Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Yes, Bucs TE Seferian-Jenkins on the second team is a very big deal

TAMPA

The Bucs are only a week into training camp. Their first preseason game is Aug. 11. The first real game is more than a month away.

So when coach Dirk Koetter was asked Thursday morning about tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins lining up with the second team, Koetter gave a slight eye roll and said, "I don't know what the big deal is."

You don't?

Here's what makes it a big deal: Seferian-Jenkins is a 2014 second-round draft pick, the highest the Bucs have taken a tight end. He's only 23. He's going into his third season.

ASJ is breaking the huddle on what should be the prime of his career. We should be talking about him going to the Pro Bowl. We should be talking about how he is ready to make the jump to being one of the elite tight ends in the game.

We should not be talking about him watching while another tight end lines up with the first team. And it doesn't matter who the other tight end is or what the calendar says.

Anything other than Seferian-Jenkins being the clear-cut starter at any point of the year should be unacceptable. For the Bucs. For Koetter. For Seferian-Jenkins.

"We haven't played a game yet, so we don't know who's going out there against Atlanta (in the season opener)," Koetter said.

That's true. The rep chart today might not be the same as the depth chart in the fall. Koetter is all too eager to point out that he wishes the media never saw practice, that way he wouldn't have to explain why Seferian-Jenkins isn't taking as many first-team reps as Cameron Brate.

Yes, Brate has been outstanding. He did a nice job last season. His hands must be made of Stickum. The next time he drops a pass even in practice might be the first time.

So perhaps this early-camp pecking order says more about Brate than Seferian-Jenkins.

"When you're competing, you're going to have guys ahead of other guys at different times," Koetter said. "Right now Cam is playing better than Austin. End of story, as far as I'm concerned."

Actually, it's the start.

Koetter said he could not care less where a player is drafted, how much money he makes, where he went to college and all that jazz. That's the way it should be. Football is a meritocracy. The better player plays.

What's concerning is that Seferian-Jenkins isn't the better player at the moment.

"What does Austin have to do?" Koetter said. "Play better."

The thing is, this isn't just about Seferian-Jenkins getting outplayed or outworked in a few practice drills. Mike Glennon can outplay Jameis Winston from now until opening day and you can bet your last dollar that Winston will be behind center when the season starts. Gerald McCoy could play like dog food for the next month and there's absolutely no way he won't be lining up over center in the first game.

So Seferian-Jenkins having to fight for his job is a worry. No second-round draft pick should be fighting for a job.

"As of right now, Cam is playing better," Koetter said. "Austin still has time to win the job."

For the record, Seferian-Jenkins isn't bent out of shape over any of this, at least not publicly. He is going out of his way — in a seemingly over-the-top, rehearsed sort of way — to not cause problems. He is saying all the right things, like that he's working hard, he wants what is best for the team, Brate is playing great, blah, blah, blah.

That's all just fine. Good for him.

Still, you can't help but remember when Seferian-Jenkins was kicked out of a summer workout because Koetter said the tight end didn't know what he was doing.

This whole things smells sour.

Perhaps pointing out that Brate is ahead of Seferian-Jenkins for the time being is just some motivational coaching by Koetter. A little kick in the pants for Seferian-Jenkins.

"Trust me, I'm not playing any mind games with anybody, all right?" Koetter said. "You guys always think I'm playing these games to motivate guys. I'm telling them the truth, okay? I'm telling them the truth. I'm never (lying to) these guys. I mean, that's the fastest way to lose creditability with your team. They're never getting (lied to), I promise you that."

Seferian-Jenkins is a good player. His biggest problem in two seasons with the Bucs has been his inability to stay healthy. When he has been healthy, he has played well. He has played 16 games — equal to one NFL season — and the numbers are respectable: 42 catches for 559 yards (a chunky 13.3 average) and six touchdowns.

Heck, you would take those numbers over one full season, right?

Ultimately, as Seferian-Jenkins grows more accustomed to Winston, more comfortable with Koetter's offense and better adjusted to the NFL, those numbers should go up.

Then again, that's assuming he gets on the field regularly. As of this moment, that remains uncertain.

And that is a very big deal.

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