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Read and React: Week of August 11

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Continuing our periodic survey of, and reaction to, articles regarding the Bucs...This week's selections include a list of the biggest concerns facing each NFC team and a prediction of the 53-man roster


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Is the Bucs' QB competition the biggest concern, or should the focus be on the men protecting those QBs?
  • It's not easy to predict Tampa Bay's 2014 53-man roster with three preseason games to go, but one analyst gives it a try
  • Josh McCown is adept at the back-shoulder fade pass, and he has the right kind of passing-game partners to make it work
The NFL generates a massive amount of online media coverage, a share of which is devoted to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Even the most avid Buccaneer fans might not catch everything that's out there.

That is why I will be taking a periodic look around the web – generally on Fridays – to gather some of the analysis you might have missed.  I'll also provide my own take on those articles; I will "read and react," if you will.  In some cases, these choices also serve as recommendations, alerting you to articles of particular interest about your Buccaneers.

This week we have one article that looks back at the preseason opener and draws from it a specific concern, and another that looks ahead to when the Bucs will be chopping their roster to 53 in about three weeks.  I also recommend an article from local beat writer Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune, who went in depth as to why the back-shoulder fade may be a huge weapon for Tampa Bay this year.

Keep in mind, the opinions stated below are my own and don't necessarily reflect Buccaneers management, coaches or ownership.

1. What are the biggest concerns facing each NFL team? Lorenzo Reyes, USA Today

This is your typical "one question, 16 teams" sort of article, which I personally enjoy.  And since it promises in the intro to identify "glaring issues" for all teams in the Bucs' conference, I figured it was worth rehashing the Bucs' problems to find out where everybody else in the NFC is hurting.

Besides, I assumed the author would land on Tampa Bay's unsettled offensive guard situation as it is hard to deny that the interior line is the team's biggest concern right now.  As it turns out, Reyes went in a slightly different direction, and I can't say I agree with his choice.

Reyes' biggest concern for the Buccaneers is not the offensive line, but the man it is there to protect.  And, more to the point, which man that should be.  Here's how Reyes describes the issue:

"New coach Lovie Smith opted to bring in a veteran presence to push quarterback Mike Glennon.  With the signing of Josh McCown, Glennon instantly became the backup.  Was it the right move?"

I know it's a minor quibble, but I don't think Smith and General Manager Jason Licht brought in McCown to "push" Glennon.  Rather, I think they brought in a quarterback they thought they had a better chance of winning with in the short term, which also gave them time to develop Glennon in the long run.  If anything, it is Glennon who could be pushing McCown if he improves at a rapid rate.

That's really not too far off what the author is saying, however, so again, that's a minor quibble.  Where I disagree more strongly is Reyes' second paragraph, which uses the preseason opener against Jacksonville to cast doubt on the Bucs' decision to bring in McCown as the new starter.

Reyes says that McCown "didn't look comfortable" in his Buccaneers debut, citing his two-for-four passing for 20 yards, a pick and two sacks.  Actually, that's true.  McCown didn't look comfortable because he never really got a chance to get comfortable.  That brings us back to the original point, that the Bucs' most glaring issue right now is the need to solidify the offensive line.  That group had a ragged outing in Jacksonville and that's the primary reason why McCown never settled in.  He played one quarter and was on the run most of the time.

Not to mention, we're talking about a total of four passes here, plus four more plays where he either took a sack or scrambled for yardage.  Let's see McCown play about two quarters on Saturday night and maybe another three in the most important game of the preseason in Week Three before we declare him uncomfortable at the helm of the Bucs' offense.

That doesn't absolve McCown from criticism in that Jacksonville.  I think most agree that the second sack he took was the result of him holding the ball too long and not feeling the incoming rusher.  And while his interception was thrown under duress and may have been partially due to an inexact route by rookie WR Mike Evans, it was still a pick, and a pick-six at that.

The author also cites Glennon's numbers against the Jaguars: 11-19 for 140 yards, one touchdown and one sack.  Those are indeed better than McCown's final totals, but let's remember two things.  One, Glennon got a chance to throw 15 more passes than McCown; might the veteran have been able to smooth out his stat line if it involved four times as many throws?  Two, Glennon was playing against Jacksonville's second and third-string defenders.  It is always risky to put too much stock in preseason numbers, and especially numbers that occur in the second, third and fourth quarters of the first preseason game.  Glennon played well within the circumstances presented to him, and he deserves credit for that.  I just don't think there's much value in comparing his stats to McCown's in this particular game.

If, moving forward, McCown enjoys at least credible protection from the offensive line, and in similar circumstances he is out-played by Glennon, then perhaps this will be an issue.  Until that offensive line is set, however, that's a big "if."  I think that's the most glaring issue facing the Buccaneers at this point in their preparations for the regular season.

Anyway, even if I didn't completely agree with Reyes' choice for the Buccaneers, I did enjoy reading about the issues facing the rest of the team's in the NFC, particularly in Tampa Bay's division.  The author identifies the following top concerns for the rest of the NFC South: The Falcons need to get tougher on the offensive and defensive lines; the Saints need a more physical rushing attack; and the Panthers need Cam Newton to come back from ankle surgery and get comfortable with a whole new cast of receivers.

It seems like the Saints get off the lightest of the four South teams in this analysis, which is probably why they're widely considered the favorite to win the division.  Of course, the Saints' offensive has been humming right along for years now without often having a power rushing attack; they were 25th in rushing yards last season, as Reyes notes, but fourth in overall offense (thanks, Drew Brees!).  Getting more out of the running game could make the Saints downright scary, and the author thinks they could get if from Mark Ingram in a contract-year push.  Fair enough, but it wouldn't surprise me if second-year man Khiry Robinson is the Saints' breakout runner instead.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers' projected roster, Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com

We haven't checked in with ESPN.com's Buc expert in a little while, but with Yasinskas cranking out dozens of pieces during training camp, there is plenty to choose from.  The piece that caught my eye was his attempt on Monday to predict which 53 players would make the Buccaneers' regular-season roster.

I hope this was an assignment from the ESPN editors, because trying to name the 53-man roster with three preseason games still to go is no easy task.  There are still so many variables, even if we agree not to consider the possibility of injuries affecting the list between now and September.  (I think it was a specific assignment for the NFL Nation bloggers; I checked the blogs for the three other NFC South teams and they all had projected 53-man rosters on the same day.)

Yasinskas goes about this task the only way you really can, by breaking it down position by position and keeping track of the numbers at each one.  If you're simply picking what you believe to be the 53 best players, and you end up with 11 offensive linemen or four cornerbacks, you know you have to adjust.  That said, I did take the author's list and "reverse engineer" it to see where I might disagree.  That is, I compared the Yasinskas 53 to the current roster to see which 37 players did not make the cut for him, and if I felt it was necessary to make room for any of those 37.

Six names jumped out at me from among those 37 as ones I might have trouble cutting from the list: CB Rashaan Melvin, RB Mike James, OL Jason Foster, WR Tommy Streeter, S Bradley McDougald and DE Scott Solomon.  That’s actually a very short list, which means in general I found a lot less with which to disagree from Yasinskas list than I expected.

Melvin's the one I would campaign for the strongest for inclusion (other than James, and that's a different issue; see below).  On one hand, he has struggled with nagging injuries, but when he's been on the field he's been prominently featured.  In the last couple training camp practices, with Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins sidelined, it was Melvin who took the most first-team reps at left cornerback.  Also, remember that at 6-2 Melvin has that much-coveted and hard-to-find size for an NFL cornerback; Lovie Smith often emphasizes that issue when discussing Johnthan Banks, and Melvin is as tall as Banks.

Of course, I can't just throw Melvin on the roster without also explaining how I'm going to keep it at 53, and as I see it there are four options.  Option three is to keep seven cornerbacks instead of six, which is not unheard of, especially if most of those seven are special teams assets.  That would require losing a number at another position, however, and Yasinskas only has four safeties and six linebackers, numbers I would be surprised to see the Bucs go below.  We could lose a defensive lineman – perhaps Matthew Masifilo as he's the least experienced of the nine Yasinskas chooses – but I rather suspect that Smith will try to keep as many pass-rushers as he can.  Maybe we could steal from the other side of the ball and only keep eight offensive linemen.

Option two is to keep Melvin over Deveron Carr, another player who joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2013, which I could certainly see happening.  Option three is a bit of a long shot, but what if Mike Jenkins isn't a complete lock for the 53-man roster.  To be clear, I have not heard anything to the contrary and am not advocating that idea.  Still, Jenkins has not been able to practice much at all during training camp, giving all the younger players a chance to emerge.  Jenkins was presumed to be battling Banks for the starting RCB job, but you'd have to believe Banks is now on the lead simply by virtue of being on the field the whole time.  Back in March, it seemed quite possible that the loser of that battle would take the nickel job anyway, but now that latter battle has become much more specific, and Leonard Johnson is clearly close to locking it down.  Could the Bucs choose to keep Melvin over Jenkins if Banks is the starting RCB.  I'd say it's at least possible.

Yasinskas' offensive line choices look pretty solid, though I'm not sold on Jace Daniels as the ninth player on the list.  Daniels did get some time with the first-team line at right guard early this week, but the team finished the week with Patrick Omameh on that spot.  Meanwhile, Foster has been running second at center pretty much the entire camp.  Now, the Bucs won't necessarily keep a specific backup center, preferring a couple versatile interior-line guys who can play several spots.  Still, that could be Foster just as well as Daniels.  I was tempted to throw Matt Patchan's name into the mix, too, but if Jamon Meredith is now focusing on tackle, I think it's more likely the team keeps Meredith and Pamphile as its outside reserves.

I mentioned the other three – Streeter, McDougald and Solomon – not because I strongly disagree with any of Yasinskas' picks at their respective positions but simply because they all have drawn a lot of praise in this training camp.  If all three continue to shine for three more preseason weeks, they might have a chance to stick.  Streeter's path to the 53-man roster appears to be the toughest because the Bucs have a lot of interesting options at wide receiver.  Streeter doesn't offer potential return-game help like Robert Herron, Chris Owusu and Eric Page do, and he's yet another very tall target in a passing game that already has a lot of them.

Keeping McDougald would give the Bucs five safeties, which is actually a pretty common number.  Again, that means losing a number at another spot, so keeping him might have to come at the expense of a linebacker like Ka'Lial Glaud or Danny Lansanah, a lineman like Masifilo or the sixth cornerback, whoever that may be.  And I don't think Solomon would crack the D-Line list unless someone else goes.  Perhaps with Adrian Clayborn, Da'Quan Bowers and William Gholston all showing they can take snaps at defensive tackle, the Bucs would keep an extra end like Solomon over an extra tackle like Masifilo.

And finally there's Mike James.  Whether or not you agreed with which backs Yasinskas chose to keep, there wasn't anything wrong with his logic on Monday when he pared the backfield down to five players.  By Yasinskas estimation, James was the one most likely to be "the odd man out at a very deep position."

Of course, that all changed on Friday when the Buccaneers announced that rookie running back Charles Sims will undergo surgery to repair an ankle injury.  Even if Sims gets the injured reserve/designated for return assignment and keeps his chances to play this season alive, he wouldn't be in the mix until the second half of the season.  It would appear that Sims' injury means the Bucs won't have to choose between Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Jeff Demps, if indeed they were preparing to do so.

That's how quickly these things can change.  Something tells me that if Yasinskas does this exercise a couple weeks from now – and perhaps this will be a weekly assignment from the NFL Nation editors during the preseason – there will be several other changes, as well.  And if I happened to be reading and reacting to that second effort, there's a good chance my predictions will have changed, too.

3. Bucs add new weapon to arsenal, the fade, Roy Cummings, Tampa Tribune

As I've done a couple times in the past in Read and React, I'm going to give myself a break with link #3 after going so long on the first two.  Once again, I'm calling attention to a story not because I disagree with any of its content but simply as a recommendation of a good read.

I like the idea of this story: Cummings didn't just note that the back-shoulder fade pass could be a much bigger part of the Bucs' offense in 2014 – anyone who has been to a training camp practice this summer could tell you that – he dived deeper into what makes that play work and why it's well-suited for the Bucs' current personnel.

The detail about Josh McCown actually teaching Kurt Warner to throw the fade better in 2005 (McCown stresses that he learned a lot more from Warner than the other way around) is amusing, but there were two technical points that I found most interesting.  One, the back-shoulder fade is executed better with a lower, harder pass than a lob.  And two, McCown and his receivers sometimes choose to run the play after they get to the line of scrimmage and see what the coverage looks like.

There's more to it, and I encourage you to follow the link and give Cummings' story a read.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers