TAMPA — It's suddenly become a secret as to who will be calling plays for the Bucs at New Orleans today in the season opener: coach Dirk Koetter or offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Monken was told to do it in training camp and the preseason, and was successful. Through the first three preseason games (no starters played in the fourth), the Bucs averaged 28.6 points and 387 yards per game, ranking second in the league in both.
The Bucs also got off to quick starts, outscoring opponents 46-23 in the first half. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin combined to pass for 938 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.
Koetter had been consistent in saying he planned to retain the play-calling duties in the regular season, but for some reason, he decided to stir his own pot after the final preseason game when he declined to address the issue, saying, "We'll do what's best for the team.''
Koetter will take the decision down to the wire today.
"You guys have asked that a bunch of times, so I'm going to defer that to coach Koetter,'' Monken said last week.
It feels like the question has been asked and answered time and again, but this is Koetter's offense. Sure, it's Tampa Bay's offense, a collaborative effort among Koetter, Monken, offensive line coach George Warhop, tight ends coach Ben Steele, running backs coach Tim Spencer and receivers coach Skyler Fulton. Before the play card is laminated, Fitzpatrick — the starter for the first three games while Winston serves his suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy — will weigh in to give input on his favorite pass plays in certain situations.
Monken said he was grateful for the opportunity to call plays in the preseason.
"I enjoyed the ones that worked,'' he said. "I've been down the road a number of times. I enjoy, as our coaches do, putting a plan together that's the Buccaneer plan, which it's been whenever I've been around coach Koetter .
"I enjoyed the opportunity that he gave me during preseason and then also during practice. It's been fun because I think the guys have taken what we've done on the field to the game and executed. That's what it's really about. ''
Koetter is the son of a head coach. His father, Jim, coached high school and at Idaho State. Dirk has been diagramming plays since he was probably 5 years old. He's known throughout the NFL as an astute play-caller.
There are advantages to not calling the plays. Some may argue that as a head coach, you're more dialed into the entire game and not preoccupied with the next play call or series. But Koetter doesn't strike anyone as a CEO-type head coach.
It's unclear whether there's a real competitive advantage to concealing who is calling plays. Monken may have more input and could even be the coach with the helmet communicator. If for some reason Koetter decides to make a change, at least the quarterbacks have heard how Monken spits it out. But it sure feels like Koetter will be the one calling the plays on game days this season until he gives further notice.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has quarterbacked teams to 23 road victories. Only once did a victory come against a team that finished the season with a winning record. #Bucs #Buccaneers @NFLSTROUD @TB_Times #TBvsNO https://t.co/pB1sBWBGnr— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) September 7, 2018
HARDER TRAINING CAMP: Koetter has mentioned several times that the Bucs had a "tougher, harder" training camp. What does that mean?
"I'm just going to keep that between me and the team right now because anything I say on that, it's just going to get picked apart, and there's no point because it's over,'' Koetter said. "In my mind, we did a good job in that area. "
The Bucs really didn't have any more full-contact periods. They did some conditioning runs after practice, even indoors. The tempo of practice was much faster — more plays, less wasted movement, better execution.
BEST MATCHUP: The game within the game today will be between Bucs WR Mike Evans and Saints CB Marshon Lattimore, who was the defensive rookie of the year in 2017. Lattimore held Evans to one catch for 13 yards in New Orleans last year.
Evans was penalized and suspended for the next game for blindsiding Lattimore between plays in that game. Evans even apologized. But don't expect the Bucs to stop throwing in Lattimore's direction.
"He's got size. That's the thing,'' Koetter said of Lattimore. "He's almost a perfect match for this division because he's got the size to go up against Mike and … (the Falcons') Julio (Jones), the big receivers not only in our division, but around the league. He's also got excellent ball skills. "
I love stories that show me WHY athletes are great at what they do. Thomas Bassinger's piece on Drew Brees' uncanny ability to evade pressure is one of those stories. #Saints @saints @tometrics #TBvsNO @drewbrees #Bucs https://t.co/TJ2hUJ8tl3— Frank Pastor (@FrankPastor66) September 7, 2018
STREAKING: LT Donovan Smith should see his streak of consecutive games started go to 49 today. Smith battled through a knee right sprain he suffered two weeks ago but practiced all week and looked "fantastic," Koetter said.
"Guys, when they get streaks like that going, they become important,'' Koetter said. " They take it personal, and I know Donovan feels that way as well."
CONTRACT NEWS: The Bucs are negotiating with representatives for G Ali Marpet, LB Kwon Alexander and LT Donovan Smith about extending their contracts. Alexander's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met with director of football operations Mike Greenberg in Tampa last week. No deal is imminent, but progress is being made.