TAMPA — When the Bucs moved Chris Godwin from the slot to the Z receiver position outside the hashmarks this year, part of the reasoning was to prolong his career.
Godwin had been exceptional in Bruce Arians’ offense, where comparable players such as Hines Ward and Larry Fitzgerald also thrived with two-way gos and a high volume of targets.
But another, less glamorous responsibility of that position was as a key blocker in the run game, where Godwin took on linebackers and defensive ends.
Working the middle of the field, he also was exposed to a lot of brutal hits and almost every pass required a combat catch.
Then in 2021, he tore two knee ligaments in a 9-0 loss to the Saints. Godwin made it back by the 2022 season opener at Dallas. And he finished the season with 104 receptions for 1,023 yards.
But the brutal poundings may finally be taking a toll. Godwin hasn’t missed any games, but is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Panthers with a neck injury. He still has been productive with 53 receptions for 606 yards but has only one touchdown. His 11.4 yards per catch average is lower than his career mark of 12.6 but still higher than his last two seasons.
“I would love to just get Chris (Godwin) going and find the things that he does well,” offensive coordinator Dave Canales said. “Find the right coverage attacks to put him in the right spots. ... I love Chris and love what he’s about and I really believe in the guy.”
Much of the focus has been on the fact that Mike Evans will be a free agent at the end of the season. But Godwin, 27, has only one year remaining on a contract that pays him $20 million. He’s three years younger than Evans, but it’s possible with all the injuries, he has less tread on his tires. He also may not have enough speed to run by defenders on the boundaries.
“He’s definitely a better player and he’s doing everything he can,” coach Todd Bowles said of Godwin, who only once in the past five games has had more than eight targets. “He’s been a little nicked up but we’ve got to get him in the end zone, as well.
“We’ve got to keep Mike’s production where it is and we’ve got to bring Chris’ up to where Mike is.”
Special rookie class
Who knows if the Bucs will do the improbable, go on a winning streak and claim their third NFC South title in a row, something that’s never been done in club history.
Regardless, their future appears brighter because of a rookie class that continues to impress.
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Calijah Kancey became the Bucs’ first interior lineman to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month Award. Kancey has 10 solo tackles (eight for loss), eight quarterback hits, a pass defensed and three sacks in just eight games. He ranks second in total pressures (23) and hurries (15) among rookie defensive tackles.
Outside linebacker YaYa Diaby, meanwhile, has won the starting job from Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and has four sacks through 11 games. Not bad for a third-round pick from Louisville.
Second-round pick Cody Mauch, the guard from North Dakota State, played his best two games at San Francisco and at Indianapolis.
“Hand placement and footwork, it all starts there,” Canales said. “What’s the call? What type of run is it? What’s my first step? What’s my second step, and can I keep my hands tight and target my hand and my helmet the right way. That’s where his discipline is really growing.”
The way Mauch handled the 49ers Arik Armstead and the Colts’ DeForest Buckner was impressive.
The Bucs also have gotten contributions from defensive back Christian Izien, tight end Payne Durham, receivers Trey Palmer and Rakim Jarrett and outside linebacker Markees Watts. The latter two were undrafted free agents.
Devin White devaluing?
Bucs linebacker Devin White (foot) is out for Sunday’s game and truth be told, he probably shouldn’t have suited up against the Colts. Not only did he collect bad tape, he missed tackles, including on a TD run by quarterback Gardner Minshew. It seems unlikely the Bucs will attempt to re-sign White as a free agent, much less to a $100 million contract.
“He’s got to be honest with himself,” Bucs co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote said Thursday. “Sometimes as coaches, we’ve got to protect him from him, but on Sundays, you’ve got to make plays. Hurt? Everybody is hurt. He knows that. He is fighting. Nobody is ever going to question that.
“Since he’s been here, we know he has played hurt and banged up, but on Sundays, you know, he demands it, I demand it, the fanbase, everybody and football itself … you’ve got to make plays.”
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