In evaluating his team's strengths and flaws in a 5-11 season, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter made a point Monday to defend left tackle Donovan Smith and his offensive line, saying he doesn't understand much of the public criticism of the three-year starter.
"If you listen to rumors, you'd think Donovan Smith should never play football again," Koetter said. "All Donovan Smith does is play hurt, play consistent, play against the best pass-rushers in the world. Donovan Smith is a pretty darn good football player."
Koetter said right tackle Demar Dotson was having his best season in the coach's three years with the Bucs before he was lost to a knee injury, missing the final five games.
The Bucs lost Dotson and center Ali Marpet with five games left, and lost guard J.R. Sweezy for the final two games, and Koetter was impressed by how well the line held up without three starters down the stretch.
"I think we have depth on the offensive line, we have versatility on the offensive line," Koetter said. "I know our o-line is heavily criticized. I think our o-line is in the upper half of the league. … When I'm looking at tapes of other teams, I see some bad offensive line play. I think our o-line hung in there pretty good."
The Bucs gave up 40 sacks in 2017 — tied for 13th most in the NFL, and up from 35 last year and 27 the year before. But the two previous years, the Bucs gave up 52 and 47 sacks. In run blocking, the Bucs averaged 3.7 yards per carry on the season, which ranked 27th, and had just one game in which a back rushed for 100 yards.
Tampa Bay has decisions to make personnel-wise — Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith, who split time at left guard, are both free agents, and J.R. Sweezy is due to make $5.875-million next season. Marpet and Donovan Smith will be free agents after the 2018 season.