FAB 2. Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions: Offense
Now that we’ve tackled some general questions about the Bucs let’s dive into the offense with six more Bucs’ Critical Camp Questions. Then we’ll do the same for the defense in Fab 3.
7. Will Brady Be Ready For Week 1 Without An Offseason Or Preseason?
He has no choice – he’ll have to be. The good news is that Tom Brady is one of the absolute best and smartest quarterbacks of all time. In his 20-year career in New England there isn’t a route he didn’t throw or a defensive coverage he didn’t read. The bad news is that Brady has never played in Bruce Arians’ vertical offense before. It’s an offense which requires quarterbacks to hang in the pocket a little longer before, unlike the Patriots offense, which was designed to get rid of the ball in a quick, rhythmic fashion.
Although he didn’t have the benefit of any OTAs or a mini-camp to practice the new plays due to COVID-19 cancelling NFL offseasons, Brady spent the spring digesting the playbook on his own and with the help of some of his teammates that he worked out with at Berkeley Prep in Tampa.
“He’s way ahead of the curve,” Arians said. “He’s a very bright guy – the terminology was the big thing. As we now get together starting [Wednesday, July 28], we’ll start to collaborate a little bit more. So yeah, I think he’s in a great spot right now as far as that goes.”
Arians and the coaching staff were not permitted to attend those voluntary workouts that Brady organized at Berkeley Prep.
“We really had no communication,” Arians said. “We couldn’t film it or anything like that. I didn’t really have a lot of conversations with Tom, other than that there was a good turnout, they were getting a lot of things done [and] it was a good team-building experience. It doesn’t replace practice, but it’s the closest thing you can get.”
While Brady worked on timing and chemistry with his receivers, tight ends and running backs at Berkeley Prep, he didn’t face an entire 11-man defense like he would have had there been OTAs and a mini-camp.
“I think his biggest concern is having no live reps up until now,” Arians said. “Missing all those reps in the spring – especially against a defense like ours where he’s going to see multiple looks all the time. Then, just getting into game shape and getting that reaction time down. I think he’ll know where to go with the ball, it’s just a matter of us putting him in enough situations – full-speed situations – that he’s ready to play a game.”
If there will be one pitfall Brady will have to work hard to avoid this year, especially in Week 1 at New Orleans, it will be the potential interceptions that come with the option routes that are in Arians’ offense. On option routes, the receiver has an opportunity to adjust his route accordingly depending on whether he is facing man or zone coverage. The quarterback and the receiver both have to be on the same page and read the coverage the same way otherwise an interception or an errant throw can occur.
That happened several times with former Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and his receivers last year, leading to several interceptions. That happened twice at Tennessee when Chris Godwin and Breshard Perriman didn’t continue their routes, and also when Justin Watson broke off his route early against Houston – just to name a few.
8. Will Arians Sequester A Quarterback This Year?
Yes. Arians has hinted on two Zoom conference calls with reporters that he might keep one quarterback away from the team in sequester in case both Brady and the backup QB – whether it’s Ryan Griffin or Blaine Gabbert – contract the coronavirus. I think the Bucs will be keeping three quarterbacks on the active roster this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
“We’ll go through training camp and then we’ll try and decide whether or not we want to keep somebody on the roster and keep them away, or allow them to come in or do things virtually, just in case,” Arians said. “We’ll know the protocols – we’ll have plenty of time by then to see how it’s all working out. But, it’s still a possibility.”
I think it happens. The Bucs had just two quarterbacks on the roster last year – Winston and Griffin – but this year with the coronavirus concerns, it seems only prudent that Arians have an even deeper backup plan at QB that includes two backups with one of them being isolated to prevent COVID-19 from wiping out all of Tampa Bay’s signal callers.
9. Will Tampa Bay’s Offensive Line Hold Up And Protect Brady?
Not sure. This is great question, and I would love to have the faith to say yes, but I can’t. Tampa Bay’s offensive line surrendered 47 sacks last year, while Brady was only sacked 27 times in New England. That’s a big discrepancy that can be easily explained by a couple of things.
First, Arians’ vertical offense asks the QB to hold on to the ball a little longer to allow deep routes the time to develop. Brady was used to getting rid of the ball more quickly in New England based on Josh McDaniels’ offense. Brady also threw the ball away a lot more than Winston did when hurried or pressured due to his veteran savvy, whereas the team credited with Winston holding on to the ball too long for 15 of his sacks.
It will be interesting to see how many sacks a much younger Bucs offensive line will surrender in 2020 without older veterans like Demar Dotson, the former starting right tackle, and Earl Watford, who filled in for a few games at right guard when Alex Cappa broke his forearm. Dotson will be replaced by rookie Tristan Wirfs or newcomer Joe Haeg, a five-year veteran, but Watford’s replacement will be a much younger player – perhaps Aaron Stinnie, Zack Bailey rookie John Molchon.
“I’m anxious to see the guys that we’re bringing in – Molchon, [Zach] Shackelford,” Arians said. “Aaron Stinnie’s a kid that really came on for us last year – I really liked him. [We’re] working him as a snapper and a guard. We still have Ali [Marpet], who could play center, Bailey, who was doing great until he broke his foot last year. He’s a big strong kid. We’ve got some kids in there that I really like, and am really anxious to see. Again, we need to get them in pads so they can do their thing.
“We’re going to have 14 days in pads – that is not a lot of time to get ready to play in a ballgame against really quality opponents, but we’re going to have to get it done.”
10. What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses On Offense?
With apologies to Brady, the strength of Tampa Bay’s offense is Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who both were ranked in the Top 40 in the NFL’s Top 100 List. Both young receivers are in their prime and topped 1,000 yards receiving last year in injury-shortened seasons. Having a more accurate, less turnover-prone quarterback like Brady could lead to even better production for the Bucs’ dynamic duo at wide receiver in 2020 as fewer offensive drives will be shortened by interceptions.
While the Bucs will miss the veteran presence of Breshad Perriman, who was a clutch No. 3 receiver last year, the team is excited about Scotty Miller and Justin Watson, who both came on late last year with a combined three touchdowns, in addition to the addition of Tyler Johnson, the team’s fifth-round pick this year.
The weakness on Tampa Bay’s offense might be the running back stable as Ronald Jones II is the most experienced rusher in Bruce Arians’ offense, but has less than 800 career rushing yards. Jones did have a breakout season in 2019 with 724 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but has just one 100-yard game in his first two seasons in Tampa Bay.
The team did agree to terms with veteran LeSean McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler, who is entering his 12th season in the league at age 32. McCoy, who will need to pass a physical next week before he is signed by Tampa Bay, played in 13 games in Kansas City last year after his first six years in Philadelphia followed by four years in Buffalo.
He rushed for a career-low 465 yards and four touchdowns, but did average 4.6 yards per carry. However, most of McCoy’s production came early in the season and he didn’t have a single touch on offense during the postseason. McCoy is a great receiver out of the backfield with 503 career receptions, and caught 28 passes for 161 yards (6.5 avg.) and one score for the Super Bowl champions last year.
The Bucs drafted a pair of running backs in third-rounder Ke’Shawn Vaughn and seventh-rounder Raymond Calais that will compete with McCoy, third-down back Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan, the team’s return specialist, and Aca’Cedric Ware. There just isn’t a lot of experience in this room outside of McCoy, and Vaughn is out for an extended period due to a positive COVID-19 test, which will stunt his development as a rookie.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht was wise to sign McCoy prior to the start of the season because the team’s running game could be a disaster if something happens to Jones or his growth as a runner stalls. How much McCoy has in the tank and how quickly he learns the offense are new questions that need to be answered.
11. What Is The Training Camp Battle To Watch?
The No. 3 wide receiver spot. Miller and Watson are the favorites to win the No. 3 and No. 4 spots on the depth chart due to their experience in Arians’ offense from last year. Miller has the speed that Perriman brought to the offense last season as a vertical threat, and at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Watson can replace the size that Perriman offered the team’s receiving corps.
Had the Bucs and the rest of the league had an offseason with a rookie mini-camp, OTAs and a mandatory mini-camp, rookies like Johnson, Josh Pearson, Travis Jonsen and John Hurst, in addition to holdovers like Bryant Mitchell, Jaydon Mickens, Cyril Grayson, John Franklin and Spencer Schnell, would have had a much better chance to be in the mix for the No. 3 receiver role. Now without any preseason games, it will be an uphill climb for those players to make enough of an impression in 14 padded practices to beat out either Miller or Watson – in addition to claiming a roster spot on the 53-man roster.
12. Who Is The Training Camp Sleeper On Offense?
It might be second-year wide receiver John Franklin, who played Wildcat quarterback at Auburn before transferring to Florida Atlantic where he played wide receiver as well as Wildcat quarterback. Franklin was an undrafted free agent, who played cornerback for Chicago while in camp with the Bears last summer.
The Bucs signed him to their practice squad last November where he used his 4.32 speed to impersonate Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in practice, and then used him against Atlanta as a Wildcat QB where he gained 11 yards on his only NFL carry.
“Yeah, he’s a very interesting athlete, even though he had never played defense,” Arians said. “He’s one of those guys that he’s got so much talent and athletic ability, you’re trying to find a place for him. We ran that little Wildcat package with him, and he did a great job with it. He can throw [and] he’s coming in as a wide receiver, so he’ll be in the offensive rooms. He could possibly give us a third quarterback on Sunday with his ability, so he’s got a lot of options, and it’s up to him to make the ball club as a wideout.”
Now let’s take a look at Tampa Bay’s defense with six more Critical Camp Questions.
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