Fri, 24 Sep 2021

On the Eve of Camp | S.S. Mailbag

Buccaneers
24 Jul 2021, 19:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers This week, Bucs fans have questions about training camp intrigue, obstacles to a Super Bowl repeat and more Scott Smith

Tom Brady threw 40 regular-season touchdown passes in 2020, his first season as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. If he throws 40 more in 2021 - and are you going to be the one to bet against him? - that would give him 80 as a Buccaneer, which would already tie Josh Freeman for the second most in franchise history. And if he did that, Brady would have at least a shot to catch Jameis Winston's Buccaneer career record of 121 touchdown passes despite only being with the team for three seasons.

Could Brady really end up as the Buccaneers' record-holder for career touchdown passes? Well, yes, in one of two ways. He could either produce at 2020 levels for the two remaining years on his contract with Tampa Bay, or he could play beyond 2022 and the age of 45 and give himself more games in which to catch Winston's mark. Neither scenario is out of the question.

If that were to happen, Winston would end up with a pretty short stint as the Bucs' all-time leader in the touchdown pass category. Compare that to the 13 years that Doug Williams owned the mark and the 20 years that it belonged to Vinny Testaverde. Purely in the service of remembering some guys from Bucs history, here is every player who has at one time held the team's career mark for TD passes (with the date they took the lead and their total at the time indicated):

1. Louis Carter - 1, Oct. 17, 1976

This is notable because Carter was actually a running back and he threw an option pass to wideout Morris Owens for the first touchdown pass in team history.

2. Steve Spurrier - 2, Oct. 24, 1976

Carter only held the lead for one week as veteran passer Steve Spurrier got his first two Buccaneer touchdown passes the following Sunday. Spurrier would finish the season and his Tampa Bay career with seven TD passes.

3. Doug Williams - 8, Sept. 1, 1979

Even though he was a first-round pick and an immediate starter in 1978, Williams didn't surpass Spurrier's mark until the first week of his second season. He would have 25 by the end of 1979 and 73 by the end of his Buccaneer run in 1982.

4. Vinny Testaverde - 74, Dec. 6, 1992

There were no long-term quarterbacks of note for Tampa Bay between Williams' departure and the selection of Testaverde first-overall in the 1987 draft. It took almost to the end of Testaverde's six-year stint in Tampa for him to surpass Williams. He would finish with 77, which stood for a long time.

5. Josh Freeman - 78, Dec. 30, 2012

Testaverde's mark would survive the runs of first-round pick Trent Dilfer and Super Bowl winner Brad Johnson but Freeman surpassed it in his fourth season after being picked in the first round in 2009. He would get just two more to get to 80 before leaving the team.

6. Jameis Winston - 81, Dec. 2, 2018

Winston surpassed Freeman in his fourth season and then went on to put a lot of distance between himself and second place. His final total from 2015-19 was 121 touchdown passes, as noted above.

Even if Brady only throws 20 touchdown passes this coming season, he'll help the Buccaneers hit a franchise milestone. The 20th one would be the 900th touchdown pass in franchise history. Since we're in the middle of remembering some Bucs, here are the players involved in each of the scoring tosses that got the Bucs to another even set of 100.

* 100th - Jack Thompson six yards to Adger Armstrong, vs. Houston, Nov. 27, 1983. Note: Armstrong only caught six TD passes as a Buccaneer

* 200th - Vinny Testaverde 21 yards to Bruce Hill, vs. Chicago, Nov. 6, 1988

* 300th - Craig Erickson 35 yards to Charles Wilson, vs. Detroit, Oct. 2, 1994

* 400th - Shaun King 1 yard to Dave Moore, vs. Atlanta, November 5, 2000

* 500th - Brian Griese 80 yards to Joey Galloway, vs. Detroit, Oct. 2, 2005. Note: Also the seventh-longest touchdown pass in franchise history.

* 600th - Josh Freeman 20 yards to Mike Williams, vs. Seattle, Dec. 26, 2010. Note: One of five touchdown passes Freeman threw in the game.

* 700th - Jameis Winston 40 yards to Mike Evans vs. Washington, Oct. 25, 2015. Note: The only rookie quarterback on this list.

* 800th - Jameis Winston 1 yard to Cameron Brate Brate, vs. New Orleans, Dec. 9, 2018. Note: The only quarterback on the list twice.

And now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

What storyline are you paying attention to most as training camp opens?

- @official_lou131 (via Instagram)

If you read my story on Monday or listened to Casey Phillips and I chat on Bucs Insider Wednesday morning, you can probably guess my answer. I am supremely intrigued by the Buccaneers' current collection of running backs and how they're going to piece together their backfield in 2021. How it eventually shakes out will have longer lasting implications for the team, too, because of the four backs most likely to be on the active roster only one is under contract beyond this season.

There isn't much uncertainty on the Buccaneers' depth chart heading into this year's camp, given that all of the starters and virtually every significant contributor from the 2020 Super Bowl team is back for 2021. Head Coach Bruce Arians said during the team's June mini-camp that he didn't expect any notable camp battles for starting jobs. Every player still has to earn his spot, of course, but there is not likely to be much turnover at the top of that depth chart when it's all said and done. Barring injury, of course.

But that doesn't mean the backfield is settled, especially after Arians said he thinks of both Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette as starters. He could essentially back that up by giving Jones and Fournette an equal amount of snaps and catches, but he will still have to pick one of them to start on any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday). Who will that be in Week One, and will the choice affect the mental state of the player not chosen?

Remember that Jones had a fine 2020 regular season and ended up with a 2:1 edge in carries over Fournette. He didn't lose his starting spot at the end of the season and in the postseason due to any downturn in his performance. He even broke a Buccaneer record by averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2020! But he suffered finger and quad injuries in December and also spent time on the COVID list. Fournette stepped in and, as we all vividly remember, had a remarkable postseason with a touchdown in every game and a team-leading 448 yards from scrimmage.

So if you're the coach, who do you view as the back who should get the first snap against Dallas on September 9? Should Jones lose the spot due to injuries? On the other hand, didn't Fournette do enough to hold onto that spot? Again, it may not end up mattering too much who takes the very first snap but I would still be fighting hard for that assignment if I were either of those two guys.

And that's just the beginning. Obviously of more importance is how many opportunities each back gets. After his playoff outburst, it seems unlikely that Fournette will go back to a role that had him only slightly involved in the backfield for good stretches of last season. He seems almost certain to cut into that 2:1 carry ratio from last year, but by how much? And will he actually end up with more touches than Jones?

Moreover, will Jones and Fournette combine for as many snaps and touches as they did last year? One of the very few veteran additions to the roster was former Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, who has been one of the most productive pass-catching backs in the NFL for the last eight years. As good as the Bucs' offense was last year it didn't get a huge amount of production from its tailbacks in the passing game. Given Tom Brady's history in New England, you have to believe he would like to have a James White-type back with him in Tampa's backfield. If Bernard manages to carve out, say, a prominent role on third down, that could eat into Fournette's playing time.

And then there's second-year man Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a third-round draft pick just 15 months ago. He's the one I was alluding to above in terms of being under contract for 2022 and beyond. Fournette signed a new one-year deal in March, Jones is headed into the last year of his original rookie deal and Bernard also got a one-year contract. It's hard to predict the shape of the Bucs' backfield in 2022 but it would probably be wise for the Buccaneers to find out how much they can count on Vaughn as a potential featured back in the long run.

That's four mouths to feed in the backfield, and that's a lot. And there isn't one player who clearly needs to be the featured back, at least at this point. This is probably a question whose resolution will linger into the regular season and maybe evolve several times along the way. Still, any one of those four - or several of them, possibly - could help his cause at the beginning with a strong training camp. I'm looking forward to seeing who that is.

What is our biggest obstacle in going back to back?

- @marshiemarsh47 (via Instagram)

Luck.

I've addressed this topic at least once already so I'm not going to go too long on it this time, but I do think it will be hard for the Bucs to be as fortunate in a couple key areas as they were in 2020. That doesn't mean worse luck would necessarily keep the Bucs from repeating, but it would certainly make the journey more difficult.

I think if you take any Super Bowl champion and look back at the season that led up to that final victory you're going to find a team that caught a break or two. There are a lot of good teams in the NFL and it's very hard to win a Super Bowl, Tom Brady's incredible record notwithstanding. It helps to overcome those odds to get a little lucky. I'm sure Brady and many other athletes and coaches would say you make your own luck with how you go about your preparations, and I get that, but some things are harder to control than others.

For instance, the 2020 Buccaneers really did not have too many major injury issues. The two big losses along the way were defensive lineman Vita Vea and tight end O.J. Howard, but at least the Buccaneers had decent depth at both of those positions (even before the trade for Steve McLendon). Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Cameron Brate filled in more than admirably, but a few more major injuries could have made the Bucs' margin for error extremely thin. And Vea even returned for the last two games and made a huge impact at the end!

It wasn't luck that the Buccaneers beat COVID, a challenge that Bruce Arians hammered into the players from the beginning. Still, even as much as the players and coaches sacrificed during the season to stay as safe as possible, a handful of Bucs did have to miss some time near the end of the season due to the virus. If that could happen to a couple guys, it could have happened to a couple more. But it didn't, fortunately.

The virus might have had an impact on the Bucs' championship run in another way. Nobody wanted the stadiums to be empty for games in 2020 but it seems likely that small or nonexistent crowds lessened the overall home field advantage in the NFL. In fact, road times had a winning record of 129-127 during the regular season. The Buccaneers went 6-2 on the road in the regular season, tying their best single-season mark ever, and then had that incredible three-game road swing in the playoffs. The players and coaches deserve every shred of credit for those accomplishments but that relative lack of home field advantage surely didn't hurt.

Otherwise, what's not to like about the Buccaneers' chances to repeat on paper? Everybody's back. The coaching staff is excellent and Bruce Arians won't let the team get complacent. The quarterback is the greatest champion of all time and clearly a very good team leader. The defense only seems to be getting better. The schedule (again on paper) is even a bit easier than it was last year. The Bucs don't necessarily need good luck to repeat as champions, but they could have a tough time if they run into a string of bad luck. And, yes, I'm knocking on my wooden desk right now.

How was the White House experience? Favorite moment?

- @totally.noah (via Instagram)

It was a very memorable day in franchise history and I feel extremely fortunate to have been included. That was the first time I've ever been in the White House or on the grounds and I'm sure that was true for most of the people on the trip, too. When we were allowed to explore the State Floor for about an hour, the visiting players were taking photos and videos nonstop. You could tell that they were impressed by the experience.

As impressive as it was to visit the various rooms in that part of the White House, I would someday like to go back for a more extensive tour, if I ever get the opportunity. The Buccaneers took that kind of tour in 1998 during a weekend trip to play against Washington but I did not join the group. I regret that now as it sounds like there are a lot of very interesting things to see that were not included in Tuesday's tour.

I thought the ceremony was great, too. President Biden was an entertaining speaker and the Bucs' representatives at the podium - Bryan Glazer, Bruce Arians and Tom Brady - all nailed their speeches as well. I thought Brady's comedic timing was outstanding; he clearly takes the time to make sure he is well-prepared for any big moment, and that goes beyond football games.

My favorite moment? It might have been when the ceremony ended and I moved into an air-conditioned room while waiting to do player interviews. I'm kidding of course, but it was extremely hot out there on the South Lawn and that was a relief. But it was well worth a little sweat session in a suit and tie to be in attendance when the Buccaneers visited the White House for the first time in nearly five decades of football.

The ceremony was the best part overall, tight and uplifting and surprisingly funny. It's hard to pick one favorite moment from the various speeches, but I think Brady's joke about 40% of the population still not believing the Bucs won the Super Bowl - and President Biden's response to the joke - landed the best.

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