State of the Franchise: The 2017 Buccaneers Offense

If you have not read my post on the Defense go do that first! Here we go on the new offense along with the average number of roster spots designated for each position..

QUARTERBACKS (2-3 spots)

The Bucs currently have four QB’s on the roster. Franchise quarterback Jameis Winston (6’4″/230lbs) is going into his third season and has to be the happiest guy in Tampa Bay with all of these new weapons and all of this speed in his arsenal. I am expecting big things from the 23-year-old this season. Like 4,500+ yards and 35+ touchdowns kind of big. As long as the new offensive line holds up and barring any major injuries, this offense could be something special.

After Mike Glennon departed for Chicago, the Bucs immediately tendered a $1.7 million offer to third-stringer Ryan Griffin (6’5″/210lbs) who’s going into his third season with the Buccaneers. That tells me that barring some surprising turn of events in training camp, he’ll be the new backup QB to Winston. Some fans aren’t too happy about that, but the fact is that he’s got two full seasons in this offense and Dirk Koetter says he’s ready for the role so that’s good enough for me.

The other two QB’s going into camp will be Sean Renfree (6’5″/225lbs), who was signed in January, and Sefo Liufau (6’3″/230lbs), an undrafted free agent. Renfree was drafted by Atlanta in 2013 but spent the entire season on injured reserve. However, he was Matt Ryan’s backup in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Dirk Koetter was the Falcons offensive coordinator for his first two seasons in Atlanta. Renfree could challenge Griffin for the backup job in camp since he also has some experience and knowledge of Koetter’s system. Liufau is a 6’3″/235lb QB from Colorado who had moderate success in college racking up 63% completions, 9,746 yards, 60 touchdowns and 35 interceptions in just 43 career games.

RUNNING BACKS (4-5 spots)

Ah, the running backs. One of the biggest debates going on this offseason FINALLY seems to be settled now that the draft is over. No more rumors. No more assumptions. Doug Martin (5’9″/225lbs) is back and he’ll once again be the lead horse of a talented stable of backs. He’s looked great in OTA’s and he’s in phenomenal shape after spending the beginning of the offseason in rehab for his drug addiction. When healthy and focused, he’s one of the best backs in football. Hopefully, we can see a repeat of his 2015 season when he finished runner-up to Adrian Peterson for the rushing title. He will be missing the first three weeks of the season while he finishes up his 4-game suspension for a failed drug test last season but I’m expecting big things in a “prove it” year from him.

Next up is free agent Jacquizz Rodgers (5’7″/190lbs) who the Bucs recently re-signed to two-year deal after he set a six year career high with 560 yards at 4.3 yards per carry last season. He should be the primary back while Martin finishes the remainder of his suspension.

Charles Sims (6’/210lbs), going into his fourth season with Tampa, and the Bucs 5th round pick Jeremy McNichols (5’9″/215lbs) should be in an interesting battle for the third down back spot on this team. Even though Sims has held that role in the offense for the past three seasons, he’s also had a number of injuries causing him to miss 16 games during that span. His one healthy, full 16-game season was highly productive with 529 yards rushing and 561 yards receiving. In fact, he led the NFL at 6.9 yards per touch that season. Despite those impressive numbers, McNichols should come in and push him for the spot. He’s got the talent and tools to be an every down back for Tampa in the future but right now his skills as a receiver and as a pass protector could allow him to not only unseat Sims from his role, but maybe remove him from the roster completely. Keep an eye on this battle!

The rest of the running back group is made up of Peyton Barber (5’11″/225lbs)Russell Hansbrough (5’9″/195lbs), Quayvon Hicks (6’2″/255lbs), Austin Johnson (6’2″/240lbs) and Blake Sims (5’11″/220lbs). Barber saw some action in his rookie year last season due to the number of injuries in the Bucs backfield and made the most of his opportunities by rushing for 223 yards on 55 carries for a 4.1 yards per carry average. The Bucs seem to be high on this young man so he’ll be in the mix for the fourth RB spot unless they decide to tuck him away on the practice squad while he’s still eligible. Hansbrough was back and forth last season between the active roster and the practice squad due to all the injuries. Hicks is a fullback that spent some time with the Titans last season while rehabbing a knee injury suffered at the end of his senior year in college. He played defensive tackle in high school but spent a majority of his time at Georgia blocking for Todd Gurley. Koetter has been searching for a true fullback since he arrived in Tampa but with little success. He has resorted to using tight ends Luke Stocker and Alan Cross as a blocking backs instead. Hicks has his work cut out for him to make the roster as one of the four active backs. Blake Sims is the former Alabama quarterback turned running back who the Bucs signed back in December. He spent some time on Atlanta’s practice squad last season. The 6’/215lb back will be fighting for a spot on this roster no matter what role he plays on it. Johnson is a 6’2″/240lb fullback from Tennessee who spent his first two NFL seasons with the Saints until the Bucs signed him in December. He will be battling it out with Hicks for the team’s fullback position. Johnson should have the edge due to his experience should the Bucs decide to keep a designated fullback.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6-7 spots)

Going into this offseason, the receiving corps for the Bucs looked pretty thin. This was especially true since they decided not to re-sign veteran Vincent Jackson and lost Russell Shepard to free agency. However, that’s not the case now after re-signing exclusive rights free agent Adam Humphries (5’11″/195lbs), signing DeSean Jackson (5’10″/175lbs) as a free agent and taking Chris Godwin (6’1″/205lbs) in the 3rd round of the draft. Now what was once a thin position, will soon be one of the better position battles in camp. In fact, the Bucs now have 11 receivers on the roster who will presumably be battling for six, maybe seven spots. And that doesn’t even include any of the rookie camp tryout players that may have earned an invite. We know that Mike Evans (6’5″/230lbs) and Jackson will be the starters. After them, it can be assumed that Hump will be the slot and now Godwin could potentially be the fourth receiver. Behind them is a mixture of experienced youngsters and unproven talents consisting of Josh Huff, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Donteea Dye, Derel Walker, Thomas Sperbeck and Jesus “BoBo” Wilson.

Huff is a wildcard at 6’/205lbs. He was picked up by the Bucs last November and placed on the practice squad after being released by the Eagles following a drunk driving incident. He was promoted to the active roster in December where he saw limited action with mixed results. He was a pretty good return man and a decent receiver in Philly, so hopefully his offseason workouts with Jameis and the rest of the wideouts pays off and we will see him get more involved in the offense.

Martino (6’/195lbs) was an exclusive rights free agent and the Bucs thought enough of him to re-sign him this offseason. Because of injuries, he played in 13 games last season but caught only eight passes. However, those 8 receptions went for 142 yards and a touchdown. He could end up back on the practice squad this season but his experience may give him a leg up on some of these other guys.

“Speedy”  Reedy (5’9″/175lbs) is going into his second season with the Buccaneers. He was primarily on the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster for a couple games but never recorded a catch. He’s another one of Koetter’s former Falcons players so apparently he likes him enough to keep him around.

Walker (6’1″/190lbs) is an intriguing player to me. His former Texas A&M teammate Mike Evans raves about his talents. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014 by the Titans and was released after that season. He then went to Canada to play for the Edminton Eskimos where he accumulated 198 receptions for 2,699 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons. That kind of production drew some interest from eight different NFL teams, but the chance to play with Evans again was enough for him to sign with Tampa. Keep an eye on him in training camp.

Rounding off the receiving corps are Wilson and Sperbeck, both brought in as undrafted free agents and both have impressed in rookie camp. Wilson (5’9″/185lbs) is a former teammate of Winston’s at Florida State and finished his four year career with 133 receptions for 1,562 yards and 8 touchdowns. He was leading all FSU receivers before tearing his ACL in the seventh game of his senior season. He came back from that injury to run a 4.58 forty at the NFL Combine. Sperbeck (5’11″/190lbs) was highly productive at Boise State with 219 receptions for almost 3,600 yards and 20 touchdowns in three years as a starter. He followed an impressive senior season of 80 receptions for 1,272 yards and 9 touchdowns with a solid pro day where he had zero drops and ran a 4.47 forty. He went undrafted despite drawing comparisons to the Patriots Julian Edelman. The wide receiver battle will be one of the most competitive in training camp and should be fun to watch.

TIGHT ENDS (3-4 spots)

The addition of O.J. Howard (6’6″/250lbs) in the first round of the draft should completely change the dynamic of the tight end group going into training camp. He will undoubtedly be the Bucs starting “Y”  tight end, or blocking tight end, while Cam Brate (6’5″/235lbs) will be their starting “F”  tight end, or receiving tight end. Depending on if the Bucs keep a fullback or not, they could either keep three, maybe four tight ends on the active roster. That means that the other four tight ends currently on the roster could be fighting for one, maybe two spots. Luke Stocker (6’6″/255lbs) and Alan Cross (6’1″/235lbs) are the obvious front runners having the experience of seeing live game action. However, Cross is only going into his second season and is still eligible for the practice squad under league rules. Stocker has an extensive injury history with disappointing production and will be 28 years old this year. Tevin Westbrook (6’5″/260lbs) has been on and off of the Buccaneers practice squad since September of 2015 and the 6’5″/260lb former Gator will be in camp once again fighting for an NFL job. Another recent addition to the roster is newly signed undrafted free agent Antony Auclair from Laval College in Quebec, Canada. At 6’6″/255 lbs, he has NFL size and length with good athleticism and tenacity as an inline blocker. He could make it an interesting battle for that last TE spot with either Cross or Stocker.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8-9 spots)

To the disappointment of some fans, the Bucs did not sign any “big name”  free agent left tackles or pick any o-linemen in the draft. Reason being that despite how some fans feel, the Bucs are happy with the group of linemen currently on the roster. Dirk Koetter says now it’s just about getting the best five of them on the field at the same time. Hence the idea of moving right guard Ali Marpet (6’4″/305lbs) over to starting center. As much as they like Joe Hawley (6’3″/300lbs), which is evident by his recent re-signing, they wanted to get bigger and stronger in the middle. Moving Marpet there definitely accomplished that objective. With that move, the right guard spot will be filled by last year’s free agent signee J.R. Sweezy (6’5″/300lbs) which is where he played with much success during his time in Seattle. There has also been talk of letting Kevin Pamphile (6’5″/315lbs) and Demar Dotson (6’9″/315lbs) battle it out for the right tackle spot. Should Pamphile win the job, it will create an opening at the left guard position where he started last season with mixed results. I personally think that this is just a coaching ploy to light a fire under Dotson’s ass, but we’ll see how this scenario plays out in camp. Odds are that Dotson ends up at right tackle again while Pamphile stays at left guard. Rounding out the starting five is left tackle Donovan Smith (6’6″/340lbs) who struggled in the first half of the season last year but improved greatly over the second half. Despite some fans calling for him to be replaced, either by an aging free agent veteran or some snot-nosed rookie, it appears as though he’s there to stay. The Bucs think he has the potential to protect the blindside of the franchise so get over it and move on…at least for now anyway.

Despite their o-line inactivity this offseason, they did sign former Jets guard Jarvis Harrison (6’4″/340lbs), a 5th round pick from the 2015 draft. He was teammates with Mike Evans at Texas A&M who had 38 starts at guard and left tackle for the Aggies. He had one of the fastest 3-cone drills of any offensive linemen at his Combine and was best known in college for being technically sound in the run game and in pass protection as well as being very skilled at finding and hitting targets in space when pulling. The Buccaneers could be hoping he’s the missing piece of the puzzle at left guard for an o-line that struggled after losing Logan Mankins to retirement last season.

The center position, behind Ali Marpet, seems solid. It’s presumed that last year’s starter Joe Hawley will be the backup. Josh Allen, a 6’3″/315lb practice squad regular is back once again. He’s has had multiple stints with the Buccaneers, as well as the Packers and Niners since the 2014 season. In January, they brought in another one of Koetter’s former Falcons players in James Stone (6’3″/290lbs) who was signed as a 2014 undrafted free agent by Atlanta where he spent his first two seasons. He actually started nine games as a rookie replacing then starting center Joe Hawley. Rounding out the guards and centers is veteran Evan Smith, who’s spent the last three seasons in Tampa Bay and Caleb Benenoch (6’5″/305lbs), who the Bucs drafted a year ago and has been used sparingly at both guard positions. Those two could very well be battling it out for the backup guard position in training camp. Michael Liedtke (6’3″/310lbs) was also signed to the practice squad back in December and will be in the mix as well.

The once thin offensive tackle position is suddenly deep behind starters Smith and Dotson with the additions of newly signed undrafted free agents Cole Gardner and Korren Kirven. Add them to Pamphile and Leonard Wester and now they’ve got some competition for the backup tackle position. Obviously, Pamphile’s versatility to play tackle or guard gives him an edge over the others, but the Bucs are also high on Wester as well. He’s 6’6″/305lbs and going into his second season with the Buccaneers after going undrafted last year. Gardner is also 6’6″/305lbs while Kirven goes 6’4″/315lbs. Gardner is an athlete. He played basketball in high school in addition to playing football as a tight end and defensive end. He initially played tight end at Eastern Michigan before bulking up and moving to the o-line. Kirven spent most of his time as Alabama’s reserve right tackle, but was thrust into the starting right guard role because of injuries.

It should be an interesting camp for an offensive line group which is being shuffled around while trying to find their identity. They currently have 14 offensive linemen on the roster which doesn’t include the players they’ve invited in for camp tryouts. The move of Marpet to center complicates things even more because Hawley is now a backup and will only play center. Which means they only have room for one reserve tackle and one reserve guard. I’m wondering if this will have any effect on the starting lineup? No matter what happens, this bunch is the key, even more so than usual. If this o-line doesn’t come together, then all of the talented weapons at Jameis Winston’s disposal could go to waste.

On paper, this offense looks potent. Only time will tell. But with the additions of DeSean Jackson in free agency and O.J. Howard, Chris Godwin and Jeremy McNichols in the draft, this offense has a whole new look and a whole new dimension to it. Last year, defenses only had to deal with Mike Evans downfield so they were able to stack the box or play their safeties up to smother the run game. That’s no longer the case anymore. With Jackson taking the top off, Evans occupying the other side and Howard busting the seam down the middle, defensive coordinators will have a tough time not only stopping them, but with stopping the run game and the short to intermediate passing game as well. We have been waiting a very long time to see our Buccaneers have an offense this talented, fast and explosive, and I can’t wait to see what they can do on the football field. Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!

 

 

 

 

Jon Hinkle

Jon Hinkle

My name is Jon Hinkle, also know as Deez Bucz to most Buccaneers fans. I have been given the opportunity by WhatTheBuc.net to do some writing about one of my favorite subjects...Buccaneer football and all that goes with it. This is my first public writing gig, so I'm hoping that I can entertain the fine fans of Tampa Bay while learning and gaining experience towards a possible new career in sports reporting. I hope everyone enjoys the fruits of my labor and I look forward to bringing some new and exciting stories to Bucs Nation! And as always.....GO BUCS!!!

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