Stroud: Three Bucs who need to bounce back in 2016
It may feel like an eternity ago, but tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was the Bucs' most dynamic receiver through the first two games last season with seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. But if there ever was a player waiting for an anvil to fall out of the sky, it's Seferian-Jenkins. True to his NFL career, an shoulder injury derailed him for the next 10 weeks.
Seferian-Jenkins, a second-round pick out of Washington in 2014, leads the group of Bucs players looking for big bounce-back seasons. Although he has shown flashes of brilliance, ASJ has played 16 games in two years.
It's not for a lack of working. Seferian-Jenkins put in the time to get back from a severe shoulder injury in 2016. Had he played the whole season, his production was on pace for 56 catches for more than 1,100 yards and 16 TDs.
Tight ends coach Jon Embree says it's a question of when, not if, Seferian-Jenkins fulfills his potential as one of the NFL's top tight ends.
"Like I told him it's unfortunate because when he gets hurt, it's a 10-game type issue it seems like," Embree said. "So hopefully he can stay healthy and show everybody what he's capable of. I feel bad for him because it means a lot to him, it's important to him and he works. He's done a lot this off-season to continue to improve so I'd like the see him stay healthy not just for the benefit of the team but for him, also."
Embree says he understands why fans question Seferian-Jenkins' toughness.
"I get it. I don't think the frustration was questioning him, it was maybe how the season was going and when you have a key piece that can help you win some games," Embree said. "He was in a situation where he really was getting close and working hard to come back and just wasn't able to quite get cleared. When you start talking about some of these issues like range of motion and really being able to protect yourself, it's just hard to have someone go out there and take a chance of maybe ending their career."
Demar Dotson -- Shortly after being hired as the Bucs' head coach, Dirk Koetter did a curious thing: he named Dotson as the Bucs' starting right tackle.
A knee sprain in the preseason took away most of 2016 for Dotson. His job went to Colts free agent tackle Gosder Cherilus, who played remarkably well considering he had virtually no off-season work coming off a knee injury. Both players are experienced. Cherilus is 31 and Dotson is a year younger. Both will become free agents at the end of the season.
For the Bucs offense to function, they need solid run blocking and pass protection from Dotson.
Kenny Bell -- A fifth-round pick from Nebraska had what amounted to an NFL redshirt season when he tore his hamstring in training camp last season. But Bell didn't sit around feeling sorry for himself. He broke down defensive backs on film for Jameis Winston and tried to get better.
Bell brings an element of 4.5 speed sorely missing from the Bucs' receiving corps. It would figure that Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are set at receiver. But the third spot is a battle royale between Bell, Louis Murphy and Adam Humphries. Murphy, who missed last year with an ACL tear, still hasn't been cleared to play. Bell is behind those other guys in terms of experience, but the Bucs need him to catch up quick if Winston is going to have some deep targets.
"Kenny's got talent," offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken said. “Kenny can run, he can bend and he's really smart. I think he's excited about getting back out there and getting ready to compete. I think you can always benefit from standing back and watching and I think that helped Kenny. He's maturing every day and his confidence level. Half of it is believing you belong here and believing you can play at this level. Grit, determination, perseverance and want to. Does he have that? We'll find out."