Featured image: Courtesy of the Buccaneers

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.


 

“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.”

Back in the first week of June, my Hook column addressed the upcoming season and which player might have the biggest impact on the success – or disappointment – in Tampa Bay during the 2020 campaign.

I didn’t come up with quarterback Tom Brady, or outside linebacker Shaq Barrett or cornerback Carlton Davis III. While certainly crucial pieces, the Bucs, on offense in particular, would go the way left tackle Donovan Smith goes.

After one game Smith is 0-1.

And not surprisingly, so are the Buccaneers.

Let’s be clear. Smith didn’t lose the game for the Buccaneers on Sunday, but he had a hand in giving up two of Tampa Bay’s three sacks, as well as four pressures, one hit and one hurry, in addition to a penalty.

Smith didn’t throw any interceptions. Smith didn’t mishandle a kickoff, and Smith didn’t let Saints’ tight end Jared Cook run free down the sideline for a 46-yard pass reception.

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

While Smith didn’t lose the game on Sunday, he also didn’t contribute much to the limited success on offense. As we have seen from Smith over his career, he tends to have these momentary lapses of what some might describe as laziness.

In the second quarter on Sunday, with Tampa Bay driving, Smith was beaten on a running play that resulted in a four-yard loss. On the second down play, Brady was pressured and his pass intended for Cam Brate was incomplete. Next was a 3rd-and-14 situation and Smith gave up a sack that pushed the ball back five more yards and in came kicker Ryan Succop for a 54-yard field goal attempt that was blocked.

Smith didn’t miss the block that allowed Margus Hunt to get a hand on Succop’s attempt, but he did cost his team nine yards in two plays where he was clearly beaten.

Tampa Bay head coach Arians wasn’t pleased with Smith’s effort on that series and had this to say about it in Monday’s press conference.

“I was very disappointed in his play,” Arians said. “I think every now and then he reverts back to some techniques that are not very good [and] he got beat. He had, probably, the easiest guy to block up there and he did a poor job. It was one of his poorer games and expect for him to bounce back this week, yes.”

On social media, some fans were calling for the Bucs to cut Smith. That won’t happen.

Like it or not, Smith is still the team’s best option at left tackle.

It is kind of crazy to think that Smith’s game actually looked worse in some respects because of how well right tackle rookie Tristan Wirfs played in his NFL debut. So naturally there were some who were calling for the Bucs to replace Smith with Wirfs.

Screech!

Slam the breaks on that idea as well.

The Bucs have spent all of the abbreviated offseason getting Wirfs ready to play on the right side, and have spent little, if any, time working him on the left side of the line. Wirfs was a right tackle in college primarily, although he did start three games on the left side last year due to injury, and just throwing a player on the other side of the line of scrimmage, especially a young player, would be difficult to say the least.

Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs
Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I spoke to a former NFL tackle, that previously played in Tampa Bay and is now out of football, and asked him about Wirfs possibly making a switch.

“First of all, they aren’t going to switch him, they are paying Donovan too much to play there,” the former player said. “It could be done, I did it one year after just two weeks of practice, but it would be tough as a rookie with no offseason.”

So there goes pretty much that thought.

What about signing a free agent?

At this point into the season those guys are on a team already and serviceable left tackles are just wandering the streets, in shape and ready to play. Smith is better than either of his backups – Josh Wells or Joe Haeg. That’s why he’s starting.

And next year’s crop of potential free agent tackles looks to be slim pickings at first glance, and that’s even if teams don’t sign them back before free agency.

One player the Bucs could have had this past offseason is San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams, who wanted out of Washington. The 49ers were able to get Williams for a fifth-round draft pick in 2020 and a third-rounder next year. But at age 33 it was a steep price to pay for a player, who only has one year left on his deal and has had some medical issues in the past.

Although it might have been worth it, as Williams graded out as second-best tackle in the NFL in Week 1 according to Pro Football Focus, surrendering just one pressure in the 49ers’ loss to the Cardinals on Sunday.

Smith, on the other hand, graded out as the 41st tackle – out of the 64 that started on Sunday. PFF gave him a 64 grade and a 58.8 pass blocking grade against the Saints.

Tampa Bay’s 0-1 start can’t solely be pinned on Smith of course, but how far the Buccaneers go this season will go partly determined by how well Smith plays for the rest of the season. This was supposed to be the year that Smith lived up to his potential.

I still remember asking former offensive line coach George Warhop prior to the 2017 season, how good Smith could be.

“He is an unbelievable talent,” Warhop said. “When I say he’s unbelievable I think he literally can be one of the top two or three tackles in the league.”

A year earlier, in 2016, Warhop had this to say about Smith.

“He hasn’t scratched the surface as to his potential,” Warhop said. “It’s up to him whether he wants to reach it or not, but he has unbelievable potential.”

Bucs OL coach George Warhop
Bucs OL coach George Warhop – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

And just earlier this month offensive line coach Joe Gilbert was still talking about the inconsistencies in Smith’s game.

“We can say everything we want as a coach, but if the player doesn’t buy into it, then it’s not going to go anywhere,” Gilbert told the media on September 1. “I think that’s one thing he’s [Smith] realized. That 60 out of 65 plays aren’t good enough. And that’s one thing that he’s trying to work on.

“The other day when [Arians] said we had a bad offensive practice. You know, as I said to [Smith], I said, ‘Hey, you know it’s one thing about having a bad play, you can’t have a bad day.’ And he said, ‘I had a bad day.’ And that was coming from him. So he’s starting to realize that and we just have to keep working to minimize the bad reps that he has, and the bad plays in a ballgame.”

Yikes.

Six years in and not a lot has changed.

So what do the Buccaneers do? What can they do?

I suppose hope that Smith responds to the criticism and comes with his “A” game this week against the Panthers and for the rest of the season?

That is pretty much the plan for 2020. And if Smith doesn’t show improvement, the team likely moves on, as his $14.25 million base salary in 2021 isn’t guaranteed, and looks to draft a new starter in 2021.

Or perhaps the Bucs use next offseason to get Wirfs ready to play the left side.

For the record, I personally like Smith. He has always been a good source of quotes for the media, and has been a part of some of our charity events in the past, not to mention his own annual bowling event that raises money and awareness for Autism Speaks, a cause near and dear to his heart.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: PewterReport.com

Let’s face it, Smith is a warrior who has missed one start in his 81-game career, playing through injuries and being dependable. His teammates like him, the organization likes him, but everyone needs him to be better.

Especially No. 12.
Hopefully Smith’s game against the Saints was just a bump in the road. Hopefully that was the worst game he has all season. Hopefully Smith plays so well the rest of the year that the team doesn’t even think twice about bringing him and his $14.25 million salary back in 2021.Hopefully.But at the end of the day, Smith himself – and no one else – can decide how it plays out.

Cannon Blast

• Oh no, the sky is falling! Many Tampa Bay fans are on the edge and some want to jump after Sunday’s 34-23 loss at New Orleans. While disappointing, it isn’t the end of the world. I mean the end of the world might actually be very near, but it won’t because of Buccaneers losses that it ends.

By now we have all seen the stat. Tom Brady has lost three season openers. He tended to follow those losses up with pretty darn successful seasons, huh?

• Vita Vea – oh Vita.

Why?

How?

Bucs NT Vita Vea
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

What was with your Chris “Swaggy” Baker imitation on Sunday after jumping offsides on fourth-and-2 giving the Saints a first down?

I know it was said in the huddle, I know it was screamed from the sidelines, I know you knew to watch the ball and not fall for the hard count of veteran signal caller Drew Brees.

When Bruce Arians talks about the “Bucs beating the Bucs,” look no further than that critical gaffe that might have been a turning point in the game, as the Saints drove down the field and kicked a field goal to increase their lead to 17-7 right before halftime.

I’m still pulling my hair out after that one.

• And finally, hat’s off to the NFL for their COVID-19 handling. I was very skeptical of an NFL season, and it has yet to be determined if they make it 16 games, but the results so far have been outstanding.

In the most recent data released, 2,511 players received 15,959 tests during the testing period from Sept. 6-12, and 4,926 other team personnel received 24,520 tests during the same period.

The results? Just two NFL players and five other personnel produced positive COVID-19 tests.

Last Laugh

As someone who was born in Germany, I found this Tom Brady video clip particularly hilarious!

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 mark@pewterreport.com
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PatrioticChief

Wirfs won’t move to the left and Smith wont get cut in 2020. All bets are off in 2021. I have said it before and I will say it again I have absolutely zero tolerance for Licht if he doesn’t have a plan to replace Smith coming into 2021. That doesn’t mean the plan will necessarily pan out. There are a lot of uncontrollable variables during the offseason. But barring a career defining season it’s time for Smith tenure as a Buc to be over.

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Last edited 1 month ago by PatrioticChief
BigSombrero

You have “zero tolerance” for Licht if he doesn’t have a plan to replace Smith in 2021?

As a fan, I’m not sure your tolerance level matters bub. Lol.

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toofamiliar17

Neither does literally anything you say or think matter. And yet, here you burn hours of your life, droning on pointlessly like the rest of us. What’s even your point?

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The Wall

“When the horse dies, dismount!” I’m not sure who said that but if Smith has another game or two like that, we won’t have much of a choice. Really hope last week was a wake up call for him.

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scubog

That’s funny. I sure hope you don’t mean the poster Horse.

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underachiever not all in every play. He knows that less than average LT play will make him rich in today’s NFL. He will be signed soon if we ever release him. We should not have resigned & found an overachiever.

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twspin

Smith did not play well. But the 50 million dollar savior did not play well either. Nor did his 10 mil side kick Gronk.. The Bucs have the largest coaching staff in all of the NFl. Its time for the so called, QB whisperer to get out of his golf cart and do some hands on coaching. Sorry guys just callin it like Eyes..see;s it!

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Dman

Right there with ya twspin, poor coaching was everywhere Sunday, especially on offense. Why does BA keep hyping Leftwich, he’s horrible. All these coaches and still undisciplined play across the board.

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surferdudes

Sometimes you have to pay attention to the flaws of players entering the draft. For Smith it was never about talent, but the knock on him coming out was taking plays off, and mental lapses. Having seen that from Smith as a pro, Licht still resigned him. Like you said Mark, six years in nothing has changed. Nothing will change. Bucs need to use their 1st round pick next year on his replacement.

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matador

Agreed Surfer except it should have happened several years ago. Would have if we had a better GM. But then a better GM wouldn’t have waited until the 2nd round to fortify such a critical position.

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toofamiliar17

I agree with all of your critiques of Smith, but he DOES also lack some talent in a big way. His feet are incredibly slow, he lacks all quickness and is short on athleticism, making him a constant liability on zone runs away from him (countless Bucs running plays to the right side over his tenure have been blown up by his defender, who he failed miserably to cut block even almost capably), and his technique is inconsistent. He’s always lunged too much, had a tendency to drop his head, and been weak in his kick slide against speed rushers.… Read more »

Charlie

I fully believe this will be Smith’s last season with the Bucs. He’s too inconsistent and can’t be trusted. Hopefully Tom makes it through the season.

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seat26

Start drafting Offensive lineman the way we draft defensive backs. Early and often.

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matador

Too late for JBL to do that his window will close with or before Brady’s.

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matador

In the sixth year you recognize and call this out?!? Just like the talking carrot’s enablers, by making excuses for Jason Bust Licht over a half dozen years of draft day futility you’re part of the problem.

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scubog

You sound like DrD. with sneaking your politics into an otherwise valid comment.

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Dman

For those of us paying attention the past few years, there’s nothing new here with D.Smith. Last Sunday was bad, but not a surprise. Just don’t let the rest of the O line off the hook. Cappa was not good and other than people saying Ryan Jensen has played well, he just doesn’t show up on Sunday.

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drdneast

On to Carolina.

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FLBoy84

Understand the analogy, but the term “warrior” is used much to frequently and casually. Smith is NOT a warrior. He’s a football player who can play through discomfort, and gets paid over $14.5M this year to do it. If the inconsistent Smith was a true warrior, he’d of been dead long ago.

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Spitfire

Although we need Smith to play well this year, the positive thing is that Wirfs is showing signs of being at least a lock down RT, and Alex Cappa has his big boy NFL body goin now and seems to be locking down RG as well. So even though Smith May turn out to be the last remaining weak point on this line, even though he plays arguably the most important position on the line, it means we may finally only be 1 piece away from truly having a solid line. If Brady does in fact come back next year,… Read more »

toofamiliar17

Everything negative being said about Smith right now is, of course, true. It does crack me up for it to only be being heavily talked about now, though. Smith has intermittently hurt this team’s running game and frequently endangered its quarterbacks throughout his entire career. Last season was his best ever, but even then, it would take at least four hands to count the left tackles who were better than him. He’s always looked like Tarzan and played like Jane, and he’s ALWAYS been incredibly proud of himself to the point of approaching pure arrogance. If he’s reading this right… Read more »

scubog

Can we pump the brakes on declaring Wirfs a star after but one game in which he received a lot of help from the TE’s? Yes, his play was better than many expected. I too think he might be better suited for LT due to his superior athleticism……..but not this season. If Donovan Smith’s play doesn’t match his salary the rest of this year, he’s going to go the way of #3 when B.A. and Licht could no longer turn a blind eye to the bad outweighing the good. Assuming we are selecting at the end of the first round,… Read more »

fredster

The defense is going to be pretty good if they stay healthy. Special teams may improve from disastrous to little below average, but it will not be fixed this year. As it wasn’t the last 5 years. The offense will get better as chemistry builds etc., but now injuries to Godwin and Evans may force WR’s on field that will have less talent and even worse chemistry with Brady. As in more int.‘s will be coming from not being on same page. I just sat back laughed when so many here were convinced if we just fire Winston we are… Read more »

Ted in Tampa

Hopefully Smith’s game against the Saints was just a bump in the road. Hopefully that was the worst game he has all season. Hopefully Smith plays so well the rest of the year that the team doesn’t even think twice about bringing him and his $14.25 million salary back in 2021.Hopefully.But at the end of the day, Smith himself – and no one else – can decide how it plays out. FROM TED IN TAMPA: YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING. SMITH HAS BEEN HERE FOR FIVE YEARS AND HAS NEVER PLAYED EVEN ADEQUATELY EVER. HIS FIRST TWO YEARS, HE FINIISHED… Read more »