FAB 4. Is Specialization Hurting The Bucs?

Identifying the latest trends in football is important and sometimes following them is generally a good idea. We are in the midst of specialization in football, especially in the NFL, and the Bucs are willing participants on both sides of the ball.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I’m not sure being trendy is serving Tampa Bay well.

Take a look at the Bucs defensive line. Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald do a good job against the pass and the run, but Chris Baker and Sealver Siliga are the team’s designated run stuffers. Because Siliga is so one-dimensional and rarely plays – just 42 snaps this season, which is one tenth of the snaps McCoy has played – he was inactive for the Buffalo game where the Bills ran for 173 yards, two touchdowns and a 5.2 average. In hindsight the Bucs could have used him.

Here are the playtime snaps and percentages for Tampa Bay’s defensive line this year:

DT Gerald McCoy – 420 plays – 86 percent
DE Robert Ayers – 363 plays – 74 percent
DE Will Gholston – 255 plays – 52 percent
DE Noah Spence – 247 plays – 58 percent
DT Clinton McDonald – 211 plays – 43 percent
DT Chris Baker – 175 plays – 42 percent
DE Ryan Russell – 145 plays – 41 percent
DE Will Clarke – 66 plays – 15 percent
DT Sealver Siliga – 42 plays – 21 percent

Bucs DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Defensive end Will Gholston is a designated run stuffer, and only plays just over half the snaps on defense, giving way to Noah Spence, who is now on injured reserve, and Ryan Russell in passing situations on Tampa Bay’s nickel rush unit. But is that really effective?

Spence had one sack in the first six games before needing another shoulder surgery. Russell, who has played in 14 games with the Bucs dating back to last year, has one career sack. With Russell only playing 41 percent of the snaps, an average of about 25 plays per game, does he get enough snaps to adequately get a feel for the offensive tackles he faces? Does he get enough snaps to have time to set up some pass rush moves?

Given Russell’s production, he doesn’t truly deserve many more snaps, but what the Bucs really need is a defensive end that can do both. Ayers is that kind of player, evidenced by the number of snaps he’s received, but at age 31 he’s not the player he once was. Moving forward, Tampa Bay would be better served by scrapping the defensive specialist theory and just find two defensive tackles and two defensive ends that can play 60 snaps a game and stuff the run and rush the passer.

While that might seem like a challenge to find such players, the Bucs have had several complete defensive ends in the past, including Chidi Ahanotu, Steve White, Greg Spires and Simeon Rice, who was better against the run than he received credit for. Given the money the Bucs gave Gholston in the offseason – signing him to a five-year, $27.5 million contract – I would play him full time at left defensive end.

Gholston has 10 career sacks, which is nine more than Russell has, and averages 2.5 sacks per year. Perhaps with more opportunities to rush in obvious passing situations Gholston will improve, but he’s not given the opportunity. He’s getting paid $7 million this year. Why isn’t he given a chance to fully earn that money?

Why are the Bucs paying $7 million for a part-time player? It’s the same thing with Baker, who is getting paid $6 million to play 36 less snaps than McDonald, who is making half of what Baker is. It just seems like the situational players on Tampa Bay’s defensive line aren’t producing like the team expected and overpaid as a result.

Bucs RB Charles Sims - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

The Bucs are also playing four players at safety with second-round draft pick Justin Evans now starting at free safety and the Bucs rotating Chris Conte, T.J. Ward and Keith Tandy in at strong safety. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith has said that he plays certain safeties in certain situations due to their strengths and skill set.

But doesn’t that essentially tip off opposing offenses to what coverages the Bucs might be running on certain plays due to the personnel they have on the field? I think those tendencies could be easily spotted through film study by assistant coaches.

On offense, the Bucs have Doug Martin, who is their starter on running downs, and Charles Sims, who is the team’s third down back. Martin has decent hands, but isn’t the most reliable pass catcher. He’s caught five passes for 52 yards and been targeted 10 times this year.

So when he’s in the game, the Bucs run the ball or they throw it and he’s a seldom-used targeted receiver. There is a certain predictability to Tampa Bay’s running back usage, especially when Sims in the game.

Sims rarely runs the ball out of the shotgun set and has eight carries for 31 yards. When he’s in the game – even on third-and-2 – it’s going to be a pass. You know it, I know it and opposing defenses know it. If Sims is a target in the passing game, it’s on a screen, it’s a swing pass or it’s a wheel route down the sideline.

Actually he hasn’t even been effective in that role this year. After catching only 24 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown last season, averaging 7.9 yards per catch, Sims only has 15 catches for 106 yards (7.1 avg.). Why not do something less predictable and send him down the seam, running him down the middle of the field between the safeties in a Cover 2 defense?

Or better yet why not find a complete running back that can run and catch the ball and play on all three downs? A few years ago the belief was that teams needed a two-back offense or a running back-by-committee approach because it’s a long season and injuries happen like it did in Week 1 to Arizona’s feature back David Johnson.

Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt - Photo by: Getty Images
Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt – Photo by: Getty Images

Feature backs are on the verge of being the new trend in the NFL like they used to for decades. What’s old is new again.

Johnson, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt are the new wave of running backs that are featured on all three downs, joining the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Lesean McCoy, a couple of veterans that have been doing it for years in the league.

Sims is in a contract year and hasn’t done enough to be re-signed in my opinion because he’s too one-dimensional. Martin will turn 29 in January and is slated to earn $6.75 million in 2018. The Bucs need to draft his eventual replacement and find a running back that can be a three-down player, one that is a dual threat as a runner and a receiver.

Tampa Bay needs to buck the old trend of specialization and get on the cutting edge of the new one – finding full-time players that can get the job done on offense and defense.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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athans5

SR, I think that part 2 is a major overreaction. Koetter is known around the league as one of the best play callers, why would you want to strip him of what he is best at for Todd Monken? Who is completely unproven as a play caller. Ever since Koetter has come to Tampa we have had the best offense that I have had the pleasure to watch in my many years as a Bucs fan, by far! If anything we should be worried that Koetter was being too loyal to his friend Mike Smith when we should have gone… Read more »

DonkeyHunter

Don’t feel bad. There were plenty of us who didn’t buy into the PR hype this season. When it was announced that we were participating on Hard Knocks, I knew the season was over before it started. A bunch of players buying into their own hype. Soft practices. Trying to look good in front of the cameras. Believing they were the media darlings, despite not accomplishing shit in 10 years. PR ate it up like the abundance of casuals roaming the boards. So, after your apologies for not “reporting it like it is” and for “overhyping the team”…your first line… Read more »

tog

Where I disagree DonkeyHunter is that it’s not just about Koetter’s playcalling. Perhaps its not PRIMARILY about Koetter’s playcalling.

It takes so much to be an HC, and I think most coaches are better for focusing on that. And Koetter is a good playcaller, but there’s also reasons he get criticised for some of his decisions (3rd down, Sims, tosses, etc.)

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pinkstob

DonkeyHunter I agree with what you said for the most part. The only part I’m not sure on is whether Koetter might be part of the problem as the play caller. Winston has been inaccurate and Koetter continues to call the deep ball which is bad, but I don’t know if the OC will call a more balanced attack than Koetter. Even if you can run the ball, if your QB can’t hit wide open receivers it doesn’t matter what passing play you call because you can’t win only throwing short. Defenses will adjust. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00… Read more »

Naplesfan

A lot of flailing around here, Scott. Bottom line is, if Koetter can’t turn it around and win most of the remaining 9 games, resulting in a 4 or 5 win season, the Glazers are going to look elsewhere for a head coach. And Jon Gruden might just be that guy. Or not. Whether Koetter calls his own plays or not is immaterial – he has to start producing wins, or he’ll be another failure at the head coaching spot in Tampa. It’s not just one thing here, it’s everything that is inconsistent and producing less than mediocre bottom line… Read more »

RootsCrew

This is a great and depressing Fab 5. So many things have gone wrong in just 7 games it’s hard to even point to one thing. Offense, defense, clock management, in game adjustments, player rotation, execution and on and on. Maddening. I like Dirk. I like Winston. I love the playmakers we have on offense. But the disconnect on offense is disturbing to watch though. I was on board with Dirk giving up play calling at the end of last season. He specifically mentioned he might be stretched too thin to effectively call plays. As Scott mentioned, our predictability on… Read more »

Jlog

Koetter play calling is not great, clock management is still questionable with him as well. I’m more concerned with him as a coach, I just don’t see him being effective. The locker room may respect him, if they down it’s not a lot though. Not holding Smith to any standards is a complete failure IMO though. Also this “we don’t have an identity” BS, really. The team doesn’t have the identity that we expect them to have with the talent we have but they certainly has an identity and it’s a consistent one. Only the coaching staff and those men… Read more »

FLBoyInDallas

Haven’t commented since draft season earlier this year but I’ve been reading PR every day as usual and of course following the Bucs, and let me say this: Gruden is not the answer. How quickly we forget that Gruden’s overall record in Tampa produced a mere .509 winning percentage (57-55 record). In seven years he did win the division three times, but the other four finishes consisted of two third places and two fourth places. Besides the Super Bowl year, those other two first place NFC South finishes produced first-round wild card losses. Not only that, but his trend as… Read more »

Horse

100% agree; look at all the younger coaches who are winning without a QB like Brady or Brees.

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pinkstob

Agreed

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scubog

When criticizing the acquisition of players; shouldn’t you also consider the fact that so many premium Draft choices were given up to get Gruden in the first place?

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Horse

Well IRMA didn’t help at all as there is no two week reset-timeout button to go forward. I really don’t expect two more wins at best, but I hope I’m wrong. There’s not just an identity issue with the players; there’s also no solid coaching, good communication going on between coaches and players, and on going teaching player’s isn’t happening either. No contact at practices during pre-season was a surprise for me, and does answers some of my questions as to what happened with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What I see so far is an inexperience head coach not learning… Read more »

martinii

Really some good honest and realistic insights Scott. Don’t feel like the lone ranger, the vast amount of Buc Fans and many respectable analyst predicted they would have a good season in view of their 9-7 record and weapons for Jameis acquisitions. After 50 years of watching and playing football I can tell you I cannot predict nor even come close to determining what a team will actually accomplish in terms of Wins and Losses during any given season. The long used axioms, “On any given Sunday, and Thats why they play the game,” are alive and well and have… Read more »

Mic

Everything that was said about the bad adjustments playcalling and defensive specialization I called for it since the Arizona game. It’s dumb and we’re both right it doesn’t give the players time to feel it out and set up moves or catch on to tendencies. One thing I disagree with is running Martin because you can look back through the film and see how obvious it is when it’s a run the formations the pre snap motion defensive players can see this and this is why we have a lot of one yard gains and losses but that occasional 10… Read more »

WinstonMVP

Way Too early to be saying Koetter needs to give up play calling. Hard to get in any groove when we cant complete any third down conversions. A lot of that falls on Winston’s slow starts. He just seems to take for ever to get rolling. That’s hurting alot. And our offense has had some high scoring games already. Just way too early to give up play calling. If it’s still a problem next year than I could see Koetter giving up play calling. IMO GO BUCS!!!

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Naplesfan

What does it matter who calls the plays? What matters is points on the board, and Ws in the W-L column. It’s Koetter’s responsibility to decide how and who calls the plays. Maybe Moncken isn’t a good play caller – nobody can say he’s ever done it effectively in the NFL before. Or maybe he is a good play-caller. Either way, it’s Koetter’s responsibility to git’er done. And right now, Koetter’s not gittin’ er done. That has to change, or the Glazers are going to have to take action to git’er done. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes… Read more »

surferdudes

Too many “whys”, in this article, and no answers in sight. If Licht, Koetter, the Glazers themselves knew how to fix this mess, they’d have been doing so. Every press conference, the same questions are asked about this team, and we get the same we need to do better all around spiel. That may be true, but nothing changes that might make that happen. You can’t pry the play calling away from Koetter, Smitty is staying in the press box, we keep rotating players, nothing has changed, nothing will change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over,… Read more »

Horse

surferdudes, agree with you.

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Mike.Seven

I want to go on record before Sundays game, Koetter was not great choice for coach but has made some strides, The problem is the defence is being asked to spend to much time on field due to fumbles, punts, Ints open receivers being missed, and on this site no one wants to blame the QB. This site assumes he is great franchise QB with bad team and coach. However, in 2 quarters Fitz lit up the field with points TD and yards using the same team. There will be excuse Monday JW is hurt shoulder, my point let the… Read more »

Horse

Mike.Seven; you make good points and I do agree with some of it, but during Fitz time on the field the game was over and the other teams defense was playing softer coverages

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Mike.Seven

Understand 2nd half they were in more prevent, however, I sure liked the way ball hit receivers in the numbers and open receivers were found so often.

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Naplesfan

If Winston can play he should. If he can’t, he shouldn’t. That’s up to the medical staff.

Whether Fitz will do better or not, that’s impossible to say unless he is asked to take over.

I don’t believe that anyone is making excuses, Koetter, Winston, or anyone else associated with the team. Everybody on the Bucs agrees that the performance to date is bad and must get better. Talk is cheap. We need to see improvement or nothing else matters.

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Horse

Naplesfan, Agree with you.

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Buc 1976

Koetter should be here next year no matter his record. He does not throw the ball nor catch the ball. As far as the assistant coaches go many will probably be let go.
The person to look at maybe Licht GM earn their pay by finding talent in the 4th to 7th rounds he has not done so. If we look at some good teams they find some talent in those rounds.

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Buc76

Its already too late. Koetter is not an NFL Head Coach. Its obvious. Someone I work with said this team has no soul and they are right. Its a lifeless team. Not inspired. Its beyond play calls and the clock. these guys are just collecting paychecks. they do not care if they win or lose. This has been going on the last 9 years.

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Horse

Buc76; not sure yet. I’m going to wait until after these next two games.

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Buc 1976

Horse this season started with a bye because of IRMA. That was a game that could have played on Thursday! But because of network contracts was NOT. The Bucs IMO would have won that game and the Bears game a week later.
And who knows after that but the moral I think would have been much better with 2 wins under their belt.

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Horse

I can’t disagree with those thoughts, but I thought we were focused at the Bears game and it gave me no reason to doubt we were in trouble. Not sure if the Coaches know how to coach out of this mess. Surprised no trades were made last week? I sure would have sent some kind of message to the team as a wake up call.

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stlbucsfan

Great Fab 5, I agree the soft training camp was probably the recipe for disaster on this team. The offense didn’t face real competition in practice so it makes sense why the timing is not good and things are inconsistent. We had guys playing flag football all summer now when they get hit in the mouth THIS team doesn’t know how to respond. There are new players starting at virtually every level of the team that are facing real competition for the first time as a unit during the season. Teams bond and find out a lot about themselves during… Read more »

surferdudes

Koetter thought the whole preseason was about finding out who your back ups were going to be. His admission, he didn’t know how to approach the games, because winning didn’t matter. He admitted he didn’t game plan. I don’t see why he couldn’t do both. Yeah you got to find out who your back ups are going to be, but your main goal should be getting your starters ready when it does count. Koetter clearly has failed at that, slow starts, no physicality, on either side of the ball from a soft no contact training camp. I get he didn’t… Read more »

Horse

Surferdudes, I hear you for sure and agree on most what you are saying. I’m waiting to see what happens these next two games. I’m waiting to see how many players step forward so we know who to release, cut, trade when the season ends; same for Coaching, GM too. There’s got to be some major progress here in winning now!

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bEubanks11

I said the same things weeks ago. Being reminded of the timid training camp solidifies the view I have of Koetters mentality which is that he plays the game not to lose until he’s forced to play to win. I get that he doesn’t want to squander his first head coaching job and wants to protect it. That’s back firing badly. Time to lay it on the table Dirk and your players will follow!

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pinkstob

I’ve been waiting for this article. SR’s unrealistic insight and analysis has really turned me off of PR over the years. I can’t remember when it started but I typically read the title of the article and if it’s full of hyperbole and unearned hype then I haven’t been reading them. I hope this Fab 5 is the start of a return to insight and analysis based on the facts that brought me to PR in the first place over 10 years ago. I thought it was a pretty good article except there is one assumption almost everyone is making… Read more »

pinkstob

BTW, all of this criticism I am directing at talent is a direct condemnation of Licht’s work as the GM. He needs to be gone after this season is over.

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Horse

Pinkstop; hard not to agree with what you are saying. I’m not ready yet to fire the cannons until these next two games are done.

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Naplesfan

23 teams passed on Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft. Hindsight is always 20/20, and the cheapest kind of sight one can have. And Cadillac Williams won rookie of the year, and performed great until he got injured. No coach or GM can possibly predict injuries. Everybody was patting the Vikings guys on the head for getting such a great deal by taking Dalvin Cook in the second round. He looked fabulous for the first month of the season, and then wham! Out on IR. Ditto with all the declarations of genius bestowed upon the Texans for taking DeShaun Watson… Read more »

bEubanks11

Horse, you crack me up with how you get stuck on a saying and then end every post that way. What is the relevance of the next 2 games exactly? And Pink, I get that you’re angry man. I said last week that there’s got to be something more productive for me to do with my Sundays than to be wasting 3 hours watching this sh!t show. But to say there isn’t tremendous talent on this team is inaccurate. It’s the lack of refinement and use of talent that’s the killer. These players are not being put in position to… Read more »

Horse

beubanks; can’t disagree with you about my draw out as to what I know is going to happen, but I’m like many Buc Fans I still have some hope something good will happen. Once our 9th game is over we will be well into the season. If we are 2-7 by then, it’s surely over and any win after that means nothing, but losses in obtaining higher draft picks.

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scubog

We here in Bucville always know how to place blame when the losses begin to pile up. Here we cite predictable play calling when most of us couldn’t even diagram even the simplest one. We blame the General Manager for failed player acquisitions albeit more typically after the results are known. We blame the Head Coach for not getting the team ready when most of the players earn more than he does and shouldn’t need prompting. We blame the Defensive scheme when most of us have no idea what any of the terms even mean and certainly have no clue… Read more »

pinkstob

I disagree with you for the most part on this one Scubog. Most football websites nowadays, including PR, offer offensive and defensive play breakdowns. TS does it with a fair amount of regularity with this Cover 3 articles. What better time is there for blaming the GM’s player acquisitions than after the results are known? Should we be calling for the GM to be fired before the results are known? The head coach is paid to get the team ready; it’s in his job description. If the players didn’t need prompting all we would need are coordinators and position coaches.… Read more »

bEubanks11

I love the fire and heart and accountability you feel for this team Pink. You are a true fan to believe you are a part of this organization as I do as well. But to think that we can affect the buccaneers draft plans by watching more college film is a little far fetched. The organization has employees that they pay a lot of money to figure that out. These people have jobs just like we all do. I know for a fact they couldn’t do my job and I’m not for a second believing that I could do theirs.… Read more »

scubog

In my case, I do know about contractors, but I get your point. My point was to include ourselves as part of the problem with our favorite team’s psyche. There’s just little passion for this team nowadays. Even in the old days folks would complain about yet another loss. Now, no one seems to really care. No longer do I go to work on Mondays and hear, “What happened to the Bucs?” I actually miss that.

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Naplesfan

The Bucs fan base has ALWAYs been dominated by a combination of fair weather fans and the “ticket brokers” who gladly buy season tickets simply to sell them off to the enemy. It’s always been that way. People in Florida simply do not have the longstanding sports culture that northern cities do. Even perennial losers like Cleveland still have rabid fans and sell their tickets mostly to the home crowd. Perennial winners like New England or Green Bay, you better be the son or daughter of a lifetime season ticket holder, because inheriting those tickets is the only way you’ll… Read more »

Naplesfan

Correction – “Peyton”

I threw up a little in my throat while writing that last paragraph above

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Horse

Scubog Yes, once again I admit i called McCoy a bust after two years of injuries. I was wrong like I have said numerous times. Yu pretty much play it safe in your writings. Yes I speak out; sometimes too soon like many fans and yes we aren’t coaches or past professional players. I’m waiting until after our 9th game because if we can’t beat the Jets, then we have to go back to the drawing board. As to the fans who aren’t attending the games, but are still fans; accept the thought many don’t want to sit in the… Read more »

scubog

I never mentioned your name Horse. You weren’t the only one down on McCoy.

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surferdudes

Scu, I’m sure the fans would’ve been into the game if the team gave them something to cheer about. The stands would’ve been full if we were riding a winning streak instead of a losing one. Can’t blame people for not wanting to spend good money on season tickets for a team that’s been flailing along for the last 10 years. As far as player acquisitions, and the draft, most weren’t happy drafting a kicker in the 2nd round, letting guys like Penn, or Bennett go, and myself, and Horse have been calling for building in the trenches for years.… Read more »

EastEndBoy

I find it hard to blame Koetter – the mistakes our players are making are not what he’s (or their college coaches for that matter were) teaching them. I can find blame in Smith for sticking with a system that relies on the weakest aspect of the players he has (1-on-1 pass rush). But most of all Licht’s neglect of the two lines is criminal for a GM…that’s got to be GM 101, and he’s failed it miserably. Not a single 1st rounder or top-tier FA on either line in his whole tenur – a recipe for disaster. He also… Read more »

Naplesfan

SMH Guys like you claim that Licht “neglected the two lines”, which is complete balderdash. The entire O-line that we have was brought in by Licht, using both high draft picks and expensive free agents. Other than McCoy, the entire D-line was brought in by Licht, and he’s made multiple high draft picks (2nd round counts as “high”) and expensive free agent acquisitions, every year he’s been here. And, uhhh, we had many needs beyond the lines. Virtually 100% of all Bucs fans agreed that quarterback, receivers, tight ends, linebackers, and defensive secondary were ALL top needs too. One can… Read more »

EastEndBoy

SMH Our best OLineman was brought in by Dominik. And if Licht hadn’t cut him, our second best OLineman would still be a Dominik pickup. Our best DLineman was brought in by Dominik…as was one of our starting DE. Who is this amazing high priced talent Licht brought in…Cousins? Collins? Johnson? Johnson? .. Just bringing in cast offs is not particularly helpful. If you want to give the guy credit, that’s fine, but find somebody on the roster that he should actually be able to count as a win…Cameron Brate…but no, there is nobody on either line that he can… Read more »

EastEndBoy

…in the 1st round or FA….yes Marpet in round 2 is a win.

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damian_thompson

Scott, LONG time reader/subscriber of PR and LOVE these articles. Your writing and analysis is deep & well thought out… (ready for it?) most of the time. BUT, you have to get off this soapbox about hitting in preseason being a big cause of their poor play in regular season. This team is mismanaged, underprepared, & lacks accountability, ALL true. But the no contact preseason = sloppy tackling regular season argument fails in week one. By the logic of lack of tackling drills and contact in preseason then week one would be the worst example of this, but it wasn’t.… Read more »