Bucs Coach Mike Smith Says TB Defense Has to Be Better in 2018

Bucs fans may still be tempted, but there’s no need to tell Mike Smith how disappointing Tampa Bay’s defense — last in the NFL in sacks, last in passing yards allowed — was last season, Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

“It’s got to be a hell of a lot better than what we put out there last year,” Smith said Wednesday, asked how much better his defense must be. “I’ve said it many times. The numbers are not anywhere close to what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to be more consistent in everything we do, and it starts in the meeting rooms, in building trust with one another across the board. That’s the most important thing.”

The Bucs have helped Smith out by addressing the defense extensively in the offseason, first in signing end Vinny Curry and tackles Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein, then trading a third-round pick to get Pro Bowl end Jason Pierre-Paul.

In the draft, three of the first four picks were on defense, with defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round and cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis in the second round, plus two more defensive draft picks.

Smith said he was encouraged by how his defense continued to fight last year, through injuries and two five-game losing streaks, and that speaks to the character of the players he’s counting on to turn things around.

“The way that we played, how poorly we played, to show some resiliency at the end, that says at the core that we have some really strong-willed football players,” Smith said. “I think we’ve added guys that are strong-willed into the defensive meeting room, and they’re also better football players.”

Can the Bucs Go From Worst to First in 2018? Pro Football Weekly Discusses Their Chances

There’s been plenty of buzz around the Bucs since the NFL Draft nearly two weeks ago, as many think that the turnaround for the team will be swift, and not the long drawn out process that it’s taken for the team to start winning.

Today Pro Football Weekly’s Eric Edholm put out an article ranking all eight last place teams from the 2017 season, and if there’s a chance they can make it all the way to first place in 2018.

According to the article, the Bucs have the Fourth best shot to unseat the Saints for the Division title in 2018 – a feat that won’t come easy.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

Everyone’s chic NFC South pick a year ago went into the dumpster, which then was embalmed with a few gallons of turpentine. They started out 2-1, then dropped four close games in a brutal October stretch and never really got back on track. Still, this was a team that was pretty competitive most Sundays despite being terrible at winning close games (3-7), mostly because it put itself in a lot of early holes — Tampa was outscored 288-193 in the first three quarters of games — and shot itself with turnovers.

Jameis Winston endured an injury-plagued season, DeSean Jackson was a bust after signing a big contract, the running backs provided zero burst to what was an unbalanced offense and the pass rush was virtually nil. That’s what placed head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith squarely on the hot seat.

But Winston is healthy again, and signs point to an improved run game with the signing of center Ryan Jensen and the drafting of Ronald Jones II, a big-play machine. The defensive front was almost completely remade with the additions of veteran defensive ends Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul and interior help alongside Gerald McCoy with first-round space eater Vita Vea and free agents Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein.

Is this team good enough to challenge both the Saints and Falcons, not to mention their fellow playoff participant Panthers? That’s highly debatable. But if you told me that the Bucs were to turn things around and finish above .500, I wouldn’t be shocked a bit.

Video: Buccaneers GM GM Jason Licht on What Rookie RB Ronald Jones II Brings to the Team

The Bucs were pumped when they were able to get Ronald Jones II in the second round of last weeks NFL Draft. The running back from USC brings a lot to the table, and today on NFL Network GM Jason Licht spoke to his talents and what he is expected to bring to the team once the season gets going.

Buccaneers Earn an ‘B’ for Their Draft According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

The draft grades from ‘Draft Guru’ Mel Kiper Jr. are out, and one team that got a very good grade is that of the Bucs, who according to Kiper got an ‘B’ for their collection of players over the two days.

Here’s what he had to say:

The Tampa defense was abysmal last season. The Bucs allowed 5.98 yards per play, which ranked last in the league. They couldn’t stop the run, and they couldn’t defend the pass. They made a few moves to address the defensive line in the offseason, signing Vinny Curry and Beau Allen then trading for Jason Pierre-Paul. And they went defensive line with their first pick, adding mammoth nose tackle Vita Vea after trading down five spots with the Bills. I was a little surprised the Bucs didn’t go with safety Derwin James because he was still on the board, but I like Vea, even if tackle wasn’t a huge need. He should eat up blockers next to Gerald McCoy. GM Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter clearly identified the weakest spot on the team and fortified it this offseason.

The Bucs added two second-round picks from the Bills in that trade — those are two really important and premium selections — and ended up picking four times on Day 2. Running pack Ronald Jones II (pick 38) could be an immediate starter. He has breakaway speed but wasn’t used much in the passing game in college. Then Licht went with back-to-back cornerbacks in M.J. Stewart (53) and Carlton Davis (63), trying to address that need in the secondary. Former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III has been a disappointment, so expect Stewart and Davis to compete right away. Alex Cappa (94) is a developmental prospect who was named Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year each of the past four seasons. He’ll need time to adjust to the NFL. I had safety Jordan Whitehead (117) farther down on my board — he’s not very big. If Jack Cichy (202) stays healthy, he could be a good player.

Did this D get better in free agency and the draft? Six games against New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina will tell us.

Round/Pick Name Pos College
1/12 Vita Vea DT WASHINGTON
2/38 Ronald Jones II RB USC
2/53 M.J. Stewart CB NORTH CAROLINA
2/63 Carlton Davis CB AUBURN
3/94 Alex Cappa OT HUMBOLDT STATE
4/117 Jordan Whitehead S PITTSBURGH
5/144 Justin Watson WR PENNSYLVANIA
6/202 Jack Cichy ILB WISCONSIN

Buccaneers Pickup Fifth-Year Option on QB Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston is headed for a big pay day after this season, whether he gets a contract extension or not, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The Bucs on Tuesday picked up the fifth-year option on Winston’s rookie contract worth $20.9 million for 2019. The deal is not guaranteed except against injury.

Winston, the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft, signed a four-year, $25.3-million contract that included a fifth-year club option.

He stands to make $8.06 million in 2018 salary and bonuses, ranking him 26th among quarterbacks and 250th among NFL players.

If Winston were to play under the fifth year option of about $20.1-million, it would rank 13th in average salary per year among quarterbacks. There are currently 17 NFL quarterbacks earning more than $20-million.

At 24, Winston is entering his fourth season, having passed for 11,636 yards with 69 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. But his team has never reached the postseason. Winston went 6-10, 9-7 and 3-10 as a starter. He missed three games last season with a shoulder injury and fell less than 500 yards shy of passing for 4,000 yards for the third straight season.

The Bucs are likely to attempt to negotiate a long-term deal before the start of 2019.

“It’s exciting to start the fourth year, especially with my teammates, my class coming in,” Winston said Monday. “Donovan (Smith) has a big year coming up, Ali (Marpet) has a big year coming up, and obviously, I have a huge year coming up. And seeing guys like Cam (Brate) and Mike (Evans) — they reap what they sow. I mean, they got huge contracts but it’s what you said at the end.

“It’s about that postseason, man. It’s about getting some wins together, it’s about bringing this community behind us, it’s about really changing this culture around here and we’re taking strides to that but now it’s time to get it done.”

Buccaneers Announce 2018 Preseason Opponents

Today the Bucs announced who they will play in the 2018 preseason, as they announced the four teams that they will take on in practice games starting in August.

Week One: Aug. 9-13, at Miami (WFLA-TV)
Week Two: Aug. 16-20, at Tennessee (WFLA-TV)
Week Three: Friday, Aug. 24, vs. Detroit, 8:00 p.m. ET (CBS)
Week Four: Aug. 30-31: vs. Jacksonville (WFLA-TV)

The Buccaneers will play a nationally-televised preseason game at home against the Detroit Lions on Friday, August 24. That contest – which falls in the third week of the preseason and thus will feature significant playing time for both teams’ starters – will be broadcast by CBS, with kickoff at Raymond James Stadium scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET.

A potential showcase for Jameis Winston, Matthew Stafford and two of the league’s six most prolific passing attacks of 2017, the Bucs-Lions matchup is a highlight of the NFL’s 2018 preseason schedule, which was released on Wednesday. It’s also a bit of an oddity: Tampa Bay and Detroit have never before squared off in the preseason.

The Buccaneers have definitely had preseason dates with the Dolphins before – 30 of them, in fact – and they will make it 31 by starting this year’s warm-up slate in Miami. For the third August in a row, Tampa Bay will spend its first two weeks on the road, heading to Nashville in Week Two to take on the Tennessee Titans.

The Buccaneers’ preseason concludes in Week Four with a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston Says He’ll Show the Value of Having DeSean Jackson

There’s a lot of debate — in and outside of One Buc Place — about the future of DeSean Jackson in Tampa Bay.

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has weighed in, and it’s clear he wants No. 11 to not only survive but also thrive, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

On Friday, Winston responded to a link of a story on Twitter by Times writer Thomas Bassinger with the headline “What are the Buccaneers going to do with DeSean Jackson?”

Jackson, 31, is in the second year of a three-year, $33.5 million contract, with $20 million of that guaranteed. He is due to make $11 million this season, $7.5 million of which is guaranteed.

In part because Winston struggled to throw the deep ball, the investment in Jackson didn’t pay off in 2017. He finished with 50 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns. His 13.4 yards per catch average was the lowest of his career.

Buccaneers Gab 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: USC QB Sam Darnold

The hype for USC quarterback Sam Darnold has b3en growing by leaps and bounds the last few weeks, to the point where many feel he’s going to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.

At 6-4, 220 pounds, he’s got the look of a player who with some time learning could be a very good to excellent quarterback in the NFL, but time will tell when he might get that chance.

In his final season at USC, Darnold threw for 4143 yards, with 26 touchdowns to go along with 13 picks. This after throwing 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions the season before.

Here’s a look at Darnold and what various places are saying about him in our latest scouting report.

Walter Football

Strengths:
Naturally accurate passer
Fits passes into tight windows
Excellnt ball placement
Throws a catchable ball
Pocket presence
Has poise
Advanced anticipation; instinctive thrower
Throws with good timing
Can accelerate his throwing motion
Quality arm strength
Pushed team to wins
Good internal clock
Mobility
Throws very well on the run
Throws accurately off platform
Displays some feel in the pocket
Not easy to sack
Can hurt defenses on the ground
Can make all the throws required
Can pick up yards on the ground
Threads passes into tight windows

Weaknesses:
Ball security
Too many interceptions
Too many fumbles
Had some confidence issues in 2017
Doesn’t secure the ball well when getting sacked
Good enough not doesn’t have elite arm strength
Throwing mechanics are a bit unorthodox
Needs to start games faster

Summary: Darnold took college football by storm during the 2016 season, and even though he wasn’t eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, the redshirt freshman had scouts buzzing about his pro potential. After a 1-2 start to the 2016 season for USC, Darnold was made the starting quarterback. For his debut season, he was an extremely efficient passer who led the Trojans to a 10-3 record. Darnold lost his first-ever start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The 2017 season was more of a mixed bag for Darnold. The redshirt sophomore completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had an up-and-down season with too many turnovers – fumbles were a particular issue beyond the interceptions. Darnold also made some beautiful anticipatory throws with excellent accuracy in just about every game.

There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. First and foremost, he is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short to intermediate part of the field. Darnold has excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to picking up yards after the catch. He also regularly will throw receivers open and help them to find space to beat tight coverage. Darnold is a natural rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field. He is a smooth precision passer who can be deadly when he gets into a good groove.

Darnold is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to move around to buy time. While he is not a running quarterback, he is functional to avoid sacks and will move around to help his offensive line and receivers. Darnold made a number of really nice plays during the past two years when things went off script as he got creative to move the ball for his offense. Routinely, Darnold would buy time with his feet and then make an accurate throw downfield with the rush closing in on him.

The Drafster

In my eyes, Sam Darnold is a very odd prospect. Talked about as a number 1 overall draft pick. Talked about as the best Quarterback coming out of college this year. However, I am not seeing any of this. When I watch Darnold, I see one of the most streaky Quarterback play I think I have seen in awhile. At time looks very hesitant to throw, missing an opportunity. Other times he looks too eager and makes a bad decision. He has his good moments, but then a play later he will have a combination of bad plays. Moving in the pocket too early and too often, inconsistent accuracy, and staring down a play for too long are major turn offs to me.

The first thing I notice about Darnold when watching him is that he seems to ignore his dump off routes. He seems so locked in on making a big play, he forgets about the guys that are 5 yards away from him. I can respect wanting to make a big play for the team, but after staring downfield for eternity it’s time to hit your shallow routes. At least LOOK at them to see if they are open. There is no shame in taking an easy three to five yards. Not every throw has to get the crowd on their feet.

The second thing I notice is how much he likes to move around in the pocket. And that is just not his style. I get running to avoid a sack, but too many times I saw him run with a clean pocket. Multiple times he would take off to the outskirts of the pocket, making it easier for defenders to get off their block. He seems to just panic unless he has the cleanest pocket one could possibly have. If he would stand tall in the pocket and deliver, his accuracy issues would go down as well. His deep balls are inconsistent, and the times he does go to dump it off, those are not always pretty either. His best throws come from his 10-15 yarders. Which always happen to be when he stands his ground.

I will say though, 4th quarter Sam Darnold seems to be a better player than in other quarters. He reads the field better, has better ball placement, and doesn’t try to run around as much. It just seems something clicks a bit better for him during the 4th. Like he has calmed down. He just needs to be able to play similar to that all game if he is gonna be the number 1 overall pick this upcoming draft.

I think Darnold has a lot to work on. Personally there are 4 other Quarterbacks I would take before drafting him. He does good things, unfortunately, his good things just are not consistent enough and are overshadowed by his flaws. I believe if he can work on sitting in the pocket longer instead of trying to escape right away (while not holding the ball for too long), a lot of his issues will start fading. I think Darnold will have a real rough start to his career, but if keeps his confidence and keeps fixing his game, it will work out for him in the long run.

Cover 1 Scouting Report

Strengths:

Darnold’s entire game is predicated upon his ability to create. Darnold is an athletic player; he is able to pull the ball down and gain chunks of yardage with his legs. His agility and change of direction catch many defenders off guard.

That is why offensive coordinator Tee Martin built an offense that maximized his legs. USC ran a heavy dose of run pass options (RPOs), a concept that gave Darnold many options pre- and post-snap, and he absolutely flourished. On a majority of their plays, Darnold had the ability to give the ball to star running back Ronald Jones, keep it as a runner, or throw it to one of his many weapons outside. This multi-dimensional structure of a play was obviously super productive. His decision making was very good all season, especially on these RPOs. He can process the coverage, find the conflict defender, and distribute the ball quickly.

But what is often overlooked is the accuracy and velocity needed on these kinds of concepts. At times, after the mesh with the running back or play fake, the passing lane is cluttered with defenders coming downhill to defend what they perceive to be a run. Once they realize that it is a pass, they immediately try to get their hands up in the passing lanes. Darnold makes these throws look easy. Standing at 6’4? and 220 pounds, he is able to place the ball in optimal locations, allowing his weapons to make plays.

At the next level, Darnold is going to make his money in the short area. While his elongated release and sloppy footwork will cause issues at times, something I will cover later, it isn’t an issue from 0-9 yards. That bodes well for Sam, because that is where football is won and lost on Sundays. His mechanics aren’t an issue because he is throwing in rhythm and not having to worry about mechanics.

According to SportsInfo Solutions (SIS), Darnold’s short game is phenomenal. From 0-9 yards, he had the highest completion percentage (75.4%), the 4th-most passing yards (1,534), 12th-most touchdowns (10), the 3rd-highest yards per attempt (7.6), and the 5th-highest rating (107.2).

Weaknesses:

As productive as Darnold was over his 27 games at USC, he has some serious flaws that need to be addressed, the first of which is turnovers. Darnold threw 22 interceptions over two years and added another 20 fumbles. This lack of ball security will get you benched quickly.

While the offense surrendered an average of 2.14 sacks a game and a grand total of 30 sacks in 2017, he admitted that he was pushing it too much.

Many of his turnovers are linked to his mechanics. Darnold has some of the worst mechanics I have ever seen from a quarterback. Let’s start with his delivery. Typically, a quarterback with an elongated delivery like Darnold’s will struggle at the next level. From the time he begins his delivery to the time of release is often the difference between a tight window completion and an interception. Defensive backs are just too good on Sundays. If he is slightly late anticipating a throw and needs to drive a pass, the split second longer that it takes to release the ball due to his delivery could lead to an interception, much like it did versus Washington State. The safety bails post-snap, baiting Darnold to throw the speed out as he gets the 1-on-1 coverage. The defensive back reads the route, breaks, and picks him off.

What Matt Miller says about Darnold – Ranking him as the #1 QB on the board

1. Sam Darnold, USC

A two-year starter at USC, Sam Darnold is widely praised for his toughness, football IQ and leadership. A coach with the Trojans told me Darnold only cares about football and not the benefits of being a star quarterback. He did turn the ball over 22 times in 2017, which should at a minimum send scouts back to the tape to find the context of each turnover. But Darnold’s tangible and intangible traits are tops in the class.

Scout’s Quote: “Crystal clean off the field. Smart, poised, tough, accurate. He might be the only one that could work in Cleveland because he won’t let the pressure go to his head.”

Coach’s Quote: “The release and turnovers bother me, but he has the makeup to be good. He’s better than [Mitch] Trubisky was last year but he’s not on the level of [Carson] Wentz or Jared [Goff].”

Scout’s Comparison: Tony Romo, retired

Darnold impressed at his Pro Day, throwing in the rain back on March 21st