FAB 2. Fitzgerald Hoping To Create His Own FitzMagic In Tampa Bay

Ryan Fitzpatrick is gone.

The former Bucs quarterback is now in Miami where he is battling Josh Rosen for the right to start for the Dolphins this year.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be anymore FitzMagic in Tampa Bay.

If undrafted free agent Nick Fitzgerald, a former star quarterback at Mississippi State, makes the team as a third-string QB and jack-of-all-trades athlete, he might make a different kind of FitzMagic for the Bucs the way specialty QB Taysom Hill does in New Orleans in certain packages for the Saints offense.

Bucs QB Nick Fitzgerald
Bucs QB Nick Fitzgerald – Photo courtesy of Mississippi State

Fitzgerald, who was a dual threat for the Bulldogs where he broke Tim Tebow’s SEC career rushing record for a quarterback, won’t make the Bucs strictly as a quarterback. He’s more like Tebow or Collin Klein than he is DeShaun Watson or Cam Newton – mobile quarterbacks that are actually very good passers.

Fitzgerald completed 511-of-942 passes (54.2 percent) for 6,207 yards with 55 touchdowns and 30 interceptions as a three-year starter at Mississippi State. His best season as a passer came as a sophomore, in which he completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 2,423 yards with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. As a senior, Fitzgerald completed just 51.6 percent of his passes for 1,767 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Those stats, specifically his low completion percentage, caused him to go undrafted and prompted NFL teams to want him to change positions to tight end where the 6-foot-5, 226-pound Fitzgerald could use his size and 4.64 speed to attack the defense with his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands.

“When I got to the Combine, 12 or 13 teams – I couldn’t tell you which ones – but 12 to 13 teams approached my group leader and asked if I wanted to run some routes at tight end,” Fitzgerald said. “It wasn’t just about tight end, it was to see both (quarterback and tight end), but at the time I hadn’t trained to do that. It kind of caught me off guard. I knew I would eventually I think I would be asked to do it, I just didn’t think it would be there.

“So I respectfully told them ‘no’ there, but I would be happy to do it at my pro day. After the Combine I worked on running routes and on my hands catching the ball. I hadn’t run a route since high school. If I was going to do it I was going to do it well so they could actually see my ability to play the position.”

Bucs QB Nick Fitzgerald
Bucs QB Nick Fitzgerald – Photo by: Miss. State

Bucs coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht are experimenting with Fitzgerald to see if he could be a football player that could see action at tight end, contribute on special teams and be a third-team emergency quarterback that could actually dress on game days rather than be inactive like most third-string QBs. After seeing former BYU quarterback Taysom Hill shine in a utility role with the Saints over the last two years, the Bucs are trying to steal a page out of their NFC South rivals’ playbook.

In two years in New Orleans, Hill has rushed 37 times for 196 yards (5.3 avg.) and two touchdowns, while catching three passes for four yards on offense. Hill, who rushed for 2,815 yards and 32 touchdowns as a dual threat QB at BYU, has also returned 14 kickoffs for 348 yards (24.9 avg.) on special teams with the Saints.

“Throughout the entire Combine process that was always the comparison, that was always the person that was brought up was him,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he did open the door for big, athletic quarterbacks that teams want to get on the field somehow to utilize them at a different position. I’ve seen some of his game film and it’s pretty impressive what he’s able to do.”

Fitzgerald had two 1,000 yards rushing seasons at Mississippi State, first as a sophomore with 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry, and then last year with 1,121 yards and 13 TDs, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Last season, Fitzgerald broke Tebow’s SEC career QB rushing record with 3,607 yards and 46 touchdowns, while averaging 6.0 yards per carry.

While Hill is used most often as a Wildcat quarterback in short yardage situations, the Bucs plan to make Fitzgerald more versatile and use him as an H-back or flex tight end.

“I think I have the height for it, and I think I have the athleticism and the vertical jump,” Fitzgerald said. “I think if I get down there in the trenches I need to put on a little bit of weight. Otherwise I think I have the size, the speed, the capability, the hands to go out and have fun and play any position and maybe catch a touchdown pass.”

The plan is for Fitzgerald to get some work at both tight end and quarterback in training camp and the preseason. But he’ll have his best chance to make the Bucs’ 53-man roster by playing well on special teams, specifically as the team’s personal protector, which is one of the most important positions because that player calls out the protections for the punt team.

Bucs QB Nick Fitzgerald
Bucs QB Nick Fitzgerald – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“I’m getting reps as the personal protector on punts, I’m getting some reps as the off returner on kickoff return, and I’m getting some reps on kickoff,” Fitzgerald said. “Maybe I’ll even get on punt return. We’ll see. But right now that’s where I’m working. I feel comfortable and feel like I can have some success.

“Being an off returner if they kick one short, I would love to return a kick. That’s always a positive. Every position they have me on special teams I’m comfortable with and I think I can do well at.”

When Bucs camp begins on July 26 no one will have a more rigorous training camp than Fitzgerald who will have to split time between the quarterback and tight end meeting rooms, as well as participating in all of the special teams meetings, too.

“It definitely is a work load on top of learning all the special teams and all your calls from your P.P. (personal protector),” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a lot. I feel like I am back to being 17 at a freshman camp trying to learn a playbook for the first time. It’s just about your work ethic. In college I watched a lot of film and always made sure I was prepared. It’s no different here other than I’m kind of splitting time between the two positions along with special teams.”

Fitzgerald’s chances of making the team don’t necessarily lie on beating out third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin. Instead, he has to show some worth as an emergency quarterback, but also make some plays in the preseason as a running QB and a specialty tight end, in addition to proving that he can be a valuable and reliable special teamer.

Keep an eye on No. 7 in training camp.

Fitzgerald will be hard to miss, and not just because he’ll have an orange quarterback jersey on while playing tight end or special teams.

It’s because he won’t be coming off the practice field.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

36 COMMENTS

  1. Evans, Godwin, Howard, Brate, Perriman, Watson, Miller. Bucs offense has great potential but that o-line has to hold up.

    I wouldn’t rule out R. Smith yet. However, the rookie DB’s are pushing hard for playing time. C. Davis has a year of NFL experience under his belt and VH3 is a clear starter when healthy. I don’t see much daylight for Smith even though he is an excellent special teamer. Time will tell.

    Bucs are not stacked with elite talent everywhere. But the Bucs have a lot of talent that is very young and need guidance aka coaching.

    Most outside observers say that they assume the Bucs are a bad team because of a lack of talent leading to losing season. When these outside observers look over the talent of the team they come to a different conclusion. This team has enough talent to be a .500 ball club according to them.

    That is interesting because this mirrors what some Bucs fans have said. I think the Bucs lack talent at OL. That to me is too obvious and with all that money spent on o-line the Bucs still have a talent deficiency. Outside of that Bucs have talent but it is very inexperienced (eg secondary and RB).

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  2. Bucs are only Minus a couple O lineman , a replacement for JPP, a couple really good D backs, a Running Back a New top 10 quarterback, Deep threat receiver, backup QB , Good OC and this team could certainly break .500.

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  3. Don’t let the new Fitz’s Q.B. numbers fool you. He played in the SEC against the likes of Bama, Fla, GA, LSU. He’s played against some of the best players, and defenses in college football, not like he’s some division 3 walk on. You don’t even get recruited to the SEC without being good let alone start for three years. I like the fact BA has the imagination to use this kid like Peyton uses his jack of all trades. Imagination is something that was surely lacking in Koetter’s offense, and I believe contributed to our red zone woes. I also like the fact that BA would rather attack the middle of the field instead of the sidelines which can act like another defender. You can gain more YAC catching a pass over the middle compared to going out of bounds along the sideline. This new offense, and defense we’ll be seeing this year will at the very least be entertaining.

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    • Lol “This QB played in the SEC so he must be NFL material.” Couldn’t be more wrong. Check out this article from last year.

      Interesting stat for you. Last year, of all the QB positions, only 11 spots were filled by SEC QBs. That is dead last among Power 5 and it’s even behind the total number of QB’s who played in Division II and lower. “The SEC’s current total of 11 NFL quarterbacks puts the league behind the other leading collegiate conferences in producing pro signal-callers. The ACC and Big 12 have 17 former quarterbacks apiece (including North Carolina State’s Philip Rivers, above, with the Los Angeles Chargers) on current NFL rosters, the Pac-12 has 16 and the Big Ten has 15. Fourteen of the NFL’s quarterbacks played at college levels lower than NCAA FBS.”

      https://www.al.com/sports/erry-2018/07/a6656a49547348/how-many-former-sec-quarterbac.html

      Look, I’m not doubting the guy because I don’t even know anything about him so I won’t make an opinion on him. However, you sound like you have a clue what you’re talking about when your only point is “Well, he played in the SEC”

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      • You sound like you *don’t* have a clue

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  4. Positive Post
    Born in Fort Myers grew up in in Tampa moved to Denver during the Elway years being in Denver 10 years so I am listing top 10 advantages to be a Bucs fan and not broncos fan

    1. Can get a good seat 1 hour before game at 25% face value ticket.
    2. Can get a good parking spot for tailgate without getting tio stadium night before game.
    3. If you do not like your seat there plenty others to chose from.
    4. Do not need ear plugs to save ears from crowd noise.
    5 Meet many interesting fans from the other team and not have to use violence .
    6. Can video tape game with out stadium shaking..
    7. Can watch whole game without worrying about getting stuck in 3 hour traffic jam.
    8 When Bucs lose it is not a shock.
    9. Do not have to miss christmas parties to stay home watch playoff games.
    10. Do not have to shell out thousands of dollars and travel to superbowl every other year.

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  5. Fab 4: You’ve got your 3rd sentence wrong and it’s the key to everything. Talent really is the issue in Tampa Bay, relative to the rest of the league anyway. The most of the local Buc media and most of the Bucs fans are also wrong on this important point and it’s why we keep losing every year. When get more talent relative to the rest of the league we will beat the rest of the league, plain and simple.

    Most of the coaches shuffle around every year so only a few head coaches truly can add a boost to their teams’ win-loss record relative to other NFL coaches. For example, Gary Kubiak one a Super Bowl not long ago and he was an average head coach at best.

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  6. Can tell this is mid July and not much news for anyone to write about. Go Bucs!

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  7. There is a great deal of enthusiasm among Buc players this season. The offense needs no props, it’s top ten. I really like the way the Bucs defense is coming together and here is my upbeat analysis of what I see happening.

    The D-Line in the Todd Bowles 3-4 defense is essentially gap control. With Beau Allen at the nose position and Suh and Vea at the DE positions – either one will attack depending on which one draws the double team. William Gholston now has rocks in his pocket at 308lbs will be in rotation. Brutal!

    The attack and electricity will come from the LBs and safeties. The draft makes that fairly obvious. OLBs Noah Spence and Shaq Barrett will come steaming off the edge with speed or when power is needed Ryan Nassib and Anthony Nelson like Nephilim guardians will man the ramparts and patrol the perimeter invoking fear.

    ILBs Lavonte David and Devin White will blitz and eat attacking the middle with the money backer Deone Buchannon sitting in the box for added security. Look for LVD to have his best days blitzing reminiscent of the Schiano defense.

    Coming in low at altitude is the 94th aero-squadron of CBs Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis playing man-to man giving the D-Line time to do its damage. Meanwhile, Safeties Kentrell Brice, Justin Evans, Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead as post-apocalyptic bounty hunters are roaming the outback looking for any interlopers that may have escaped the first line of defense.

    As you can tell Scott, I’m pumped. This year is the year! No more waiting! I can’t wait to see this eleven-headed Hydra in full effect. I know the Hydra in mythology had nine heads, but this my story and I’m telling it like I want to. Lol. Have a good weekend guys! Go Bucs!

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  8. I don’t think it is a lack of talent given the long playoff drought for the Bucs. Bucs have had talent the last decade in most years to be a .500 ball club.

    I am on the side of the argument that argues that coaching matters and the NFL has created enough parity where talent levels of teams are relatively similar.

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  9. Scott, you’re the man, but you never mention Watson’s speed when you talk about him. Humphries ran a 4.53, Wilson ran a 4.58 and Watson ran a consensus 4.41-4.42. He’s one of the fastest receivers behind Perriman and Miller. He may not be the fastest but it should be noted.

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  10. Also, I Love It when Trolls expose themselves!

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  11. There you have it, DumbAssBob reveals he is actually a Broncos fan and troll. What an idiot.

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  12. Scott, Ienjoyed your open letter to the Bucs and feel like it confirmed what a few of the Bucs players and what tCoach Koetter felt at the end of the year,
    The Bucs did have the talent to be a better than .500 team, but a number of players were happy enough to be picking up big checks and not to concerned if they won or lost.
    Word is that JPP pointed out to Gerald McCoy in a huddle he was one of those players.
    Apparently BA saw this as well which is why McCoy is no longer here.
    MeShawn Jackson was another.
    I’m sure as training camp starts and BA picks up on anymore of those attitudes, they will be issued a home version of the Buccaneer game as well

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  13. Spitfire that’s slower than Evans or OJ.

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  14. @pinkstob took the words from my mouth….you can’t have the WORST RG in the league, not a single DLineman on the roster that has ever recorded double digit sacks (apart from Suh who got 10 one time a decade ago), no RB that has ever recorded even 1,000 yards (never mind 1,500) in a season, your best DB is…… and say you don’t have a talent problem. Yes this team does. It also has several very talented players, and the potentially for some of those players to make plays together (e.g., Winston to Evans) that make the team look respectable at times, but it definitely has a talent dearth relative to the top teams.

    And why is it that when ever history is reviewed it is done so with rose-colored glasses on? Yes we had a half dozen or so close losses last year, we also had 4 of our 5 wins be just as close…sure we could have won a few more games, but we also could have been 1-16. As Lovie used to say, “you are what your record says you are”.

    Scott: the Revolutionary war was not fought for “freedom”. The people who were enslaved, without their freedom, were still enslaved without their freedom after the colonies gained independence from Great Britain. The war was principally fought because the colonists didn’t want to pay (and rightfully so) new taxes being imposed on them by the crown to pay for its dreadful French and Indian war fiasco. It was largely a war of economics, not freedom….unless you were suggesting they wanted freedom from taxes. By and large, the “way of life” was just as free before and after for those with rights; and just as unfree for those without them.

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  15. DRDNEAST: “I’m sure as training camp starts and BA picks up on anymore of those attitudes, they will be issued a home version of the Buccaneer game as well”

    From your keyboard to BA’s ears.

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  16. Good stuff macabee, but you forgot VHIII. I think he breaks out.

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  17. Excuse me What the Buc , but OJ ran a 4.5 and evans, I believe, ran a 4.52. Anyway he never ran a 4.41 in his life.

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  18. Eastendboy – You really need to study US history in more detail. Economics was a driving force, but there were many other grievances the colonists had as well. The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights addresses several of them.

    Also, freeing the slaves was greatly and heatedly debated during the summer of 1787, when the US Constitution was being written and debated. In the end, the northern states had to let slavery be a state’s right issue in order to keep the country whole. An unfortunate thing for the slaves, to be sure, but the early years of the USA depended upon keeping all 13 states in union with each other. Fortunately for the slaves, we abolished slavery by the end of the Civil War at the expense of over 600,000 lives lost.

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  19. Wow Scot. You got the commiecrats to show there true colors. I’m feeling some pink. LMAO. By the you mentioned J. Watson being smart because he’s an Ivy Leaguer, the biggest product those schools produce are communist.

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  20. As you said, EricNV…the decision to free the slaves was not a matter between the British and the colonists (as you point out in your comments regarding 1787 and so forth). The revolutionary war was not fought for their (or anyone’s) freedom….my point, as clearly stated – and as you reiterated, despite then also claiming that I “needed to study US history in more detail”, for some strange reason.

    True, as with all wars, there were many issues at hand, but it is indisputable that, at the very least, the last and significant straw was “taxation without representation”.

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  21. What The Buc, Sorry Bud But Mike Evans tan a 4.53 and OJ Howard ran a 4.51. Don’t get me wrong they are still great at their position, but I just feel like Watson’s speed isn’t recognized enough.

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  22. EastEndBoy,

    free·dom
    /ˈfrēdəm/

    • the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

    • absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.

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  23. Interesting and didn’t remember this, Watson is a legit 4.4 guy.

    https://www.thedp.com/article/2018/03/penn-football-justin-watson-senior-pro-day-nfl-hopeful-40-yard-dash-speed-draft

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  24. Yes Watson can run. Like I said the oline shows up the receivers will feast. And maybe the running game becomes at least average.

    I would like to see the defense and special teams actually look decent for a change as well. Special teams slipped year or show it seemed. Kicking woes are well documented but the punting also put the defense in precarious situations. And the inability to flip the field with punts also hurt the chances for the offense to have favorable field position even if the defense made a stop.

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  25. You know it’s getting late in the offseason when comment/topics include war history, SAB coming out of the closet as a Broncos fan, and debating receiver speed times by tenths of seconds.

    None-the-less, enjoyed the FAb 5 as always, especially after a week off. Hope you all had a great holiday, 14 more days until training camp…..!!!

    Go Bucs!

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  26. Good grief, can we please just stick to football topics?

    As Dr.D noted, Buc, or is it Bronco, Ass Bob has finally revealed his true colors as burnt orange and blue instead of red and pewter. The Bucs played the Broncos at Ray Jay a few seasons back. There were an awful lot of Bronco fans at that game. I suspect Bronco Ass Bob was one of them. Fess up Bob. Where were your loyalties that afternoon? Perhaps you should saddle up and ride that little white horse back to Colorado so you can burn one legally.

    There are plenty of teams with mediocre talent that maximize it and over-achieve. There are also teams with similar mediocre talent that flounder. Injuries, like the Bucs suffered last season, further contribute to the weakening of the roster. Literally bringing guys in during the week and lining them up to play on Sunday is not a recipe for success. Having a horrible PK, which is only one position, certainly doomed chances for success. No, this team isn’t the Steelers of the mid-70’s. Neither is it the 1976 Buccaneers.

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  27. Ass Bobber, I Bob for Ass, etc is mentally challenged. Quit reading his idiotic troll rants.

    They stay healthy this team will be competitive and very capable of winning season.

    Go Bucs!

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  28. East. That would be a hell of an accomplishment. The Bucs would have been the first team ever to have gone 1-16 lol and I totally agree with you surferdudes. Coaching was a MAJOR issue with this team. Offensive play calling, the use of the weapons on offense, the type you of plays that were being called, who was being used at which parts of the field. All of it was monumentally wrong. It was so bad I don’t even know where to begin. Between using DJax as strictly a deep threat and nothing else was a major fail. Why on earth they didn’t use him on quick slants, bubble screens, reverses is beyond me. You have a guy that can score from anywhere on the field and yet he only scores on long deep passes. Maybe Dirk should take a look at how the Chiefs have used Hill over the last few years. Because we misused him so badly it’s not even funny. Then there’s OJ Howard. Who averaged 4.8 targets per game which was good for 12th among all TE’s. He had a 80% catch rate and is nearly unguardable. He should be getting close to 7 targets per game, with plenty of usage in the red zone. Then there’s the usage of the RB’s catching passes out of the backfield. You ever wonder why the Pats always lead the league in catches by RB’s? Easy, because it’s the highest percentage pass, and easiest way to pick up quick, easy, free yards. Yet this team will NOT dump it off to the RB if nobody is open. It’s called taking what the defense gives you. All the best offenses in the league do it. (Saints, Pats, Steelers, Rams, Packers, Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles, Bears. Notice that all those teams are at the top of the league in RB receptions. That’s not an accident. It’s smart coaching. The defense can’t account for the entire offense. I would have used Rodgers and S.Wilson more out of the backfield. Dump offs, screens, delayed outs, motions and quick slants. Use the entire offense. And not just a couple guys. If you can’t run the ball as badly as we can’t, not using your RB’s to open up the field in the passing game, is moronic on so many levels. You ever watch Peyton Manning play. He was the king of taking what the defense gave him. Nobodies open….dump it off to the RB and gain 5 yards. Huge difference between forcing a throw to an un-open WT for a pick or a 2nd and 10, versus a 2nd and 5. I don’t know if Winston has free reign to make that call or if Koetter made that call. But it needs to change fast. BA has a history of using the RB’s for dump offs if the play isn’t there

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  29. WR*

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  30. I’m new to this post but have been a fan since the creamsicle days. I played football from peewee thru sophomore in high school then a rough and tumble Marine Corps team in Cali back in late 70s. I learned a lot about self discipline, teamwork, espirit de corps, commitment, Leadership, loyalty, perseverance, and determination. From my humble perspective comes my humble opinion. I’m not going to point out the who’s who and how good they are, were or can be. The individual is over emphasized within the team, the media, the fans and even coaches and management. If our Bucs truly desire to become the champions they are then the me factor needs to disappear. These guys are all pros that are the less than 1percent that make the NFL so pointing out the individual just feeds their ego and creates negative emotional baggage amongst other pros putting a drag on the spirit of the team and their ability to meld into the one, in this case the team. If you look at any team sport and any winning team you see a collective selfless attitude. Yeah, the individuals are recognized after the battle or game with medals or MVP. AFTER being the key word and I’ll bet my life that those individuals who earned it were not thinking about it when in the performance of their duty. If our Bucs can master this team attitude with an individual dedication to and a collective sense of service to the success of each other then the superbowl is theirs.

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  31. Koetter said numerous times how good Watson was, but just look at the talent in front of him. With Hump and DJax gone he’s definitely a front runner for WR4 in a high flying vertical attack offense. Should put up some respectable numbers this year. I’m anxious to see him finally play.

    Fitzgerald is a gadget player at best. 3rd string everything. He’s a great athlete, but if he can’t be a legit #1 or #2 for any position then I would think his roster spot would be best used on the O or D Line. If we were loaded with talent my answer would be different, but we have too many holes to fill to keep him as a potential trick play artist. Unless, however, he excels on special teams, then maybe he has a shot at replacing someone.

    I don’t believe the suspension will play a part in saving Smith’s job. He’s a 4th year DB and still a backup (now) making $1.5M. Is he a better DB than those fighting to replace him? He will have to really outplay the new guys to keep his spot. Russell Shepherd is proof there’s no loyalty to special teams specialists so that line of thinking needs to go away. I think he might be on his way to the exit.

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  32. I thought Scott learned not to drag political rhetoric into his column after the great freak out over Trump a year and a half ago.
    Correlating events that happened 250 years ago to today is ridiculous. The great patriotic army that wrested the control from Britain, with help from the French I might add. was always about money. People can drape their greed with a stars and stripe flag do their self a disservice by not questioning what it always about.
    Call me a commiecrat , snowflake or a lefty libtard if you must. The fact is that the oppression of poor people has migrated into the middle class. Working men are being shafted and lied to in order to turn their rage on brown people.
    It’s a complicated world and we need to adjust policies to reflect todays issues.
    Long time Buc fan who believe in supporting the local teams, even when they suck.
    GO BUCS

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  33. 13 days and counting. Lot of good post above with a few exceptions. I think Watson will have a good year. Insurance against injury. Really curious to see a couple of these UDFA’s in action. Lived in Denver during the Floyd Little era, much rather sit in the sunshine than freeze my butt off at Mile High.

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  34. Maccabee knows football and especially the Bucs and his post on this subject says it all to you of no faith in these Bucs or BA. Get ready to hear the canons to fire frequently and the Buc’s flags to fly around our stadium.

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