Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.

I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook below in the article comments section.


A couple weeks ago I wrote that the key to a Bucs playoff push would be the play of the offensive line.

I still believe that.

But this week I take it a step further.

While each of the five linemen are important pieces to overall offensive success, specifically the play of left tackle Donovan Smith will go a long way toward how successful the Bucs 2020 season will be.

That’s right, I think Smith is the most important cog – other than quarterback Tom Brady – in the engine that is expected to be a high-powered, well-oiled machine this season.

An engine can run if it’s missing one cylinder, but it won’t go far without a carburetor.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are an 11-cylinder team offensively. They proved last season that they can still run missing one or two cylinders. Tampa Bay lost Mike Evans against the Colts, but still hummed to the tune of 495 yards and 38 points at Detroit the following week.

They lost Chris Godwin in the second half of the Lions game, yet still were able to manage 435 yards the following week against the Texans.

It was a strong engine, even when it didn’t run on all cylinders.

There is enough depth to go around at the skill positions to make the Bucs offense still run at a high level if Evans, Godwin, O.J. Howard or Rob Gronkowski were to miss games, or even if they struggle for stretches during the upcoming season.

But at left tackle?

There would be trouble in Tampa Bay.

Durability isn’t an issue for Smith. He’s missed one game in his career for the Buccaneers including a stretch of 77 straight before siting out last year’s game at Detroit. But he finished the regular season, coming back to play the last two games, giving him 79 starts out of 80 games since joining Tampa Bay in 2015.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

For all the curse words and frustrations thrown his way by fans over five years, you have to give the man his props. And make no mistake, some of those 79 out of 80 starts, a lesser player would have sat out a few of those games. Smith has been beat up and played through a lot of pain to be able to make 79 starts for the Buccaneers.

But if the Buccaneers want to be Super Bowl contenders, Smith will need to have his best season since entering the league. It is one thing to start a game and another to make it a quality start.

For all of Winston’s faults, including holding onto the ball too long, Winston was a sneaky mobile quarterback who escaped plenty of sacks. Those in the organization who said Winston was responsible for 15 of his 47 sacks in 2019, have to also admit that he avoided at least that many with his mobility.

That won’t be the case with Brady. Yes, Brady will get rid of the ball quicker than Winston did. Brady understands it is okay to take a sack or throw the ball six rows deep in the stands and live to fight another day.

But Bruce Arians’ offense is still a vertical-based passing attack that takes time for routes to develop down the field. The offensive line will still need to hold up longer than Brady was accustomed to during his 20 seasons with the Patriots. And even if Brady is able to avoid sacks by getting rid of the ball quicker than Winston did, he will still take shots. And make no mistake, Brady’s new NFC South opponents on defense will want to make a point to the ageless wonder.

Cam Jordan, Dante Fowler Jr. and Brian Burns.

Translation? They will be coming for you, and coming hard, Tom.

No matter what you think of Smith, in 2020 he must be better. Protecting a future Hall of Fame quarterback adds pressure. But it should also add pride.

The organization knows it has a real shot to go far in the playoffs. The fans know the Buccaneers have a real shot to go far in the playoffs. And the players know they have a real shot to go far in the playoffs.

Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and LT Donovan Smith
Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

But winning in the playoffs requires even more commitment. It requires each and every player to come into camp in the best shape of their career. It requires each player to have the best understanding of the playbook that they have had in their career.

Keeping Brady upright and healthy falls on all 11 on offense, and even the coaching staff. But as the blindside blocker of the most valuable player on the team, it falls on No. 76 more than anyone.

Smith talked about what it will be like blocking for Brady on a recent media call.

“You’ve got to embrace it because obviously he knows the winning ways,” Smith said. “He knows how to get to that point, he knows how to finish coming out on top. With him coming in here and bringing that mindset and information for us, as a young team, the sky’s the limit for us. You’ve got a lot of guys who I know are hungry and ready to go out there and compete and play fast, have fun, enjoy what they do and show out.”

This isn’t a big window. Brady will be 43 on August 3rd. The time for the Bucs to be at their best is now.

If you agree that it starts with the offensive line, then you have to believe Smith is the most important part of that group and the most important part of the equation for overall offensive success.


CANNON BLAST

Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two pretty good athletes. Okay, really good athletes. But golfers? Probably good amateurs, but clearly not in the class of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. Of course, Woods and Mickelson are two of the best on the PGA Tour, with Woods arguably the best to ever step on a course. So it was only natural to see Brady and Manning look nervous and spray the ball all over the course last Sunday in their nationally televised charity foursome that raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief.

Photo by: Getty Images

But as I wrote in my Monday Mailbag, I wonder how Tiger and Phil would fare if they stepped out of their comfort zone and strapped on a helmet and a set of football pads. I’m guessing it would be rough. Put Woods under center and see how many passes they would complete with Shaq Barrett coming off the edge. Line Mickelson up out wide and have him try and get open and catch a pass with Jamel Dean matched up one-on-one.

All in all it was a good show that raised a lot of money for a great cause. And the subtle trash talk was the best part. I hope that if hockey and basketball get back underway this summer without fans, that the leagues would mic up the players on the ice, on the court and even on the bench. 

• Former Bucs defensive end/linebacker Noah Spence who went from Tampa Bay to the Redskins to the Saints, reportedly tore his ACL recently while working out. This guy can’t catch a break. It is still a mystery to me why he was never able to find any success in league.

Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The guy is a workout warrior, stays in phenomenal shape but didn’t ever find his niche in the NFL and now faces another big hurdle as he will try and return from the ACL. A lot of players would just hang it up and do something a little less taxing on the body. I give him credit though, the dude is dedicated. Maybe something clicks for Spence. But I wouldn’t count on it. The league is littered with stories of players who were physical specimens, but just weren’t very good football players.

• Ali Marpet met with the media on a Zoom call this week, and he for one thinks the entire offensive line will be better in 2020.

“I do think that our group, even though they’re the same guys, are guys that want to improve on themselves and get better, get stronger and in better shape,” he said. “So I think that you’ll see better years from everyone – Donovan will play better, Ryan will play better than the year before. I think you’ll see that everyone’s going to work to play a little bit better because we have that sort of mentality and approach, just always kind of improving on ourselves. So I really do expect better results, better results in the run game, next year.”

We’ve been hearing it for years now. Enough talk. Now it is time to show it.

• Normally the last thing in The Hook is a funny football related meme or tweet. But in light of the current situation in our country and the tragic circumstances that took place in Minnesota last week, trying to be be humorous didn’t really seem appropriate.

Instead I end it with a tweet from PewterReport.com that we put out earlier this week. Stay safe and healthy everybody, and look for ways to make a difference and a change in your community to honor George Floyd.

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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bucballer

I agree Mark. Donovan will be a very important part of this offensive line as he protects Brady. Here’s hoping he finally puts it all together and has his best year yet. There has been some continuity on that left side and they r familiar with each other’s tendencies. While all eyes will be on Donovan because he plays that important LT position, I believe Wirfs will make the biggest impact on the line this season. I look for him to find a home on the right side and add further stability to a line that should play their best… Read more »

geno711

On Sirius XM NFL radio this past week, ex – coach Pat Kirwan, did an analysis of the Buc’s offensive line last year and blamed the sacks as follows:   Donovan Smith, 5 sacks (with 2 holding – 5 total penalties), Dotson with 4 sacks – 10 total penalties, Jensen 1 sack – 2 penalties, Marpet 1 sack, Cappa with 5 sacks.   He did not mention the back up lineman, tight ends or running backs. But overall ‘his’ blame was not much on our starting offensive lineman.   Kirwan then went into an analysis that the Buc’s were the… Read more »

BigSombrero

Thanks for sharing. Pat Kirwan is great on “Movin the Chains” and his book “Take Your Eye OFF The Ball” are highly informed. That’s how I try to watch football at the snap.

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surferdudes

They’ll all play better with Brady calling the protections, and knowing where to do with the ball pre snap.

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toofamiliar17

That won’t be the case with Brady. Yes, Brady will get rid of the ball quicker than Winston did.   This seems to be the common assumption, but I actually have some doubts here. Last season, Bruce’s offense was #1 in the NFL in average air yards per target. Brady placed 27th in the league in that same category. What really jumps out, though, is that despite the fact that Winston was throwing his passes MUCH deeper down the field than Brady was, they got the ball out at almost the same time on average – Winston averaged 2.77 seconds… Read more »