Bucs DE Jacquies Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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.
There is a bunch of hype surrounding Tampa Bay second-year defensive end Noah Spence this year, and with good reason. The team’s second-round pick last year was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month last November and finished his rookie year with 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Bucs defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. said Spence, who is coming off shoulder surgery, could be “a 15-plus-sack guy this year.”
While Spence is getting all the preseason hype, don’t sleep on fellow defensive end Jacquies Smith, who was Tampa Bay’s second-leading sacker in 2014 and ’15. Like Spence, Smith has missed the offseason while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in the first quarter of the team’s 31-24 Week 1 win at Atlanta.
After watching a Bucs mini-camp practice, Smith told me his recovery is going well and he’s on track to participate in training camp in August.
Bucs DE Jacquies Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Everything’s going good, everything’s right on schedule,” Smith said. “You just have to take your time with these things. It’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of highs and lows, but you just want to get on a steady climb and be consistent with it. That’s where I’m at.”
Some Bucs fans might forget that Smith actually led the Bucs with four sacks in the preseason and was primed for a big year before tearing a ligament in his knee while covering a punt against the Falcons just minutes into the 2016 campaign.
“[His loss] was huge because he only played one play,” Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. “He played one play and it was disheartening, really. We went into the game and I think we stopped them on that first third down against the Falcons and he went out on the punt team and kind of got jostled. It was not a big hit. I think somebody just put his hand on him and his leg [buckled]. He walked off. I was talking to him and I said, ‘Hey, Jack. Next series let’s …’ and the trainers were talking to him and he said, ‘I think I hurt my knee.’ Then [the trainer] said that he thought he tore his ACL and that was it. He got one play.”
Smith’s pass rushing skills were sorely missed last year as Tampa Bay only had one player with seven sacks – Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who matched the same number of quarterback captures Smith had in 2015. While the defense cobbled together a respectable 38 sacks, losing Smith early on – and Ayers for four games due to an ankle injury – really hurt Tampa Bay’s ability to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
“You lose a guy like Jac, you lose a guy like George [Johnson in training camp to a season-ending knee injury] and you’re scrambling,” Hayes said. “We were fortunate enough to draft Noah and we found a player in Ryan Russell. We had Robert Ayers, who is a hell of a player inside and outside and gives us a lot of snaps in base and in sub. He does a great job for us that way.”
Ayers had 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a safety, but Tampa Bay was also expecting a similar number from Smith, who had 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown in his first two years with the Bucs.
“I think that was a big loss right out of the gate it’s very unfortunate,” Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald said. “That’s one of those things if it happens, you want it to happen early. You don’t want it to be in the middle of the season where you didn’t know how to replace this guy. It was tragic either way. Jac Smith is a guy that comes off the edge as a high-level speed rusher. He gets to the ball – gets to the quarterback and makes a difference on third down.”
The silver lining in Smith’s season-long absence is that it accelerated Spence’s learning curve, as he had to move over to left defensive end and fill Smith’s void on third downs and in other obvious passing situations.
Bucs DEs Noah Spence & Jacquies Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“It allowed Noah to mature at an early age, realize how important his role on the team was, and Jac Smith was one of the guys that was coaching Noah up – telling him what to do and what moves to use,” McDonald said. “They are kind of the same rushing type – both fast guys, both strong guys, but third down in the rush, those are two guys that work well together. Jac said I’m going to help you out since I’m not playing and it worked out well.”
Smith and Spence have become close on and off the field over the past year, as Smith would show the Bucs’ other speed rusher how to use his hands and how to set up opposing tackles. During the offseason, they’ve been sidelined while recovering from injuries, but constantly talk football.
“I think that was good for him,” Smith said of Spence’s additional playing time. “He got out there and got his feet wet. You can see him making strides and things of that nature. The talent is there. There’s no question about that. Noah is very talented. He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen come off the edge and I’ll do whatever I can do as far as helping him off the field and on the field as well. We have talks all the time. We were texting all through the season and now we’re both rehabbing and in therapy, and we work out together and things of that nature. We’re just trying to pick parts from each other’s game and get better. With me being a little older he’s picking from me, but I’m picking from him as well.”
The Buccaneers nickel pass rush package was supposed to feature Smith at left end alongside McCoy and Ayers, who kicks inside to replace McDonald at nose tackle, and Spence at right end replacing Ayers. That was the unit that helped Tampa Bay record five sacks of Cleveland quarterback Robert Griffin III in Week 3 of the preseason. Ayers and McCoy split a sack, while Spence recorded his first preseason sack and Smith led the Bucs with two that night.
Smith hopes to pick up where he left off last August.
“If I’m just talking about last year, I’ll say that I felt good in preseason and that I was on the road and ready to hit the stride to have a big year, so obviously I just want to get back to that point where I can hit that stride and take it right on into the season,” Smith said. “I’m doing everything I can to try to get ready for training camp so I can hit that stride. Mentally it’s just being able to watch football literally all the time, watching great pass-rushers, watching our team, watching other teams to see what other guys are doing to add some stuff to my game.”
Despite only playing in four preseason games in Mike Smith’s new defense, No. 56 was able to spend his down time on injured reserve studying the ins and outs of the scheme.
“With just being able to be in the meeting rooms and talk to coaches and my interactions, being around the building and rehabbing around here, things of that nature, yeah, I feel like I know the defense really well,” Smith said.
There is a reason why Tampa Bay didn’t draft a pass rushing defensive end this year. The Bucs feel like they are getting an extra pass rusher this year with Smith’s return from injury. With Will Gholston, who is fresh off a lucrative contract extension, expected to start at left defensive end again this year, Smith will once again be called on to take the quarterback down. If he can stay healthy for 16 games, Smith believes he can be a double-digit sacker – Tampa Bay’s first since Simeon Rice in 2005.
“I got really close, man,” Smith said about his 2015 campaign, which featured three sacks and two forced fumbles of Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a Week 2 win at New Orelans. “You know what? That’s probably one of the things where you’re so hard-pressed trying to get to a certain number. I’m just going to go out there and let the game come to me, and whatever I get at the end of the year that’s what I’ve got.”
Hayes hasn’t been able to work with Smith on the field this offseason, but is eager to during training camp.
Bucs DE Jacquies Smith – Photo by: Getty Images
“I haven’t yet because he’s still with the trainers, but they say he’s coming along great,” Hayes said. “Jac got hurt a week after my son – my son plays at William & Mary and he tore his ACL and Jac tore his a week later. So they are kind of on the same schedule.
“He’s working with the trainers and running around. Once he’s cleared he’ll be fine. It will have been close to a year.”
While Smith missed the entire 2016 season, he enters 2017 in a contract year after signing a one-year tender worth $1.8 million as a restricted free agent this offseason.
“There’s no added pressure on me,” Smith said. “That stuff works itself out and as long as you do what you’re supposed to do. Everybody in the building knows what type of guy I am on and off the field. The thing for me is to get back to being 100 percent healthy and doing my part on the field. That stuff will work itself out, I’m not really worried about.
“Getting hurt like I did – it was kind of surreal. It was a sucky feeling. It really was. It was like your whole world is crashing down on you. And with this injury, you have to get the mental and physical part right. Like I said, there was a lot of highs and lows but with the mental capability that I have, I know I can pick myself up and try to get back to 100 percent.”
He’s almost there.
Quarterbacks beware. Jac is back.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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]
Nice work on the Fab 5, Scott… It really does puzzle me when I hear the pundits saying that it’s the Bucs’ defense which is going to be this year’s Achille’s heel. I think getting Smitty back is huge as well as the added depth to this defense. I think they are going to surprise a lot of people. I’m still not sold on the depth of the O-line though. I hope the Bucs are not hit with injuries there or it’s really going to affect the entire performance of the offense. All in all, it’s an exciting ride to see this team making a legitimate climb in the potential playoff territory this year.
I just want to echo … getting Smith back for another season may well be the most significant thing for this year’s defense! I’ve got high hopes!
It seems that Josh Robinson is quietly making a push to make his case for the starting job at FS so Conte is facing pressure. But I have to admit Tandy at SS seems iffy as he is hit or miss with his angles and tackling. I think the best alignment would be Tandy at FS and Wilcox at SS. But if the Bucs want to cover guys back there then a combination of Tandy and Robinson is plausible.
I have maintained that if Conte is still a starter that would indicate the Bucs failed to upgrade the position for 2017. I am fine with Conte as a backup as most NFL teams do not have an experienced backup safety like Conte on gamedays. But Conte simply bites too much on window dressing (oddly even more so during red zone situations). And Conte simply doesn’t bring another element to the backend that is sorely needed.
Excellent Fab 5, Scott. Love the focus on defense. With the added talent up and down the roster, and learning carried over from a second season of Mike Smith’s defense, and the return of a healthy Jac Smith and Noah Spence, it sure looks a lot more like the great Buc D of the olden days from ’97-’02 than it has in a very long time.
Even if the injury bug bites hard again as it did last season,we should still get better. And if we have just an average injury rate on the D, we could have a great season.
Good Article, Scott. These are just my opinions as to the following: I don’t count on J. Smith much because we have injury history with him. If Tandy and Conte both are starters then we haven’t improved in helping the CB’s and LB’s. I am surprised there has been so little talk about O. J. Howard. I take it he has a lot to learn coming from Alabama’s vanilla offensive scheme; what are your thoughts PewterReport Scott?
Tandy will make the pro-bowl.
Scott you have Martin as you’re starting R.B., but that can’t happen till week four, and even then he’ll have to knock the rust off. Starting R.B.’s are normally protected from preseason games for fear of injury, the Bucs won’t have that luxury this year with Martin, so how do you see them preceding? Can’t risk Quizz getting hurt, McNichols coming off injury can’t be over used, Barber needs to be healthy as you say he needs to be Rodger’s back up, so how do you see the reps going? Martin might have to shoulder the load this preseason, your thoughts.
Well fellas, lets hope this Mini-Camp is the last bit of Buccaneers news until Training Camp. Looks like it’s going to be a real quiet time and that’s exactly what we want. No contract holdouts, no new injuries from the OTA’s, no disgruntled players, no glaring weaknesses for Licht to try to fix with guys on the street and especially no QB controversy. Keep your fingers crossed.
Usually this time of year we Bucs fans look forward to the season with cautious optimism. Heck, some resort to diving into the sewer of pessimism to protect their psyche from disappointment. Even in the bad old days I tried my best to see the glass half-full when I knew the glass was cracked and leaking. “This will be the year” I would announce to my wife. Once I was right.
So with knowing my credibility is a tad suspect due to 40+ years of thinking “the future is so bright I have to wear shades”; doesn’t this team seem to have rekindled some of that confident swagger it lost in 2003? Don’t you feel the team is ready to take on all comers? Isn’t there more of an expectation to win rather than hoping not to lose?
I’ve been watching Training Camp since the days at the old One Buc Place when I had to look over the fence as an illegal, er “undocumented” observer. I suspect fans are going to fill the One Buc Palace stands this year which will create even more excitement for the players heading into the season.
In six weeks when Training Camp begins I’ll announce to my wife as I have for 40 years, “I’ll see you in February.” It’s football season!
Great post, scubog, great post. I don’t use the genius and idiot buttons, but wanted you to know I thought that was moving commentary on the state of the union of Buc fans. Sewer of pessimism caught my eye, lol. Optimism now rules! I’m in! Go Bucs!
Scubog, I agree here with macabee about your post. I confess to being guilty about falling into the sewer of pessimism. I think they are ready to compete, at least until the injuries set in. However, they should have “deported” you from the area if you were an “undocumented” observer, New England would have.
All brilliant posts!
John McKay ignored me, Leman Bennett was oblivious, Sam Wyche had me run off once and Ray Perkins once invited me inside to watch.
Where is Justin Evans on the depth chart? I do not see him on it at all. What gives?
Next to Noah in the tub.
It’s not a depth chart, it’s how they rotated the practice repetitions. The players held out due to injury weren’t in the rotation.
This was a great Fab 5 with lot’s of the type of analyses I enjoy. One thing about Baker; if he wants to skip OTA’s during a time he needs to learn the defense then start McDonald. I could see that attitude if he already knew the defense, but as a new comer he needed to get his a$$ on the field. This guy may take the money and run.
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