a clown
Could of wood should does not count in NFL his average rating 88 over three years 92 last year
I know it not what blind fans want here , you need back out yardage for lost Fumbles and INTs Dammm
Jamies loses 70% of games he starts because of INT and lost fumbles ,
You can not bring Defense tired back on field 2 times a game and still have functional Defense and win games . He needs stop throwing INT if Bucs want win.
Bryant is nothing but trouble.
Dez Bryant!? Are you high?
The Defense needs stay on sidelines more this year , JJP is not the same as he once was Giants dumped him for a reason . Does not seem any one in Bucs land get it
Giants would have keep him if he was worth the money, they not total stupnickles . New style defense at Giants has nothing to do with it. He was sent to Bucs so Giants could use money get better players.
Maybe Perter fans think Giants sent him here to make the Bucs a better team cause they are such nice guys.
Who the heck is JJP?
69 catches for 838 yards is 2017 must be pretty bad in your book
Looks like an over the hill guy to me.
133 targets were the 12th most in the league and he was the 36th rated receiver in yards.
Rishard Matthews with 87 targets and 837 yards
Julio Jones with 148 targets and 1639 yards
Licht is talking out of both sides of his mouth when he discusses how important character is in the locker room while spending a 4th round pick on a guy in Jordan Whitehead who was suspended, not 1, not 2, but 3 games THIS year due to a violation of team rules.
Does Whitehead interview well? Sure. So did ASJ. As PR knows all to well, ASJ is great about telling you what he thinks you want to hear. I’m not sure how he is that different from Whitehead, who used questionable judgment in declaring for the Draft early, despite a less than stellar season and multiple week suspension on his resume.
Don’t forget that MJ Stewart was suspended along with Mike Hughes as a Soph in UNC for punching a guy If you’re going the character route, Licht passed on Shaquem Griffin and A&M Captain and 4-year starter Armani Watts, neither of whom were ever suspended.
There’s certainly a gray area when it comes to off-the-field problems; you have your busts like Johnny Manziel, Justin Blackmon and Randy Gregory. You also have some all-time good players like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Lawrence Taylor, Cris Carter, Dez Bryant, Aquib Talib and many others who more than panned out for their teams despite their personal problems.
Great piece Scott, love your ring of honor rankings! And see it just made me revisit the moment they let Warrick Dunn go and how upset I really was over it lol. I’m excited to see what coach Buck can get out of the guys this year. Should be fun to watch!
Buc ass Bob, you literally have no idea what you’re talking about.
I think he’s a Cowboy ass.
I literally have no clue how the way the Dline plays is up to the Dline coach and not the defensive coordinator. So Smith let Hayes have them stunt the majority, yet Buck will have them going straight. That stuff affects the whole defense. The fact that Smith didnt stop that nonsense last year is mind boggling to me. He left it to the position coach. He says the 10 yard cushion is up to the DB. Unreal. I just dont get it. The guy had better get it together this year. He needs to make the rules for all the positions or its not gona get better. Get all the different players you want but if theyre not all doing the best thing to complement each other it aint working. Cmon Smitty get it together.
Great insight as always, Scott. I always look forward to the Fab 5 and the cover 3.
Great insight as always, Scott!
I’m excited to see this defense this year! It’s far too early to be sure but right now DL is looking like it’ll give the LB group some competition for strongest unit on the team.
Hopefully our DC will get together with the position coaches and figure out how to play to the players’ strengths rather than trying to put square pegs in circle holes as he did last year. Smith had a good year in 2016 so if he can get back to that we will be dangerous!
Can’t wait to see that 3,206-pound Syracuse try-out safety get onto the field. I bet he can redirect the route of any receiver in the league.
Fab 5 is an entertaining read, as always. Man, NFL off-season goes on too long!
The Ring of Honor selection process has as much to do with the popularity of the guys selected as it is about the perceived magnitude of their actual contribution to the team, don’t you think, Scott?
How else do you explain the fact that Alstott and Lynch are already enshrined? They were both very good players, but certainly not great players. They were both popular as hell with the fans, though.
The fact that Wilder has been forgotten by so many fans is a real shame. I think it comes down to him playing during a time when the Bucs just absolutely sucked! For several years, Wilder was the only real offense the Bucs had.
As for McKay – I don’t see how you can even begin to compare his ‘worthiness’ of inclusion into the Ring with Dungy’s. They coached in two completely different eras, for two completely different owners. McKay had to deal with an expansion franchise, no free agency, and cheap-ass owner Culverhouse signing (or NOT signing) the checks. McKay built that mess into a conference contender in four years. Dungy faced his own hurdles, but you can’t say he was worthy of earlier inclusion in the Ring. McKay was here first, so McKay was honored first. Both McKay and Dungy deserve to be in the Ring, and both will be, now.
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