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:
A note from SR: I’m vacationing throughout the month of July, but I didn’t want to leave my loyal readers of SR’s Fab 5 without any fresh Bucs content this summer. Because of my vacation schedule and the time it takes to invest in writing a 6,000-word column, I’ve had to compromise. The first two sections of this week’s and next week’s SR’s Fab 5 column will feature brand new editorial followed by two “Best Of” sections and than a new SR’s Buc Shots segment. Enjoy.
FAB 1. FIXING EVANS IS MONKEN’S MISSION
Dirk Koetter has yet to win a game as head coach of the Buccaneers, but he has already scored a victory this offseason with a prominent coaching hire. I’m not talking about the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, or the hiring of special teams coordinator Nick Kaczur, although both appear to be a good additions on the surface.
I’m talking about the arrival of the only new position coach on the offensive side of the ball – offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken. With Koetter still calling plays from the sideline on game days, Monken will serve as his chief assistant in offensive meetings.
“Somebody’s got to run the clicker,” Koetter said when Monken was hired. “Somebody’s got to run the clicker in the film room. Somebody’s got to manage the meeting. There are going to be some times when I can’t be in there, so Todd will step up and take on that role, but a lot of that is organizational, as I’ve said before, because when we game plan, we do it all. Everybody has pieces and then we put it together as the week goes on. But Todd will have a big piece in that.”
Koetter kept Tampa Bay’s offensive staff in place with Mike Bajakian overseeing the development of the quarterbacks, Tim Spencer coaching the running backs, Jon Embree in charge of the tight ends and George Warhop receiving a promotion to run game coordinator in addition to coaching the offensive line. Wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker was the only assistant coach that wasn’t retained and joined Lovie Smith at the University of Illinois this spring in the same capacity.
Just how significant was the hiring of Monken, who left his role as the head coach at the University of Southern Mississippi to move to Tampa? Consider that in every year since 2012 when he left Jacksonville to become the offensive coordinator in Atlanta (2012-14) and Tampa Bay (2015), Koetter’s offense has produced a 4,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard receiver.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch
While Tampa Bay star receiver Mike Evans had a career-high 74 catches for 1,206 yards last year for the Bucs, he only improved by six receptions for 155 yards over his record-setting rookie season. Evans’ second season in the league was disappointing in several other areas.
“It’s a blessing to be in the NFL, but I’m definitely not satisfied,” Evans said. “People will say I had a sophomore slump last year. I guess that’s fair. People can say what they want. I increased in some of my numbers, but I wasn’t as consistent and I got to get back to my fundamentals a little more.”
Evans also came perilously close to leading Tampa Bay in penalties last year with 10 (right tackle Gosder Cherlius had 11), and was ejected from the 2015 season finale at Carolina for drawing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the waning moments of a 38-10 loss.
Evans frequently showed his displeasure when penalized or when he felt like a penalty was committed against him last year. He sometimes yelled at officials, who flagged him five times for offensive pass interference, which seemed to cause him to lose focus.
“If you’ve seen me throughout my career – college was the same – I play with an attitude,” Evans said. “I play with fire. You know, I play with passion. It’s a difference between passion and being dumb, being hot-headed and I’ve got to find that happy medium and I think I will this year. You know, getting married, it probably helped mature me, so we’ll see.”
Throw in the fact that Evans’ touchdown production dropped from a franchise-record 12 as a rookie to just three last year, and there is plenty of room for Evans to improve. That’s where Monken comes in.
The first area of improvement for Evans will come in the area of making the catch. Catching the ball will result in production, and nothing pleases wide receivers than the feeling that they are producing and helping their offense move the ball and put points on the board. Keeping Evans happy with more production should ease his temper and cause less friction with officials, which could allow more calls to go his way as a result.
Bucs OC/WRs coach Todd Monken and WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“It’s repetition,” Monken said about helping Evans catch the ball when he first joined the team. “That’s all it is – it’s repetition and putting yourself in those positions so that you look at – you know, it’s the routine. That’s all you do. And he’s a talented young man that I think is ascending and has everything in front of him as a player. I take that personally, and I hope he does. Where do you want to be? Where do you want to be in a week, two weeks, in a year, five years? What do you want out of this small opportunity that you have, that the good Lord has blessed you [with]. I just want to be a big part of it.
“But it’s all about routine. He has good ball skills, it’s not a matter of that. I don’t think anybody’s saying he doesn’t have good ball skills and the ability to compete for the ball. He wants to do it. He’s talented. I’ve talked to a lot of people about him that have coached him in college and here. I’m excited to get started and I take that personally. My job is to make sure he doesn’t drop the ball. That’s it.”
Evans acknowledges that he lost focused in certain games, but vows to improve.
“Yeah, just focus,” Evans said. “You know, I wasn’t focused in some games and I have to do that better. I have to practice more. I have to get better in practice with it. It just comes with repetition. Last season is behind me.”
Being a big receiver at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds means that officials aren’t going to call as many pass interference penalties on smaller cornerbacks, according to veteran receiver Vincent Jackson, who serves as Evans’ mentor. And it also means that bigger receivers like Evans aren’t going to get away with pushing off against shorter defensive backs.
“Bigger guys like us, we’re going to get called for more of the offensive stuff and then of course the defensive guys are going to get away with a little bit more with us, but that’s okay,” Jackson said. “Our size is our advantage and we have to take the good and the bad with that. I just try to teach him to continue to work on being a polished receiver. Don’t just use your size and think that everybody is going to be smaller than you and you can just out-muscle them and out-athleticize them. Work on being a polished receiver. Run good routes, create separation and he won’t have to worry about all of those altercations.”
Evans missed the first game of the season, a 41-14 home loss to Tennessee, with a hamstring injury and then didn’t catch a pass until Week 3. Yet in between Week 3 and Week 17 prior to being ejected against Carolina, Evans did some good things. He had a career-high five 100-yard games and just missed out on a sixth after catching four passes for 99 yards against the Panthers in the season finale.
Evans posted a season-high 164 yards and a touchdown on eight catches in a 31-30 loss at Washington. He had a career-high nine receptions for 157 yards in a 31-23 loss at St. Louis. Evans also posted a career-long 68-yard grab as part of an eight-catch, 150-yard performance in a 32-18 loss to the New York Giants.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Evans’ finest moment came in a 23-19 home win against Atlanta when he snared a 6-yard touchdown catch on third-and-4. That proved to be the game-winner in Tampa Bay’s final victory of the 2015 season in Week 13 and Evans finished the game with five catches for 61 yards.
Jackson believes Evans is ready to put it all together this season.
“Mike is just continuing to get better,” Jackson said. “Being a young guy, he has to continue to just hone in on the fundamentals. That’s what I try to teach him every day. You don’t take reps for granted. There are always opportunities to get better. As talented as he is, there is still a huge upside for the guy. Obviously we all know that everybody keeps talking about the emotions and everything else like that, but he just seems to continue to mature. He’s already come out here and seemed more like a leader, leading drills, talking to younger guys and that’s exciting to see – a guy going into his third year – to have that kind of maturity and that transition so soon.”
It’s important to remember that Evans will turn only 23 on August 21. He’s just eight months older than quarterback Jameis Winston, who he has worked hard with on connecting with more deep passes. The two young Bucs stars have also spent a good deal of time hanging out during the offseason and forming a stronger bond.
“It’s just fellowshipping with him, creating a steady relationship where we depend on each other,” Winston said. “Because there’s going to be situations where in a game, I’m going to have to look at Mike and be like, ‘Mike, I need you on this play,’ and he’s going to look at me and be like, ‘Jameis, come my way. I got you.’ So it’s just developing that relationship off the field and on the field. It’s good.”
Bucs WRs Louis Murphy, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Koetter has been pleased with the on-field rapport between Evans and Winston, and the work that Monken has put in with Evans and Tampa Bay’s other receivers.
“It’s definitely on the right track as far as an upswing, but you’re never going to know for sure until you get out there play somebody else in a real game,” Koetter said. “But as far as practice goes and as far as them working together, we’re real happy with how that’s going so far.”
The Bucs are expecting Evans to be a more reliable pass-catcher, catch more touchdowns and deep balls, while drawing less penalties and being less of a hot-head when it comes to arguing with officials this year. When Evans has a 1,400-yard, 10-touchdown performance in 2016 you can thank Monken.
FAB 2. MONKEN BRINGS ENERGY, FUN TO BUCS RECEIVERS
New Tampa Bay offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken didn’t have his eye on the NFL. Not after finally turning around Southern Miss with a 9-5 record and a trip to a bowl game after going 4-20 in his first two seasons with the Golden Eagles.
Then Tampa Bay hired Dirk Koetter to replace Lovie Smith as the team’s head coach and Koetter came calling. He needed an offensive coordinator and a wide receivers coach. Monken already knew Koetter’s offense from their time together in Jacksonville from 2007-10 when he was the Jaguars receivers coach.
Although the job wasn’t done at Southern Miss, Monken couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Koetter again, this time as his offensive coordinator.
“It’s difficult to leave after all the hard work,” Monken said to the Sun Herald in his farewell press conference at Southern Miss. “This is about Dirk Koetter. My decision, it was hard. These are two great places. I can’t be two great places at once.”
Monken wasn’t just sought after for his familiarity with Koetter’s offense. He’s a damn fine receivers coach who has injected his own unique brand of enthusiasm into the team’s practices.
Monken, who turned 50, is an older version of P.J. Fleck, a former receivers coach under Greg Schiano in 2012, who left in 2013 to become the head coach at Western Michigan at the age of 31. Monken is loud, hands-on and races around the field with the energy of a teenager.
“Monk has brought new life to our room,” Bucs receiver Kenny Bell said. “The way he coaches every guy hard, but still makes work enjoyable is, in my opinion, his best quality. He’s getting us better every day and we are working hard for him and with him. Having fun and working hard is a potent combination in terms of developing as receivers and preparing for the season.”
Koetter is all about having fun, loose, up-tempo practices in which the players get a lot of work done in a shorter amount of time than the Bucs did when he was head coach. Monken subscribes to the same theory.
“I like having fun,” Monken said upon his hiring in January. “I don’t know why [football] has to feel like such drudgery – I just don’t. I’ve never understood that. I want a fight song. We don’t even have a fight song, I don’t think. I want a fight song. Isn’t a fight song cool? You get to sing a fight song. Call me a college guy. When I was in Jacksonville, they called me a college guy. That’s great, I love it.
“I love coaching, the excitement of it. Why can’t it be fun? Watch the Carolina Panthers. They have fun. That looks like fun to me. I want to have fun. I want our quarterback to have fun. I want our guys to have fun doing it together. I want the locker room to be fun.”
Tampa Bay’s high-energy practices are full of life, which was a welcome sight after the more serious, stoic tone under Smith the last two years. Rap music blares over loudspeakers while players bob their heads and dance while waiting in line for their reps.
Monken doesn’t dance, but he sure gets into practice, running alongside receivers as a pseudo defensive back and occasionally mixing it up with his players.
“During one individual period, his lip was gushing blood,” Bucs receiver Adam Humphries said. “Working with the blocking pads, I think somebody accidentally elbowed him in the face. But that’s just the type of guy he is. He works hard for us. A little blood is not going to stop him.
“He gets us fired up every day and he’s very relatable to his players. He knows the game inside and out. He’s a high-energy guy that’s fun to play for.”
Monken is so revered at One Buccaneer Place that the team stood pat at the wide receiver position this offseason and didn’t address the position in the draft or in free agency. The Bucs signed a few non-descript players like Andre Davis, Bernard Reedy and Freddie Martino to compete with the likes of Bell, Humphries, Donteea Dye, Evan Spencer, Russell Shepard, Louis Murphy, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the same roster of receivers that were in Tampa Bay last year.
Koetter and Bucs general manager Jason Licht have faith in the existing receivers and believe that Monken can take them to the next level.
“My number one responsibility is to maximize the measureable skillset of our wide receivers,” Monken said. “That’s that number one job – to make sure that I do my part with that room to help this offense continue to climb.”
Tampa Bay’s receivers aided the team in eclipsing 6,000 total yards for the first time in franchise history last year, in addition to helping Jameis Winston become just the third rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in what became a Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl season. Monken wants more explosive plays from this group of receivers.
“As a receiver our goal on any route is to threaten them vertically and try to turn their hips open and get the DBs running,” Humphries said. “On the routes I run I have to be more explosive off the ball and try to threaten them with speed to try to turn their hips. That’s what we’re working on.”
And because of Monken the Bucs receivers are having fun while they’re getting better.
“I’ve never looked at it as job,” Monken said. “I love what I do. I love being around the players and trying to get them to be the best they can be, so why wouldn’t you bring energy to this job? I coach for a living. You’ve got be kidding me! I’m lucky as heck.”
FAB 3. BEST OF SR’s FAB 5 – FOCUS NOW TURNS TO MORE POINTS FROM KOETTER’S OFFENSE The following part of this edition of SR’s Fab 5 was taken from the January 15, 2016 column.
Congratulations to Dirk Koetter, the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In a move that PewterReport.com suggested and forecasted as early as the Jacksonville game, again following the Washington loss and finally after a defeat from Chicago in Week 16, the Glazers fired struggling head coach Lovie Smith, who compiled a disappointing 8-24 record in two years and replaced him with Koetter, the team’s offensive coordinator. Koetter worked wonders with the Bucs offense in just one year, taking the 29th-ranked unit in 2014 (292 yards per game) and increasing the yards per game output by nearly 84 yards per game.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
For the first time in franchise history, Tampa Bay had a top-five offense, producing 375.9 yards per game. Koetter did this with as many as five rookies in the starting lineup, including record-setting quarterback Jamies Winston, offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet and wide receivers Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye.
When you factor in the fact that the Bucs also had a host of second-year players playing regularly in running back Charles Sims, tight ends Cameron Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, wide receiver Mike Evans and offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile, there were times when there were as many as nine – nine! – first- or second-year players on the field running Koetter’s offense at the same time.
Congrats – now go score some points. More points than your offense scored last year.
That amount of youth and inexperience is a big reason why the Bucs produced a franchise-record 6,014 yards, but only scored 342 points this season. The expectation for teams that cross the 6,000-yard threshold is to score 400 points. The difference between 400 and 342 points is too many field goals by the Bucs and not enough touchdowns.
Tampa Bay had the fifth-highest total offense in 2015, but lagged behind in scoring offense, averaging just 21.4 points per game, which ranked 20th in the league. It’s not uncommon for points to lag a year behind an increase in yardage production, especially for teams with young quarterbacks.
A great example of this is Washington, whose offense ranked 13th last year, averaging 358.6 yards per game in 2014, while scoring just 18.8 points per game, which ranked 26th in the league. Once settling on Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Jay Gruden’s offense slipped slightly to 17th with 353.8 yards per game, but scoring rose to 24.2 points per game, and that ranked 10th in the NFL.
Six more points per game is what turned Washington into the NFC East champions this past year.
Six more points per game for Tampa Bay in 2015 would have given the Bucs an 8-8 record with wins over Washington and Chicago, and Smith is still steering the Bucs’ ship and Koetter is still in the role of offensive coordinator.
Other young offenses around the league have shown progress from a quarterback’s rookie year to his second year. Minnesota became a playoff team in 2015 with Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings offense scoring just a few more points per game. In Bridgewater’s rookie season, the Vikings scored 20.2 points per game, which ranked 20th in 2014. That rose to 22.8 points, which ranked 16th, in 2015.
In Oakland with Derek Carr, the Raiders had the league’s worst offense in 2014 with an average of 282.2 yards per game and a paltry 15.8 points per game, which ranked 31st. A year later, Carr improved to help the Raiders move up to the 24th ranking in total offense with 333.5 yards per game, and up to 17th in scoring offense with 22.4 points per game. The Raiders went from three wins in 2014 to seven wins this season.
Jacksonville improved the most under second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars had the 31st-ranked offense in 2014 with 289.6 yards per game, and ranked last in scoring with 15.6 points per game. In 2015, Bortles guided the Jags to the league’s 18th-ranked offense with 348.8 yards per game, and also the 14th-ranked scoring offense, averaging 23.5 points per game. That’s nearly an eight-point improvement from a year ago.
If Tampa Bay’s offense had scored eight more points per game this year the Bucs would have a 9-6-1 record – and that’s without any improvement on defense. Tampa Bay’s porous defense was a big culprit in the team’s 6-10 record and one of the main reasons Smith got fired.
The Bucs had the 10th-ranked defense in 2015, but the scoring defense ranked 26th, allowing an average of 26.1 points per game. During Tampa Bay’s four-game skid to close the season, the defense allowed an average of 29.75 points per game, while the offense only averaged 17.75. That’s nearly four more points allowed per game on defense, and nearly four less points scored by Koetter’s offense.
At the end of the season it became crystal clear what the next step to Koetter’s offense was, and he addressed it with quite frankness during his weekly press conference.
Bucs HC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We’ve got to get off to a faster start,” Koetter said. “The last two games, we’ve ran the ball okay to start the game, we’re moving the chains, but when I say get off to a faster start; moving the ball, moving the chains, getting first downs, that doesn’t get you points on the scoreboard. We’ve got to finish drives. We’ve been playing from behind and from an offensive standpoint we have to take that on ourselves. ‘Hey, get off to a fast start. Let’s get the lead and play with the lead.’ Come out of the gates and get points on the board sooner. That’s one thing we definitely need to get better at. … The bottom line is, on all these stats we talk about in here, the bottom line is get more points than the other team and we haven’t done that.”
Koetter gets it. If the Bucs can improve to score four more points per game in 2016 – which is the difference between a field goal and a touchdown – to reach 25, and the defense can drop down to a more respectable figure like 23 points per game, which would rank 16th in the league, Tampa Bay would have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs.
After all, that’s why Koetter was hired to replace Smith – to get the Bucs to the playoffs. That may not happen in his first year as head coach, but history suggests it better happen by 2017 as the last two head coaches in Tampa Bay only got two years on the job.
Tampa Bay’s defense needs a serious repair job, especially the secondary where new coaches and players are needed. But Koetter was chosen by the Glazers to keep a good thing going with Winston and the offense in 2016 and beyond.
Figuring out a way to score a few more points per game and improve red zone efficiency is Koetter’s key to job security in Tampa Bay.
FAB 4. BEST OF SR’s FAB 5 – KOETTER COULD BE THE NEXT ARIANS The following part of this edition of SR’s Fab 5 was taken from the January 22, 2016 column.
Let’s get one thing clear. I’m going to get Koettered unless I retract that headline.
It should read Dirk Koetter Will Be His Own Man, Destined For Greatness – or something like that. Nobody really likes comparisons, especially NFL football coaches – unless the comparison is to Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick.
But in this case, the comparison between Koetter and Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is fitting when discussing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because the man who hired Koetter, general manager Jason Licht, had a hand in hiring Arians in 2013.
Cardinals HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images
“There’s just a comfort level,” Licht said. “And it’s very similar to the comfort level I was around when we decided – Mr. Bidwell and Steve Keim in Arizona – the moment we decided that Bruce Arians was the right guy. That’s the best way to describe it.”
Licht loves the “No risk it, no biscuit” motto that Arians is famous for saying. Hey, it’s worked. Arians’ bold coaching style has helped him compile three double-digit winning seasons in his three years in Arizona, including a franchise-high 12 wins this season. Since moving to Arizona in 1988, the Cardinals have only had two seasons in 25 years in which they’ve won at least 10 games.
In Koetter, Licht sees some of the qualities of the coaches he has been around during his time in the league – Arians, Bill Belichick and Andy Reid, a good friend of Koetter’s.
“He has bits and pieces of all of them,” Licht said of Koetter. “Every coach is unique. He has bits and pieces of all of them. The most important ones right now that I thought of during the process were he’s authentic, he’s passionate and he’s a very, very intelligent offensive coach.”
Arians is a brilliant offensive mind that helped Pittsburgh win two Super Bowls. While Koetter is still searching for his first NFL title, he is getting his first shot at being a head coach at age 56 after coaching football for 30 years, including the last nine at the pro level. Arians had a similar wait, not hired as a head coach in the NFL until the age of 60 three years in Arizona.
“He’s a coach to the core,” Licht said about Koetter. “He coaches his kids as hard as he coaches his players. He’s constantly coaching. I’m going to refrain from using the term ‘coaching.’ It’s teaching. ‘I’ve got to teach these players this, and I’ve got to teach these players that.’ He has an incredible background.
“His stoicness and his confidence. I love the fact that he’s a coach at the core and he sees all of us – not just the players – his staff, the building as people he wants to teach and about what winning really feels like. What it looks like. He’s very, very demanding of himself. He’s his worst critic.”
Dirk Koetter at ASU – Photo by: Getty Images
Like it was for Arians, the long wait to get a shot at becoming an NFL head coach Koetter was intense. Koetter, whose last head-coaching gig was at Arizona State from 2001-06, unexpectedly choked up and weeped at his introductory press conference. That even caught his wife, Kim, off guard.
“Very rarely,” Koetter’s wife said. “I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him cry, so that was a big surprise. It’s been a long week with the hip surgery and working without a lot of sleep. When it finally happens … there have been years when there has been a lot of speculation, a lot of chances. Then here you are. This is it. It happened. We just found out. It has kind of come to a head. I wasn’t at all surprised when he talked about his parents, but some other things as he went through – he got emotional. He’s a tough guy. We hardly ever see that side of him.”
Arians and Koetter are both tough coaches that speak in a very matter of fact manner that Licht can appreciate.
“In my mind it helps,” Licht said about Koetter. “He’s been through everything. We use the word battle-tested all the time – a little too much. But he really has been. I’m going to lean on him through a lot of situations. We’re going to work together through everything. He’s got a very matter of fact way about him, which I like. He doesn’t mince words. In fact, when you come in and say, ‘What do you think about this?’ And he says, ‘I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!’ I walk out … and I’ve been Koettered. That’s a little saying I have. All of you guys [in the media] will get Koettered at some point in time.
“He’s definitely more matter of fact than I thought. He’s going to tell it like it is. He’s going to punch you between the eyes and tell it like it is. As a general manager, you don’t want someone telling you what you want to hear. You want someone telling you what you need to hear. To be quite frank, he’s very good for me.”
Cardinalds HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images
Arians trusted Keim and Licht to get him players in Arizona. All he wanted to do was coach ‘em when he got ‘em.
Koetter feels the same way in Tampa Bay and wants Licht to continue to handle all of the personnel decisions as the team’s general manager.
“We both came to an agreement that this is the way we both want it,” Licht said, “(Koetter) and I working together as a team.”
“Jason’s got his part in it, and I got my part in it,” Koetter said. “So do the other coaches. It’s a shared process throughout. Jason is good at what he does. I need to be good at what I do, and hopefully that works out.”
The good news is that both Licht and Koetter are already on the same page when it comes to player acquisition.
“It’s the draft,” Licht said. “Absolutely the draft. Now, we’re going to use free agency to supplement, but it’s absolutely the draft. Dirk is a huge believer in the draft.”
Part of the appeal of hiring Koetter as Lovie Smith’s replacement was not just the continuity on offense for quarterback Jameis Winston. It was also the fact that Koetter wanted former Jacksonville defensive coordinator and Atlanta head coach Mike Smith to be responsible for improving Tampa Bay’s defense.
“Couldn’t be happier,” Licht said. “Any player, in doing my research on Mike Smith, the first thing out of him is that ‘He’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.’ That’s going to be theme of this staff he’s putting together.
“Essentially he let him be head coach of the defense. Now Dirk wants to be involved in certain aspects of it and make sure he has his finger on certain things, but probably less than he would if it was anyone else.”
The Glazers love that premise because they’ve seen it work so well before. When Jon Gruden was acquired in a trade in 2002 he brought in a new offensive staff, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, linebackers coach Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin remained intact. Gruden let Kiffin handle the defensive side of the Buccaneers while he focused on offense and it was a great football marriage.
Licht loves the premise because having a defensive coordinator that Koetter has already worked with before in Smith allows him to focus on the offense and the duties, responsibilities and time commitments that come with being a rookie head coach in the NFL.
Mike Smith & Jon Gruden – Photo by: Getty Images
“They trust each other,”Licht said. “Dirk is going to trust Mike to run the defense, install the defense and do it the way he wants to do it, which is something that Mike as a head coach gave authority to other people. Mike, he’s excited about getting back to his roots and running the defense like he did in Jacksonville.”
What makes Koetter a special coach is his knack for offensive wizardry. Like New Orleans’ Sean Payton, like Gruden, like Reid, his good friend, and yes, even like Arians, Koetter will follow the coaching model where the head coach continues to call the plays on offense.
“Bruce Arians said, ‘Until I find someone that can do it better than me, I’ll keep doing it,’” Licht said. “I like the competitive attitude.”
And I like the Arians comparison – even if it gets me Koettered.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• From the show they put on during the OTAs and mini-camps, the Bucs’ decision to stand pat at the receiver position was a good one. Every receiver on the roster had at least one or two standout days from veterans Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans to relative newbies Adam Humphries and Kenny Bell to most recent arrivals Bernard Reedy and Andre Davis.
“Every receiver we have right now is really good,” Humphries said. “Just standing back and watching them at practice, they are making plays. We have some great athletes. From Vincent Jackson all the way down the depth chart, it’s very competitive. We have guys everywhere who look good and are making plays. It’s fun to be in a room full of guys that are good football players. We’re all good friends and we all understand it’s a business, too, which makes it competitive.”
Louis Murphy is the only receiver who hasn’t gotten a chance to showcase his wares as he is still rehabbing a torn ACL from last October. It’s still undecided if Murphy will be ready to go by training camp. He’s a more likely candidate to be placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, which will give the Bucs a roster exemption, or on the injured reserve-designated to return list, which means he would miss the first eight games of the 2016 season.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• Count Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries as a big fan of rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. While second-year player Jude Adjei-Barimah has had a very good spring and took most of the first-string reps as Tampa Bay’s nickel cornerback, it’s only a matter of time before Hargreaves replaces him in the starting lineup due to his playmaking ability. Hargreaves recorded several interceptions in the months of May and June and seems like an ideal fit for Tampa Bay’s defense.
“The plays that I’ve seen him make, his recovery speed stands out,” Humphries said. “Obviously, he’s only been in this defense for a couple of weeks now, but he’s looked really good. He’s a fit. Once he learns everything and gets the plays down he’ll be a very reliable nickel or corner – wherever they play him. His footwork and his ability to break on the ball are special. He’s got great instincts, too. He’s a playmaker and someone I’m excited to watch play. You can see why he’s a first-round pick.”
• Just because Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp helped me come to the conclusion that the best coach in Tampa Bay history was Jon Gruden over Tony Dungy in last week’s SR’s Fab 5 doesn’t mean he lacks respect for the man responsible for turning the Yucs into the Bucs. Upon his arrival in 1996, Dungy challenged Sapp to become a double-digit sacker. Sapp responded with nine in his second NFL season, but came close to getting his 10th sack in a stunning 34-19 upset against Chicago at home in the season finale.
“That was my 10-sack game,” Sapp said. “I was going for 10, but I got to nine. Damn! Tony looked at me and said, ‘You got close.’ I had to go back to work. It left us with a taste in our mouth because the first eight games we were 1-7. I tell people all the time that it was the happiest 1-7 team I’ve ever been on, although I’ve never been on a 1-7 team. It was crazy for me to say that, but we turned around the last eight and went 5-3. Then we come back the next year and we go 5-0. Between the last eight and the first five of the next year we went 10-3. We were rolling. We were putting ourselves in position to challenge for our division, and that was a division with Green Bay and a three-time MVP [in Brett Favre].”
Sapp also said Dungy brought a no-nonsense mantra to One Buccaneer Place in 1996 that created a much stronger work ethic in Tampa Bay.
“Tony’s thing was ‘No excuses, no explanations,’” Sapp said. “When he put that on the wall, I was like, ‘Thank you! Finally somebody around here is going to get it and hold people accountable for what their job is. This is your job!’
“People thought I was crazy talking about having a parade in Tampa one day. They thought I lost my ever-lovin’ mind. They said, ‘He’s done lost his mind! They’ll never win in Tampa.’ The losing was really, really personal for me. If there’s one thing I’m going to do, it’s win. Tony taught us how to win.”
• Bucs general manager Jason Licht and former head coach Lovie Smith were caught off guard in 2014 when then-offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was sidelined during the season due to stress and a heart ailment and eventually resigned. The Bucs were caught flat-footed and had to turn to quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo as Tedford’s replacement. Arroyo didn’t have any NFL play-calling experience and Tampa Bay’s offense suffered as a result.
The Bucs fired Arroyo after a disastrous 2014 season, in which the team finished 2-14, and replaced him with Dirk Koetter, who was a proven NFL offensive coordinator. Licht learned his lesson and now the Bucs not only have capable play-callers in Koetter and Mike Smith, who is Tampa Bay’s new defensive coordinator, but the team also has adequate replacements in case something happens to Koetter or Smith – both of whom are 57.
Newly hired offensive coordinator Todd Monken would step in as the Bucs’ play-caller if something sidelined Koetter. The two men spent several years together in Jacksonville and Monken has intimate knowledge of Koetter’s offense. He also has play-calling experience from his days as an offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan (1998-99), Oklahoma State (2002-04, 2011-12) and at Southern Miss (2013-15).
On the defensive side of the ball, new linebackers coach Mark Duffner would likely fill in as the play-caller if Smith were unable to fulfill those duties for a period of time. Duffner has defensive coordinator experience from his days at the University of Cincinnati (1977-80), Holy Cross (1981-85) and at the NFL level with the Cincinnati Bengals (2001-02). Duffner spent two years (2006-07) working under Smith in Jacksonville and has experience in his defensive scheme.
• And finally, I’m pleased to announce that Bespoke & Co. continues its support of our website and our company as the official clothier of PewterReport.com. Mark Cook and I have several custom-fit dress shirts and slacks from Bespoke & Co. and I recently purchased a new suit. There is nothing like the fit of quality custom-fit clothing. You simply can’t have the same type wardrobe getting your suits, shirts and slacks off the rack at men’s clothing stores.
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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@example.com
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