Trust And Survival

July 13th, 2020

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Pardon the Bucs for feeling a bit blind-sided by Donovan Smith’s reluctance to play football this fall.

A five-year starter at left tackle, Smith went public with his concerns about a coronavirus pandemic that has hit the Sunshine State particularly hard in recent weeks. With his first child on the way, Smith appears ambivalent whether to report to training camp at the end of this month.

At this point, it’s unclear whether the durable lineman intends to sit out the 2020 season — but it’s crystal clear that his potential absence would be jarring for a franchise with heightened expectations. Keeping Tom Brady upright is Job 1, so replacing his blind-side protector would be a considerable challenge.

Donovan Smith

Perhaps Smith will decide to join his teammates in a few weeks.

Perhaps he won’t.

Buc fans have harbored mixed feelings about Smith since he was drafted out of Penn State and wedded to Jameis Winston. He has missed only one game as a Buccaneer, a testament to his mental and physical toughness, but Smith has had his issues finishing off blocks and opening consistent holes in the ground game.

Still, he averages only six penalties per season and Tampa Bay’s offense had few problems moving the ball last year or in 2018.

The Bucs thought enough of Smith to give him a three-year contract extension in the 2019 offseason, making him one of the league’s highest-paid offensive linemen.

Plan Bs

Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert is hoping Smith reports on time because Tampa Bay’s replacement options at left tackle lack experience. Josh Wells filled in for Smith at Detroit in mid-December and played well in a 38-17 victory as Winston threw for 458 yards and four TDs.

But Wells has started only 11 games in five NFL seasons and it won’t be easy to get him ready for the season opener in the Superdome against the NFC South kingpins.

When the Bucs signed Joe Haeg from Indianapolis in March, shortly after reaching agreement with Brady, Jason Licht wasn’t thinking about an immediate replacement for Smith. Once Tristan Wirfs was drafted, Haeg looked like a nice veteran pickup as a swing tackle.

In other words, a backup.

Lurking rookie Tristan Wirfs

Haeg’s versatility is impressive, but he played only 81 snaps at left tackle for the Colts in four years. There’s no shame in looking up to Anthony Castonzo, a former first-round pick still going strong for Indianapolis. so Haeg made his mark primarily at right tackle and right guard.

Wells and Haeg simply lack a body of work at left tackle at the pro level. That doesn’t necessarily mean they would be ineffective, but protecting Tom Brady from blind-side marauders is paramount.

As for Wirfs, the Bucs would have to be in desperate shape to trust a rookie left tackle, especially one widely acknowledged to be more advanced as a road grader than as a pass protector.

Wirfs was drafted to replace Demar Dotson at right tackle and right tackle is where he belongs — at least at the start.

Haunting Words

Only two months ago, Smith sounded equally as enthusiastic as Buc Nation about the team’s hopes with Brady aboard.

“You’ve got to embrace it because obviously he knows the winning ways,” said Smith. “He knows how to get to that point, he knows how to finish coming out on top. With him coming in here and bringing that mindset and information for us, as a young team, the sky’s the limit for us. You’ve got a lot of guys who I know are hungry and ready to go out there and compete and play fast, have fun, enjoy what they do and show out.”

Training camp snaps are particularly important this summer because OTA sessions were scrubbed. If Smith reports in late August after the final preseason game, Bruce Arians will have to decide whether he has earned the right to suit up in New Orleans.

The Bucs don’t need Brady peeking over his left shoulder to see if his protection is breaking down. With or without Donovan Smith, the Bucs need a left tackle they can rely on.

It’s a matter of trust … and survival.

Enjoy Mike Alstott’s June interview on the Ira Kaufman Podcast.

Bill Currie Ford
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Ira Kaufman’s column is presented by Bill Currie Ford. Click on Ira to visit GM Sean Sullivan will help you personally in every way he can. Superior service and body shops, too. Joe has used both!

24 Responses to “Trust And Survival”

  1. gp Says:

    The most important thing to this season is to “Keep Tom Standing”
    I hope Donovan makes his decision soon. We need to be able to plan around his play, or move on to someone else’s.

  2. yeah Says:

    I wouldn’t blame any player for sitting out. It’s amazing we live in a society that we have to put our-selves in mortal danger so that billionaires bottom lines aren’t messed with and their trajectory of growth remains on the incline. Personally, I would contract the RONA for 5 mil though, btw…..

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Ira writes: Only two months ago, Smith sounded equally as enthusiastic as Buc Nation about the team’s hopes with Brady aboard. Yes, true, but only two months ago, on May 13th, new cases of the virus were 813, not the thousands we are experiencing today. Donovan Smith was expressing his concern for his family. He would have been smarter to leave out comments about getting paid though.

  4. Clean House Says:

    Wait what?!?

    Winston threw for 458 yds and 4 TD’s?

    I was under the impression he was a terrible backup QB at best,

    Not the #1 player in NFL total offense.

    Wait what?!?

    He did that with a backup left tackle playing? He did that with yet to perform Perriman having a 3 TD career day and tiny little Miller having His 1st NFL TD?!?

    Must be everyone else but Winston!

    Yes Winston must have had that game and all the passing yards and TD’s in career because of everyone else! Especially “The Whisperer.”

    Has. Irking to do with his talent or hard work-

    The passes have nothing to do with being targeted by him and thrown from his right arm.

    He’s the luckiest guy in the world to be surrounded by back ups and journeyman receivers and checked out delegating lazy propaganda writing coaches!


    Winston sucks, a terrible talent indeed!

  5. Clean House Says:

    Has nothing to do with his talent and hard work.

  6. Youngbucs Says:

    Lol clean house just waits in the weeds till he sees Winstons name. Dude take his nuts out your mouth seriously.

  7. Mike Johnson Says:

    Sound like to me Smith is one of the few pro athletes who is thinking this virus thing thru rationally. Team or no team. The virus could care less whether you are playing football or hop-scotch. if you present covaid with an opportunity, he seizes it. My hat is off to Smith for standing on his on 2 feet and not..following the leader(s).

  8. Clean House Says:

    Maybe we can pick up 75 year old Randy Moss for the Over the Hill trifecta!
    It will be the most entertaining non season ever-

    Maybe the FL legislature and Governer incompetence can proclaim the Bucs the Virtual off season and would have been Champs!

    They can be heralded as the only team to “would have won” the “Super Bowl” err…. “Big Game” in their home stadium!

    Make sure you use “Big Game” on that proclamation, ladies and gentlemen!

  9. Joe in Michigan Says:

    Jason Peters.

  10. Joe in Michigan Says:

    Clean House: You can come out of the closet as Ndog again, there’s nothing to be afraid of (unless you insult Jerry Jones again).

  11. The Graham Tram Says:

    I think if Smith wants to play AND keep his family safe, there’s a way for him to do that.

    Personally, I’d get an apartment and just wait for the post-game test results to come back. I feel like they don’t really practice til later in the week anyway, so he could stay at home until the next potential exposure event.

    Otherwise, he can take the year off and: hope for a vaccine, wind up getting infected anyway, or be in the same spot next year.

  12. bojim Says:

    It’s his call but he owes it to the Bucs to let them know soon.

  13. ModHairKen Says:

    Look, Smith is either in or he is out. If he chooses not to play, that is his choice. But don’t look for a lot of loyalty from your team or teammates who do show up when you come back. And forget the next contract. He should have handled this privately.

  14. Tampabuscsbro Says:

    Ndog is at it again

  15. DRFEELGOOD Says:

    @Clean House
    That was the Detroit game. You, me, and 9 Hooters waitresses could’ve beaten the Lions in December. I actually wanted JW back until the Brady option became available. But, JW blew it last year by failing to protect the ball at such an alarming rate. And in terms of situational football, take away the name of JW. Imagine your QB throws picks on the first drive of 7 out of 16 games. Imagine said QB throws 30 picks that result in 112 points, and that’s not counting any time the D held someone afterward. And imagine said QB says “check yo sheet” after totally blowing it. He was not our only problem, but he was our biggest problem. To deny that is simply blind. GO BUCS!!

  16. Clean House Says:

    Dr. Feelgood, you make some fair points. The Only two qbs I was open to as alternatives were Brady and Rivers. It’s hard to not see what it’s like with Brady at the helm. I love an intelligent q.b. at the line. I loved Manning, he was my my favorite “Field General.”

    I still believe Winston can put it all together and believe in his clear upside. He’s had a lot of input from many voices.

    I love your idea about you, me and 9 Hooters waitresses. I’m in favor of that!

    Go Bucs!

  17. Clean House Says:

    More so the waitresses than you though, no offense.
    Me and 9 Hooters waitresses.

  18. To play or not to play that is the question Says:

    I don’t blame Donavan for thinking about not playing. To think he may be risking his health for millions of dollars a year with a disease in which 98.8% of people recover from and is not nearly as deadly as the media portrays due to to the election is just down right asinine. I stand with you sir.

  19. REDZONE BA Fan Says:


    Save yourself from exhaustive frustration at ever getting more than 5% of posters to recognize or acknowledge that JW was a young QB who started his career on the worst team in NFL, absent of any successful senior QB mentoring (Mike Glennon), with coaching leaders who openly did not want him (Dirk), and worst team in NFL (Bucs had #1 draft choice) because across the board, BUCS were BAD…. JW had the odds stacked against him from the get go….and tried too hard to be savior.

    As reference, the Chiefs were in draft position 27 in 2017, i.e. they were a really GOOD team already, and had a successful veteran QB in Alex Smith. Andy Reid TRADED UP to position 10 to get Patrick Mahomes, and then sat him for a YEAR behind a successful QB veteran to learn. Mahomes could have started in 2017 and still been wildly successful given his transcendent talent. But Mahomes had the BENEFIT of watching and learning behind a successful QB who was WILLING TO MENTOR him, and all those factors in addition to being on a well-coached and talented team. (PS – AM NOT comparing JW to Mahomes – no one can touch Mahomes) Just saying the situations were vastly different.

    JW’s receivers in YR 1 included Vincent Jackson (on decline), Mike Evans (superstar), and Hump/Brate who barely made the NFL at that time, and a host of other WR’s who are out of league today. His RB was good for a year, which helped JW slide into Pro Bowl.

    3 Coaches over 5 years. 2019 -BA knew that JW was a gunslinger, and rallied that mentality. Moving past JW injuries, his last two games’ performances and the issues, are really only known to insiders, including BA/BL/JL. And to JW supporters, those last two games were head-shakers and cost him being re-signed. JW needs time to sit, watch, learn and be mentored. I think he will rally, whether w Saints or other. Like Holmgren said about Gruden, I say the same about Winston -“When you have talent/potential, and willingness to work, amazing things can happen”

    Bucs moving forward in 2020 > Brady inherits the BEST of BEST WR’s/TE’s in NFL in a passing offense. Since the masses agree that all the 2019 “winnable” losses were on JW turnovers, I get that. Media/talking heads/Experts etc….expect Bucs to BE in playoffs for sure, and compete for SB.

    Why? Brady has 6 rings and 20 yrs experience. Quicker decisions, 80% less INT’s, and so on.

    With talent on Bucs and new D – NO EXCUSES. And Covid be damned – Same issues across the board for every team. Superbowl or Bust Baby!

  20. gp Says:

    Good post
    Like your train of thought!

  21. REDZONE BA Fan Says:

    @GP Thank you, Brother – Keeping it real.

  22. «Delusional Intelligence» Says:

    Great article as usual Ira. Interesting I never recall Donovan talking about putting in the work.

  23. Señor Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    Seriously, if I can earn $14MM over 6 (to hopefully 7) months, I will go live in a lockdown apartment, or where ever I need to. And I have NO doubt my wife would support that.

    I do not feel sorry for Smith at all. All these players, understandably, come into the NFL hoping to earn that kind of payday so they can take care of their family for GENERATIONS. Then they loose focus of that…

  24. Erik W Hesson Says:

    If Donovan is that concerned/scared, he should stay in a hotel during the football season and quarantine himself from his family.

    That’s all there is to it.

    Man up, bro.