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. VERSATILITY THE KEY FOR LICHT’S BUCS
You’ll have to excuse Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht for stealing some things out of Bill Belichick’s playbook when it comes to building a team. The Patriot Way is becoming the Buccaneer Way.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and Joel Glazer – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Belichick, whom Licht worked for from 2001-05, isn’t his only football mentor. Licht has worked for Jimmy Johnson, Andy Reid, Steve Keim and Bruce Arians among other notable NFL names.
But borrowing from the best certainly isn’t frowned upon in the NFL, and there is none better than Belichick, who has won four Super Bowl titles in New England and turned the Patriots into a dynasty. The keys to Belichick’s success can be identified in three basic areas.
Having a franchise quarterback in Tom Brady.
Having franchise kickers in Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski.
And having position versatility all over the roster.
In the last two drafts in Licht’s three years in Tampa Bay he has found a franchise quarterback in Pro Bowler Jameis Winston, and drafted who he feels will be a Pro Bowl-caliber kicker in Roberto Aguayo. Licht has also spent time acquiring versatile players through free agency and the draft.
Versatility creates depth, and depth is a general manager’s best friend. When an offensive lineman can play tackle and guard or guard and center you have two players in one. The same with defensive linemen who can play defensive tackle and end, and defensive backs that can play cornerback and safety.
When injuries occur on game day a team must rely on finding a replacement among the 46 players it has dressed that day. When season-ending injuries occur during football season there are rarely saviors on the street in September, although Licht and director of football administration were incredibly fortunate to lure veteran offensive linemen Gosder Cherilus and Joe Hawley to Tampa Bay in August as both became starters for most of the season at right tackle and center, respectively.
Ex-Patriots LB Mike Vrabel – Photo by: Getty Images
Belichick preached versatility, and not just being able to play special teams as an offensive or defensive player. He wanted players that could play multiple positions. New England’s Julian Edelman was a starting wide receiver and the team’s punt returner until Danny Amendola took over the return duties. Former Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour could play both defensive tackle and defensive end and in 4-3 and 3-4 schemes.
Mike Vrabel, who played in New England from 2001-08, was among Belichick’s most versatile Patriots ever. In Super Bowl XXXVIII the Pats’ outside linebacker lined up at tight end and caught a 1-yard touchdown pass, which made him the first defensive player to score an offensive touchdown in the Super Bowl since Chicago defensive tackle William “Refrigerator” Perry lined up as a fullback and scored a rushing touchdown for the 1985 Bears. Vrabel also had two sacks and forced a fumble in that Super Bowl victory.
In Super Bowl XXXIX, Vrabel also caught a touchdown pass from the tight end position, making him one of 17 NFL players to catch multiple touchdown passes in Super Bowls. In 2005 on Monday Night Football, Vrabel became the first player to have two touchdown catches and a sack in a game.
In Week 8 of the 2007 season, Vrabel’s versatility was on full display for the league to see. He had three sacks, forced three fumbles, caught a touchdown pass and recovered an onside kick. Vrabel was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week as a result and was voted to his lone Pro Bowl that year.
Vrabel, who also played some defensive end when the Patriots went to a 4-3 and inside linebacker in a 3-4, finished his NFL career with 57 sacks, 20 forced fumbles, 11 interceptions and a defensive touchdown, but also had 12 career receptions – all 1- or 2-yard touchdowns. Belichick recognized Vrabel’s versatility and maximized it.
Bucs OL Caleb Benenoch – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Licht, head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith are all doing the same thing this season in Tampa Bay – looking for and relishing versatility on the Bucs’ roster. Licht and Koetter acknowledged it on draft day with the selection of players like North Carolina Central defensive back Ryan Smith, UCLA offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch and Northwestern fullback Danny Vitale, especially.
Smith started his college career at safety for two years before switching to cornerback the last two. He’ll begin his NFL career at safety for the Bucs and may even factor into the kick return game as well as covering punts on kicks on special teams.
Benenoch was primarily a right tackle for the Bruins, but also played some center and guard. He’ll begin his time in Tampa Bay at guard.
“Probably going to move outside at some point but I’m a versatile guy and that’s what he wanted when he picked me up so I’m going to do whatever he needs me to do,” Benenoch said.
The versatility of Smith and Benenoch is what drew Licht and the Bucs scouts to them.
“[Smith] has played safety and corner there, but we see him as possibly being a safety,” Licht said. “That versatility is always good. We like the versatility here, there’s a theme of that. It’s the same with Caleb, who we took out of UCLA. He’s played guard and center.”
Because Tampa Bay has three players that can play right tackle in Cherilus, starter Demar Dotson and versatile reserve Kevin Pamphile, Benenoch will learn the right guard position before taking on right tackle down the road.
“He’s a multi-position guy and just based on the numbers that we have, we have to fit him in wherever we can,” Koetter said. “He’s got some versatility to him some of the other guys don’t.
Bucs DB Ryan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“[Smith and Benenoch] both started at both positions, so as we said going back to the day we drafted those guys, versatility in the later rounds is key. You’ve got to have multi-positions guys, you’ve got to have guys that can play more than one spot. Look at a guy like Kevin Pamphile. Last year his versatility is what kept him here and he did a lot of great things for us on offense. That’s just one example.”
Vitale is perhaps the most versatile of all of Tampa Bay’s draft picks. He lined up in the backfield as a fullback at Northwestern, lined up in the slot as a receiver, lined up on the line of scrimmage as a tight end and was put in motion like an H-back.
“He can catch the ball, he’s played tight end [at Northwestern],” Licht said. “He’s kind of a hybrid guy, where he can do that and I know he’s going to be a really good special teamer and that’s hard to find – a fullback that can play special teams.”
Because of his versatility, Northwestern labeled Vitale the team’s “Superback.” He’ll be playing a similar role for Koetter and he’s excited to bring his versatility to Tampa Bay.
“I think football is kind of moving towards this ‘hybrid-style’ of football,” Vitale said. “I wouldn’t say [the fullback position] is dying, I would say it’s transitioning to more of this H-back position that I think I’ll be playing a lot of here. It’s exciting to see. Obviously I’m happy about it because that’s what I played in college, so it just makes this transition a lot easier.”
Versatility doesn’t just rule the day in Tampa Bay offensively. Smith’s defense is also looking for players that can play multiple positions. Defensive end Noah Spence, the team’s second-round pick, will see some time at outside linebacker when the team shifts to a 3-4 front, according to Smith and linebackers coach Mark Duffner.
With the growing emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, which means more nickel and dime defense from Tampa Bay as a result, the Bucs will also have several defensive ends shift inside to play defensive tackle as Will Gholston has done over the last couple of years. Robert Ayers and Kourtnei Brown are other versatile defensive ends that could see some time inside at defensive tackle in nickel rush situations. Seattle helped pioneer the trend by moving defensive end Michael Bennett, a former Buccaneer, inside on obvious pass-rushing situations.
Bucs DC Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“The game is really changing,” Smith said. “It’s very interesting. I was looking back at some stuff about two weeks ago, looking, at what we did in 2000 in terms of the number of base snaps and the number of sub snaps and its completely changed. In 2000 in Baltimore we had about 30 percent of our plays were in sub defense and now its 65 percent. So, you got to have guys that can rush inside and a lot of our defensive ends – I think – in our sub package will be able to move down inside and that’s the thing that we’re looking for. We’re looking for as much flexibility that we possibly can. To be able to scheme against our opponents, to be able to be prepared for injuries because they are going to happen, so you have to have multiple guys prepared at different positions.”
Don’t look for any of Tampa Bay’s pass rushers to line up at tight end and catch touchdowns the way Vrabel did in New England. The Bucs have plenty of tight ends that can do that in Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Cameron Brate and Vitale, who will see action at both tight end and fullback this year.
But Licht saw enough of Vrabel in New England to know that if he needed another red zone pass catcher, the 6-foot-9 Dotson, who played college basketball at Southern Miss, could go up for a lay-up in the end zone in a pinch. Versatility rules in Tampa Bay.
FAB 2. AN EARLY LOOK AT THE BUCS’ 53-MAN ROSTER
It’s way too early to look at doing a Buccaneers’ 53-man roster, right?
Of course it is.
Tampa Bay’s rookies have only gone through one mini-camp and the Bucs’ OTAs haven’t even begun in earnest yet. For heaven’s sake, the Bucs haven’t even had training camp, much less a preseason game to truly evaluate the talent on their roster.
Well, I did one anyways an exercise just to see where the Bucs’ versatility discussed in Fab 1 can come into play in this year’s roster. Don’t consider this 53-man roster a prediction written in pen. Think of it more as a rough draft written in pencil.
Quarterbacks – 3
QB Analysis: Because of position flexibility at several positions, the Bucs can afford to still keep three quarterbacks on the roster. Winston is the obvious starter, and Glennon is the most capable and experienced backup. Yet with his free agents status looming in 2017, the Bucs are almost forced to keep three so that Griffin can replace Glennon as Winston’s primary backup next year.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Getty Images
Running Backs – 3
RB Analysis: The Bucs run a one-back set more than half the time offensively, so there is no need to keep a traditional fullback and waste a roster spot on a one-dimensional player. Martin is the feature back, while Sims is the change-of-pace back that will get a look as a kick returner this year, too. There are always some newcomer surprises, so let’s put Barber in as a big back replacing Mike James. Tampa Bay will keep a fourth running back on the practice squad for depth.
Wide Receivers – 5
WR Analysis: The Bucs kept five receivers last year with an additional pass catcher or two on the practice squad. Head coach and offensive playcaller Dirk Koetter doesn’t use a lot of four-wide sets, so there is no need to keep six. Evans and Jackson are the starters, and the feeling is that Humphries, who will also return punts, will win the No. 3 slot receiver role over Louis Murphy, who is still coming back from his ACL tear. The guess is that Bell, who will get a look as a kick returner, and Shepard do so much on special teams coverage that they’ll beat out Dye for the last spots on the depth chart.
Bucs TE Danny Vitale – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tight Ends – 4
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
TE Cameron Brate
TE-FB Luke Stocker
TE-FB Dan Vitale
TE Analysis: Tampa Bay keeps four tight ends, but Stocker and Vitale can also lead block as fullback, in addition to playing on special teams. Seferian-Jenkins is a weapon when healthy, and Brate’s improvement, speed and upside as a pass-catcher gives him the edge over aging veteran Brandon Myers.
Offensive Line – 10
RT Demar Dotson
RG Ali Marpet
C Joe Hawley
LG J.R. Sweezy
LT Donovan Smith
C Evan Smith
T-G Kevin Pamphile
OT Leonard Wester
G Dominique Robertson
G Caleb Benenoch
OL Analysis: Tampa Bay keeps 10 offensive linemen, including three rookies. The starters are set with Smith, Sweezy, Hawley, Marpet and Dotson, across the board from left to right. Smith backs up Hawley, who is in a contract year, at center. Pamphile and Wester make Cherilus expendable at offensive tackle. Benenoch and Robertson, who is George Warhop’s nephew, can back up Sweezy and Marpet. If the Bucs don’t re-sign Dotson, who is in a contract year, Pamphile, Benenoch and Wester all contend for the vacancy in 2017.
Defensive Line – 9
LE Robert Ayers
DT Gerald McCoy
NT Clinton McDonald
RE Jacquies Smith
DE Noah Spence
NT Akeem Spence
DL Will Gholston
DE Howard Jones
DE Kourtnei Brown
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
DL Analysis: The Bucs only have three true defensive tackles on the roster in McCoy, McDonald and Akeem Spence. They could keep undrafted free agent Travis Britz, who blocked five kicks at Kansas State, if they want a fourth tackle, as he has value on special teams. Otherwise, Ayers, Gholston and Brown have enough versatility and size to kick inside to tackle in nickel rush situations. Smith, Jones and Noah Spence are primarily defensive ends that will rush the passer from the edge.
Linebackers – 6
WLB Lavonte David
MLB Kwon Alexander
SLB Daryl Smith
OLB Devante Bond
MLB Luke Rhodes
OLB Jeremiah George
LB Analysis: David and Alexander are every down linebackers, while Smith will see action as Tampa Bay’s strongside linebacker in base defense, which will be roughly 40 percent of the time, in addition to usage in other special packages. Bond was drafted to be Smith’s potential replacement next year at Sam linebacker. I’m guessing Rhodes has the goods to back up Alexander at Mike, and George’s special teams ability allows him to edge Josh Keyes and undrafted free agent Cassanova McKinzy for the final spot on the depth chart.
Cornerbacks – 6
Vernon Hargreaves III
CB Analysis: Grimes and Verner are slated to start outside, while Hargreaves seems destined to begin his NFL career inside at the slot as a nickel corner. Banks, Robinson and Adjei-Barimah are reserves, but will see plenty of action, especially when the Bucs go with four cornerbacks in a six-DB personnel group to match up against teams like Arizona and Atlanta that will deploy four-wide receiver sets. Keep an eye on first-year player Joel Ross, who may steal a roster spot, too.
Safeties – 4
Bucs SS Bradley McDougald – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Ss Analysis: Conte and McDougald figure to start, while Tandy and Smith offer ball skills and the ability to play cornerback in a pinch, too. Tampa Bay may end up keeping five safeties due to the five- and six-defensive back groupings they’ll have on the field this year in Mike Smith’s defense, although Adjei-Barimah played safety in college. If the Bucs keep a fifth pure safety it may be Major Wright if they want a veteran, or rookie Elijah Shumate if they want a younger, developmental-type.
Special Teams – 3
K Roberto Aguayo
P Bryan Anger
LS Andrew DiPaola
ST Analysis: Aguayo and Anger upgrade Tampa Bay’s kicking game, while DiPaola enters a contract year as the team’s veteran long snapper.
FAB 3. BROWN A WILD CARD IN TAMPA BAY’S NEW DEFENSE
Tampa Bay addressed its pass rush this offseason with the second-round selection of Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence in the 2016 NFL Draft and by signing defensive end Robert Ayers, who is fresh of 9.5 sacks as a 31-year old veteran with the New York Giants. While the Bucs are excited about the arrival of those newcomers, the team is also thrilled with the progress made by some of last year’s young edge rushers, too.
Despite missing time with an injured shoulder, Jacquies Smith set career highs with seven sacks, a team-high three forced fumbles and a key fumble recovery for a touchdown, which was the difference in Tampa Bay’s 38-31 victory over Jacksonville.
Howard Jones, an undrafted rookie last year, recorded five sacks, forced a fumble and returned a fumble for a touchdown at Washington.
Will Gholston had a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble in his third year in the league as a versatile defensive lineman, seeing time at both end and tackle.
Bucs DE Kourtnei Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The other returning defensive end, Kourtnei Brown, also showed promise in limited action last year. This year, in Mike Smith’s multiple defense, which will feature 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts, Brown’s versatility stands out.
He notched just two tackles in his first NFL regular season action despite entering the league in 2012, and Brown’s first NFL sack, a seven-yard takedown of Drew Brees, wound up being negated by a penalty – one of Tampa Bay’s league-high 143 infractions last year. But his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame and 4.69 speed have piqued the curiosity of the new Bucs defensive coaches.
Former Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen recalled Brown’s overturned sack.
“It was a great sack,” Cullen said. “He beat the guy clean. It’s just too bad it didn’t count.”
Brown went from ecstasy to agony after he got up from sacking Brees to see a flag on the field.
“The tackle over set from me trying to beat him around the edge the whole game and I countered and beat him inside to bring Drew Brees down,” Brown said. “Oh, man. I wish I would’ve had that one.”
With Tampa Bay trailing 17-10 with 5:13 left in the third quarter against New Orleans in Week 14, Jones was flagged for illegal hands to the face on third-and-15. Brown’s sack would have forced a punt. Instead, the Saints were given an automatic first down and their drive continued. Eight plays later, New Orleans would score a touchdown to go up 24-10 late in the third quarter and would win the game 24-17.
That was the first of four straight losses to end the season in Tampa Bay. Brown’s sack would have changed the momentum in the game, and possibly the final outcome.
Instead, he’ll have to wait for 2016 to get his first real quarterback capture. Brown recorded three sacks and also had a 69-yard pick-six for the Texans in the preseason, yet still didn’t make the Houston’s 53-man roster. Brown was one of the featured Texans on the HBO Hard Knocks training camp series, and his game film led the Bucs to acquire him off waivers just before the start of the season.
Bucs DE Kourtnei Brown – Photo by: Getty Images
“When I came here the first time I learned the plays and I remembered them when I came back the second time,” Brown said. “The biggest thing was getting used to rushing from a three-point stance again instead of a two-point stance. I’m blessed. I can’t thank God enough for allowing me the chance to play two positions and go back and forth, actually. I have strengths and weaknesses in both whether I stand up or have my hand on the ground, but I’m getting better.”
Brown was an underachieving defensive end at Clemson, the 12th-rated edge rusher coming out of high school that never lived up to his potential. He missed a total of 35 games in college, including the entire 2009 campaign, in which he redshirted because he needed to develop and wasn’t going to get much playing time behind starter Ricky Sapp. When he was on the field, Brown flashed potential, sacking North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, and returning both an interception and a fumble for touchdown for the Tigers.
But Brown’s career in the NFL thus far has been as rocky as it was at Clemson. He entered the league with San Francisco’s practice squad in 2012 and also spent time on Washington’s practice squad that year and also in 2013. Brown bounced around to Buffalo in 2013-14 and then to Detroit and St. Louis later in 2014.
Brown dipped down to the Arena Football League to play with the Spokane Shock before landing in Houston in the 2015 preseason before being waived. After a brief stint in Tampa Bay, he returned to the Texans before becoming a Buccaneer again late last season.
Through his various stops in the NFL, Brown has played both a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker, and that experience will help him in Smith’s defense.
“Whether it’s standing up or playing down, dropping or rushing – I’m here to help the team win a Super Bowl,” Brown said. “I haven’t gotten any looks at linebacker yet – only defensive end. Mainly right side, but left and right.”
Not only might Brown play outside linebacker occasionally in a 3-4 front, Smith thinks he can also be an interior rusher in nickel situations.
Bucs DE Robert Ayers – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Well, I think KB can do it – Kourtnei Brown – I think he has the size – and again, Ayers had very good success last year in New York in terms of his production at the defensive tackle position,” Smith said. “We’ve got some linebackers – Daryl Smith is a guy that has played multiple positions, so we’re going to line these guys up at different spots and try to confuse the quarterback, keep it simple for us and make it complex for the offensive staffs.”
Brown looks noticeably bigger this offseason than he was in December when he was seeing his first real playing time in Tampa Bay.
“When I was in Houston last year playing linebacker I was about 260 pounds,” Brown said. “When I came here I got down to about 245 pounds because they wanted me to drop weight. Now I’m up to 265 pounds, but I feel like I’m still fast. We’re just experimenting with being bigger. This is as big as I’ve ever been, so we’ll see how this goes.”
Although Cullen has moved on to Baltimore and has been replaced by veteran coach Jay Hayes, Brown still has a familiar face in the defensive line room with assistant coach Paul Spicer, a former NFL defensive end, who works with Tampa Bay’s edge rushers.
“I like Coach Spicer a lot,” Brown said. “Coach Hayes has a lot of experience. Both he and Coach Spicer both played and they have a lot of experience with the defensive line. They both do a great job of helping us.
“It’s never good enough for Coach Spicer. He may pat you on the back briefly, but then it’s back to work correcting you. When I have that constantly in my ear it helps me work on my game and then I take that out to the field.”
Brown is looking forward to experiencing his first offseason and training camp in Tampa Bay and hopefully ending his NFL odyssey as a full-time member of the Buccaneers with his versatility.
“There were some things I had to learn earlier in my career,” Brown said. “I’ve been around a lot – too much. Not to say that I’ve arrived as a player. There is a lot more I can learn and grow. A lot of it was me not buying into a system or applying myself. I’ve made mistakes.
“But at this point, I’m buying into the system and taking the coaching and believing in myself as a player. The more plays I make the more my confidence goes up. Hopefully when it’s all said and done everybody will know I’m a good ballplayer. I want to stay in Tampa.”
FAB 4. BUCS’ TIGHT ENDS WILL SEE EVEN MORE ACTION IN 2016
Despite the obvious need for some speed at wide receiver, Tampa Bay did not draft one this year. Instead, the Bucs will rely on veterans like Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, and some of the team’s young receivers Tampa Bay acquired last year in Adam Humphries, Donteea Dye and Kenny Bell, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
Bucs HC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We are comfortable with our group, but we’re always looking to upgrade still,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “There were a couple times that it started to get a little intriguing [in the draft], then we kind of let the board come to us, where we were with the highest-rated guy.”
Tampa Bay did select a pass-catcher in the 2016 NFL Draft, but it was Danny Vitale, a fullback-tight end, in the sixth round. Vitale’s selection speaks volumes about what Koetter’s offense will look like this year.
Even though Matt Ryan threw the ball a ton when Koetter was calling plays in Atlanta, it wasn’t always to wide receivers. In fact, future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez was targeted 243 times from 2012-13, the two years Koetter worked with him in Atlanta, and caught 176 passes for 1,789 yards and 16 touchdowns during that span.
Koetter did use a four-wide receiver set with the Falcons from time to time, but that is because Atlanta was flush with speedy pass catchers and only had one good tight end. Koetter’s base offense has never been centered around four wide receivers. He would just as soon keep a team in base personnel and kill it with Ace personnel, which consists of two receivers, two tight ends and a single-back set.
In fact, the Bucs are flush with good tight ends, especially with Vitale’s arrival. Koetter can use the tight end position to create mismatches by getting Vitale, who has 4.6 speed, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who looks noticeably slimmer, or Cameron Brate lined up against a safety or a linebacker.
What gets linebackers to the Pro Bowl these days are sacks in big numbers. Across the league, linebackers just don’t cover the way Derrick Brooks for Tampa Bay from the mid-1990s to the 2000s, and Koetter wants his tight ends to take advantage of that fact. It’s easy to keep an eye on one tight end in the game, but when it’s Seferian-Jenkins and Brate or Seferian-Jenkins and Vitale lined up alongside Jackson and Evans the Bucs feel that mismatches can be created in the passing game.
“We have sets where we have one, two and even three tight ends in there,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Cam is still going to get his opportunities because he’s a good player. You haven’t heard the end of Cameron Brate. He’s a great player and he’s made a lot of plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he’ll continue doing that for us.”
Bucs TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Seferian-Jenkins was limited to just seven games due to a severe shoulder sprain last year but still posted a career-high 338 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns on just 21 catches. Seferian-Jenkins started the season with a bang, catching four passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-14 loss to Tennessee in Week 1, catching Jameis Winston’s first NFL touchdown pass.
“Jon Embree, our tight end coach, said in our staff meeting that it was the best game that Austin has played in his two years here,” Koetter said. “I wasn’t here [in 2014], but Austin looked like he was moving towards the type of player that we all want him to be – a second-round pick, a tight end. He had three explosive plays in the game, he had two touchdowns, he was able to win against one-on-one coverage, made a beautiful catch on a tipped ball. Austin was one of those guys that I have mentioned that we need more guys to elevate to that level to be successful.”
Brate, an undrafted free agent from Harvard acquired in 2014, emerged as a weapon in Seferian-Jenkins’ absence, catching 23 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns last year. Despite the loss of Seferian-Jenkins, the tight end position saw increased opportunities and increased production last year with Koetter calling the plays.
2015 Bucs Tight End Production
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: 21 catches (40 targets) 338 yards (16.1 avg.) 4 TDs
Cameron Brate: 23 catches (30 targets) 288 yards (12.5 avg.) 3 TDs
Brandon Myers: 12 catches (17 targets) 127 yards (10.6 avg.) 0 TDs
Luke Stocker: 9 catches (13 targets) 61 yards (6.8 avg.) 1 TD
65 catches (100 targets) 814 yards 8 TDs
2014 Bucs Tight End Production
Austin Seferian-Jenkins: 21 catches (37 targets) 221 yards (10.5 avg.) 2 TDs
Brandon Myers: 22 catches (31 targets) 190 yards (8.6 avg.) 0 TDs
Luke Stocker: 7 catches (11 targets) 41 yards (5.9 avg.) 0 TDs
Cameron Brate: 1 catch (1 target) 17 yards (17.0 avg.) 0 TDs
51 catches (80 targets) 469 yards 2 TDs
2013 Bucs Tight End Production
Tim Wright: 54 catches (76 targets) 571 yards (10.6 avg.) 5 TDs
Tom Crabtree: 4 catches (7 targets) 21 yards (5.3 avg.) 1 TD
Nate Byham: 3 catches (3 targets) 38 yards (12.7 avg.) 0 TDs
61 catches (86 targets) 630 yards 6 TDs
The return of Seferian-Jenkins and the addition of Vitale this offseason could add another 20-30 targets to the tight end position in Tampa Bay and push the number of targets up to 120-130 for the position. That’s what an aging Gonzalez averaged by himself in two years in Atlanta during the twilight of his career.
“I just want to win,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I don’t care about any personal stats or personal stuff. I’m all about winning.”
A couple more 100-yard, two-touchdown games from Seferian-Jenkins and some key rookie contributions from Vitale would certainly help the Bucs’ chances of winning more games in 2016.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• One of the worst kept secrets in the Bucs’ locker room is the fact that Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate, who went to Harvard, likes to play dumb sometimes in offensive meetings, masking his superior intellect. Brate, whom many suspect knows the answers to a great deal of things, will mess with his fellow tight ends by acting dumb on occasion.
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I think he’s so smart that he likes to play off people’s emotions and people underestimating him,” fellow tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said. “I think he does it to mess with people. He’s smart enough to know that people love it when he’s not right or right on point because he’s from Harvard. He has fun with it. He’s a really good dude on and off the field.”
• While Tampa Bay’s defensive end position doesn’t have a proven double-digit sacker or many big names, Kourtnei Brown has seen the unheralded unit’s speed and talent in practice and believes the edge rushers are capable of a breakout year. And that was before the Bucs spent a second-round pick on Noah Spence.
“A lot of the defensive ends we have crazy ability,” Brown said. “We’ve got great speed coming off the edge, too. It’s just a matter of all of us just buying into the system and showing the coaches and the staff that we can get those sacks that they are looking for I know we can do it. There are a lot of guys that can get to the quarterback here this year.”
• Because the team does not have a dedicated return specialist with the departure of Bobby Rainey, the Bucs expect position versatility to help the team find someone who can return kicks and punts this year. In addition to rookie Ryan Smith, who returned kickoffs in college, there are several other candidates, according to head coach Dirk Koetter.
“We’re going to look at Adam Humphries as a punt returner, we’re going to look at Kenny Bell and Charles Sims as kickoff returners, and Donteea Dye will be in the mix there somewhere as well,” Koetter said.
• Although they don’t get a lot of the headlines nor targets in the passing game, both Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate, who are in their third year in the league, can’t praise the leadership of Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers enough.
“Luke works extremely hard in whatever he does and he brings people along,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “It’s one thing to be a great player. It’s another to bring players along. He’s definitely helped me with my run blocking and the mentality of the game. We’re very fortunate to have him and Brandon Myers around. Luke can do it all, and that’s why he’s going to be around here a long time. Luke does it at a high level and he does it consistently.”
Tevin Westbrook, a promising young tight end on the practice squad last year, grew up watching Stocker in the SEC.
“I used to watch Luke a lot in college,” Westbrook said. “He played at Tennessee. It was shocking to meet him and those guys in the room at first when I got here, but then you realize they are people just like you. They’re not selfish. They want me to get better, too. To have role models in the room is great for a young guy like me.”
Bucs secondary coach Brett Maxie – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• Consider Bradley McDougald a big fan of new Tampa Bay safeties coach Brett Maxie. The Bucs safeties have been maligned over the last couple of years for failing to make enough plays on the ball, and haven’t been coached well. McDougald expects that to change under Maxie.
“He’s a players’ coach and he knows what he’s talking about,” McDougald said. “He was a player in this league as well, and he’s been in the NFL for a long time. The things that he says, he’s also done, so that’s helpful.”
McDougald said the safeties have spent a good deal of time improving their footwork, but have also worked diligently on tackling the one-man sled, too.
“We are working on things like footwork and ball skills, but I don’t want to get away from my tackling, either,” McDougald said. “I pride myself on being a good tackler. I don’t have to be the hardest hitter, but I know I can come up and bring a guy down. That’s very important in this league, as well as is something that we’re stressing.”
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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 insight on the evolution of the roster to more versatile players, Scott. It’ll be interesting to see how fast the team adapts to these changes. Maybe there is some logic to idea that players who are more flexible are actually better suited for change and can pick up a new system quicker? My concern is how quickly this team will come together schematically under the pressure of the regular season.
Great Fab 5 once again! I really look forward to them every week. The patriots don’t have speed at WR but use quickness at the position either beasts at TE. I see TB using beasts everywhere with speed in the slot. I can’t wait to see the O operate in its second year. I’m also excited to see the difference in the Defense. I truly believe the great teams have not only good players, but good schemes AND consistency! Something TB has been lacking in all 3 phases. I think we are on the cusp of something special! In Licht we trust, GO BUCS!!
There is no way Humphries beats out Murphy for the third WR spot unless Murphy is still rehabbing from the ACL injury.
Huh? You say that as if Murphy is some dynamo. His career best season was 41 catches for 601 yards, and that was the #1 receiving option in his offense at that time. That was also 6 years ago. Since then, he’s never caught more than 31 passes or gained 400 yards. He’s not a special teams contributor. He’s 29 years old. He doesn’t have one truly excellent skill outside of being faster than most players. In what world is a player of Murphy’s talent a lock to make the roster over a young, inexpensive, promising, versatile player like Humphries?
Imo, they may need to keep Murphy & Humphries and axe freaking Dye. He is not bringing a whole lot to the table if you ask me. Now if he would have caught the majority of the balls that came his way we wouldn’t even be talking about this right now and we possibly may have won another game or two…his drops were at key moments, I could bring wrong but one of them would have iced a game or put us in position to maybe win it with a short fg. He can get open but catching it seems to be an issue.
Dye isn’t even listed on the projected roster, so he’s been cut, too. I like PR’s take here. Murphy is a below average player. We have a fair amount of young, promising talent that I’d much rather have on the roster than an aging, limited, relatively expensive player coming off major knee surgery.
I always thought the Patriots sustained success had to do more with these four things:
1. Being able to adjust their game plan week to week with the focus on exploiting their opponents weaknesses. Nobody does that better than Belichik which is where the player versatility helps.
2. Bending or breaking the rules.
3. Keeping their intentions secret. This applies to minimizing talking to the media for both players and personnel, as well as keeping injuries, trade and draft plans secret.
4. Their talent-to-cost ratio is better than everyone else’s year after year by convincing aging veterans who have already gotten paid on other teams to play for less in New England and in return you get the best shot to play for the Super Bowl.
So I’ve never bought into the Tom Brady being a key to New England’s success. I think Belichik is the goose that lays the golden eggs up there. I’ve believed this since Belichik went 11-5 without Tom Brady and Cassel flamed out elsewhere. Tom Brady is good, but I don’t see him taking two teams to four Super Bowls with four different head coaches the way Peyton Manning has done without the benefit of the four things I listed above that Belichik provides.
On a side note, I think even though the correct spelling was presented in the article I subconsciously misspelled “Belichick’s” name about 100 times because despite everything I said I still can’t stand the guy.
It’s interesting that Brady is going on his sixteenth year and he has never had to face a franchise QB in his own division in all of that time. Every team in the NFC South has a franchise QB. I wonder how his career would have looked in a tougher division?
e- when you get to the playoffs you face franchise qb’s, haters all over this board just give the man credit where credit is due I’m tired of hearing all the excuses why the Pats or Brady are so good, same stupid stuff I heard with Montana and Walsh in the 80’s, hilarious
Jon, with no franchise QBs to ever have to contend with in his own division; by insane luck, assures that he would have a much easier time of it, over those sixteen years, to gain higher playoff seeds and an easier road through the playoffs. I’m not saying that he’s not one of the best to play the game; I’m just saying that his stats and wins would be tempered if he played, say, in the AFC north for the last sixteen years?
Pinkstob- Check out Cassels stats with Kc in his first yr he had 27 td’s and 6 int’s so the flamed out comment is dumb, the worst comment you made was “Brady is good but not a Manning” are fricken serious? Manning has had number one draft picks at rb, all wr positions and TE, who did Brady throw too in his first two sb’s? Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson, David Givens, Brown etc give me a break. The head coach is irrelevant when it comes to qb’s are you gonna tell me Rodgers is great because of the head coach? please! I’m done I have better things to read, I will never read any comments you post again as you just lost all credibility
btw- Head coach was Lovie for Winston are you to tell me Winston had a good yr cause of Lovie?
correction Cassel had in his second yr 27 td’s and 7 int’s compared to this supposedly unbelievable yr he had in NE with 21 td’s and 11 int’s
He also had first round running backs and tight ends, several high-round o linemen and knew where to go with the ball every time in the hurry-up because they were cheating.
I agree with all of those observations about the Pats. I think you left out the biggest one, though, at least from a roster standpoint – constantly trading back in the draft. Trading up in the draft is, in the long run, horribly inefficient. Teams give up more value than they get the vast majority of the time when they trade up. Belichick recognizes this and, over the course of his time running the show in New England, has taken full advantage of needy, over eager teams who target individual -players rather than trusting their board. As a result, they always have more opportunities to find good players than other teams do, and they always have excellent depth.
Like I said, I’m with everything else you said, especially your first point. I think you’re way too hard on Brady. If you look at Brady’s numbers in games against great QB’s, I’d be willing to bet my life savings that he was great there, too.
Enjoyed this Fab 5; my only thought is we keep 5 LB’s and 10 DL’s because Spence will get some LB time in too. I hope we dump Glennon before the pre season ends because we really only need 2 QB’s and that third one is sitting on the PS.
Great Fab 5!
man the safeties are sad
Jongruden. we see ye to eye on this inane Brady debate.
The last time I checked, none of the AFC East division teams QB’s were playing on defense either.
People don’t like Brady simply because he is so successful has a beautiful wife and what some perceive to be a perfect life.
Such observations of people bring out envy and contempt because they compare them to their own.
On a more interesting and perceptive note jongruden, I was wondering if you read all the superlatives that were thrown Luke Stocker’s way by his teammates.
Arrrrgh, OMG, what have I done.
As Admiral Yamamoto said after Pearl Harbor, “I believe we have woken a sleeping giant.”
Arod930, why don’t you think Humphries can’t beat out Murphy for the third receiver slot.
is it all of the number of catches he has made over the last two years.
Listen, I like Murphy, but his play is inconsistent and he disappears at times during two or three game stretches for some reason.
He also seems a bit brittle.
And here I thought you’d have disdain for a guy who is too rich, too good looking and too lucky at love. It’s just not fair. There should be free plastic surgery available for ugly people. As Flip Wilson used to say, “You ugly people know who you are.”
I was thinking the same thing Scu. The man talks about envy when all he does is complain about how rich the Glazers are. I say again, what a hypocrite.
I based what I said off of what I saw on the field like I always do, nothing more. I couldn’t pick Tom Brady’s wife out of a lineup. The same goes for every other NFL player’s wife unless she was famous prior to them getting married. Is Tom Brady’s wife in a popular movie or something I could reference?
I doubt any NFL player’s wife looks any better than mine, at least not in my eyes anyway. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I have very specific tastes.
Now take my wife! In the words of the late Jewish comedian Henny Youngman,”Take my wife … please”. lol.
The thing I like about PR and it’s special group of posters – you never know what you’re going to get!
Well in these comments…apparently not a whole lot!!!! Good Fab 5 PR. Enjoyed it.
Its against the code to run another team mate in ground, ever hear a team mate say his team mate shouldn’t be in the league he sucks? Neither have I, Stocker 60 yds for the year nuff said
Another very interesting Fab 5, I enjoy these and always look forward to the next ones.
Like the e-Trade baby, let me show you my shocked face. Here we have an article making positive statements about Luke Stocker followed by four separate comments from the Stocker Stalker (jonnyg) yet no mention of the blocking TE.
Fun trying to predict the 53 man roster. I once won a contest with the old It’s Sports Magazine, the great grandfather of Pewter Report.
I think Russel Shepard will have a tough time unless his WR skills improve enough to match his Special Teams play.
He’s our best special teamer. Unless a couple other players surprise and can replicate that, he’s a lock for the roster. His role is very unheralded, much like that of the steady blocking TE (in our case, Stocker), but teams value it, and with good reason. You need special teams aces.
Scubog;I remember when I got my first one Sports Magazine; I thought I’d had died and gone to heaven. I remember glued to my AM radio station listening for any new s about the Bucs from Mark Champion, our radio host; also ole Ted Webb. Ah, those were the days of just a little bit of knowledge going a long ways.
I did the same thing Horse. Back in those days Bucs news was very limited.
macabee, my ex wife used to love to talk dirty to me when she was having sex….usually called me from a hotel room. Rim shot please.
Scubog. Brady worked hard for his athletic achievement and his money. That is an American success story.
He was born with his boyish good looks which he had nothing to do with and I don’t believe he is a narcissist about like so many reality stars and a certain politician are.
I abhor the rich who are born on third base and act like they hit a triple in life like so many of those types do. You many refer back to the above paragraph mentioning the politician.
People with simple minds make simple assumptions. Life is so much more complex and so are the solutions to many problems.
Sound bytes and cute derogatory names rarely get anything monumental or meaningful accomplished.
drdneast: Even sarcasm with a subtle hint towards your political views offends you. So let me get this straight. If one earns his money with hard work by taking advantage of his natural born traits that often include ” oversized balls” that’s acceptable to you? See, we do think alike.
drdneast; you sound like you have a very high concept that your intelligence has worth?
Go back to the simple mind and enjoy what you have missed.
OK Horse, I’ll try to dumb myself down like the rest of America.
“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” .
“I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.” H. L. Mencken
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/h/h_l_mencken.html. moted journalist, satirist. cultural critic and scholar of American English.
You crack me up Horse.
Oh yes, Mencken was also a good friend of all people, Ayn Rand.
If you don’t know who that is Horse, ask Scubog. He probably has every book written by her and a poster of her in his living room.
drdneast; there really is no need to insult people. Are you this insecure you have to hype you are smarter than most posters? I’m just curious as to why you judge others so much?
drdneast- Here’s a quote for you; “Smart people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, stupid people talk about other people”. Perhaps you can summarize where you fall into.
If you take my post personally, well, I really have nothing to tell you.
I always have found it strange when someone tells you to stay ignorant.
Well gee whiz Dbuc63, I didn’t mention anyone by name although I did refer to one unnamed individual in an unflterring manner.
I did mention Scubog, but it wasn’t in a derogatory manner, but just an assumption of someone I thought he might like.
Believe me, I don’t think I’m smarter than anyone else. I have two daughters who remind me constantly of how ill equipt I am to handle everyday life.
“I did mention Scubog, but it wasn’t in a derogatory manner, but just an assumption” = poor diction, remove the second “but”.
drdneast; lets move on and just keep it about the Bucs. Glasd your kids keep you grounded. You and I are more like than not when it comes to politics, but I learned years ago not to go there unless I know my audience. Sunday will be my wife and I 49th Wedding Anniversary. She keeps me grounded and when she talks, I listen because she is usually right and I’m not. She’s a loyal Buc fan too. Go Bucs!
Happy anniversary Horse! It’s good to see marriages last these days as some people think any time there’s a problem, just bail on the situation.
Congratulations on your 49th wedding anniversary, Horse. I mean that sincerely.
“Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution,” H.L. Mencken.
The fluff piece stuff is getting old for me. Seeking out positional versatility among backups and late round picks isn’t a new concept, and it’s certainly not exclusive to the Patriots. Making that direct comparison is silly. The defining organizational decision philosophy can be summed up in one way – trade back in the draft. They’ve always done it, and only very rarely traded up. They put their focus in the draft on trusting their draft board for ALL the players on it, moving back to acquire as many picks as they can, and taking the best guy that falls to them. They only rarely target individual players in specific rounds and decide ahead of time to do essentially whatever it takes to land that guy. Our draft philosophy appears to be more or less exactly opposite that of the most successful team in the sport. Labeling us as Patriots B because we like versatile players (EVERY team likes versatile players) is nothing more than nonsensical fluff. If we want to emulate the Pats, then we need to start letting the draft come to us rather than wasting picks and value by constantly trading up.
I like the rest of this Fab 5. I have major doubts about Kourtnei Brown being anything other than what he’s been for his entire career thus far – a back of the roster guy who probably won’t stick for too long. But he has shown flashes of promise, and I like taking a closer look at lesser names with maybe some untapped potential like him.
I also fully expect our TE position as a whole to see a lot more action this year. I’d be shocked if Myers is on the roster come week one, barring a training camp injury (but even then, honestly, I might prefer Tevin Westbrook, who can likely do everything Myers can do as a receiver, maybe more, at a fraction of the cost). This feels like a make or break season for ASJ. I think he’ll be a “make”, but if he isn’t, then it’s tough to envision him being much after three lost seasons to start out. I remember when Tony G said that he is the next big thing at TE in this league. I still really believe in his skill set and think that’s possible.
I’m always suspicious of anyone who attempts to emulate any other “winning” franchise (the Steelers with Raheem, the Giants with Schiano, the Old Bucs with Lovie, now the Pats with Licht). We don’t have the advantages of the big-market teams – the Patriots have an insanely powerful and corrupt owner, and the Steelers have one of the largest (if not THE largest) fanbase in the NFL. Without cheating, good calls and ratings you can try to emulate New England and just be San Diego, or try to emulate Pittsburgh and just be Cincinnati (or Carolina – that Super Bowl was very poorly officiated). Why compete with the big boys for personnel when you can never have what puts their philosophies over the top in the close games? I’d rather try and re-invent the wheel, like Baltimore periodically does, New Orleans did with the spread, Seattle did with giant corners and we did with an undersized, fast defense twenty years ago.
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