Backup talk? It says a lot about the Bucs

by Gary Shelton on June 9, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Soon, Koetter will talk about the better players./JEFFREY S. KING

Soon, Koetter will talk about the better players./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 2 a.m.

You can tell how much better the starters are for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Much of the conversation, it seemed Thursday, was about the other end of the roster.

Wide receiver depth. Cornerback backups. Tight ends. And so forth. As pumped as a lot of Bucs' fans are about the upcoming football season, Koetter spent much of Thursday talking about depth.

For instance, on a team with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson,

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Chris Thomas and Adam Humphries, Koetter spoke about … wide receiver Derel Walker.

Koetter: "Derel's doing well. He did very well in Canada. Of course he played at Texas A&M with Mike [Evans]. He's going to be in a battle for those last couple wideout spots. We're so much deeper at wide receiver than we have been in the past; that's one of the many competitions that we have going on. The first two or three spots are pretty well locked up, but there's really good competition at the bottom of the roster."

Then there is the competition at defensive end. But Koetter didn't talk about Noah Spence or Robert Ayers or William Gholston. He talked about … Ryan Reynolds.

Koetter: "He's looked really good. He's missed a little bit of time with a little bit of a soft-tissue injury, but since he's been back – Ryan is long and deceivingly strong, and very fast off the ball. Ryan's a good pass-rusher. The second half of last year we got a good feel for how he could fit in with our group. Nobody talks about him because he never talks. It's hard to get that guy to say a word, but we're excited about him."

And so it goes. Koetter could have talked about Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III, his starting cornerbacks. Instead, he was speaking about Javien Elliott.

Koetter: "Javien always makes plays. Javien's a guy that came here as a tryout player last year and ended up starting a couple games for us. What you just said right there – what the coaches notice is, every single day 35 [Elliott] makes a play or two. He's just one of those guys. He knows what to do and how to do it and he shows up and makes plays."

Of course, much of the subjects were because of the time of the year. The mandatory mini-camp isn't until next week.

Which left Koetter talking, for instance, about guard J.R. Sweezy.

Koetter: “For both the O-Line and the D-Line, the way the rules are set up here, it's just difficult because they can't really do what they do. Most of their work is over there in the corner against the sleds and the bags. When people say we didn't address the (offensive) line, the fact that J.R. was out all last year, I mean we were real excited about what J.R. would bring to the group last year. And unfortunately he had to miss (the 2016 season). J.R., in his 50-something starts in Seattle, [was an] extremely physical player. For our fans that haven't seen him, he's a bigger, stronger version of Joe Hawley, the way he plays. I know our fans like the way Joe plays; I think they're going to like the way J.R. plays as well. I think he's going to bring a physical presence to the center of our line."

Koetter was asked if tight end Cam Brate is serving as a mentor for top draft pick O.J. Howard.

Kotter: "I think Cam, somewhat, but really the guy that does a great job in that tight end room as a mentor is Luke Stocker. Luke's one of the elder statesmen on our team, and I think he looks after both Cam and O.J. You can see that Cam's playing with a lot of confidence. As far as the offense goes, Cam's probably the most consistent player throughout OTAs, but Luke's the leader in that room."

Then there is the battle for cornerback depth.

Koetter: "Well, right now the way it's looking those might be two different positions. Third outside corner and slot corner might end up being two different positions, with a couple guys playing both. Jude [Adjei-Barimah] and Bobby Mac – Robert McClain – can play both spots. Ryan's primarily playing outside, not inside. And then Javien Elliott, you can throw him into the mix there, too; he can play both spots. Who's going to be the third corner, who's going to be the nickel corner? It should be a good competition."

Koetter even took time to address the backup quarterback. No, he said, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't in charge.

Koetter: "No, not necessarily. He's got the experience factor, that's for sure, but Ryan Griffin's had a really good offseason. He's throwing the ball tremendous. We'll see how it plays out. We love Fitzpatrick's experience. He's been here three weeks where Griffin's been here two-and-a-half years. That's another good battle."

How much of the conversations are because of the time of the year? Most of them. Early June is a time to think about the back end of the roster.

But there have been years in the recent past when the Bucs talked about their starters because the roster was so unsettled.

Soon enough, you'll be discussing Winston and Evans and Jackson and Howard and Marpet and McCoy and David and Alexander.

Soon enough, the difference-makers will grab all of our attention.

Right now, you can wonder about the backups.

And their backups.

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