1. Bucs

Todd Monken’s plays are working. Here’s why and what it means for the Bucs.

The Bucs have scored a combined 56 points in their first two preseason games, and Monken says attention to detail in practice is the reason.
The Bucs are averaging 28 points per game in the preseason with offensive coordinator Todd Monken calling plays. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
The Bucs are averaging 28 points per game in the preseason with offensive coordinator Todd Monken calling plays. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Aug. 22, 2018

TAMPA — Todd Monken is calling the offensive plays for the Bucs. More importantly, they are working.

Fifty-six points scored in two preseason games is evidence of that.

Will it continue?

The scoring might, but there is no plan for head coach Dirk Koetter to give up the play-calling this season.

That said, Monken has made the most of his opportunity. First, he was asked to give up his other duties as the wide receivers coach to concentrate full time on his job as offensive coordinator.

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Secondly, he became another voice in the helmet of Bucs quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, which at least allows for a change to be made at any point during the regular season if Koetter ever decided to go that route.

"I'm grateful to have the opportunity,'' Monken said. "It started in the off-season with being able to call it out here. The quarterbacks hearing your voice, getting used to calling plays. Then the next step is how you do in two-minute. So now you've got to think on your feet and how you do in situations. I believe each one we've done I've gotten more comfortable with. Early on, you know, maybe not so much.

"You're going to make mistakes like players do, but you just try to shrink those on the field. And there's still plays in the game where you say, 'God, I wish I had that one back. I wish I had that one back. I wish I had done this differently.' But it's been awesome."

This time last year, the Bucs offense was sputtering. With Hard Knocks cameras rolling, the offense never got untracked.

What is working better this season is the preparation on the practice field. According to Monken, the Bucs who were coming off a 9-7 record in 2016 did not have the energy, urgency and attention to detail.

And they didn't score more than 12 points in any preseason game.

"Maybe I lost my mind. What we're doing out here is so much better than the (crap) we did last year,'' Monken said. "We earned that by the way we approached things. We haven't been doing that this year.

"I just know that we had a nice year two years ago and all of a sudden it's human nature: 'Hey here we go, Bucs, we've arrived.' Everyone drank the Kool-Aid, and now Hard Knocks is rolling in and we've added some pieces. All of a sudden we think we're just going to take the field against grown men, the best in the world, and just think it's going to happen."

It showed up in practice before it appeared in games.

"Bad football loses before good football wins. I've said that forever," Monken said. "It's from Bob Knight. I know that's a basketball term and I stole it, but it's true. Bad football loses before good football wins.''

There were a lot of factors. Winston played three games with a shoulder sprain and then missed three more. The Bucs couldn't run the football, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

Monken has had success calling plays before. He was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2011, when his offense behind quarterback Brandon Weedon and receiver Justin Blackmon was second in the nation in scoring with 48.7 points per game. In 2012, the Cowboys dropped to third, averaging 45.7 points.

It was important for Monken to talk to Bucs quarterbacks so they could learn his cadence and his ability to spit out a play and the alerts with the clock winding down.

On the first series of their preseason opening win at Miami, the Bucs faced third-and-3 at the Miami 4-yard line. The temptation for a lot of play-callers would be to throw the football. But Monken called a running play and Peyton Barber took it to the house.

"We could still get a first down, so we were close enough where we could've gotten a first down and not a touchdown or we could've gotten close enough to go for it on fourth down,'' Monken said. "So there were a lot of options for running it.''

Given the Bucs success, why wouldn't Koetter just surrender the play-calling duties?

Start with the fact he's been calling plays in the NFL since he did it for Jacksonville in 2007. It helped land him a head coaching job.

"It's fun when you're scoring. It's not so much fun when you're not," Monken said. "It's been fun to be able to do it.  I'm very appreciative of the opportunity. That's why I came here was to do whatever coach asked me to do. Because I'm a big believer in coach Koetter and I'm big believer in our team. We've got a good team.''

The question remains: If the Bucs average 30 points per game this preseason, does Koetter change his mind?

"Your guess is as good as mine,'' Monken said. "I would assume he's going to call it. And should.''

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud