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Buccaneers rookie recap: Week six

At this point, concerns about Tampa Bay’s rookies are growing.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers dropped their third straight game on Sunday, falling 34-29 to the Falcons. Through five games, Tampa Bay’s rookies aren’t coming along as quickly as the team likely hoped. Let’s get going with this week’s rookie recap.

RB Ronald Jones II

This is a frustrating rookie class through five games, that’s for sure. Second-rounder Ronald Jones has undoubtedly been a part of that. The former USC running back was selected, presumably, to be a big part of the offense this year. Tampa Bay entered the year with a projected two-back rotation between Peyton Barber and Jones. But for whatever reason, Jones hasn’t caught on. His poor preseason was apparently deeper than his on-field struggles, as he was held inactive for the first three games. And in the two games he has been active, the coaches are still limiting their use of him.

Jones played 12 snaps (18 percent) on offense and seven (24 percent) on special teams. Whether it’s because of a playbook issue, not having the right situation to implement him, or just that he’s flat-out not ready, the Bucs don’t seem to be comfortable with Jones getting a lot of action. He got one carry for three yards and caught all three of his targets for 16 yards on Sunday. The fact that he was successful in his looks as a pass-catcher is certainly good to see, but we’ll have to wait and see if it leads to Tampa Bay getting him more involved.

CB M.J. Stewart, S Jordan Whitehead

This is where a shift in evaluation comes, as far as I’m concerned. Throughout the first four games, a lot of the focus was on the fact that M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and Jordan Whitehead were getting significant playing time and working their way through the NFL learning curve. But as the broadcast team talked about during Sunday’s loss in Atlanta, it’s been six weeks of the regular season. The “youth in the secondary” excuse doesn’t last forever.

Davis was out with an injury this week, but Stewart and Whitehead played a part in the secondary’s hideous effort against the Falcons. Matt Ryan completed 75.6 percent of his passes and didn’t turn the ball over once. On multiple occasions, it was Stewart getting beat in coverage. There was miscommunication all over for these guys, which is where the broadcast team spent a lot of its focus. Whether the scheme is an issue or not, it’s still up to the players to execute what the coaches put in place. This defense clearly hasn’t done that this season. Not only that, but the exciting flashes we saw from the rookie defensive backs early on in the season seemed to have gone away.

On the plus side, Whitehead played 67 snaps (100 percent) on defense, showing durability and reliability in a very thin safety group. Stewart played 39 snaps (58 percent). Moving forward, the Bucs need their young secondary to pick things up.

With defensive coordinator Mike Smith gone, maybe we’ll see some improvement from the young guns. Hope isn’t lost, obviously. These guys are in a tough position this year. They still have plenty of talent and potential, but it isn’t translating just yet. With interim coordinator Mark Duffner having a more aggressive style, we might see more press coverage and a game plan that suits the strengths of these rookies better. There’s raw talent in these guys that Tampa Bay certainly hopes to see sooner rather than later.

DT Vita Vea

First-round pick Vita Vea played 28 snaps (42 percent) in his second career game, picking up his first career tackle in the process. The Washington product is a unique case. He’s talented and freakishly strong, eating up blocks effectively and pushing his men around consistently when he gets in the game. But watching him push guys around doesn’t mean much when the defense as a whole is giving up chunk plays and 30-plus points per game. There will forever be an argument as to whether or not someone with Vea’s role should have been drafted in the top 15, especially with needs at safety and elsewhere. For what his role is, though, he’s doing a solid job in his limited snaps.

With Gerald McCoy’s status uncertain due to an injury suffered on Sunday, Vea could find himself getting more opportunities. He has yet to have a big splash play in his first two games, but he is getting some really strong push in the middle of the line. The Falcons ran for just 70 yards against the Bucs, who have the No. 5 run defense in the league. Vea played a part in that effort this week and he’ll likely play an even bigger part in it going forward.

There’s plenty to like about the big man, but there will be many in the fan base that will never like that he was taken with the No. 12 pick. And that’s a reasonable opinion to have. Regardless, he’s on the team now and from early looks, he’s playing his role well.

The best of the rest

Carton Davis was out on Sunday, dealing with injuries to his groin and back... Justin Watson was once again active, playing six snaps (nine percent) on offense and 19 (66 percent) on special teams, coming up with a tackle... Jack Cichy played 19 snaps (66 percent) on special teams... Alex Cappa and Shaun Wilson were both inactive this week.