FAB 3. Bucs Receivers Shine In Tennessee
Skyler Fulton’s wide receivers dominated in joint practices between the Buccaneers and the Titans in Nashville this week. It’s no surprise to see DeSean Jackson blow past defenders or Mike Evans tower over defensive backs or Chris Godwin jump up and snag balls against cornerbacks – but to see those Bucs receivers do that against the likes of Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Adoree` Jackson, Tennessee’s first-round pick last year – and a player the Bucs coveted in the 2017 NFL Draft – was impressive.
Chris Godwin has been unstoppable pic.twitter.com/V7MbkNufgm
— PewterReport (@PewterReport) August 16, 2018
“Yeah, they were sharp, they were sharp,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said about the team’s receivers after Wednesday’s practice. “It started right off the bat in one-on-ones; they came out smoking. Just naked eye, I thought Mike had a really good day. DeSean didn’t get quite as many opportunities, but when he did he looked good. It should be no surprise; those guys are good players.”
Evans signed a lucrative, five-year, $82.5 million contract extension in the offseason, which makes him the second-highest paid receiver in the NFL behind Antonio Brown. In the midst of perhaps his best training camp, Evans certainly has the look of an elite receiver. I recently spoke to Fulton to get his take on Evans and some of the Bucs’ prominent receivers this year.
“I think ultimately to me, Mike’s goal every year, or at least my goal for Mike every year that I’ve been coaching him is that he’s best receiver in the NFL or at least in that conversation consistently,” Fulton said. “We’re not worried about it from a standpoint of people recognizing that, but more from him competing and playing at a level that is clear every week that he’s one of the top receivers in the league.
Evans finished the 2017 season with 71 catches for 1,001 yards, which was his fewest since entering the league as the seventh overall pick in 2014. His five touchdowns were a far cry from the 12 he scored in 2016 and also during his rookie season.
Also looking for a bounce-back year is Jackson, who had 60 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns in his first season in Tampa Bay. Jackson, who still possesses sub-4.4 speed at age 31, had a disappointing 13.4 yards per catch average in 2017, and has been working on connecting with deep passes from Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason.
“Ultimately it’s about repetition,” Fulton said. “Training camp and practice in general is to rep the things you need to be good at and what you need to get better at. Everybody knows what DeSean’s capable of and that we’re going to be taking shots down field. But those are really low percentage plays, so I think sometimes from a fan’s prospective, the expectations on those balls down field are unrealistic. But it’s something that we’re going to continue to work at. These guys are professionals and they’re going to get better, the more time they spend with each other doing it, the better they are going to get making the adjustments we make. The thing you’ve got to remember, we’re playing against teams that are really good and they make adjustments, and they got players that are practicing covering the same exact thing.”
One of the stars in training camp this year is second-year receiver Chris Godwin, last year’s third-round pick who seems poised for a breakout season in 2018 after catching 34 passes for 525 (15.4 avg.) yards, including the game-winning touchdown against New Orleans in the season finale.
“Chris is the ultimate pro,” Fulton said. “Chris does what you ask him to do. He’s extremely coachable, he works really hard, and he makes adjustments on the fly. He has a natural football IQ and is a natural football player that you can’t just teach. So it’s been really fun to work with Chris and watch him continue to grow. I expect Chris to get better everyday, every year. As long as he’s playing football, Chris is a real player that’s going to figure out how to improve his game.”
With Evans and Jackson already established stars in the league prior to Fulton’s arrival last year, it was fun for him to get in on the ground floor of Godwin’s development during his rookie season.
“Yeah, as a coach play you love to see guys like DeSean and Mike at a high level that they’re expected to play at,” Fulton said. “That’s the same in getting guys to play how they should play. But taking a guy from zero – from not knowing a play or a lineup on offense and teaching them that, to watching them excel on the field, and maximizing his opportunities – there’s nothing like that. It’s awesome to see guys like Chris and Bobo Wilson do that, and luckily as an organization, we’ve been lucky to bring in guys that are anxious to work hard and ask them to do what they can to continue to develop.”
I mentioned to Fulton that I covered former Bucs secondary coach Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris, who believed that the guys at the bottom of the depth chart really drove the defensive backs room at One Buccaneer Place. With capable players like Humphries, Wilson, Freddie Martino, rookie Justin Watson and others, Fulton also shares that belief.
“The bottom of your depth chart ultimately pushes everybody to play better,” Fulton said. “We’ve always heard that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. In a perfect world, you know our top four receivers would be on the field every snap of every game in the crucial situations when we need Mike to be out there running. But as we know, the world’s not perfect and things happen so you need guys to step up.
“So you know, the guys at the bottom are pushing the envelope in terms of their development and their production to allow the guys at the top to even get a breather here or there in the game and rep-wise. If there are some injuries or things where guys can’t play for a while, you can’t have the production drop. So no question having a competitive roster is extremely important, from the practice squad guy to the fifth and or sixth roster guy. Those bottom three guys – whoever they end up being – have to be pushing the envelope to the top guy every single day for us.”
This week in Nashville, it was Tampa Bay’s receivers – from top to bottom – that were delivering the mail for the Bucs offense.