Tuesday, 4 a.m.
And so you imagine Amari Cooper phoning his old friend. You imagine a friendly taunt.
“Hey, Julio,” Cooper says. “I caught 12 for 173, ace. What do you think you can do against the Bucs?''
“Here's my only prediction,” Jones said. “I'm going to be tired.”
“Hah,” Cooper said. “You only caught four for 66 the first time you played the Bucs.”
“Yeah, but I caught 12 for 162 last year. I may scorch their end zone on Thursday night.”
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And so it goes. And so it goes.
* * *
Obviously, you can find great players at a program like Alabama's, which spits them out on a regular basis. But, yeah, you can find the occasional dud, too.
You want a bad running back? How about Trent Richardson? You want a bad safety? How about Mark Barron. Eric Curry was an awful defensive end. Dee Milliner was a bust as a cornerback. Rolando McClain is suspended.
But wide receivers? Yeah, the Tide has had wide receivers.
Take Cooper, who was waffling along with a two-catch day at halftime on Sunday. He spent the second half wandering through the Bucs' secondary, catching 10 balls for 162 yards.
Then there is Jones, who had a 300-yard day against Carolina earlier this year. After eight games, he is 141 yards short of 1,000. Anyone want to bet against him getting it Thursday?
Jones and Cooper are second and third in the NFL in receiving yards. With a schedule that includes Greg Olson, Dez Bryant, Brandin Cooks, Tyrell Williams, Doug Baldwin and Alshon Jeffries, the secondary has to play better.
Sadly, the Bucs are 23rd in the NFL in pass defense even though they've played against middle-of-the-road quarterbacks like Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Derek Anderson and Colin Kaepernick. The viewpoint is that their corners — free agent Brent Grimes and No. 1 pick Vernon Hargreaves – have performed okay, but the team isn't getting nearly enough out of its safety play with Chris Piscatelli and Brandley Piscatelli. Oops, make that Conti and McDougald.
“They were getting a lot of chances,” Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. “Carr was having time. They did a good job with their formations, being able to identify if we were in man or zone coverage and then when they did get completions, they broke tackles.”
Koetter said there was no thought to giving cornerbacks plays off because of fatigue.
“No, there’s no thought about that,” Koetter said. “They play.”
“Because they play. They’re your best players, your best players play.”
Might it help?
“I’m not a scientist, I’m a football coach,” Koetter said. “As a football coach, you play your best players. Would it help them? Maybe, I don’t know. We’re not doing it.”
The Bucs are 26th in the NFL in opposing quarterback rankings. Much of that is because of the lack of pass coverage. Part of it is because of the lack of a pass rush. It isn't just sacks. It's pressures. It's making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable.
Even when healthy, the defensive line isn't very good.
All of which puts the members of the Bucs secondary stuck between no rush and not enough coverage. Three days to go, and it might be time to repack teams.
Here comes Jones, running deep.
Can anyone cover him?