The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a Tampa Bay Buccaneers-related topic each week.
This week’s topic: What Depth Chart Move Do The Bucs Need To Make?
Scott Reynolds: Elliott Over Stewart
In my latest SR’s Fab 5 column I recommended three depth chart changes to Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter during the bye week – Ryan Smith over Brent Grimes at cornerback, Javien Elliott over rookie M.J. Stewart at nickel cornerback and Evan Smith over Caleb Benenoch at right guard. If I have to pick one to expand on here I would go with Elliott over Stewart because I think out all three of the positions I mentioned, Stewart has been the weakest link thus far to start the season. Yes, Grimes got exposed against Pittsburgh and Chicago, and Benenoch has been shaky in pass protection in the last three games in which he has given up a total of four sacks, but Stewart has been targeted because he’s a rookie and sticks out like a sore thumb because of his inexperience.
I like Stewart’s toughness and intelligence. I remember him forcing a couple of fumbles in Tampa Bay’s win at Tennessee in the preseason. I think he can be a good, Brian Kelly-type cornerback for the Bucs in time if he works on his weaknesses. I’m also aware that Stewart probably wouldn’t be playing – or playing nearly as much – if cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III weren’t on injured reserve. He’s been pressed into duty much to his detriment and to the detriment of the Bucs’ pass defense. Whether it is slight hesitation because he’s an inexperienced rookie, bad technique or a lack of elite athleticism as I’ve wondered aloud, Stewart is too often in the immediate trail position when covering faster, quicker receivers in the slot. We saw this with Nelson Agholar against Pittsburgh, JuJu Smith-Schuster against Pittsburgh and again with Doug Gabriel and Allen Robinson at Chicago.
Elliott is quicker and faster, running a 4.41 40-yard dash at Florida State’s pro day, while Stewart was clocked at 4.54 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He’s a better match-up against some of the league’s more athletic slot receivers. Elliott also has three years worth of experience playing nickel defense in Mike Smith’s defense, playing in six games as a rookie with one start. I would give Elliott the start at nickel cornerback at Atlanta where the Falcons are likely to try to create mismatches by using first-round pick Calvin Ridley, who has six touchdowns as a rookie, and Pro Bowler Julio Jones in the slot.
At this point of the season, Stewart has already taken his lumps. He doesn’t need to 65 snaps of trying to slow down Ridley and Jones on Sunday. That has Ryan Smith vs. Jones from 2017 written all over it. Start Elliott and play him two-thirds of the snaps and let Stewart play one-third of the snaps and get some valuable experience watching from the sidelines without the pressure of having to face a stud receiver for the entire game.
Mark Cook: Ryan Smith over Brent Grimes
When you have the worst secondary in the NFL, teams need to make changes. No matter how much fans clamor for the Dirk Koetter to replace coordinator Mike Smith, that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. So what do you do next? You try and find the right mix of players on the field.
The Bucs have lost two straight games after a hot 2-0 start. Guess who didn’t play in the first two games but has started the last two? Brent Grimes. Before you get all of of sorts, in no way am I pinning the losing streak on Grimes. There is plenty of blame to go around. However, when your top returning cornerback signs a one-year, $7 million deal (with incentives to make it even more) you expect more from them.
Let’s face it, at times this season Grimes has looked completely disinterested at even be on the football field. Teams look like they have targeted Grimes nearly as much as they have rookie in Carlton Davis on the other side. And I don’t blame them. Grimes was never one who was known as a tackler, but this year is even worse. In this Smith scheme, like it or not, it is required that the cornerbacks be willing to come up and play physical in the run game at times.
It is time to let third-year player Ryan Smith take over that role and see what he brings to the table. Smith, or someone else, is the future. Everyone knows Grimes won’t be back next season and most likely had to be talked out of retirement this offseason. And he was give seven million reasons to come back. It is hard to blame him. I don’t think a single one of us would have turned down that money. But if your heart isn’t 100 percent in it, you are hurting your teammates. Give the young guns a shot and assess them moving forward. Let Ryan Smith shine or fail, but at least put in the guy who you know is fighting for his NFL career, not the one with one foot out the door, already dreaming of Caribbean beaches and fruity drinks with umbrellas in it.
Trevor Sikkema: Evan Smith over Caleb Benenoch Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter always talks about putting the team’s “best five out there” when it comes to offensive line play, but so far five weeks in it seems they have yet to really find out just who those specific five are. Almost all of the positions have been spoken for, but the one position that remains a mystery in terms of consistency is right guard.
Caleb Benenoch got the first crack at the starting gig. The 24-year-old, fifth round pick out of UCLA is in his third season in the league now, and after being a backup swing man along the offensive line for the past two years, he was the expected starter. Even though the team assumed he would take his lumps as a first-time starter, those lumps haven’t turned into progress, as you often want to see. Instead it just appears that Benenoch looks out-matched, as he’s given up four sacks in three games.
As much as it doesn’t hold much long-term potential, I say it’s time for this team to go to veteran guard Evan Smith as their starter. Smith has played guard and center for the Buccaneers for the past few seasons, and has been in this starting/backup limbo for most of it. Since consistency is so important to offensive line play, rotating guys in and out just doesn’t seem like something that can have sustained success.
If Benenoch can’t do it, as it appears he can’t, get someone new in there and try it out. Don’t just dip one toe in the water. Make a call and stick with it.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org