Again, depth will be vital for the Bucs

by Gary Shelton on December 31, 2021

in general

Leftwich getting league consideration./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

For the Tampa Bay Bucs, trouble has come in twos.

The strongest position on the team might be wide receiver -- but both Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are hurting.

Another impactful position is outside linebacker -- but both Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are aching.

And the coordinators are well thought of -- but both Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles are among the names that (so far) have interested the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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All of that makes Sunday's task for the New York Jets a little less formidable. The Bucs -- the defending Super Bowl champions -- are dealng with an aching roster, where Leonard Fournette, Antone Winfield and Lavonte David are limping.

“I really think it’s disrespectful to the Jets and whoever you’re playing that week when you’re talking about things that really hves nothing to do with Sunday’s game," offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. "I’m completely focused on this football game on Sunday. Obviously, as a coach anytime your name is thrown around, I guess it is what it is, but it really means nothing at this point. It really means nothing at this point and I kind of think it’s disrespectful to the guys that you really work with every day. That’s really how I view that. If I’m ever fortunate enough to be in that situation that’s when I’ll handle it, but as of right now, I’m really focusing on the opponent we’re about to play and getting us ready to try and play our best football.”

Added defensive coordinator Todd Bowles: "I’m just focused on the team right now.”

Quarterback Tom Brady said he thought that Leftwich was ready.

" I’ve been around a lot of great coaches over the years and it’s just a matter of time for different guys when different opportunities come up," Brady said. "Byron has been amazing for me to work with, and I know he will have a lot of opportunities. He will do a great job.”

Perhaps. But first comes Sunday, where the Bucs numbers are reduced.

"We lost like 60-70 percent of our offense in like 10 plays," Leftwich said. "Anytime you’re in that situation, you have to do what you have to do and that’s my job. My job is to put these guys into position. My job is to take whoever is coming in, put them in what they do best and let them try to execute the best way they can. It’s not to make it more difficult. I can’t ask anybody to come in and be Chris Godwin or to come in and be Mike Evans. Who are we kidding?

"But I can ask them to come in and be your best self because that’s good enough for us. That’s good enough for us. That’ll help us and that’s what you get from the guys. That’s why I love this group. You guys hear me talk about this week-in and week-out. I have love for this group because of the way they approach it. The way they approach it is the right way. Everybody has their hand in the pile trying to get us better, trying to help us win football games and they’re all waiting on an opportunity. When the opportunity comes, it’s not an accident that they’re doing those things and making those plays because we believe in it, they believe in it and it’s just happening, it’s just football. All of these guys can play football. They wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t.”

Brady could become the second NFL player to have back-to-back seasons of throwing 40-plus touchdown passes.

“I think just winning the game Sunday will be what I’m looking forward to," Brady said. "We’ve got to go out there and earn it. All the individual stats and so forth – ultimately, it’s a team sport. That’s just a credit to everybody. I think winning is the thing that I concern myself with the most and I feel like the most important thing for any quarterback is to win games.

It’s just important for all of us to be on the same page. The quarterback naturally says a lot of things. I have a lot of experience with different situations. We had two people moving at the same time, and we had a couple guys moving with Tyler (Johnson) in motion and Tyler wasn’t really sure because he was just going across. I saw that we had multiple guys in motion, which is a penalty, so it’s the quarterback’s job to figure those things out. I just wanted to explain to Tyler in the moment when it’s fresh in our minds.”

Brady said it will be important for role players to step up Sunday.

"I think everyone is going to have to play a role with different people in and out of the lineup," Brady said. "We’ve had a lot of people in and out the last [few games]. At different times you’ve got to adjust. Different players – Leonard [Fournette], Chris [Godwin], Mike [Evans], A.B. (Antonio Brown) has been out for a while, ‘Gronk’ (Rob Gronkowski) – you’ve just got to try to get guys to play a role and provide the level of production that allows you to go down and score points.

"Every week is going to be a little bit different. Again, I don’t think it’s production. It’s just a matter of score points to me. If we have to go 80 yards, we’ve got to go 80 yards to get the ball in the end zone. If we get a turnover on the 10-yard line, it’s still about scoring points. We don’t have to produce as many yards to score points because the defense helped us out a lot. It’s really the ultimate team sport in that respect. You have to do the best you can do based on the circumstances and opportunities that you are provided. Each week those are a little bit different with different players. Depending on how the defense plays, how the special teams play, how the other team plays – all of those things factor in differently to the overall outcome of the game.”

The Bucs play at the Jets Sunday at 1 p.m.

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