Assessing good and not-so-good Bucs at bye

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) celebrates his 10 touchdown catch and run, making the score 12 to 7, during the first half at Raymond James Stadium Sunday afternoon in Tampa (10/11/15).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) celebrates his 10 touchdown catch and run, making the score 12 to 7, during the first half at Raymond James Stadium Sunday afternoon in Tampa (10/11/15).
Published Oct. 18, 2015


The bye week is a time of reflection for teams in the NFL, when they can self-scout and concentrate on who is usually their biggest opponent: themselves.

The Bucs are 2-3. They beat the Saints and Jaguars. They gave away games against the Titans and Texans, meaning only the Panthers were probably better (even if a better kicker for the Bucs might have changed things).

As Lovie Smith reviews the first five games, he'll find some players meeting or exceeding expectations, but many who need to get in gear — fast.

Keep it going

DOUG MARTIN: Nothing motivates a player like a contract year, so when the Bucs decided not to pick up the running back's fifth-year option, it benefitted them in the short term but could hurt if he leaves after the season via free agency. Nonetheless, a slimmed-down, injury-free Martin entered the weekend tied for third in the NFL in rushing with 405 yards. He ran for a season-high 123 and two touchdowns on 24 carries (5.1-yard average) last week in a win over the Jags. "He's breaking a lot of tackles," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "Yards after contact, he's doing a really nice job. You've seen that before. You know what Doug can do. He's done it before here, in his rookie year.

CHARLES SIMS: The second-year running back missed half his rookie year with an ankle injury. Now he's showing the pass-catching ability that made him a third-round draft pick. Martin and Sims form the best tandem of rushers in the league. Last week he had 51 yards on 12 carries and a career-high 85 yards on four catches, including a 56-yard reception. "We like that combination," Smith said. "We brought Charles here because we thought he could catch the ball out of the backfield, split him out, whatever it might be. I liked the way he ran the ball also. That's a good one-two punch we have going with our running backs."

ALI MARPET: Far from technically sound, the rookie guard plays with great leverage and finishes blocks. He's clearing holes for Martin and getting to the second level. GM Jason Licht and his staff found a special player.

JACQUIES SMITH: Claimed off waivers from Buffalo a year ago, the defensive end is the Bucs' sack leader over the past 14 games with 10.5. Smith has gone two games without a QB takedown but recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown last week in what was the biggest play in the 38-31 win over the Jags.

CHRIS CONTE: The knock against the safety is he can't stay healthy, and he had to leave the Jags game with an ankle injury. But he's the only player in a leaky secondary making splash plays, with an interception and two forced fumbles.

Pick it up

JAMEIS WINSTON: Throwing a pick-six on your first pass attempt in each of the first two home games is how a QB loses and fails to win over fans. The rookie will make more mistakes, but he has to do a better job of protecting the ball and not wrecking a game early. Footwork still is a problem, leading to some inaccuracy.

TIM JENNINGS: Based on how the cornerback played against the Jaguars, a lineup change wouldn't be unwarranted. Lovie Smith has to realize Jennings is not the player he had in Chicago who had nine interceptions in '12.

LAVONTE DAVID: To whom much is given, much is expected. David is among the league's best outside linebackers, but he's missing too many impactful tackles that would get his defense off the field. After signing a five-year, $50.25 million deal in August, he seems to be pressing to live up to it.

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GEORGE JOHNSON: The Bucs traded a fifth-round draft pick to Detroit for the defensive end and a seventh-rounder. But Johnson has never been a starter, and this may be why: He has 10 tackles and zero sacks, and lost his job to William Gholston. Maybe his big forced fumble against the Jags will ignite Johnson.

BRADLEY MCDOUGALD: The Bucs are desperate for someone to make a play in the secondary. McDougald has made exactly one, an interception of Jags QB Blake Bortles. The safety hasn't been the player he was the second half of '14, especially in coverage.