Bucs CBs Ryan Smith (29) and Josh Robinson (26) – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
CORRECTION: In last week’s SR’s Fab 5 I discussed the possibility of Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith leaving for a head coaching job, possibly in Jacksonville, after the end of the season. That rumor was first reported by Pro Football Weekly, but the correction I have to issue is when I speculated that there could be some Bucs assistant coaches that could depart after the season to join Smith with another team should that scenario occur.
There used to be an NFL rule that allowed assistant coaches to leave their current teams to become coordinators, but that has recently changed. Teams can deny permission for any assistant coach that is under contract to interview with another team or leave – unless they are pursuing a head-coaching position. I should have double-checked that before I wrote it, and I regret the error.
Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter briefly commented about the scenario in which Smith could leave after the season with the media on Wednesday.
“We all have our lists of what’s next at every position, but that changes,” Koetter said. “That’s the thing, everyone thinks that you can just go get whoever you want, you can’t. I mean, guys that are under contract, you can’t get them. I think somebody wrote about this guy or that guy, you can’t get guys – that rule about an assistant going to coordinator, no, you can’t do that. So, other than head coaches, it just doesn’t work that way. And again, this time of year, where we’re at, we’re just worried about one thing. We’re worried about the Saints on Saturday.”
That “somebody” Koetter is referring to is yours truly. So just to be clear, all of the Bucs assistant coaches are likely under contract for 2017, as signing at least two-year deals is commonplace for assistants in the NFL. That means they won’t be allowed to leave unless they are fired, get a heading opportunity, or ask for Koetter’s permission to leave and it is granted by the team.
Again, I apologize for not realizing the current rules regarding assistant coaches and for creating any confusion for you, the reader. Now on to this week’s SR’s Fab 5.
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.
FAB 1. THE ARRIVAL OF THE BUCS’ SMOOTH CRIMINAL
Most NFL defensive backs dream of making splash plays like a game-winning interception like Bucs safeties Bradley McDougald and Keith Tandy have had this year, or fantasize about a highlight-reel pick-six like the kind Tampa Bay safety Chris Conte had against Chicago.
Most DBs don’t think their signature play in the NFL is going to come on special teams, and if it is, it’s typically in the form of a blocked punt or kick for a touchdown, or a punt or kickoff return.
For Bucs rookie Ryan Smith, he likely envisioned his signature play coming in the form of a kickoff return for a touchdown, as he returned kicks earlier this season, or on an interception despite the fact that he hasn’t played on defense since the preseason. Instead, it came when he helped down a punt on the 1-yard line with a bit of flair in a 16-11 victory over New Orleans.
Three weeks ago against the Saints, Smith became the Bucs’ “Smooth Criminal” as he raced down from his gunner position and stuck his toes just outside the north goal line and flipped a Bryan Anger punt backwards to rookie fullback Alan Cross, who was just a step behind him.
Moments after that play, an Internet star was born as Bucs fans and commentators were pulling up screen captures of Michael Jackson falling forward under control for his famous “Smooth Criminal” music video (see the 3:30 mark below) and comparing Smith to the legendary singer and entertainer.
“It was really cool,” Smith said. “I didn’t expect it to blow up like it did. I was just trying to help the team, but everybody has made memes of it and everything. It’s pretty cool. I’m loving the love.”
The Bucs held the Saints’ explosive offense under 300 yards, picked off Drew Brees three times and held future Hall of Fame quarterback without a touchdown, which is a Herculean feat. Yet, the notable play of that game was Smith’s incredible body control on display while saving Anger’s punt from being a touchback.
“It was an awesome play,” Anger said. “I didn’t know that it got blown up as much as it did. In one of the team meetings here they showed it was a Top 10 Sports Center play at No. 1. So that was awesome. From a game standpoint it was awesome to get those guys pinned deep and make them go 99 yards for a touchdown. The probability percentage that teams have in going for a touchdown from inside the 10-yard line is super, super low. That was very important.”
Cross, who caught his first and only touchdown pass to beat Kansas City the week before the New Orleans game, also enjoyed the attention.
Bucs FB Alan Cross – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“It was pretty cool, and I’ve never been on SportsCenter before except for the Miami Beach Bowl, but that is another story (for the post-game fight at the end of the Miami Beach Bowl when Memphis and BYU clashed on the field),” Cross said. “I was just in the right place at the right time on that play. It all started with a great kick from Bryan and Ryan made a great play flipping it back to me. It was definitely cool. We practice that kind of stuff – keeping the ball in – every day and it paid off.”
Smith has had a bit of a non-descript rookie season prior to the “Smooth Criminal” play. He averaged 16.9 yards per kick return on 10 opportunities, before giving way to Josh Huff a few weeks ago. And he has just one special teams tackle on the year as a gunner opposite Josh Robinson, who has a team-high 11.
But Smith’s stock is on the rise within the halls of One Buccaneer Place and on the practice field. He’s making his mark on special teams right now downing punts while filling in for Russell Shepard, who has had to see more time on offense at receiver with Vincent Jackson’s absence, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a shot on defense.
“I think Ryan is a tremendous player,” Cross said. “He’s fast and he’s smart. He’s great on special teams and I’m pretty sure he’s going to start contributing on defense sooner rather than later. I think he’ll be right there ready to step in and accept a role there, too. He’s progressed well as a rookie, and they played that ‘Smooth Criminal’ video before the [Cowboys] game on Saturday night in our team meeting and made fun of him, but it was all good. It was funny and he’s got a good sense of humor.”
Conte, who is one of the defensive backs and special teams contributors Smith looks up to, likes what he sees from the rookie from North Carolina Central, who was drafted in the fourth round.
“As a rookie you have to find a way to fit in and contribute any way you can and he’s certainly made an impact on special teams,” Conte said. “It was a great play. He used his speed to get down the field and get in position to make that play. He did his job. You’ve got to make plays anyway you can in this league, and that was his way of making a play. I remember my rookie year, my way was playing PP (personal protector on punts) and getting downfield as fast as I could.
“As a rookie you just have to find ways you can stand out. Ryan is fast. What makes him special is his speed. He’s got to take advantage of that and use it as something that can set him apart.”
Anger praised Smith for how well he has stepped in for Shepard and played opposite Robinson, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Bucs CB Ryan Smith and pop icon Michael Jackson
“It’s definitely been fun to see,” Anger said. “It’s been huge to have a great coverage unit and I can’t thank those guys enough. They are playing amazing football. That’s Josh, and with Shep out, it’s been Ryan Smith filling in as a rookie and you can’t even tell that Shep isn’t out there. To find a guy to play that well and function at such a high level is tough, especially for a rookie.”
Shepard said that Smith’s speed sets him apart.
“He’s doing well,” Shepard said. “Ryan Smith is so fast and he’s one of the best athletes on this team. He’s strong, very strong. That’s why he often beats double teams as a gunner. He has the speed and quickness to be whatever he wants to be at this level. He’s a very talented guy.”
Smith is so talented that the Bucs moved him to cornerback from the safety position after he recorded seven tackles and had an interception as a safety in the preseason.
“Right now I’m at corner,” Smith said. “I can play both corner and safety. Wherever they need me to play, that’s where I’ll be. It’s going good. I’m playing outside, so I’m not playing any nickel, but I love it.”
Smith was a safety for his first three seasons at NCCU where he picked off five passes and broke up 15 others while recovering seven fumbles. The 5-foot-11, 189-pounder moved to cornerback during his senior year where he had nine more passes defensed and recorded two interceptions. Despite the small school competition he faced in college, Smith’s stock rose at the NFL Scouting Combine where he was among the fastest cornerbacks, running a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.
“I like playing corner because I’m very competitive,” Smith said. “At cornerback most of the time you’re in one-on-one matchups. I’m just learning and trying to get better. I just pay attention to them and their attention to detail and I try to mimic everybody – safeties, corners, the whole back seven, really. It’s not like college where you can get away with stuff. This is the NFL. This is your job. This is your profession. It’s a business here. It’s more serious. Watching these veterans every day has been a big help to me.
“I’m loving cornerback. That’s what I played in college and I know this is a bigger stage, but I like it. I love competing and I love shining.”
Smith has not only spent the last couple of weeks trying to mimic Shepard as a punt returner, he’s also charged with the responsibility of covering him practice as a scout team defender.
Bucs S Ryan Smith – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
“I think Ryan is a fast, quick-twitch guy,” Shepard said. “He’s very instinctive and he reacts to things quicker than most guys do, especially guys that young. I think once he gets the experience to go along with his athletic ability that he’s going to be very good.
“Ryan does a very good job of playing with instincts. He has ball skills. He has everything you need to be successful. He just needs game reps, but he’s doing an amazing job of developing. I think he’s going to be a pretty good corner or safety – or whatever they ask him to do.”
With Brent Grimes set to turn 34 next summer, and the status of veteran Alterraun Verner and his $6.5 million salary in 2017 in question, the Bucs have a need for another young, talented corner like Smith to eventually join rookies Vernon Hargreaves and Javien Elliott, who is currently playing nickel, on the field. That might be Smith if he proves to the team that he can handle the switch to corner next year in training camp and the preseason.
Until his number is called on defense, Tampa Bay’s Smooth Criminal will continue to make his mark on special teams.
“Before that happened nobody knew who I was,” Smith said. “So it’s been a pretty cool experience that I’ve gotten the recognition for that play. I’m not a big Michael Jackson fan, but I’ve seen the [Smooth Criminal] video before I was like, ‘How did he do that?’ I think there was something in his shoes that allowed him to do that.
“My play was kind of like that – but he came back up! Hey, if I came back that would be really cool, too!”
From Ronde Barber to Brian Kelly to Dwight Smith, several former Bucs cornerbacks have made the transition from making plays on special teams to the starting lineup on defense. Smooth Smith may be the next one.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t agree with the defensive end need. I would prefer a DT. As impressed as I am with McCoy, there is only so long that a DT can be that dominant. Since they are playing a lot of cover 2, the DT becomes the cornerstone of the defense that allows them to only rush 4.
I would put Center on my list as a need to make a change. Joe Hawley & Evan Smith are too small, but atleast we have some other in house talent who should be considered to up grade the Center spot. Lets not talk about acquiring OL from other teams as we haven’t done so well. I’m for drafting them. TE is a need and we should bring in a couple players thru a signing and the draft. Let’s still keep focus on a DE; we are one short and same for a big WR and super fasr WR. Looks like BAP might be in order for the early rounds. Go Bucs
My wishes for you and your family are a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with health and happiness!! Again another truly insightful and ORIGINAL info in your SR’s FAB5. In my opinion you cover the Bucs like a GM. You focus on the NOW but you always have one eye towards the future. Great feature on two up and coming players on Ryan Smith and Leonard Wester. These next two games are HUGE for the Bucs! I hope they come up big. I believe the Bucs need to get the run game going in order the finish strong in this playoff push. In my opinion some fans are killing Martin for the run game but I really think the problem in our running game is our OL. I think they miss Logan Mankins leadership ( I know his skills were declining) so that got me thinking about the offensive line next year and how could the presence of JR Sweezy affect it. 1st off have you heard any updates on Sweezy’s injury? (career threatening? healthy and ready to go for next year? still cloudy?) Anyway my guess without having any knowledge of Sweezy’s injury status, next year’s Starting five will be Left OT Smith, Left OG Sweezy, C- Marpet, Right OG- Pamphile, Right OT- Dotson. What do you think? Am I even in the ballpark? Go Bucs! Thanks again for having the Best Bucs info anywhere!!
Sounds like a pretty decent offensive line, Tassonedna. Sweezy was supposed to be a top shelf addition, so if he does fully recover that should help a bunch.
But, we also need to be on the lookout for a possible addition in free agency, as always. And we oughta draft at least one offensive lineman every year, just to keep the pump primed.
The Bucs have 3 DEs on IR – Jacquies Smith, Howard Jones, and George Johnson. Presumably, they will all be back – all have produced in the NFL.
Ordinarily, I would say we’ll be okay. But every once in a while a player come along, a freak if you will, that possesses all the traits the NFL is looking for – size, speed, high motor, and good character.
This year that yet unknown player is Tanoh Kpassagnon 6-7, 290, and runs a 4.76/40 from Villanova by way of Uganda. I going to bet he is a combine story and shoot up draft boards. I’m thinking that because he didn’t play FBS, but FCS, he could be had in the 3rd round.
He is big and strong enough to play DT and fast enough to play right DE. Noah Spence is good but not strong enough to collapse a pocket. He has to run around the OT and come in the back door – too late for a QB like Drew Brees.
Imagine if William Gholston is pushing from the LE and Tanoh is pushing from the RE, McCoy and McDonald are going to eat. Lol. I have no idea how Tanoh or the Bucs will turn out, but you can tell I’m impressed!
great post. I just looked him up and love the idea.
None of those guys you named on IR is going to come back and give you what the Bucs are missing at DE. We need a Micheal Bennet Type of DE and non of them pose that type of threat. Love the kid from Villinova myself but will the Bucs scouts do their job and go and get him. he’s probably the kalil mack of this yrs draft
The wish list should have cornerback at the top. It’s a tough position to learn and Grimes should have one more good year in him then it’ll be time to replace him. Have that guy in house and ready to roll when that time comes. I think WR has a lot of options in FA that could help either in the form of Alshon or Desean both bringing elements this offense could use. TE is another position that could be available this summer as Martellus Bennett only signed a 1 year deal in NE and although its tough to leave NE we could offer him some money to make that interesting. I agree DE should be fine and think we need to find an impact DT to pair with McCoy. I like McDonald more as a rotational DT bc he seems to stay healthy in that role. Ayers could benefit and rush from the end spot a little more as well spell the guys inside. The NFC goes through Dallas so the formula to beating them is stopping the run. Get some explosive big bodies up there and that task becomes a lot easier. That said, Beat the Saints!
SR- Another really great fab 5. I want to say how much I admire your taking responsibility for your misstatement on the Assistant Coaches’ availability. We all make mistakes and it takes a big man to admit them. KUDOS to you. I really like the Santa’s wish list portion. I much prefer the draft to Free Agency. Outside of trading two picks and trading up for RA, and drafting JW ahead of MM, Licht’s drafting prowess has been outstanding!!! I think JW needs above average weapons to be effective so, let’s draft weapons for him! Great job.
What a shock reading your revelation that you preferred Mariota over Jameis. Never figured that out from your posts. Don’t you think Jameis’ fiery personality was more what this downtrodden team needed than the comatose Mariota? Can’t they both be good for their respective teams? I think it’s time you moved on, stop seeking evidence to support your case or switch your loyalties.
Scott’s Santa’s Wish List shows that, in spite of the team’s improvements, a case could be made that there are needs at nearly every position. Needs change. That’s why the best player available will always be my approach to the Draft.
I’m glad that we’re on Christmas Eve eagerly anticipating the game and not secretly wanting to lose for a better Draft position.
I find it amusing when folks in the media and TV announcers comment on certain teams “traveling well” when they show up in droves to games away from their home stadiums. Oh, I’m sure some come here from the far north and other places, but the vast majority who infest our “home” and that of other warm weather places like Miami, Jacksonville, San Diego and Arizona, live within 200 miles. These are the front-runner fans like my neighbor who moved here from New England when the Patriots sucked and became a Gator fan, caring little about the NFL. He became a casual Bucs fan when the local team became play-off contenders and ultimately champions. But as soon as the Gators ended their glory days under Spurrier and the Bucs declined, he was once again sporting his Flying Elvises gear. That is typical of the transplants who choose to align themselves with the perceived better team.
Me, I’m from Pittsburgh. I moved here after graduating from high school to go to UT. The Dolphins were our team at the time so I converted to being a fan until WE GOT OUR OWN TEAM! I don’t know how someone can decide to live here and not adopt the local teams of their new chosen hometown. When I left Pittsburgh in June 1967 I left my girlfriend Sandy behind, telling her I’d see her in August. I met my wife with whom I’ve been married for 47 years and never returned. Twenty eight years after my departure from Pittsburgh, my wife and I, while visiting the area, stopped by to surprise Sandy. It was quite funny. But had the encounter been less than amicable and had the ladies gotten into a tiff, I can assure you I would have sided with my wife and not the girl I left behind.
Hey Scu- I moved from Tampa to Pittsburgh last year. How funny. BTW, I have given up on the JW/MM thing. I have my opinions on that and only time will tell who is the better QB. As far as the draft, I think we need to improve O-line and get more weapons for JW. He needs them. Best,Buc
That’s hysterical Bucnut! Watch out for those folks in western Pa. They all think everyone should be -a “Stillers” fan. If it’s going to become your permanent home perhaps a little black and gold will invade your closet.
Visited last year during the Bucs bye week and went to the Cardinals-Steelers game. How nice it was not to be surrounded by enemy fans. You’ll need to learn some Pittsburghese. It’s “Yuns, as in you-uns not y’all.
We’ll be there in August for my 50th high school reunion. Stay warm.
Totally agree with your proposed Draft needs. Protection and weapons for Jameis.
Shocker bucnut thinks we should’ve taken mariota. Haha let me educate you on something since you have a tough time understanding how football works . For one mariota has a superior offensive line and run game. For 2 he’s had the pleasure of facing one of the weakest schedules in the NFL this year. Oh except his last three games against good defenses were he’s completed 35% of his passes for 1 td and 4 to’s. They’re both good for the teams they are playing for. Leave it be already with your screwed assessments.
Hi guys! did you see your “franchise”qb today? He looked great, didn’t he. He is a turnover machine.
See yours getting carted off after a dismal showing?
Enjoyable read. Speed receiver would be welcome. Lets beat the Saints please.
Bucnut2 make sure you get on the Rolling Rock. When I spent a year in Hershey I found the case of RR in the 7 oz Pony bottles my choice.
— Go Bucs !!!
SR, the error on the assistant coaches leaving was my comment on the last Fab 5. I didn’t think that they could leave. The only exception was if they were made an assistant HC as part of their title. I still love your work!
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