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Bucs players learn to cope with adversity of a different type

Most of the bad luck and adjustments have come on defense this season. No more. Now the whole team is affected.
Bucs tight end Cameron Brate says even though the offense largely has been healthy the past two seasons, coaches did a good job of adjusting after losing three star players against the Saints.
Bucs tight end Cameron Brate says even though the offense largely has been healthy the past two seasons, coaches did a good job of adjusting after losing three star players against the Saints. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 29, 2021|Updated Dec. 29, 2021

TAMPA — Until the Bucs lost Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette in a 9-0 loss to New Orleans nearly two weeks ago, their offense had managed to cheat the hangman when it came to injuries and illness.

Instead, that had been the sad fate of the defense most of the season, especially with a revolving door in the secondary due to a lack of healthy players.

Now COVID-19 has added another layer of uncertainty to the season after coach Bruce Arians, Evans, receivers coach Kevin Garver and cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting tested positive this week.

“Offensively, up until two weeks ago, the past two years, we’ve been super healthy,” tight end Cameron Brate said Wednesday. “Like, you couldn’t ask for anything better in that regard and then kind of all at once, a bunch of guys go down. I think the coaches do a really good job of kind of game-planning every single week. Who’s in? What their strengths are.

“That was on display Sunday (in the 32-6 win at Carolina). We did a little more perimeter running with those running backs in the game and getting O.J. (Howard) and myself, (Rob Gronkowski) out on the edge blocking some smaller guys. ... I think a of credit has to be given to the coaches putting us in the right spots.”

With linebackers Shaquil Barrett (ACL, MCL sprain) and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) both out with injuries, some relatively unknown players are having to step up.

“We want to have those guys back as soon as possible and we’re going to take the necessary precautions to keep everybody as safe as possible,” outside linebacker Cam Gil said. “My family has been very supportive. They understand this is my career and my job and that’s what comes first and they’re taking certain precautions as well. I’m to do everything I need to do to keep playing ball.”

Bucs guard Alex Cappa says every NFL season comes with it’s own set of adversities to overcome and this is no different. Brate added that COVID is keeping every team, not just the Bucs, on its toes.

“Every single team is dealing with it. ... Everybody says the NFL is a week-to-week league but I think especially this year,” he said.

The good news for teams with COVID outbreaks is that the new protocol adopted by the NFL and the players union makes it possible for players or coaches who test positive to return sooner.

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation, the NFL is giving vaccinated and unvaccinated players a chance to return after five days instead of 10 if asymptomatic.

Red-zone targets

Tom Brady loves to look for his tight ends when he gets near the end zone. That position has combined for 10 of Brady’s 37 touchdown passes this season, with six going to Gronkowski. Brate has three on only 26 receptions.

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“I think I get excited because I don’t have to run as far,” Brate said of his red-zone prowess. “I don’t have to get tired or anything like that. It’s just a couple steps you have to take. ... Speed in the red zone is not as big of a factor. Coaches try to put in bigger personnel because most of the time it’s going to be small spaces with guys trying to make plays.

“Sunday was great because (the Panthers) didn’t cover me at all so I didn’t have to do anything.”

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