Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Three Bucs whose return from injury could have a big impact

TAMPA — More than any other sport, availability is the most coveted ability in football. Spend too much time in the training room and you can not only lose a starting position, it can end your career.

With that in mind, for several Bucs players, 2017 will serve as a comeback. They are sometimes forgotten players, but come September, they could be making a memorable impact.

When the mandatory minicamp ended Thursday, coach Dirk Koetter was asked if all 90 players on the Bucs' training camp roster will be healthy enough for full participation when the team reports later next month.

"I'm going to say I learned my lesson, because last year I said there was none and I was proven wrong," Koetter said. "I'll say I hope everyone will be ready for training camp."

Let's take a look at a few players who missed significant time due to injury last season that could be difference-makers:

E JACQUIES SMITH

Smith always has been a highly productive pass rusher with 13.5 career sacks in only 18 starts in 2015-16.

But on the first defensive series in Atlanta, when the Bucs held the Falcons on third down and Smith was on the punt coverage team, somehow he got twisted up and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was lost for the season.

"It was huge," defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. "He only played one play [last season]. It was disheartening."

Smith wasn't cleared to participate in off-season workouts, but he's one of the players expected to be ready for training camp.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy led the Bucs with seven sacks. The crazy streak persists. No Bucs player has had double-digit sack totals in a single season since Simeon Rice in (gulp) 2005.

Smith used the time to focus in the classroom on learning the nuances of the new defense under coordinator Mike Smith. He's been a mentor to defensive end Noah Spence. It's a tough injury to come back from as a pass rusher, but if Smith can be anywhere close to 100 percent, it would be a boon.

DE ROBERT AYERS, JR.

Ayers quickly became the emotional leader of the Bucs defensive line after signing as a free agent from the New York Giants. He missed four games with an ankle injury and still finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks while adding 18.5 quarterback hits.

"Everybody has to fight through something and I was no different," Ayers said. "If I'm out there, [I'm] expected to perform at a certain level. This year, I plan to be at 100 percent, but I'm pretty sure there are going to be things I've got to fight through, just like last year."

Ayers is the Bucs most versatile defensive lineman — equally effective at tackle or end. Having him for 16 games would be huge.

RB CHARLES SIMS

Two years ago, Sims was an integral part of the offense with nearly a combined 1,100 yards rushing and receiving. As a third-down back, and one who provided a different running style and change of pace from Doug Martin, Sims' future appeared bright. But a series of knee injuries limited him to seven games. He rushed 51 times for 149 yards and one touchdown (2.9 avg.). He caught 24 passes for 190 yards, including a memorable TD in the season-opening win at Atlanta.

Martin is suspended the first three games, but Sims will battle with rookie Jeremy McNichols and Peyton Barber for a spot.

"I think that if Charles was in that same role, I'm confident that he would be productive," Koetter said. "But the competition is tight. He's not going to be the only guy competing for that."

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow >@NFLStroud.>

     
 
Comments
Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

Bucs not listening to outsiders, but expectations remain high for 2018

TAMPA —Wait 'til this year seems to be the refrain at One Buc Place, even though the team was strangled by expectations in 2017. But a solid offseason that has already brought a rebuilt defensive line, new center and place-kicker has renewed th...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘I’m not just a feel-good story’

TAMPA — Shaquem Griffin wakes up knowing each day will be better than the last and barely unable to wait until tomorrow."It's just a whirlwind,'' Griffin said.On Thursday, he will walk the red carpet with his family, including his twin brother,...
Updated: 11 hours ago
NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

TAMPA — The NFL draft is one big game of Liar's Poker. Deal me out.Even the guys with a seat at the table don't know when someone is bluffing.Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows that the team's No. 7 overall pick this year will be affected b...
Published: 04/20/18
Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

Bucs’ Jameis Winston, Mike Evans catch Miami Heat game from courtside

We've seen Jameis Winston and Mike Evans bonding this offseason, going to Texas A&M pro day together, among other events. The two Bucs stars and their significant others double-dated Thursday night, getting courtside seats to watch the Miami Heat in ...
Published: 04/20/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Bucs have a tough start to their schedule

The NFL did the Bucs no favors with their 2018 schedule, Rick Stroud says, making them open at New Orleans, followed by home games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Plus, linebacker Kendall Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle, p...
Published: 04/20/18
Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

Here’s the Bucs’ full 2018 schedule

TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions. The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 ...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith fractured ankle in car accident

TAMPA – Bucs linebacker Kendell Beckwith had surgery to repair a broken ankle he suffered in a car accident in Louisiana last week, putting his status for the start of the season in question.Beckwith was passenger in car driven by former L...
Published: 04/19/18
Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

Bucs’ home schedule leaked: Hosting Eagles in Week 2

The 2018 NFL schedule won't be released until 8 p.m. tonight, but the Bucs' eight home games were posted early — and presumably accidentally — on the team's site, showing what would be a daunting start to the upcoming season.Multiple outl...
Published: 04/19/18
Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Is Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick a first-round fit for the Bucs?

Minkah FitzpatrickPosition: SafetyCollege: AlabamaHeight/Weight: 6-1, 201Draft projection: First roundWhy Fitzpatrick makes sense for the BucsOne of the Bucs' biggest needs is to improve their secondary. Fitzpatrick is a playmaker, arguably the best ...
Published: 04/17/18
Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

Jameis Winston set to make $21 million in 2019 as Bucs pick up his option

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is headed for a big pay day after this season, whether he gets a contract extension or not.The Bucs on Tuesday picked up the fifth-year option on Winston's rookie contract worth $20.9 million for 2019. The deal is not gua...
Published: 04/17/18