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No one knows how Donovan Smith will develop

His coaches expect him to be great. Analysts don’t.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Donovan Smith has been a favorite target of many, many third-party analysts since he was drafted. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle has been inconsistent in two years as a starter, which has led to calls for him to be replaced—but the team is happy with Smith’s play so far, and they want to see him continue to develop.

Donovan Smith is aware of the criticism he’s fielded, and at least says that he’s working to get better—that’s one reason the Bucs are sticking with him.

“I am getting there [in terms of consistency],” Smith said yesterday. “Obviously, it is still a work in progress. There’s not much you can say or see really out here not in pads and stuff, but you just come out here and work at it every day.”

Easy to say for a player, of course. His coaches agree, at least—and not just publicly, because there have been no off-the-record rumors of any kind of disappointment in Smith anywhere.

That doesn’t mean they think he’s perfect. Koetter is very happy with Smith, and talked about people not cutting Donovan Smith as much slack as they would yesterday, but he also noted that the left tackle has a lot to improve on.

“I think the number one thing Donovan just has to cut down is he’s got to cut his penalties down and he’s got to play a little more consistent,” Koetter said. “When Donovan’s consistent, he can be physically dominating at times and we’re a lot happier with Donovan than some other people are.”

Smith’s potential physical dominance has been obvious since day one, even if the consistency hasn’t been there, and the Bucs have show a preference for guys like that. J.R. Sweezy fits that mold, too, as did Ali Marpet when they drafted him—though Marpet has developed into a consistent player, too.

So the question is: can Smith get more consistent? Will he always have a few too many lapses? Will those lapses be manageable? That’s impossible to say right now, which means one thing: those writing him off and those fully trusting him are premature in their judgments.