Bucs’ offensive coordinator: ‘We chose to suck’

by Gary Shelton on May 18, 2018 · 0 comments

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Winston Neds to win more football games./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston needs to win more football games./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 2 a.m.

There was a reason that the Bucs' offense was so bad in 2017. There was a reason it ran the ball so poorly. There was a. reason that it was so horrible in the red zone.

Wanna know why?

Simple. The Bucs chose to be.

At least, that's the way offensive coordinator Todd Monken sees it. A team can choose to play better, or it can own the results it posts. It's as simple as that.

"We absolutely chose to suck," Monken said in the annual day that offensive coaches spoke. "We made that decision as an offense to play poorly. We did. We did a lot of things down the stretch which is crazy – I’m just talking the back half, once we got Jameis back.

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Evans should be the leading receiver again./CARMEN MANDATO

Evans should be the leading receiver again./CARMEN MANDATO

"We did a lot of things to compete, I like the way our guys compete. We stopped feeling sorry for ourselves. But we did enough things that you can’t do- you do if you’re a bad team. Bad football loses before good football wins. We’re talking about quarterback-center exchanges, costly penalties, missed opportunities to put games away. But I do like the way our team finished at the end with that last five-game stretch. We played all teams that were getting ready for the playoffs, all of them had to win. We really didn’t have anything to play for and guys continued to play. With that being said, it’s a production league.

"We have to find a way to win, but I am fired up the way we finished out the year, the way our guys continue to compete. Even in that game, we weren’t perfect. We had turnovers, we had mistakes, but then to come through at the end was really exciting. But you hit it on the head. We have to be better in those critical areas. How do we stop turning the ball over? How do we stay being explosive? "

The Bucs won only five times a year ago, only three times behind quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston simply has to cut down on his turnovers in the coming season.

“In our league, there’s so much pressure put on our coaches and that one position (quarterback)," Monken said. "Nobody gets the credit either way of winning or losing except the quarterbacks and the coaches. That’s fine, that’s the way it is. No one, as I’ve talked about before, no one is going to blame Mike Evans for why we haven’t made the playoffs. (It’s) the quarterback. That’s part of it, we get that. That doesn’t mean that we all don’t own it. So, I think the biggest thing is, ‘It’s okay, Jameis, to be yourself. You don’t have to try so hard. The guys know naturally you’re a leader.’ He’s done a great job of that. He is that for our team, but at times, it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re hurt and you’re not winning the way you want and so you’re trying so hard to get the guys because he wants to win so bad, we all do. I try too hard sometimes because I want it so bad.

“The thing is, what I’ve in seen, irrespective of the physical stuff on the field, is, ‘Let’s not try so hard.’ He has natural-it’s who he is as a man-natural leadership qualities and a toughness about him. Guys want to follow him. (My message to him is), ‘It’s okay to fail, it’s okay, you’re human, it’s okay to be hurt. It’s okay to have that side of you so let’s just go, you don’t have to try so hard. The guys will follow you, just be yourself.’”

Quarterback coach Mike Bajakian said a shoulder injury limited Winston somewhat.

“It affected him for sure, how could it not?" Bajakian said. "The bottom line is that it comes down to wins and losses and that hasn’t been there for us. But, if you look at a number of areas, he set career marks in completion percentage and yards per attempt and QB rating. He’s improved in a lot of ways so again, the wins will come if we just keep working and keep improving. Then you take the games where he was healthy and you look at those numbers – I haven’t because frankly it doesn’t matter to me – but I’m sure they’re a lot better.

"He’s getting better, no doubt about it. We just have to translate that to victories. I’ve never questioned-going way back to the evaluation process when he was at Florida State, you can see that he was a tough son of a gun. The way he’ll stand in the pocket in the face of free heat and deliver the ball, there’s never been a question in your mind about his toughness, mental and physical. That was illustrated this past season by how he played through injury and how he performed.”

Complicating things for the Bucs was their play in the red zone.

"How do we score touchdowns in the red zone?" Monken said. "We finished 24th in the league (in red zone scoring). What’s interesting about that is it just would have taken five more touchdowns and then you jump from 24th to eighth because the sample size is so small. You have like 53 opportunities which is [eighth] in the league. We got down there (the eighth most times) in the league, but we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities. So what is that? That’s just being a hair on point at Carolina or here, just a few other decisions. We made some good plays, we just weren’t consistent enough. If you want to get to where you want to get, you have to be good. Those areas are critical. We all know that.”

“We spent a lot of time studying the red zone, studying other teams in the red zone," Bajakian said. "It’s funny, you look at total red zone opportunities and the margin of difference between success and being average and being poor- as Coach ‘Monk’  has pointed out to our offensive unit, for however many times we were down in the red zone, if we had scored five more touchdowns over 16 games, five more touchdowns, we would be in the top eight in red zone percentage.

"Five more. I can show you seven plays off of the top of my head where if we just played pitch and catch, we would have scored a touchdown. Instead, maybe we don’t convert on third down or we take a sack and now it’s second-and-long and we end up kicking a field goal on both of those instead of scoring a touchdown. So, it doesn’t take a whole lot to improve. It’s just a matter of execution. As we’ve pointed out to our players, we study those teams that are the top in the NFL and what you realize is that they’re not reinventing the wheel. I’m thinking I’m going to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and I’m going to get all these great ideas about what they’re doing in the red zone. You know what? Their plays are the same plays we’re running, except they’re playing pitch and catch. Or, maybe the quarterback is scrambling and making a play for a touchdown. There’s one.

"The running game plays a part. It all plays a part of how we do in the red zone. But, it won’t take much other than making the plays that are presented to us. I think that Coach Monk has said, he uses a phrase with us, bad football loses before good football wins. That can sum up how we play in the red zone. We just weren’t executing and we weren’t making the plays that were there.”

One thing that could help the Bucs' attack is draftee Ronald Jones II.

"Obviously I like his speed and quickness," said running backs coach Tim Spencer." Size-wise, he has good size but he'll probably put on a few more pounds. But mainly we like his agility, we like his ability to maybe hit that long one every now and then. We'll see how it goes. But he's a fast learner. I like the way he's learning right now so I think he'll fit right in. He fits right in with the group right now."

But can he pass protect?

"Obviously we can't do it live now because we are in shorts and t-shirts," Spencer said. "But watching the film, he has done a good job, he's not afraid. That's the thing – he's not afraid and you can see has the want-to in him. So all I need to do is just teach him technique in terms of hand-placement, feet, where his aiming point is and things like that. But he has it in his heart, so that's good. That's half of it right there."

Last year's top draft pick, tight end O.J. Howard, should also help.

“Obviously, coming from college whether it being Alabama or Canada, there’s obviously a transition and learning curve that comes into play," said tight end coach Ben Steele. "Everybody knows that. Where he’s got to make the transition is from his rookie year to his second year. That is what I tell him all the time. He is his own biggest critic. He is a guy that is super humble and he knows the stuff that he needs to get done.

"Now it’s those details. He’s a guy that he’s athletic enough to get away with using bad technique, but at the end of the day, that stuff is going to catch up to him. He’s got to fine tune his details and he’s got to get more efficient with his footwork and his hands, crisper routes and that is the stuff that we are working on now and I am excited to see where he’s going to go with that.”

The offensive line could be better, too, with free agent center Ryan Jensen.

"I think when you looked at free agency and we wanted to add a guy, we felt like Ryan was one of the better guys we could add," said line coach George Warhop. "We weren’t looking to move Ali from center, but because of the fit and with Ali’s flexibility, it allowed us to do that. So, I think we’ve improved ourselves, we’ve added another good football player and we’ve had a good football player that plays center and right guard who’s flexible enough for us to play him at left guard. So, I think it helps us add a good player and gives us flexibility with the guys up front.”

Warhop said that Ali Marpet won't have a problem moving to left guard.

“No, because when you play center, you’ve got to play both right and left guard," Warhop said. "If I’m a center and I have to shift on my right, I’m a right guard. If I have to shift on my left, I’m a left guard. So, really the transition for him to go from center to left guard is really easy versus flipping from right guard to left guard and Ali is smart. It’s really important for him and he takes it personally to do well. Of all the guys no matter where I’m moving them from, he would be the one I’d have the least concerns about.”

Warhop said that left tackle Donovan Smith could ascend this season.

“I have no doubt in that. I think you look at Donovan number one – first of all, you evaluate him compared to his draft class, I don’t think I would take anybody in his draft class over him, nobody, in terms of a tackle. Then you start evaluating him with other left tackles in the league. I have to really think about it, but I can count on one hand how many guys I would like to have to replace him. The next thing, he is a young player who has never missed a start. I think he’s missed 25 or 28 snaps when he was out the second half of the New Orleans game. The next game, they didn’t think he was going to play. After Tuesday he said, ‘There is no way I am missing that game.’ How are you going to trade out that kind of mentality? Now, can he play better? Yeah. Does he have elite ability? Yeah. Has he played to that on a consistent basis? No, so that’s my job to get him to that level consistently. I’m not trading him out. You guys got something here that’s special and in terms of his mentality and what he wants to be and how he goes about his business, I would be in no hurry to try to find somebody else to replace him.”

Sound Bites

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken, on Chris Godwin:  “I see him as a starter. That’s how I see him. He’s earned the right to be a starter. He finished the year that way. He’s big, he's fast, he’s physical, he’s smart."

Monken on rookie receiver Justin Watson: “I really like him. He’s big, fast, physical, smart. That’s what you’re looking for, a guy that can develop. Moving forward, those kind of guys rarely underachieve when you have that sort of measurable skill set. So, he’s looked really good at the start and what we looked for. I think that’s the biggest thing when you get those guys in here. You’re hopeful that they are what you thought they were so you can work with them and try to develop them. That’s what you’re always trying to do with young, talented players. We’re paid to develop our players and get the best out of them so that’s the exciting part.”

Receivers coach Skyler Fulton on Mike Evans: "Mike’s going to continue to make plays. The tough thing for Mike is that everybody knows who Mike is. People who don’t even watch football know that you have to double cover Mike. So, I look at last year. A lot of people talk about Mike having a ‘down’ year last year. Statistically maybe because he hardly got 1,000 yards, but how many guys do you know that have four 1,000 yard seasons [in their first four seasons]? I think there’s three in the entire history of the NFL. So when you’re going into your fourth year, everyone knows that you’ve had three 1,000 yard seasons and you’re still getting double teamed and you get 1,000 yards? That’s not a down season to me, especially when you take into account the things that people don’t watch. Mike plays without the ball. The things that Mike does for us when he’s not even getting the ball that people don’t understand are extremely important. Mike’s selflessness about playing hard without the ball and being consistent and being on the field, we’re lucky to have that.”

Running backs coach Tim Spencer on Peyton Barber's ceiling: "I think he has a high ceiling. One of the things, this is his third year so he has a good feeling of what we're trying to do offensively. Peyton can catch the ball and he can run routes even though he is a good-sized back. Height-wise he's probably 5-10 but he's like a 230. That's a pretty good combination. I like the way he runs, I like his attitude, I like the way he's learning and being able to pick up things. Obviously he's in the mix, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out."

Offensive line coach George Warhop on draftee Alex Cappa: "He’s a rookie. Alex is fortunate in one regard - he’s been working out with (two-time Pro Bowl center) LeCharles Bentley, so his foundation is a little bit better than most, but other than that, he’s a rookie. He’s a young guy that played at a Division II school. He’s got a long way to go. He was a tackle in college, we are moving him to guard, teaching him how to play center. So, we will see how he rolls. Like I’ve said before, we added him, he checks most of the boxes, he’s got to learn how to play and learn how to compete with the rest of the guys and we will see how it goes from there.”

Tight end coach Ben Steele on the relationship between Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard: "They work so well together and Cam has obviously developed such a good chemistry with Jameis (Winston) in the red zone and other situations, but those two guys feed off each other, so they coach each other up. Cam – I am obviously excited for him. He got rewarded with a big contract this year, well deserved, but those two guys make each other better. Cam has a little bit more experience and he’s [going to say], ‘Hey O.J., here’s how we kind of need to seam this route in a little bit.’ So, O.J. is taking the coaching. We talk about with those guys, like with O.J. I’m like, ‘Hey, the great ones show up every day.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re right Coach.’ So, not just making a play here, it’s got to be consistent. Every single day that you’re in there, it’s got to be consistent. A great quarterback has to have a feeling where we’re at. So, when those guys are working reps after practice, Jameis knows where they’re going to be. Cam obviously has benefitted from those extra reps and then O.J.’s been out there too with him, so it’s been good.”

Warhop on last season: "I'm still pissed off about last year. To be honest with you, sometimes you need those scars to be bleeding for a long time. I'm still rather pissed off. You bring it up, you'll start to see it."

Monken on new center Ryan Jensen: “What I’ve seen so far is he’s really smart, he’s tough, he’s played. He brings a confidence to that position even though really he had one year as a starter there in [Baltimore] but he’s been around, been in the league for a number of years. So, I feel really good about the way he’s been approaching it. When we’ve been on the field it’s been seamless. You haven’t seen a lot of issues in terms of terminology and snaps and those kind of things. I think we got a really good one.”

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