SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. JACKSON AND EVANS ARE POISED TO MAKE BUCS HISTORY
There haven’t been many bright spots in Tampa Bay’s 2-12 season thus far, but two Buccaneers have the chance at setting a positive franchise record this Sunday – or certainly by the end of the season. Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans have the chance to become the first tandem in Bucs history to both eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in the same season.
Jackson leads the team with 66 receptions for 931 yards and two touchdowns, while Evans leads Tampa Bay with 948 receiving yards and 11 scores on 59 catches. Evans needs 52 yards, while Jackson needs 69 receiving yards. Buccaneers receivers have had 1,000-yard seasons 14 times, but there has never been two different receivers hitting that mark in the same season before.
That news came as a big surprise to Jackson on Thursday when I asked him being on the verge of breaking the record.
“Really? I never knew that!” Jackson said. “That’s pretty cool. It’s exciting. That’s definitely something I’m proud of. I don’t think I’ve had another year where I’ve been on the team with another 1,000-yard receiver to be honest with you – even in San Diego with Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates. I don’t think anyone of those guys had 1,000-yard seasons when I did. That’s special. That’s looking at those special combos back then with Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and Mark Duper and Mark Clayton, Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith. I’m proud of it.
“It’s not been the best season for me statistically, but if I am able to get another 1,000-yard season and for Mike to do that as a rookie that’s special for this organization. And it’s special for Mike because that’s really unique for a rookie receiver, too. That’s exciting and I’m proud of that.”
Only nine Tampa Bay wide receivers have posted 1,000-yard seasons. Evans would be the 10th, and Jackson would eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the third time, which would tie Joey Galloway for the most in team history. Jackson’s 3,539 yards is already the most receiving yards by any Buccaneer in a three-year span, besting Galloway’s mark of 3,358 yards from 2005-07.
There were trade rumors involving Philadelphia’s desire to acquire Jackson prior to the trade deadline in October, but Tampa Bay never had him on the trade block, nor did it entertain the idea of dealing him. The team still views Jackson as one of the better receivers in the league and he is a part of the Bucs’ plans moving forward in 2015.
“I still love this game and I’m having so much fun despite the [2-12] record,” Jackson said. “It’s a privilege to play with the other men in this locker room and to play for a coach like Lovie Smith and this organization that has been so good to me. I take a lot of pride in that. I take a lot of pride in the game and I have respect for the game going out there and playing the right way and representing myself and the organization that way.”
Jackson is optimistic about the Bucs’ future and believes that a turnaround is right around the corner in Tampa Bay.
“Trust me, the time is coming,” Jackson said. “I can’t wait. I hope that I am here to be a part of it. I do believe it’s coming. I do believe we have the right guys to start building something special for the future.”
Evans, the team’s first-round draft pick, is one of those building blocks. He has already tied the franchise record for touchdown receptions in a season with 11 this year and there are still two more games left in the 2014 campaign.
“I wouldn’t have left [Texas A&M] if I didn’t think I wouldn’t have success at this level,” Evans said. “I think my game is transitioning well.”
Aside from still being a 1,000-yard receiver at age 32, one of the major reasons the Bucs want Jackson around is to continue to mentor Evans, who is the future at the position. Because both wideouts are 6-foot-5 and weigh in excess of 230 pounds, Evans can literally see how a big man like Jackson works and what it takes to be successful in the NFL.
“It’s great because we complement each other on the field,” Evans said. “He’s a bigger help off the field, though. The main thing is that he’s been playing all these years and he’s in the cold tub and the hot tub. When he does that it gives me motivation to follow in his footsteps.”
Bucs receiver Russell Shepard admires the unit’s oldest and youngest pass catcher and how hard they’ve worked this season dating back to the offseason.
“I definitely think they’ll get the record,” Shepard said. “That was one of the things we spoke about at the start of the season. We wanted our room – the receivers – to have the biggest impact on this team, whether it’s catching the ball or blocking or playing special teams. I honestly think they are going to be able to break that record. They come to work every day. They don’t play the veteran card or the high pick card. They practice and they are pro’s pros. I tip my hat to V-Jax because he is showing us how to play for 10-plus years and to have a successful career.”
Jackson said personal pride is the biggest reason for his success and the success of Tampa Bay’s draft pick during his rookie season.
“Obviously, as an offense we haven’t scored as much as we would have liked or needed to, but when you narrow it down to our room, we take a lot of pride as the team’s receivers – the way we play, the way we block and the way we try to finish games,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Evans will finish strong over the last two games and make history together in Tampa Bay as a result.
FAB 2. BUCCANEERS RUNNING GAME NEEDS A MAJOR OVERHAUL
There has been so much focus on the quarterback position in Tampa Bay that no one is talking about the team’s pitiful running game that severely hampered the offense in 2014. Of course there was a ridiculous suggestion last week by ProFootballTalk.com for the Bucs to forgo the quest for a franchise quarterback and rebuild the offense in the mold of run-heavy Georgia Tech with a triple option attack.
That notion is totally illogical considering that the NFL has been a quarterback-driven league for the better part of the last two years and most of the rule changes have been favorable to offenses that feature passing attacks. Now ticky-tack flags are thrown for roughing the quarterbacks like Larry English’s last week at Carolina that wiped out an Orie Lemon interception in the fourth quarter, and you can’t hit “defenseless” receivers these – whatever that means. Somewhere John Lynch is still shedding tears.
While there is no doubt the Buccaneers need to draft a quarterback, and it could be Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston in the first round, Tampa Bay needs a much improved ground game in 2015 as that is the number one ingredient to helping take some pressure off a rookie QB. Of course it all starts with a much-improved offensive line, especially one that can run block much better than the current outfit can. The Bucs will need to spend a premium pick or two on the offensive line, but that’s only part of the equation.
Finding a running back with speed, power, vision and toughness is also a must in the draft. The current regime is not sold on Doug Martin and will likely deal him in the offseason. Despite a season-long 63-yard jaunt in last week’s game at Carolina, Martin has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game in his 13 starts dating back to last year, and has yet to rush for even 400 yards in 2014 despite starting nine games.
Martin has just 369 yards and two touchdowns on 106 carries (3.5 avg.), while backup Bobby Rainey still leads the team with 406 yards and one touchdown on 94 carries (4.3 avg.) with only four starts this season.
Despite a rookie season that saw him rush for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, the Bucs’ front office wasn’t sold on Martin dating back to the OTAs. After an underwhelming, injury-ridden 2013 season in which he rushed for just 456 yards and one touchdown, it’s almost like the Bucs could see Martin’s struggles coming this year, and that’s why the team invested a third-round draft pick in Charles Sims.
The drafting of Sims – and the use of a third-round pick on a running back – was a surprise to many, but it underscored the Bucs’ wavering confidence in Martin as well as the importance of how much head coach Lovie Smith wants to run the football. If the Bucs saw the importance of using a high pick on a running back last year, they won’t be afraid to do it this year, either, especially when Smith used a second-round pick on Matt Forte in Chicago in 2008.
If you don’t think the Bucs’ running game is in serious need of revamping consider that Tampa Bay may not have at least one rusher with 500 yards for first time since Lars Tate led the Bucs with just 467 yards in 1988. James Wilder was Tampa Bay’s leading rusher in 1987 with only 488 yards.
Rainey had 532 yards last year to lead the team, but will either he or Martin top 500 yards rushing this season? With two games left it’s doubtful, although the offense came through with its second-best rushing performance of the year last week at Carolina, running for 151 yards.
Martin, the team’s current starter, had a season-high 96 yards against the Panthers and needs 131 yards to hit 500 yards. He needs to average 66 yards per game over the final two weeks of the season to hit that mark. Considering that Martin has only rushed for more than 50 yards twice this season in eight starts that may be a tall order.
The Bucs currently have 1,176 rushing yards, which ranks 29th in the NFL. Tampa Bay has averaged just 84 yards per game in 2014, and if the team holds that average over the next two weeks it will finish with just 1,344 yards on the ground. That would rank as the second-worst rushing performance since the NFL went to a 16-game regular season schedule in 1978 (excluding the strike-shortened season in 1982).
TAMPA BAY’S TOP 10 WORST RUSHING SEASONS
1. 1,290 yards on 402 carries with 6 TDs – 1993
2. 1,353 yards on 428 carries with 9 TDs – 1983
3. 1,365 yards on 394 carries with 7 TDs – 1987
4. 1,429 yards on 371 carries with 9 TDs – 1991
5. 1,458 yards on 346 carries with 9 TDs – 2011
6. 1,489 yards on 420 carries with 8 TDs – 1994
7. 1,489 yards on 393 carries with 9 TDs – 2004
8. 1,507 yards on 412 carries with 10 TDs – 1989
9. 1,589 yards on 472 carries with 8 TDs – 1996
10. 1,612 yards on 420 carries with 6 TDs – 2013
To put how bad Tampa Bay’s ground game has been in perspective, Dallas’ DeMarco Murray (1,687 yards) and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (1,278 yards) each have more rushing yards by themselves than the Buccaneers have as an entire team. Retooling the offensive line once again is only one step. The Bucs also need to upgrade the talent at running back.
Sims is a keeper and Rainey has value as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, but Mike James has pedestrian speed and both he and Martin need to be replaced with two other more explosive runners in 2015.
FAB 3. STRONG CLASS OF RUNNING BACKS FOR BUCS IN 2015 DRAFT
The Buccaneers spent a third-round draft pick on running back Charles Sims last year and an ankle injury in training camp caused him to miss the first eight games of his rookie season. With two games to go, Sims has rushed for just 117 yards on 44 carries (2.7 avg.), but has flourished as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 15 passes for 154 yards (10.5 avg.).
Yet the Bucs front office and the coaching staff doesn’t have a full read on Sims’ capabilities yet. Even if Sims busts out a 100-yard rushing game over the next two weeks, that won’t prevent Tampa Bay from drafting another running back in May. Cincinnati drafted running back Giovanni Bernard in the second round last year and came back in 2014 and spent another second-round pick on a running back in Jeremy Hill, who leads the Bengals in rushing.
With Tampa Bay poised to have one of the worst rushing seasons in team history, the Bucs could follow the Bengals’ lead in 2015 and probably need to. With pressing needs at quarterback and on the offensive line, some fans may scoff at the idea of spending a high draft pick on a running back. After all, the Bucs spent first-round draft picks on Cadillac Williams and Doug Martin and outside of one good season for each running back, injuries derailed those investments.
But what about Warrick Dunn, who was a first-round draft pick in 1997, and Mike Alstott, who was a second-round pick in 1996? They are the in the top 3 in terms of all-time rushing yards in team history, and Williams is actually fourth, so there is value in drafting a running back with a high draft choice.
The recent success of Arian Foster, an undrafted free agent by the Texans in 2009, and players like Baltimore’s Justin Forsett, who was a seventh-round pick in 2008, have fueled the notion that running backs are a dime a dozen and that excellent backs can be found in the latter rounds of the draft or signed as an undrafted free agent. While it’s true that the Bucs have had success with a player like Bobby Rainey, who led the team last year with 532 yards and is the current leader with 406, players like Foster, Forsett and Rainey are the exception and not the rule.
In fact, the top four running backs in the NFL right now were drafted in the first three rounds, and it is no coincidence that they play on teams that have won either nine or 10 games already and are poised for the playoffs.
TOP 14 RUNNING BACKS IN 2014
1. Dallas RB DeMarco Murray – 1,687 yards – third round in 2011
2. Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell – 1,278 yards – second round in 2013
3. Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch – 1,133 yards – first round in 2007
4. Philadelphia RB LeSean McCoy – 1,132 yards – second round in 2009
5. Baltimore RB Justin Forsett – 1,128 yards – seventh round 2008
6. Houston RB Arian Foster – 1,127 yards – undrafted in 2009
7. Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles – 950 yards – third round in 2008
8. Washington RB Alfred Morris – 948 yards – sixth round in 2012
9. Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy – 940 yards – second round in 2013
10. Chicago RB Matt Forte – 932 yards – second round in 2008
11. Cincinnati RB Jeremy Hill – 877 yards – second round in 2014
12. New Orleans RB Mark Ingram – 869 yards – first round in 2011
13. Miami RB Lamar Miller – 829 yards – fourth round in 2012
14. San Francisco RB Frank Gore – 804 yards – third round in 2005
Of the 14 running backs listed above, 10 of the 14 were drafted in the first three rounds with the majority (five) coming in the second round. With Tampa Bay poised to have the first overall draft pick – or at least a selection in the top 5 this year – there is no way the team should spend its first-round pick on a running back. There isn’t even a running back that is rated as a top 10 player in the upcoming draft.
But in the middle rounds there is plenty of talented running backs that could be drafted to complement Sims and provide a needed boost to the Bucs’ ground game. Here is a look at some of the backs that could be available in the 2015 draft that would be an interesting fit in Tampa Bay:
Georgia RB Todd Gurley – 6-1, 231 – Junior
In less than three seasons, Gurley rushed for 3,285 yards and 36 touchdowns on 510 carries. After a breakthrough 2012 season in which he rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman, injuries prevented Gurley from rushing for 1,000 yards as a sophomore (989 yards and 10 touchdowns) and a junior (911 yards and nine touchdowns). Gurley is currently recovering from a torn ACL he suffered against Auburn after a four-game suspension for selling autographs in 2014.
With 65 catches for 615 yards and six touchdowns, in addition to two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns in his Bulldogs career, Gurley is a gifted athlete with Adrian Peterson-like qualities that could help the Bucs in several ways. Gurley was a sure-fire top-10 pick prior to his knee injury and he may slip to the top of the second round where he would be a steal that could prove to be too good to pass up for Tampa Bay.
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah – 5-9, 195 – Senior
Some NFL scouts believe that Abdullah may be the best running back in the 2015 draft class. With a running style that resembles one part Darren Sproles (burst and cutting ability), one part Warrick Dunn (receiving ability and elusiveness) and one part Tiki Barber (shiftiness and power), Abdullah amassed 786 carries for 4,500 yards and 38 touchdowns, including 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns on 237 carries during his senior season.
Abdullah has already logged a lot of carries, but he has proven to be a durable, workhorse back despite his size, evidenced by nine games with 24 or more carries at Nebraska. Abdullah has posted 24 100-yard games, including five performances in which he has eclipsed 200 yards on the ground.
He would bring all-purpose value to Tampa Bay as Abdullah has 67 catches for 629 yards and seven touchdowns in his career – including a tackle-breaking, 58-yard game-winning catch against McNeese State – and an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown as a sophomore and a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown as a freshman. It’s a safe bet that Bucs general manager Jason Licht, a former Cornhuskers guard, has seen Abdullah shine for his alma mater, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Tampa Bay draft him in the second round.
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman – 6-1, 210 – Junior
Coleman is still debating whether he will declare for the 2015 NFL Draft or not, but after a breakthrough season in 2014 in which he rushed for a school-record 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns on 270 carries he needs to go pro. Coleman, who is my favorite running back draft prospect outside of a healthy Todd Gurley, rushed for a career-high 307 yards on 32 carries against Rutgers, averaging 9.6 per carry with two runs over 65 yards.
Perhaps even more impressive for the Hooisers’ big back is that he carried the ball 27 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-long 90-yard score, against Big 10 champion Ohio State and the vaunted Buckeyes defense. All of this came on the heels of a sophomore campaign in which he rushed for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns on 131 carries.
With solid vision, a great stiff-arm, tackle-breaking ability and an electric second gear for a back of his size, Coleman has produced 15 100-yard games on the ground, including five over 200 yards. The versatile, home run-hitting back accomplished all this while being the primary offensive weapon at Indiana. Despite team’s game-planning to stop him, Coleman still had success as a runner and a receiver, where he caught 54 passes for 383 yards. The Bucs could spend a second-round pick on Coleman, who also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown at Indiana, and have a great, workhorse back to complement Sims.
Boise State RB Jay Ajayi – 6-0, 216 – Junior
The Bucs already have a Boise State Bronco on their roster, but Ajayi is more talented and is a faster, bigger back than Martin. Ajayi rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore before bursting out with 1,689 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. One of the real sleepers at the running back position, Ajayi has proved himself against schools from bigger, better conferences, rushing for 93 yards in a loss last year Washington, and hitting Oregon State for 97 yards on the ground and 33 yards in the air in a loss in last year’s Hawai’I Bowl against Oregon State.
Perhaps more impressive was Ajayi’s 86 rushing yards and 93 receiving yards in a season-opening loss at Ole Miss against the vaunted “Land Sharks” defense. The junior back had a career-high 12 catches in that game, including one for a touchdown, and capped off a career-high 45-catch season in which he posted 536 yards and four touchdowns. This came after a 22-catch, 222-yard, one-touchdown campaign as a sophomore.
Ajayi has one of the best and most powerful spin moves you’ll see, and that has helped him rip off 10 plays over 50 yards in his career, including five plays over 70 yards. Ajayi, who has 16 100-yard games, including two over 200 yards (Colorado State and Utah State), hails from Plano, Texas, and Smith loves players from his home state. Ajayi would look great in red and pewter in the third round.
Northern Iowa RB David Johnson – 6-1, 229 – Senior
After rushing for 1,286 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, Johnson rushed for a career-high 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2014. The big, bruising running back amassed 15 100-yard games over the past two years and he’s done it against some FBS level teams. In a season-opening 28-20 upset over Iowa State in 2013, Johnson rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns, including an 80-yarder.
In this year’s 31-23 season-opening loss at Iowa, Johnson was held to 34 yards on 13 carries, but he did catch five passes for 203 yards, including a 53-yarder, a 60-yarder and a 70-yard touchdown. Johnson, who is an excellent receiver with 76 catches for 929 yards and six touchdowns over the past two years, is extremely fast for a big back and has four career runs over 50 yards, including two over 70.
Factor in those big plays on the ground with those through the air and he is a complete player like Sims that can play on all three downs in Tampa Bay. The Panthers’ leading rusher got an invite to the Senior Bowl where he could raise his stock from the fourth round to the third round with a solid week of competition.
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford – 6-1, 208 – Senior
There’s not much flash in Langford’s game – just production. He’s a workman-like, Errict Rhett-type that will plow ahead for positive yardage and move the chains as he has for Michigan State over the past two years. Langford has 17 100-yard games in his career, including nine straight currently. He had 151 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-28 win over Licht’s Nebraska team last year, and racked up 128 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State in a 34-24 win in the Big 10 Championship Game.
Langford also slugged it out against Stanford’s stout defense for 84 yards in a 24-20 win in the Rose Bowl last year. Langford added 86 yards on the ground against Oregon this year, in addition to 177 yards and three touchdowns over rival Michigan, 137 yards and three touchdowns in a loss against Ohio State and 111 yards and a score in a win against Nebraska. Langford rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 scores last year, and seems on pace to eclipse that with a good bowl game showing as he has 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2014.
Langford is a good receiver despite just 37 catches for 212 yards and one touchdown, but the scary aspect to his game is the lack of elite speed. Despite 550 yards behind a very good Spartans offensive line, Langford, who projects to be a fourth-round pick, only has two runs over 40 yards and none over 50 in his career. His time in the 40-yard dash will definitely impact his draft stock.
With such a good crop of rushers in the 2015 draft, Tampa Bay would be wise to try free agency again to fill some holes along the offensive line, and spend a middle-round pick on another running back.
FAB 4. DRAFT SLEEPER ZENNER REALLY ZOOMS
For you draftniks looking for a really good sleeper at the running back position, I’ve got just the right player with you Buccaneers fans in mind. South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner is one of the most productive running backs in college football that you’ve never heard about.
Zenner has rushed for over 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons for the Jackrabbits. At 6-foot, 220 pounds he gets the job done by running through and around would-be tacklers. Although he’s about 20 pounds shy of former Bucs legend Mike Alstott’s playing weight, Zenner does run with a reckless abandon the way Alstott did – trucking defenders in his way. While Zenner has some real power to his game, he’s not a tackle-breaker in Alstott’s class, but he is more nimble and certainly faster than the A-Train was.
Zenner has run roughshod over plenty of FCS schools, including 295 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries at North Dakota in a 35-28 win, and another 295-yard effort with three scores on 33 carries against Eastern Illinois in the playoffs. He also hit 252 yards and a career-high four touchdowns against Montana State in a 47-40 victory. But like Northern Iowa’s David Johnson, Zenner has also racked up some impressive performances against FBS schools, too.
In 2014, Zenner rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns at Missouri, including a 75-yard run that showcased his speed. Last year, Zenner throttled Kansas for 183 yards on 23 carries, including a 99-yard touchdown as he left 11 Jayhawks in his wake. But the game that proves to NFL scouts that he can definitely play at the next level came during his junior season at Nebraska in which he rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yard gallop at Nebraska in 59-20 loss. Averaging nearly 10 yards per carry against his alma mater would surely catch Bucs general manager Jason Licht’s attention.
I’m really curious to see what Zenner runs in the 40-yard dash because this running back really has a set of wheels. There aren’t many running backs in this country at any level with five runs of 75 yards or more like Zenner does with a 75-yard dash against Southeastern Louisiana, an 80-yard sprint against Western Illinois, an 87- yard jaunt against Northern Arizona, a 94-yard scoring run versus Indiana State and a 99-yard touchdown run against Kansas.
Just like Alstott, Zenner is also a good receiver out of the backfield, catching 49 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons alone. Zenner will showcase his wares for the Buccaneers and other NFL scouts in a few weeks at the East-West Shrine Game. He’s currently a Day 3 sleeper, but if he has a big week and his running style continues to translate against better competition in St. Petersburg, Fla. Zenner could possibly climb into the fourth round.
FAB 5. SR’s BUCS SHOTS
• The Buccaneers were happy to see rookie running back Charles Sims have his best game to date against the Panthers last week. Sims had 45 yards on three catches, including a 19-yarder, and 34 yards on seven carries, including a career-long 18-yard dash. On that run, Sims really showed some confidence in his surgically repaired ankle for the first time, juking Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly in the hole before bouncing the play outside. The team is hoping that Sims that can build on last week’s performance during the final two games of the 2014 season.
• Aiding the Buccaneers running game was the insertion of rookie Josh Allen, who rotated with Patrick Omameh at right guard. Allen had a couple of key blocks, including one that sprang running back Doug Martin on a 9-yard gain. At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, Allen has good size and athleticism.
“I felt like I belonged,” Allen said. “I was nervous at first, but then I settled in and felt like I was supposed to be there. We had a couple of good runs and my confidence went up from there.”
Undrafted out of Louisiana-Monroe, Allen signed with the Bucs and went to camp with the team until being released in the final roster cuts. Ironically, he was signed to the Green Bay practice squad for two weeks before being released and signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Allen was promoted to the active roster on November 29 and will likely see some action against the Packers on Sunday at right guard as the Bucs try to get a look at some young talent that could help the team in 2015.
• Another young player that is expected to get an extended look is special teams ace Russell Shepard, who is trying to make his mark on offense as a wide receiver. Shepard had two big catches for 30 yards in Tampa Bay’s 27-24 upset win at Pittsburgh in Week 4, in addition to a 23-yard grab last week at Carolina while filling in for the injured Louis Murphy. With Murphy now on injured reserve, Shepard, rookie Robert Herron and Tavarres King will all be vying for playing time at the third wide receiver spot.
“Before anybody is a special teams player you are a running back, a receiver or a cornerback,” Shepard said. “You want the respect of being known as a guy from your position. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I feel like we have something special that is being built here. I’m excited to be a part of it, whether that is blocking, catching, making special teams tackles – I just want to be a part of it.”
• I asked Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy how his knee injury was progressing this week after injuring it at Detroit two weeks ago and hyperextending it last week at Carolina. I have a very good rapport with McCoy and he looked me dead in the eye with a subtle wink said.
“I’m fine,” McCoy said. “I’m okay. I’m okay. It was a smart decision by the Bucs. I’m okay, though.”
That is a clear indication that McCoy’s knee sprain is nothing serious at all and that the Bucs purposefully shut him down for the rest of the season to avoid a more serious injury that could cost him some or all of the 2015 campaign if he tried to come back and play in the season finale. Smart move by general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith. McCoy was walking without a brace in the locker room this week, too, which is a great sign.
• One of the players that will be filling Gerald McCoy’s shoes over the next two weeks is backup defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers. A former second-round pick in 2011, Bowers has been a bust during his Tampa Bay career and is likely playing the last two games in a Buccaneers uniform. The reason? The guy doesn’t work hard enough to get in shape.
“We saw a little bit of that last week when Gerald went down early,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said of Bowers’ lack of conditioning. “He got a few more snaps and he found out the importance of conditioning which is very important if you want to play well.”
Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier echoed that sentiment.
“He played something like 50 snaps, but he needs to get in better shape to be able to handle that type of workload,” said Frazier.
Bowers has struggled his entire Bucs career with a lack of conditioning and with just two games left to showcase his ability with a great opportunity he still can’t get in shape. It’s time to move on from this lazy player and find another Jacquies Smith-type.
• And finally, Buccaneers defensive end Larry English’s so-called roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter was costly and negated a big interception by Orie Lemon. Replays showed English’s hand was up tracking to deflect Derek Anderson’s pass attempt and it grazed Anderson’s helmet, barely knocking his head back. It was as ticky-tack of a call as you find all season in the NFL.
The league has to do something about the roughing the quarterback penalty and really try to have the referee use discretion when throwing the flag, much like he does with a running into the kicker penalty or a roughing the kicker penalty. Oftentimes when a defensive player is blocked into the punter no flag is thrown, even if he knocks the punter down.
I would like to see that type of judgment used by the referee when it comes to the quarterback. A flag should be thrown for a violent head slap or a shot to the chin, in addition to hitting a quarterback at the knees or below or taking him to the ground a couple of seconds after he’s thrown the pass. But English’s grazing of Anderson’s helmet did not rise to that level of offense at all – not even close.
The NFL has gotten too paranoid about the protection of its quarterbacks. I understand it’s a QB-driven league, but simply touching a quarterback’s helmet shouldn’t draw an automatic flag. The sissy-fication of football has gone too far in the NFL.
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@example.com
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