Unavoidable Holes

April 20th, 2023

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It won’t be ground-and-pound, but the era of Air Bowles ends right now.

Bowles was not happy with 45-year-old Tom Brady averaging 43 throws per game in 2022, but he yielded authority to Byron Leftwich. It didn’t work. Unlike the first two seasons with Brady under center, the pass-happy Bucs stunk offensively en route to an 8-9 finish.

You can’t average 18 points and expect to contend for a championship in the modern-day NFL, where Jason Licht acknowledges offense is king. With Brady throwing quickly and inevitably throwing short, the Bucs struggled for every yard.

Nothing came easy — or in chunks.

Seven years since the Bucs could rely on their run game.

Compounding the problem was a ground attack that was simply awful, limiting Leftwich’s options. The run game won the league’s Triple Crown award last season, finishing last in carries (386), rushing yards (1,308) and rushing touchdowns (5).

In glaring contrast, the NFC champion Eagles reached the end zone 32 times on the ground. It surely helps when your Pro Bowl quarterback runs for 13 touchdowns, but Philly backs Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell combined for 18 rushing scores.

Buc running backs combined for four.

You get the picture. These ground issues didn’t start when Brady came to town, either. Here’s how the Bucs have ranked in rushing yards in the past seven seasons: last, 26th, 28th, 24th, 29th, 28th and 24th.

That span encompasses three head coaches. You have to go back to 2015, Lovie Smith’s final year on the sidelines, to find a stellar Buc run game.

That was the season Doug Martin and Charles Sims each averaged 4.9 yards per carry and Tampa Bay ranked fifth with 2,162 rushing yards.

That offensive line, from left to right, featured Donovan Smith, Logan Mankins, Joe Hawley, Ali Marpet and Gosder Cherilus. Hawley was a nasty anchor while Mankins, in his final NFL season, played every snap and earned his seventh Pro Bowl nod.

If new offensive coordinator Dave Canales wants to resurrect this dormant run game, he’ll need fresh blood up front. While Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen are locked in as starters, there are three spots open and Licht has to be looking hard at help in the draft.

Donovan Smith and Shaq Mason have departed and Robert Hainsey will be asked to compete at guard after starting all 17 regular-season games at center.

The depth chart isn’t exactly overwhelming at this point. Besides Jensen and Wirfs, you have Dylan Cook, Matt Feiler, Luke Goedeke, Hainsey, Grant Hermanns, Nick Leverett, John Molchon, Michael Niese, Justin Skule, Aaron Stinnie and Brandon Walton.

Yes, there’s work to be done.

Possible Upgrades

Buc fans need to familiarize themselves with the top offensive line prospects because it will be a travesty if Licht doesn’t address the problems up front in the early rounds.

Ira Kaufman has orange on his mind in Matthew Bergeron.

Peter Skoronski, the versatile lineman from Northwestern, should be long gone by the time the Bucs pick at No. 19. There are others who fit the profile of “hog mollies,” those rather large men up front that Dave Gettleman emphasized as key components upon taking the job as Giants GM. Unfortunately for Gettleman, he was unable to fix New York’s subpar offensive line before departing after the 2021 season.

Licht has had success up front. He drafted Smith and Marpet in 2015, signed Jensen as a free agent and found Alex Cappa in the third round in 2018 and then selected Wirfs at No. 13 in 2020.

Skoronski is likely to be the first offensive lineman off the board, but there are others who may fit Licht’s profile. Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones of Georgia and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright are considered first-round possibilities.

Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence and Matthew Bergeron of Syracuse might be available in Round 2.

Keep your eye on a 300-pound bully from North Dakota State. If Cody Mauch is still sitting there in the third round, the Bucs will be tempted to pull the trigger on a former tight end with impressive speed. Mauch is missing two front teeth, but he isn’t missing aggression or a determination to bury opponents.

While it’s true the Bucs have a lot of holes to fill, the holes up front must be addressed … whether it’s Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask under center.

Speaking of holes, Tampa Bay’s line must do a far better job this fall of carving out lanes and making defenses respect play-action.

Wirfs and Jensen need better running mates. Go find ’em.

18 Responses to “Unavoidable Holes”

  1. Goatfarmer Says:

    Here here for the Sage. Must address the O-trench. And the D-trench.

    And everything else but to a slightly lower priority.

  2. D-Rok Says:

    Excellent summation and synopsis, Sir Sage. We need a better offensive line if they are actually serious about contending for the division title, all hyperbole aside.

  3. Scotty in Fat Antonio Says:

    Is there anything better in football than a big ugly missing two front teeth?

  4. Goatfarmer Says:

    A big ugly missing three front teeth!

  5. Admiral Redbeard Says:

    No mention of Anton Harrison? Licht should also target D. Jones, S. Avila, and maybe J. Tippmann. I really hope he trades back a few spots for some extra draft picks.

  6. Goatfarmer Says:

    One week until Round 1 Mayhem. I’m crossing fingers and toes that, after trading two farms, the yacht and the elixir of life to the Bears for the #1, the Panthies soil the bed by selecting Anthony Richardson . That would be so great.

  7. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    We are weak and thin and old across both lines. Licht better get to work.

  8. sasquatch Says:

    Jack Burton Mercer Says:
    April 20th, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    We are weak and thin and old across both lines. Licht better get to work.

    We’re not old anymore, unless they go out and sign some old dudes, which isn’t gonna happen.

    On the O-line, they need to add a tackle on day 1 or 2, and I expect a center on day 3. If they do that, I expect they’ll be pretty well set talent-wise for a few years.

    The D-line, Vea, Gaines, and Hall are young players. We’re thin there and need to draft some help. Gholston could still return for some stability and veteran influence.

  9. Mike C Says:

    Unavoidable holes…… knew a girl back in high school like that.

  10. Beej Says:

    No coincidence the Eagles had such a great rushing attack

  11. D-Rok Says:

    @Mike C,
    That was my first thought upon reading the title, but I didn’t dare comment on that meaning.

  12. Geno711 Says:

    Sure, part of the problem was a little too high a percentage of passing.

    The bigger problem was that we were so horribly ineffective in short yardage running plays. We all watched it. If we completed even 10% more short yard plays last year, we would have continued drives.

    Who the heck was calling those plays? That’s right, it was BL, one of the worst play callers we have ever seen and that is saying something being a Buc fan.

    If I read the stats correctly, in 2022, we ran the ball 246 times on 3rd down and converted the 3rd down 92 times or 26% of the time. The ridiculously low 5 rushing TD’s was other evidence we had no success on short yardage rushing the ball.

    Eagles converted 46% of their 3rd down running plays. Seahawks completed 38%.

    I am sure that the coaches are right about liking Hainsey and that PFF may be fairly accurate on his score but that middle of that offensive line opened nothing and got no push on those short yardage plays.

    I am also apparently the only one down on Ryan Jensen coming back healthy. The fact that he did not have ACL surgery suggests to me that he is unlikely to be successful this season.

    ACL surgery is the gold standard for playing athletically again. Simple rehab is not close to the gold standard to successfully returning to top athletic form for the ACL.

    Hope I am wrong on Jensen.

  13. CleanHouse Says:

    Bowles is a loser- “I’m so smart I’ll handicap Tom Brady after two of his best seasons. Should have been fired upon the first sniff of his stubborn attitude.

  14. 1#bucsfan Says:

    Mike C. That’s was hilarious 😂

  15. Greg Says:

    If Tom Brady ends up playing for the Dolphins and lights up their offense Todd Bowles needs to get ridden out of town on a rail.

  16. ScottyMack Says:

    I have to agree with Geno711. It’s a bit of an overreach, I think, to assume that Jensen is going to be the same dominant center that he once was. I hope that’s the case, but there is no way you can count on it – especially since he never had surgery.

  17. Kaptain Morgan Says:

    Good stuff.
    Build your team in the trenches!

  18. garro Says:

    Nailed it Ira …as usual…Been looking at all the options at tackle.
    Cody Mauch is one…Gotta love another tough as nails Ginger on the O-line!