FAB 4. SR’s Bucs Preseason Insider

Now that the Buccaneers’ 2018 training camp and preseason has concluded, here are some of my observations and my analysis as Tampa Bay prepares to open the 2018 regular season on September 9 at New Orleans.

• Of the three challenging games to open Tampa Bay’s 2018 campaign, the season opener at New Orleans will be tough, but not impossible to win. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be rocking with excitement, and it’s proven to be a tough environment for the Bucs to win in, evidenced by a decisive 30-10 loss last year. But Tampa Bay beat New Orleans last year, 31-24, in the 2017 season finale at Raymond James Stadium in a year when the Saints captured the NFC South division championship.

Saints QB Drew Brees - Photo by: Getty Images
Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: Getty Images

I’m not ready to make my game-by-game predictions for the Bucs just yet – that will come in next week’s SR’s Fab 5 – but don’t rule out an upset on opening day with Tampa Bay prevailing. The Saints will be without running back Mark Ingram, who is suspended, and the opening line on the game is a 10-point spread favoring the Saints, which is the largest Week 1 spread of all the NFL games. The Bucs might use that as motivation.

I actually think the toughest of the three games will be Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football in Week 3. The Steelers offense features three of the league’s best in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Tampa Bay’s defense will need to be on point against those weapons, and the offense needs to be ready to put up 28-plus points in case it’s a shoot out.

I’m not saying the Bucs’ home opener against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 will be easy, but Tampa Bay should have some home field advantage in that contest, and the Eagles have been banged up at quarterback. Starter Carson Wentz is still recovering from his torn ACL late last year, and may not be ready to play in the season opener.

Nick Foles has been battered during the preseason games and hasn’t looked as good as he did last year in leading the Eagles to an upset over New England in the Super Bowl. And Philly will also be without top wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

• The Bucs have some concerns about the availability of veteran defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who has been out of action for four weeks due to a severe concussion he suffered in practice. Unrein has missed all four preseason games and has yet to clear concussion protocol.

Bucs DT Mitch Unrein - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DT Mitch Unrein – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

What’s really telling is that Unrein has not been on the sidelines during practice since sustaining the concussion. That’s not good. Don’t rule out Unrein going on injured reserve this weekend if there isn’t significant progress made in his recovery very soon.

• The news is better for defensive tackle Vita Vea, who could return to practice next week after missing almost all of training camp after a calf strain he suffered on the very first padded practice. The Bucs have been very cautious with Vea’s injury and has been saving him for the regular season.

Yes, Vea is behind in his development, but because he’s Gerald McCoy’s primary backup at the three technique defensive tackle spot, there is no pressure on him to start or play a certain amount of snaps in his first live NFL action. He’ll catch up and make an impact during his rookie season. It’s ridiculous that some Bucs fans are already calling Vea a bust. Absolutely ridiculous.

• The Bucs remain hopeful that left tackle Donovan Smith will be able to suit up and play in New Orleans in Week 1 after suffering a scary knee injury two weeks ago. If he’s not ready for the Saints game he may need one more week’s rest to be ready to go against Philadelphia in Week 2.

If Smith doesn’t play against the Saints I wouldn’t be surprised to see Demar Dotson move to left tackle, Caleb Benenoch move to right tackle and for the Bucs to insert Evan Smith at right guard for Week 1 next to center Ryan Jensen and opposite right guard Ali Marpet. If head coach Dirk Koetter is serious about putting the best five offensive linemen on the field, that’s the lineup. That makes more sense that playing someone unproven like Cole Gardner or Mike Liedtke at left tackle to protect the blind side of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Getty Images

• And finally, it hasn’t been stated enough but for the top three quarterbacks in Tampa Bay to go three preseason games without any turnovers is quite a feat. It’s not only a testament to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston and Ryan Griffin, it’s also a sign that the coaches – Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian – have been delivering the right message the right way.

Those three Bucs quarterbacks have completed nearly 70 percent of their passes in the preseason for 938 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions – and no fumbles – through the first three preseason contests. Tampa Bay leads the NFL in passing yards per game in the preseason with 315, but the key thing is no turnovers.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

9 COMMENTS

  1. FAB 1:

    The points you made were well taken. Their are too many fans and even local pundits who expect every high draft pick to wow us from day one. Sapp is just one example of taking some time to emerge.

    Ian Beckles (who should know better) was all over Gerald McCoy his first two or three years in the league on the radio. Now he is considered one of the top three defensive linemen in the entire NFL by many all across the country and across the league. (There are still plenty of Gmac haters among us even now. I have recently seen him called “a marshmallow” and referred to as “Geraldine” in posts elsewhere.)

    Some of those same types are very vocal against Vernon Hargreaves and they have already started on Ronald Jones and Vita Vea. Let us see where these players are by midiseason, or better yet, by the end of this season.

    I am confident that this regime is a little wiser than that of some of its predecessors and will give Noah Spence more time to succeed or fail. His potential apparently was not destroyed by the two injuries he suffered.
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    Go Bucs!!!!

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  2. I for one hope Spence gets back into form and becomes a force but I was always bothered by his OLB type body. I know Pewter Report wasn’t because they lobbied heavily for the Bucs to draft Spence.
    At first I wasn’t concerned about Unrein’s concussion but now four games later it appears much serious. Although he wasn’t labeled as a starter, he sure seemed like he would be a valuable backup.
    Is this the price we have to pay to make the team tougher.
    Please, no more future draft looks until midway through the season and for gods sake, why would we even care about drafting a another wide receiver with a first or second round.
    Haven’t we learned enough. Get the pigs up front and let them eat.

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  3. Weight gain and shoulder injuries always limit pass rushers. But I want to see Spence do is use his hands better to fight for leverage or an opportunity to shoot a gap or the edge.

    To me I understand that he isn’t going to be sophisticated with his chess at this point in his career like JPP as he is very young with little NFL game experience.

    But what I do want to see is tenacity and violent hands.

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  4. Loved how Ronde put Licht on the spot when he asked what Spence (who was still playing in the 4th qtr) needed to show to be the team’s designated 3rd down pass rusher. Licht’s comments were less than inspiring, curious how Spence’s weekend goes. The question comes about at 7:15 or so left in the 4th if anyone pulls the game up. Have to say, like listening to Licht’s interviews during a game.

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    • I think it was a decent response. It basically reiterated what Buckner said about Spence from the Fab 5…he just needs to add more to his arsenal than he currently has. But there’s a decent chance he was playing late into the game solely because they want him to get those reps that he’s been missing the past 2 years with the shoulder injuries. Still sounds like they haven’t lost faith in him, but I’d be surprised if he replaces Curry or JPP a whole lot because, simply put, they’re better players right now.

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  5. FAB 2:
    I have listened to as many of Dirk Koetter’s press conferences and chance quickie interviews as I can over time. I try to listen very carefully to what he actually says or does not say.

    What I heard him say was that he promised Monken that he would give him the opportunity to do the play calls for this preseason. He did not add any more at the time.

    The implication may well have been that if it works out he would have him continue with this into the regular season. Putting that together with what you are reporting he indicated in January of 2017 leads me to believe what you are clamoring for was his plan all along, Scott.

    We will find out by the 9th no matter what.
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    Go Bucs!!!

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  6. Fab 2; Maybe Koetter will have Monken still call the plays but i still think it’s not so much Monkens play calling. It’s the player’s executing the plays better. Less dropped balls. All the QB’s know the system better and are executing better with less (no ) turn overs. The QB’s are changing the plays at the line of scrimmage to a better play and getting better success against the coverage the D’s are showing them. That’s the biggest changes. And there playing more pitch and catch with an empty back field. Throwing to one of our Amazing offensive weapons who has beat there coverage. Our players are more matured, exp’d and determined to be better this year. That’s how I see it. I don’t care who calls the plays as long as we win but I cant believe so many think this is all about Monken’s vs Koetter’s play calling then all that i listed above. GO BUCS!!!

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  7. Oh yeah. Great Fab 5 Scott! Thanks everybody at PR for ALL your work! Hopefully you’ll all be writing about a lot of Wins this season. GO BUCS!!!

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  8. Agree, The Bucs have let quite a few players go, only to watch them develop and come back to Tampa and whoop our asses. Adrian Clayborne, Michael Bennett, LeGarrette Blount. We drafted them and cut them all way too soon. Even though it’s Spence’s 3rd season, he’s only played a season’s worth of games.

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