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. Bucs Must Defend The Bay

Just how important is it to have a true home-field advantage in the NFL?

Consider that the Buccaneers have had a winning record at home – a mark of 5-3 or better – 13 times in franchise history and have made the playoffs in all but four of those seasons. In the four seasons in which Tampa Bay didn’t make the postseason, the team only had a losing record in two of those years.

The Bucs were 6-2 at home in 1984, but finished 6-10 after going winless on the road. In Sam Wyche’s last season in Tampa Bay, the Bucs started off “5-dash-2,” but finished “7-dash-9” despite a 5-3 record in the Big Sombrero.

In 1998, Tampa Bay went 6-2 in the first year at Raymond James Stadium, but finished 8-8 after struggling on the road. In 2008, Jon Gruden’s final season as head coach, the Bucs missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record that included a 6-2 record at home. Gruden’s problem was the fact that both of those home losses came at the end of the season after his team started off with a 6-0 record at Ray-Jay and a 9-3 mark overall before the team’s 0-4 collapse to end the year.

Home Record of Tampa Bay’s Head Coaches
Jon McKay (1976-84) – 28-67 (.418)
Leeman Bennett (1985-86) – 2-14 (.125)
Ray Perkins (1987-90) – 10-20 (.333)
Richard Williamson (1990-91) – 4-6 (.400)
Sam Wyche (1992-95) – 15-17 (.469)
Tony Dungy (1996-2001) – 34-14 (.708)
Jon Gruden (2002-08) – 34-22 (.607)
Raheem Morris (2009-11) – 7-9 (.438)
Greg Schiano (2012-13) – 6-10 (.375)
Lovie Smith (2014-15) – 3-13 (.188)
Dirk Koetter (2016-current) – 4-4 (.500)

The Bucs haven’t had a winning record at home since the 2008 season, which is part of the reason the team has struggled with attendance. Since Gruden’s departure, Tampa Bay has won just 35.7 percent of its home games since 2009 with a 20-36 record.

Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden - Photo by: Getty Images
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden – Photo by: Getty Images

Contrast that with the team’s home record from 1996-2008 under Tony Dungy and Gruden when the Bucs were a combined 68-36 and won 65.4 percent of their home games and it’s easy to see why fan apathy set in and some of the buzz left the Bucs.

While fans in Tampa Bay watched a lot of bad football in person under Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith, new head coach Dirk Koetter went 4-4 at home last year, matching the mark that Morris’ 10-6 team had in 2010. It should be noted that neither Morris’ 2010 squad or Koetter’s Bucs from a year ago made the playoffs.

Going .500 at home almost always won’t get a team to the postseason.

“It’s a simple formula, really,” said Bucs defensive coordinator and former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith. “You’ve got to win at home and split on the road. If you do that you’re 12-4 and you’re going to be in the playoffs.”

Bucs’ Best Regular Season Home Records
1999 – 7-1 – 11-5 overall record
2002 – 6-2 – 12-4 overall record
2005 – 6-2 – 11-5 overall record
2000 – 6-2 – 10-6 overall record
1997 – 6-2 – 10-6 overall record
2007 – 6-2 – 9-7 overall record
1981 – 6-2 – 9-7 overall record
2008 – 6-2 – 9-7 overall record*
1998 – 6-2 – 8-8 overall record*
1984 – 6-2 – 6-10 overall record*
2001 – 5-3 – 10-6 overall record
1979 – 5-3 – 10-6 overall record
1995 – 5-3 – 7-9 overall record*

*indicates no playoffs

The Bucs have never gone a perfect 8-0 at home, but they did finish with a 7-1 home mark in the 1999 regular season en route to an 11-5 record and a win against Washington at Raymond James Stadium in the playoffs. Those eight wins at Ray-Jay – seven during the regular season and one in the playoffs – are the most ever in one season in franchise history. The Bucs were a 16-13 loss to the New York Giants in the season opener away from perfection in Tampa Bay.

Bucs fans wave flags during the playoffs – Photo by: Getty Images

Even during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl season the team finished with a 6-2 home record in the regular season, capped off by a Wild Card playoff home win over San Francisco.

With a challenging home slate that features games against Chicago, the New York Giants, New England, Carolina, the New York Jets, Detroit, Atlanta and New Orleans, winning all eight games at Raymond James Stadium seems like quite a stretch this season. But the Bucs do have some momentum on their side.

After starting off Koetter’s first season at the helm with a 3-5 record due to a 0-4 mark at home, the Bucs finished 6-2 down the stretch thanks in part to a four-game winning streak at Ray-Jay.

The Bucs got their first win at home under Koetter by beating Chicago, which happens to be Tampa Bay’s home opener opponent this year, 36-10. After a 19-17 upset win at Kansas City, the Bucs returned home to beat Seattle, 14-5 before venturing out to San Diego to claim another victory, 28-21. The Bucs won their fifth straight game of the year with a 16-11 home win the next week, which marked Tampa Bay’s third straight triumph at Ray-Jay. After dropping games at Dallas and New Orleans by a combined 13 points, the Bucs returned home to beat Carolina, 17-16, for the team’s fourth straight home victory.

Now it’s up to Tampa Bay to continue that home streak. Although Saturday’s preseason home opener against Cleveland doesn’t count, it would help the team continue to build on the “Defend The Bay” slogan and further develop the mentality of always winning at home.

But the four-game home winning streak starts in earnest on September 18 when Chicago comes to town. That’s when the Bucs need to be focused on winning their fifth straight game at Ray-Jay, dating back to 2016.

“They can absolutely carry that home momentum over from last year,” said legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who is a TV analyst for Tampa Bay’s preseason games. “With anything, your confidence builds the more you do it. There’s a certain amount of pride that goes with a streak. You are best at what you’re comfortable at. If you’re not comfortable at home, it hurts your team. Ideally, you’d like to go 8-0 at home and split on the road. If you are doing that you are in the playoffs. The more you win at home, the more confident you get. It’s psychological against the teams coming in there against your home-field advantage.”

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images

Koetter often talks about creating a much better home-field environment in his press conferences, and has said that the team needs to get visiting fans out of the lower bowl area where they are the loudest against the Bucs. Last year, Denver, Oakland and Chicago fans invaded Raymond James Stadium and had a large presence in the lower bowl.

That has the chance to happen again this year with Chicago, New England and both New York teams on the home schedule, although the Bucs have taken some measures this offseason to reduce the number of out-of-state season ticket holders, many of whom sell their tickets to ticket brokers who in turn sell the tickets to opposing fans.

That will aid in keeping the crowd on the Bucs’ side, but what will help even more is winning. After beating Chicago and Kansas City in back-to-back weeks to even its record at 5-5, Tampa Bay hosted a raucous crowd when the team faced Seattle in Week 11. After the Bucs took an early 7-0 lead, the red and pewter-clad fans were in full throat, creating the loudest home environment since the Gruden era.

“Everybody was into it,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “The fans were into it. It was an electric game. Especially the way the defense was playing. The defense was playing light out. We jumped on them quick 14-0. It was an exciting game. That was the first time we saw something electric in the stadium in a long time. It was an amazing game because of the defense. It was really because of the defense. It almost brought back memories of that old Bucs defense with Warren Sapp and John Lynch.”

The Bucs would go on to win 14-5, holding the Seahawks to a field goal with the defense holding Seattle to just 1-of-11 third down conversions and sacking Russell Wilson five times.

“When you’re at home everybody is behind you,” said Bucs defensive end Noah Spence, who had two sacks and a forced fumble in that game. “You definitely feel the difference. Home-field advantage is a real thing.”

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy & DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy & DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Getty Images

It was so loud that the Bucs offense inexplicably had to go a silent count – at home – when the team went up 14-0 in the first quarter against the Seahawks.

“A team like Seattle, that won a Super Bowl, is one of the best teams in the NFL,” Dotson said. “When a team like that comes, even the home fans are excited. We’re on offense and they were so caught up in the game that they didn’t realize it. We’re like ‘Hey, we need ya’ll to be quiet when we have the ball!’ They were caught up in the moment and having fun.”

Smith shook his head recalling the frenzied atmosphere at Ray-Jay during the Bucs’ win over the Seahawks.

“You’d hope that’s not the case where you have to use a silent count at home and that the fans would know when to cheer and when to not,” Smith said. “But when we are at home we want it to be as loud as possible as it can be – on defense – so the offense can’t communicate.”

The Bucs fans calmed down a bit for the next home game, a win against the Saints, only cheering at fever pitch when Smith’s defense was on the field.

“You could feel the energy in the stadium and it matters,” Barber said, recalling his days as a Buccaneer from 1997-2012. “Early in the year we always tried to use the heat to our advantage and our conditioning in the heat, but I’ve been to stadiums like Lambeau Field, up in New England and in Philly and you are always 30 percent behind the eight ball when those teams are good. You knew it was going to take an extra effort, an extra something, to push you over the top and get a win in those places. The more they can create that here, the better. A lot of people might think the talk about home-field advantage is just fodder – just talk – but it’s real.”

Interestingly enough, the Bucs actually had a winning record on the road last year, going 5-3 away from Tampa Bay, while posting a 4-4 record at Ray-Jay.

“That’s crazy,” Bucs fullback Alan Cross said. “We’ve got to change the home side of that record this year. It’s a big thing to win on the road, but you’ve got to protect the castle at home. You’ve got to let them in, lock the doors and the only way out is through the back door. You’ve got to have a good record at home and your fans have to get into it. You have to want teams when they come here to be nervous playing in your house.”

Bucs TE Alan Cross – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs TE Alan Cross – Photo by: Getty Images

Barber was befuddled over Tampa Bay winning more road games than home games last year, which is something he only experienced three times (2009, 2010 and 2012) in his 16-year NFL career.

“I wish there was a reason to explain that,” Barber said. “I don’t have enough metrics to tell you why that was, but it’s going to help them. I was calling games for Fox when the Saints were undefeated at home over I don’t remember how many games. And then they lost one – the game I did there. And then they lost another home game.

“It’s so quick how that advantage can wane, too. All of a sudden that confidence you had can become a hindrance to get over it. But at the end of the day, good teams win anywhere.”

Tampa Bay’s defense rose to greatness over the last eight weeks of the season, prompting the question of what happened first – did the crowd noise come from the big plays on defense, or did the defense feed off the crowd noise to help produce those plays?

“We started to play a lot better football in the second half defensively, and the crowd helped,” Smith said. “We were able to take the ball away. When you have a positive turnover ratio you’re going to win games. The offense did a good job of not turning it over and we were able to get some turnovers.

Bucs S Chris Conte celebrates his INT – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs S Chris Conte celebrates his INT – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“When you start winning you get the fans behind you. We need a home-field advantage here. We need to make it hard for the offense to operate. It’s a big advantage to have the offense to not be able to communicate. If they have to start using hand signals we think it’s a huge advantage for us.”

Bucs safety Chris Conte got the crowd fired up early in the win over the Bears by recording a pick-six off quarterback Jay Cutler en route to a 36-10 blowout.

“Gaining home-field advantage is huge,” Conte said. “When people come to Tampa let’s not make it a destination city for other fans. Let’s make it a place where people come in and lose football games.”

Will the Bucs’ home winning streak continue? That will be determined in Week 2.

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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]

26 COMMENTS

  1. Scott, thanks for all the STATS. I your 53 man roster..

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  2. Great job! Barring injury this is likely our 53.

    RB Martin’s suspension gives the rookie RB three more weeks to prove he belongs. Really like your TE list as well as Glanton being in the LB group.

    Go Bucs!

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  3. I think the Bucs keep 8 DL and look for a reserve pass rusher to add from the final cuts around the league. The reason why is the Bucs have more than enough DL that can play the run, but as far as pass rushers are concerned they are very thing and J. Smith’s injury history should indicate Bucs should plan to groom a player as a plan B to develop.

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  4. I believe the red zone touchdowns will come once Jameis stops forcing the ball into double and triple coverage. One Jameis gets it going throwing to the open receiver, the touchdowns will come in bunches. Then he will be on the road to greatness. I thought Coach Koetter using the word “greedy” was significant. Sometimes, you have to say something in a different way to get someone’s attention.

    The roster looks pretty good. I wonder if they bucs keep three qb’s during the season once Griffin gets healthy.

    Joe Thomas reminds me of Paul Gruber. A great left tackle who played on bad teams.

    TGIF, the Fab 5 is here. Thanks Scott and go Bucs!

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  5. On paper we’re built to be a great red-zone offense. With our capable big receiver in Evans, our big play man Jackson, our highly capable tight ends in Brate and Howard, and our RBs with very good hands and big-play capability (Martin and Sims), and of course a quarterback Winston who does what he does.

    Does paper translate into TDs in the regular season? We can only hope. It hasn’t showed up yet in the preaseason, where our RZ percentage is even less than the crappy performance last season. Why hasn’t it shown up yet in pre-season? Who knows.

    Tom me even 60% is not enough .. the offenses in the upper 1/3 of the league are well into mid 60s. That’s where we need to be.

    In which case, in most games it won’t matter if our kicker is an 80% guy or a 90% guy.

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    • I forgot to mention that our offensive line is also built for the red zone, with a couple of real bruisers surrounding a very promising new starting center.

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  6. I like you 53 man roster except I don’t think we need to carry 5 TEs. I think they cut Stocker. Yes he is a good blocking TE but so is Howard and he is a playmaker. I believe that spot would be better used at another position.

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    • I can definitely see where Stocker is the odd man out.
      Auclair’s potential could definitely outweigh Stocker’s production.
      Auclair can do what Stocker can and he can still develop into an even better version of what Stocker was expected to be when he was drafted.

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  7. Based on the number of each position kept, your 53 is solid. There are two Wild Cards: position numbers and what happens when Martin returns.

    IMO, McNichols has not impressed at all. He could be the odd man out when Martin returns.

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  8. As usual, great Fab 5 Scott. Re the projected final 53 roster, I agree with it but will offer an opinion on the 3rd QB Ryan Griffin, the LB affectionately known as Joe Dirt and carrying 5 TEs.

    If the Bucs medical staff clears Griffin the Bucs will have no choice but to keep him as a 3rd QB or lose him from waivers. There are several teams that will welcome him with open arms as a back-up QB. If he is not cleared, I think he will go to IR to return, eligible to practice after 6 weeks and can be activated after 8 weeks. Reserve PUP is not an option because he has practiced during the preseason.

    I agree that LB Riley Bullough will be a victim of the numbers game and the requirement for that last LB to be a ST contributor. I almost feel like Coach Koetter has forewarned us of this when speaking about Riley in his pressers. However, if he is waived expecting to sneak him onto the practice squad is wishful thinking. Joe Dirt has the distinction of being recognized in FanRag network as one of the best 5 UDFAs in the NFL. LB needy Miami is just waiting for that to happen. My opinion, if waived, just say goodbye!

    Carrying 5 TEs is OK if you consider hybrid Alan Cross to be a HB (pass catching FB). It could end up being a hard choice between him and Luke Stocker. For now, with 2 preseason games left, I think they keep both.

    This is going to be a tough cut down process. Koetter says we have more quality depth than he’s seen in the 3 years he’s been here. Good problem to have, but not everybody will be happy. Go Bucs!

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    • Everybody seems to love Riley … but whom do you cut to make room for him on the roster? To me there are no obvious answers. Even some of the third string offensive and linemen who may not be fan favorites or big personalities, we still need depth in the trenches. Who wants to give up depth at the offensive skill positions, thinking our receivers, tight ends, and running backs are going to make it unscathed throoughout a 16 game season?

      Not saying Riley Bullough doesn’t deserve to make the roster … I’m just saying I am glad I don’t have to make the very tough decision. That’s why they pay Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter to make those decisions.

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  9. Wasn’t that Super Bowl season playoff win against San Fran a Divisional game? Bucs were #2 seed and had a Wild Card bye.

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    • Yes. I believe that was the year that the Giants had a botched snap on the field goal try. They then threw into the end zone but no pi was called. Obviously, the 49ers won only to be destroyed by the Bucs next week.

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  10. Swap out Hawley for Riley and I think that would do it for me. Hawley is strictly a center with no special teams ability. I love Joe, but it’s time to move on. If Ali suffers an injury, Evans can be the center.

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  11. Well thought out 53 man roster Scott. I think you are spot on with your predictions. I would rather the Bucs keep Bernard Reedy over Josh Huff though. Also with Devante Bond being banged up that may cause the Bucs to keep another line backer.

    Just for Fun here is my Bucs 10 man practice squad:

    CB Player from another team
    OT Player from another team
    CB Jonathan Moxey
    OL Michael Liedtke
    DE Channing Ward
    DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
    LB Richie Brown
    LB Riley Bullough
    WR Bernard Reedy
    WR Jesus Wilson

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  12. I want Stevie Tu’ikolovatu to make the team just so I can hear Dick Stockton try to pronounce it.

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  13. Reading that OL lineup makes me queasy. Dotson the only proven OT in the bunch, hopefully he and Sweezy can hold up or we’ll have a collection of swing/backup/needs to step up players surrounding our Center who could be the best OL we’ve had since Gruber.

    On the flip side this is the best set of pass catchers (WR + TE) we’ve had at one time by a mile. I, too, wonder about keeping Stocker given his relatively low ceiling but can live with it.

    Still not a fan of Sims, we need capable runners vs another pass catcher and he’s one dimensional, but we can afford to keep him and McNichols until the Dougernaut returns and cut the least productive. Liked what Barber has shown but it’s preseason and I still wish we had a bigger rock pounder to finish games late.

    The lack of proven talent at the DB position also jumps off the page. VH3 needs to put it all together, which I’d feel bad about expecting so soon if not for where we drafted him. If he can’t or if Grimes goes down, Houston we have a Problem.

    If given the choice I’d IR Griffin (if him not being able to play before week 8 is a problem the season is likelynshot anyway) and keep J. Dirt, or try to trad JD for a 6-7th round pick to a team that needs LB help and isn’t willing to risk him making it to them via waivers.

    All in, this is a pretty darn talented team that needs a little more depth to separate from the pack. But if a few guys step up as we’re hoping AND we get lucky with injuries look out it could be an exciting season, you wouldn’t want to face JW and those pass catchers in the playoffs…

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  14. Can’t make the club in the tub! While Riley can also play M.B., Bond better show up. I’ve seen more from Joe Dirt in two weeks, then I’ve seen out of Bond in two Years!

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  15. I think we have to keep Riley or another team will scoop him off waivers before he makes it to our practice squad. If Griffin starts the season on IR, that would make it very easy to keep Riley. If not, then one of Stocker/Cross/Auclair gets cut to keep Riley. I think Stocker would be the one who gets cut because he is a one-trick pony and injury-prone.

    The big question is what happens when Dougie Fresh gets back Week 4. That’s going to be a tough decision! Personally I think cut Ryan Fitzpatrick. If he is our QB the Bucs immediately lose any chance of winning big. At least Ryan Griffin is enough of an unknown that he may be able to do enough not to lose.

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  16. I think we keep Riley Bullough on the 53 man roster and not carry 5 tight ends! Our LB’s are going to get banged up over the season and we need the depth. No way Bullough clears waivers and makes it to the practice squad. And seriously, 5 tight ends!

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  17. Watching other teams this preseason I have seen third string QBs that are better than our third string QB who is injured to boot; so cut him and don’t carry three QBs. If our second QB goes down, pick up one of those superior third string QBs off their practice squad. That way you can add Bullough to our roster. I am yet to be sold on this week’s starting MLB. He lacks speed and has trouble getting off blocks. Otherwise, Scott, you have done well on all the rest of your roster predictions.

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  18. i say cut griffin. I think glennon will be available after this season for cheaper than we were willing to pay this offseason. Would rather have bullough or another kick returner with that roster spot.

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  19. I think Scott’s predicted 53 man roster is probably spot on if based solely on the current 90. However, history shows that there will likely be someone added from another team’s victims of the Turk. The back-up tackle spot is a concern.

    It’s hysterical that there is so much over-hyping of the player known as “Joe Dirt”. I too love his personality and obvious love for the game. It’s sure easy to root for that type of player. Without his co-starring role on Hard Knocks, most of us would be oblivious of him. The challenge he faces is that, at this point, he’s probably not as valuable as the players in front of him. Perhaps he can make it to the Practice Squad.

    I’ve seen enough of Ryan Fitzpatrick to hope Ryan Griffin is a fast healer. The guy with an obvious inflated opinion of himself leading up to his hold-out with the J-E-T-S last year certainly doesn’t make me think the team is in good hands with him holding the clip board. Just need someone who can come in and not lose the game.

    Looking forward to tonight’s game. After 40+ seasons on the east side, I switched to basically the same spot on the west side. I’m sure it will be an adjustment for me. Sun was never an issue for me. It was the fact that so many season ticket holders on the east side apparently purchased them for the sole purpose of selling them to the higher paying enemy fans. That’s akin to your best friend inviting you to a party while secretly inviting your ex girlfriend and her new beau. I’m grateful to the Bucs, and in particular Brittany, for accommodating my request.

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  20. My grandson and I were at practice on the 23rd. The team was in full pads,but the defense did not tackle. My question is that the norm?
    We had a great time although my grandson was not able to get Jamis Winstons autograph. Go Bucs !

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    • Yes, it’s common that Koetter’s team doesn’t tackle in practice.

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  21. Personally I’m hoping they go with Bernard Reedy over Josh Huff. I think he’s equal as a receiver, but much better on special teams. I also don’t see us keeping 5 TE’s personally. I think the Bucs have a better chance of sneaking Cross onto the PS than they do Auclair, some due in part to his presence on Hard Knocks.

    I really want Riley to make this team as a 6th LB. That said, the fact that he has only played MLB and not played the outside at all limits him. I feel he’ll be the favorite that’s playing for another team. That said with Bond out a few weeks, they could keep 6 LBs until he is completely healthy. If he does, Glanton could be the backup to Beckwith with Riley making the team as a backup to Kwon.

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