Bucs CBs Ryan Smith (29) and Josh Robinson (26) – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
FAB 3. WESTER’S EXPERIENCE AT JUMBO TIGHT END PAYS OFF
David Irving was a sudden monster for Dallas in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay’s 26-20 loss on Sunday Night Football. Irving, an unheralded second-year defensive end, who entered the game with 1.5 sacks over his first 24 games in the league, erupted for two sacks and had five quarterback hits on Jameis Winston as the Bucs’ offense fizzled in the final 15 minutes.
Irving was so hot that he injured right tackle Gosder Cherlius and forced rookie Leonard Wester, an undrafted free agent, into the lineup for his first NFL action at offensive tackle late in the fourth quarter with Demar Dotson being inactive due to a concussion. Entering the game during a two-minute drill without any timeouts and needing a touchdown is not an ideal situation to take your first meaningful snaps in the league. Like Cherilus, Wester was knocked around a bit as the Bucs’ comeback effort fell short.
Bucs OT Leonard Wester – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Talk about being thrown into the fire,” Bucs right guard Ali Marpet said. “Pretty difficult to do to come in as an offensive lineman partway through the game and to come in to the situation that he did with the two-minute, it’s very difficult to do. I think Leonard did all right and maybe that will show that he can play a full game down the road.”
For Wester, down the road might mean this week. Cherilus hasn’t practiced all week due to groin and ankle injuries he suffered against Dallas. Dotson, who missed both the New Orleans and the Dallas games after suffering a concussion against San Diego, was limited in practice on Wednesday, but did not practice on Thursday. He remains in the concussion protocol and has not been cleared to play on Saturday against the Saints.
If Dotson and Cherlius can’t go, and it’s looking like that may be the case, Wester could get his first NFL start at right tackle. If he thought Irving was tough, wait until he gets a load of 6-foot-4, 287-pound Cameron Jordan, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end for New Orleans. Jordan had five tackles, two quarterback hits and half a sack against Cherlius two weeks ago.
“He’s one of their game-wreckers,” Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “He’s a guy that you have to know where he’s at. He can jump around blocks, he gets edgy, he’s long, plays hard. Between him and [defensive tackle Nick] Fairley in the D-line, those two guys were very disruptive in our first game. So like any game, who are their game-wreckers, who are the guys you’ve got to take away if you can? It’s hard because they do move them around, so we’re going to have to do a great job no matter who’s playing right tackle this week.”
What will help Wester should he see action at right tackle against Jordan in New Orleans was not just his four snaps at right tackle against Dallas. It’s the fact that played five snaps as the Bucs’ jumbo tight end against the Cowboys and the 13 snaps he played at that position the week prior against the Saints.
“Yeah, that’s just something we believe in, we call it the ‘jumbo’ tight end,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “The jumbo tight end is usually our third tackle, our swing tackle because your swing tackle has to be able to play out of a right-handed and a left-handed stance. So when he’s playing the jumbo tight end, that comes into play. And it does help build experience for when the guy has to go in and actually play tackle.
“Kevin Pamphile played that role for us very well last year and led to him having a nice year this year as a starter at guard. ‘Gos’ has filled that role for us for most of the year, but it was Leonard Wester, it was his first action since the preseason. He’s a guy – Leonard and Caleb Benenoch, two young offensive linemen – that we’ve brought along slowly this year, but we have high hopes for the future and that is a way to get them a few snaps before they have to get to play every snap.”
Bucs RT Gosder Cherilus – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Credit Koetter and offensive line coach George Warhop for preparing young players like Pamphile and Wester for bigger roles on offense with their usage as the jumbo tight end, and for making use of a veteran like Cherilus in that role before he had to step in for the injured Dotson. Getting reps in run blocking situations – even just 18 over the past two games for Wester – is a great transition into playing down-in, down-out football along the offensive line.
“It was pretty much baptism by fire out there,” Wester said. “There wasn’t any warning it was just, ‘Hey we need you to go in there [at right tackle].’ I didn’t really have time to think about it. You’ve just got to take every opportunity you can get and try and make the most of it and I just tried to go out there and compete.
“Those reps at jumbo tight end are super valuable. Any way you can get experience – other than like field goal, but that doesn’t really carry over – that experience is just priceless. Any way you can get experience and actual game-time reps is really important. With the Saints game, I got like 15 reps I think. Just getting that experience helps you go further, whether it’s in the jumbo or actually playing tackle. It’s just one of those things where you want experience any way you can get it.”
When the Buccaneers signed Wester out of Missouri Western, the team gave him a $20,000 signing bonus, which was the largest amount they dished out in May, in addition to guaranteeing $15,000 of his rookie salary. He was so impressive in training camp and in the preseason that the Bucs kept four offensive tackles and didn’t risk losing him by trying to sneak him on the practice squad.
When Dotson suffered his concussion prior to the Saints game two weeks ago, the door was opened for some playing time for the 6-foot-5, 307-pound rookie against New Orleans and Dallas.
“He did fine,” Monken said. “Leonard’s going to be a good football player, he’s worked awfully hard to get where he’s at today. He’s earned the position that he’s in, being on this roster and he’s only going to continue to get better. Luckily the week before, we had him in some ‘jumbo’ sets, so that gave him a little bit of a taste, so his first taste wasn’t going to be lining up at right tackle.”
Thanks to the foresight of the Bucs coaching staff, Wester’s previous experience as a blocking tight end might serve him well on Saturday if called upon to play right tackle. At the very least, Wester should see some action as the team’s jumbo tight end once again.
“I love it because not only it is an opportunity to see the field, but the coaches are showing their faith in your ability and then just the mentality that we have that we have this extra guy in here and we want to try and run the ball and control the clock,” Wester said. “As an offensive lineman I love that because we all love running the ball. And as a tight end, you’re eligible. That’s every tackle’s dream – catching that tackle pass.”
Should Wester start at right tackle, it will be his first real action there outside of the final series against Dallas. He spent three years starting at left tackle in college as well as the preseason in Tampa Bay.
“I played left all through college, played it primarily here too, but I’ve been spending a lot of time in practice working on the right as much as I can – whether it’s one-on-one’s or just individuals, or even team run period. I’m just trying to get as many reps as I can. Over the course of time I’ve become much more comfortable over there. Obviously it’s not going be something you’ve spent five years doing. You’re not going be in the same place that you are, but I feel comfortable with my ability.”
Bucs OT Leonard Wester – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
The entire offensive line has been helpful in aiding Wester’s development during his rookie campaign, but there has been one player that has stood out and been a true mentor.
“That’s Gosder Cherilus all the way,” Wester said. “He’s been in the league for nine years, and he’s got so much knowledge, so much experience. I mean he was a first-round draft pick. At one point he was the highest paid right tackle in NFL history with Indianapolis. He was a really good player. It’s just unfortunate that his body kind of failed him. But he’s the type of guy that you just have to go ask him questions and listen to him and he’s willing to help you out with anything. For me, anytime I had a question, you get a response from a coach, but then you want ask a guy who’s been there, who’s done it. He has unlimited knowledge of any situation you’re going be in. He’s been great.”
There’s a bit of irony in Cherilus playing the role of Wester’s mentor and then the rookie replacing Cherilus at jumbo tight end when the veteran had to fill in for Dotson at right tackle. On Saturday night, Wester might have to make the big step of filling in for Cherlius once more at right tackle. Even the little bit of experience Wester has received at jumbo tight end over the last two games will serve him well.
“You never know how you’re going to react to what’s going to happen until you go out and do it,” Wester said. “Coach actually told me that the first place I’d probably see the field is in that jumbo tight end set. Just having that experience is going be huge going into next year because you know what to expect. Things aren’t going be as hectic. The offseason is when a player like me can take the time to really focus on my technique and really focus on my strength. Just getting reps and being in the game this late in the season is invaluable in my growth.”
Marpet sees why the Bucs have kept the rookie from Missouri Western on the active roster all season rather than take the chances of losing him on the practice squad.
“Some guys you need to ease them in and some times you need to throw them in and hope that it works out,” Marpet said. “But I think he’s gotten some good reps and good experience and he’ll become a better player because of it. Leonard is athletic, and he’s pretty fluid. He’s not a mauler, but he’s pretty fluid in his movement. It’s not something you can generally teach. Some guys have it and some guys don’t. He has it.”
Wester could be getting a whole lot more experience on Saturday afternoon in New Orleans.
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@example.com
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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