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FAB 1. Signing Bucs DT Suh Is One Of Licht’s Best Moves
“Audaces fortuna iuvat” means “Fortune favours the bold” in Latin.
That phrase is attributed to the Roman poet Virgil, who lived from 50-19 B.C.
That was the earliest incarnation of the phrase “no risk, no biscuit,” which is Bucs head coach Bruce Arians’ famous catchphrase.
If Jason Licht had learned one thing from his lone season working with head coach Bruce Arians in Arizona in 2013 it was “no risk it, no biscuit.” He brought that mindset to the Bucs when he took over as Tampa Bay’s general manager in 2014. Licht has made a lot of bold moves since leading the franchise.
Some moves have worked out, such as pursuing quarterback Tom Brady in free agency last year, and trading for pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul four years ago.
Others, like drafting quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick and trading up to get kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round, have not.
One of Licht’s boldest moves came three years ago when he released defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the team’s former first-round pick in 2010, and signed Ndamukong Suh to replace him.It was a move Licht first contemplated back in 2014 before signing McCoy to a long-term contract extension before he became a free agent in 2015.
Licht marveled at Suh’s track record when it came to durability and staying healthy. McCoy had missed 16 games in his first five years in Tampa Bay. Suh had never missed a game due to injury – only suspension. And Suh just had the nasty playing demeanor that McCoy didn’t.
But with Detroit not likely to re-sign Suh, who was drafted with the second overall pick in 2010 one spot ahead of McCoy, at that time it would be tough to lure him to Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2015. Especially since the Bucs were in the midst of a 2-14 season in 2014.
Licht’s patience paid off and he finally landed Suh as McCoy’s replacement in 2019. McCoy was expensive and his effectiveness was starting to deteriorate due to age and injuries. Since 2014, McCoy had missed eight games in his last five years and hadn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2012. Suh was the model of durability, not missing a single game due to injury in his career.
Suh’s impact was immediate. While he only generated 2.5 sacks in his first season in Tampa Bay, he was instrumental in the Bucs having the league’s top-ranked run defense. He also made several splash plays, recovering four fumbles and returning two for touchdowns. In his nine years in Tampa Bay, McCoy only recovered four fumbles and never scored a defensive touchdown.
Last year, Suh’s sack production increased to a more favorable level. In his 11th NFL season, Suh recorded six sacks at the age of 33. That was the most QB captures he had since recording six in Miami in 2015.
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I think he’s getting less attention,” Arians said. “I think he was the most double-teamed player in the league last year and he’s loving that single-block stuff,” Arians said after Suh recorded 1.5 sacks of Aaron Rodgers in Tampa Bay’s win over Green Bay.”Suh’s just making the best of his opportunities and he loves getting after Aaron – that’s for sure.”
Suh finished the year with 7.5 sacks, recording a team-leading 1.5 sacks in Super Bowl LV. And once again, Suh led the Bucs’ top-ranked rushing defense.
Another reason why Licht wanted Suh in the 2019 offseason was that he had just been to a Super Bowl – and lost with the Rams. Getting another player with the experience of getting there – and the hunger that comes with defeat – would be advantageous to a young Bucs team.
After finishing 11-5 last year, Arians noticed how Suh and the other veterans led the way in practice during the postseason.
“You could feel the want and desire of Lavonte [David] and those guys, but you could feel the Bradys, the Gronks (Rob Gronkowski) and A.B. (Antonio Brown) also,” Arians said. “Suh turning it up a notch and those guys felt it. They know, ‘Hey, these guys [have] been there and done it. I’m with you.’ I think it’s an invaluable thing to have these veteran guys who have been there and done it. It’s one thing for a coach, ‘Hey, I’ve got a couple of rings.’ But, it isn’t like Tom, Gronk and guys that are in the trenches with them. It’s different when you’re in that locker room.”
Suh could have easily walked away and retired after the 2020 season with a Super Bowl ring in hand and millions in the bank. He and his wife had twins on the way. Instead, Suh decided to re-sign with the Bucs for one more year to help Tampa Bay defend its Super Bowl title.
Licht signed Suh to a one-year, $9.25 million contract in 2019 and then for a one-year, $8 million last year. Suh earned a raise with even better sack production last season and inked a one-year, $9 million deal this offseason. According to Arians, Suh has earned every penny – on and off the field.
“It’s been outstanding – ever since Suh got here he’s been a great leader, and he has played lights out for two years,” Arians said. “This year might have been his best year. The way he handles himself, he doesn’t play at this level without being extremely, extremely sensitive to his body and what he puts in it and how he works. I give him certain days off each week and I look out there at 7:30 in the morning and he’s running gassers. That’s his day off and he’s running up and down the field doing all kinds of drills.
Bucs DTs Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“But also, his leadership ability has really helped Vita [Vea] in that fact that Vita was hurt all year, but he got Suh’s chef because he watches Suh and how Suh takes care of himself. [Suh has] helped a bunch of our young players on learning how to take care of themselves off the field and how to prepare Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday to be at your peak on Sunday. That’s what leadership is all about.”
This is not to say that McCoy wasn’t a good player or leader in Tampa Bay during his time with the Buccaneers. But Suh has been an upgrade for the Bucs – even at the tail end of his career.
And as advertised, he hasn’t missed a game due to injury. Unfortunately for McCoy, he tore his quadriceps early in training camp after signing a three-year deal with Dallas. He was released with an injury waiver the next day and remains unsigned to this day. At age 33, the NFL career of the oft-injured McCoy might be over.
Yet in Tampa Bay, Suh is aiming to win another Super Bowl ring in 2021.
“I think it’s as simple as it’s a new year,” Suh said. “I think Coach Arians did an amazing job of setting the tone in our first team meeting today. Our focus is not living in the past and being able to celebrate that. We will have one more event prior to the season starting when we get our rings, but outside of that, the focus is on what the task is in front of us. … Everything that happened last year is really water under the bridge.”
Suh has been through a lot as he embarks on his 12th NFL season. He earned a reputation as a dirty player early in his career. He wasn’t re-signed by the Lions. Suh was cut by Miami. He wasn’t re-signed by the Rams after losing a Super Bowl.
But he’s persevered and found success and glory in Tampa Bay.
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I think you learn a lot, whether you’re an athlete or just an individual, from heartache and tough times,” Suh said. “They’re things that you never forget – not saying you would forget the glory days or glory times that you may have. But without question I think the tough times leave a lasting impression, especially something that you don’t ever want to revisit again. And [when it comes to] younger teammates and really underclassmen – rookies for the lack of better words – I would say you tell them about the good times, but also just kind of the progress and the way you got to where you are in reaching your success. That’s through hard work and some tough times that you had to deal with.
“Teams have chosen to move on from you, whether that’s me being cut for the first time from Miami, or the first time when Detroit decided not to sign me back. All those things play a part to your success. And I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason, and I’m where I’m supposed to be and I’m excited about where I’m at. I’ve been afforded a lot of good things and it all comes together.”
FAB 2. Five Areas The Bucs Offense Can Improve
Tampa Bay’s offense was dominant in its first season with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm – even during a COVID-19 pandemic, which didn’t give Brady much time to learn Bruce Arians’ system and develop chemistry with his new teammates. The Bucs finished 2020 scoring 30 points or more in the final seven games of the season, including Super Bowl LV.
“It’s always about improving,” Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans said. “Obviously we reached our goal last year. We definitely could have been better throughout the season offensively. That’s what we’re looking for – to be more dominant this year. Just making a lot of plays and having fun out there.”
Get More First Downs
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The old saying is that first downs lead to touchdowns. Touchdowns win games. Last year, the Bucs ranked 10th in first downs with 364. Tampa Bay ranked third in the NFC South behind New Orleans (367) and Atlanta (366). Buffalo and Kansas City led the way with 397 first downs. Tampa Bay was sixth in the NFC, even ranking behind Dallas, who had 371 despite missing starting quarterback Dak Prescott for most of the year. With an array of weapons on offense and Brady’s second year in the system, there’s no reason why the Bucs can’t finish in the Top 5.
Throw Fewer Interceptions
Brady was under the gun last year, having to learn his new teammates and a new playbook on the fly. The NFL didn’t have an offseason last year due to the pandemic. The league had a truncated training camp, but didn’t have a preseason to allow Brady to work out the kinks. As a result he threw 12 interceptions, including two pick-sixes. That’s the most INTs Brady has thrown since tossing 12 in 2011. Green Bay led the way with just five picks. Houston, Tennessee and Kansas City were next with seven. Once again, the Bucs were third in the division, trailing New Orleans (eight) and Atlanta (11). Look for Brady to throw 10 or less in 2021.
Rush For More Yards
No one is going to confuse the Bucs for the Ravens or the Titans when it comes to running the ball. But Tampa Bay can do better than ranking 28th in the league in rushing yards. The Bucs were tied with Jacksonville with 1,519 yards in 2020. Tampa Bay’s 4.1 avg was the sixth-worst average in the league. Tampa Bay averaged just 94.9 yards per game in 2020. Although the Bucs are a pass-first offense, they can be more efficient and effective running the ball this year, especially with the return of Leonard Fournette, the addition of Giovani Bernard, and Ronald Jones II entering a contract year. Rushing for at least 110 yards per game should be an attainable goal.
Rush For More Touchdowns
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: CliffWelch/PR
Brady threw for a franchise-record 40 touchdowns last year, and that’s not a shock. The Bucs offense is passing-oriented. But what was a shock was that Tampa Bay only scored 16 rushing touchdowns during the regular season, which ranked 15th in the league. Not too bad, but three of those rushing TDs came from Brady on QB sneaks. If either Fournette or Jones wants a big new contract, reaching double-digit rushing touchdowns would help their cause. There’s no reason why the Bucs can’t score at least 20 rushing TDs in 2021.
Convert More Third Downs
As Brady’s comfort in the offense grows, so will the efficiency on third downs. The Bucs converted 43.5 percent on third down (83-of-191) last year. That ranked 11th in the league, and that’s not a bad number considering Brady’s accuracy and Tampa Bay’s commitment to run the ball on third-and-short late in the season, which was very successful. Re-signing a third-down converter like Antonio Brown should help, in addition to signing Bernard as the new third-down back.
Bucs CBs Carlton Davis III and Ross Cockrell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs allowed 3,945 passing yards (246.6 avg.) in 2020, which ranked 21st in the NFL. Part of that is the byproduct of the No. 1 ranked rushing defense (1,289 yards – 80.6 avg.), as Tampa Bay ranked sixth in total yards with 5,234 (327.1 avg.) and eighth in points allowed with 355 (22.2 avg.). The Bucs allowed five 300-yard passers in 2020, including 456 yards to Patrick Mahomes in Week 12. The goal should be to not allow any 300-yard passers in 2021 and move up in the rankings to at least 16th – provided the Bucs remain the top rushing defense.
Fewer Points Allowed
Tampa Bay was eighth in the league in points allowed last year with 355 (22.2 avg.). But the Bucs showed they could be even more dominant down the stretch. Tampa Bay allowed an average of 23.3 points per game during the first 12 weeks of the season. After the bye, the Bucs held opponents to just 19.1 points per game over the final four games of the season and the four postseason games. Three of those eight opponents were held to 14 points or less, including the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. That could be a sign of things to come.
More Scoring On Defense
The first time the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2002 that defensive unit was incredibly opportunistic. The 2002 defense recorded four pick-sixes and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Then Tampa Bay had four more pick-sixes in the postseason, including three in Super Bowl XXXVII. This 2020 Bucs team only had one pick-six and one safety on defense, and no fumble recoveries for touchdowns. With all of the playmaking athletes in Tampa Bay, the Bucs defense could – and should – score more. In 2019, the first year under Todd Bowles, the defense had four fumble recoveries for touchdowns and two pick-sixes. That’s what this unit is capable of.
Fewer Passing TDs Allowed
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Part of the Bucs becoming more dominant on defense is not only tightening up its passing defense. It’s also allowing fewer passing touchdowns and making teams kick more field goals. That will help Tampa Bay’s scoring defense, too. The Bucs surrendered 29 passing touchdowns last year, which was the seventh-most in the league. Tight coverage and more pressure on the quarterback in 2021 can help reduce that number to 25.
Get More PBUs And INTs
One of the ways to limit passing yards and touchdowns is for Bucs defenders to get their hands on more passes in 2021. Tampa Bay had 70 pass breakups last year, which was about middle of the pack. Pittsburgh and New Orleans led the way with 84, and Tampa Bay is capable of reaching that number. The Bucs had 15 interceptions in 2020, which was a good amount. New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Miami and New England were tied for the most with 18. Tampa Bay’s all-time season interception record is 31, which was set in 2002. That should be the goal – to top that. The Bucs also allowed opponents to convert 69 percent of their passes last year, which was the fourth-highest in the league. Houston was the worst with 69.7 percent, while Pittsburgh was the best with 56.7 percent, followed by New Orleans at 59.8 percent. Break up more passes and pick off some more, and the Bucs will be closer to allowing 60 percent of their passes rather than 70 percent in 2021.
FAB 4. Arians’ Warning To New Bucs Players
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians was very happy with the team’s three-day mini-camp. Except for a small group of players that need to get in better condition.
“Really pleased with the three days,” Arians said. “We have a small group of guys that have a little more work to do – getting in shape-wise, getting in the playbook-wise. But as a majority I like where we’re at right now. It’s just going to take a commitment to come back in better shape.”
Arians didn’t name the players who aren’t in the best of shape, but did put a number on it.
“I’d say 90 percent,” Arians said. “There’s about 10 percent that I would like to see in a little better condition. They are guys that are fighting for jobs, so it’s up to them. Somebody is ready to take their job if they’re not when they get back.”
Arians’ comments rule out the Bucs’ starters and likely the top key reserves, which is a good thing. The likely culprits are the newcomers – newly signed free agents that aren’t used to the Florida heat and humidity, and rookies that have yet to fully experience an NFL strength and conditioning program.
Bucs ILB K.J. Britt – Photo by: USA Today
Veteran inside linebacker Kevin Minter had to drop weight when he signed with Tampa Bay from Cincinnati to become quicker and faster, and to have more stamina in the stifling Florida heat. He’s still listed at 246 on the roster, but that’s wrong. He’s played the last two years in the 230s.
As his players departed for summer break, Arians prepped the team for training camp.
“We talked about things we’ll have to work on this year that we didn’t have to work on last year like crowd noise,” Arians said. “That’s going to be fun to work on again. Whether it’s defense not being able to hear each other and having to go back to hand signals or offense having to use silent counts and all of those type things. Looking forward to training camp. Working with Tennessee is going to be fun. Hell of a challenge to practice with them. Glad we can do that again. Really looking forward to getting these guys back.
“We got about the Top 30 back so there are some big position battles. There were some guys on the practice squad last year that are fighting guys who were fringe guys last year. It’s going to be a hell of a camp competition-wise for a lot of jobs.”
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• GODWIN RULES THE SLOT: The slot receiver position – the Larry Fitzgerald role – in Bruce Arians’ offense is the most important receiver position. Nobody plays that better than Chris Godwin. Also, no other wide receiver on the Bucs saw more snaps in the slot than Godwin did last year – by a long shot.
Per Pro Football Focus, 66.9% of #Bucs WR Chris Godwin's snaps came out of the slot. That's more than Cooper Kupp (62.0%).
• JPP HAS GREAT HANDS: Despite missing some fingers due to a well-publicized fireworks accident years ago, Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul had a career-high two interceptions last year. That’s more than any Eagles cornerback had in 2020.
• BUCS OFFSEASON ANALYSIS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week in the offseason – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET unless there is a special event.
Bucs mini-camp wrapped up last week and the Pewter Reporters discussed the team’s outlook this offseason in this week’s episodes of the Pewter Report Podcast on our YouTube channel. Check out all of this week’s shows below.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Matt Matera recap Bucs’ mini-camp and offer up their analysis on Monday’s show.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Benjamin Solak from The Draft Network offer up an NFC South outlook on Tuesday.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Matt Matera discuss which Bucs records could fall in the upcoming 2021 season.
Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard and Matt Matera answer questions from Bucs fans in this offseason Q&A on Thursday.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work, or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• BRADY CAN STILL DELIVER DEEP: As this highlight reel shows, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady can still sling the ball accurately down the field – even at age 43. Brady was the NFL’s best deep-ball thrower in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
• HIGH PRAISE FOR WIRFS KEEPS COMING: Pro Football Focus loves Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs. And why not? The first-round pick had a sensational rookie season last year in helping Tampa Bay go 11-5 and win Super Bowl LV. PFF has Wirfs as a Top 10 player in the NFL under age 25.
Just over a year after being drafted, and winning a Super Bowl his rookie season, our guy @TristanWirfs74 has been tabbed a top-10 player in the @NFL under 25 by @PFF.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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