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Buccaneers rookie recap: Week seven

How did Tampa Bay’s rookies play in Sunday’s overtime win over the Browns?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers found themselves back in the win column on Sunday, beating the Browns in overtime, 26-23, at Raymond James Stadium. There were some unlikely heroes throughout the afternoon and although the rookies wouldn’t be considered among the game’s heroes, some of them did make a bigger impact this week. It’s time to look at how Tampa Bay’s 2018 class performed in week seven.

RB Ronald Jones II

In last week’s rookie recap, I talked about how frustrating Ronald Jones had been through the first six weeks (three of which he spent on the inactive list). After his performance on Sunday, things are looking up. There was a lot to like about Jones’ day. Even if he was still somewhat inconsistent, there were more bursts of hope this week. He ran six times for 13 yards, which isn’t anything special. But he did have a long of nine and later scored his first NFL touchdown. In the passing game, he caught his only target for a 15-yard pickup. The second-rounder appears to be showing that he might be ready for some more touches. Truthfully, he might need them to get into more of a rhythm with this offense. In Sunday’s game, he took 29 offensive snaps, which was 31 percent of the offense’s total.

There were improvements in Jones’ game for the most part, but there were some mistakes— one of which could have been costly. With the Bucs on their side of the field in overtime, Jameis Winston threw an interception. Head coach Dirk Koetter later said that the interception was made possible by someone running the wrong route. By the looks of it, that someone might have been Jones. He cut left instead of right, which brought the linebacker into the throwing lane. If it was a timing route for the receiver, there’s really nothing Winston could have done about it. The Tampa Bay defense stepped up on the next possession, making the turnover insignificant.

Even still, those are the types of things that will keep Jones from getting more snaps. With Peyton Barber potentially banged up, the Bucs will need their rookie running back to be ready for an increased workload— both physically and mentally.

When asked about Jones on Monday, Koetter said it’s clear that progress is being made:

I think Ronald is continuing to carve out a little bit of a niche. I think his progress – everybody can see that he’s making progress. The two things that he’s improved on a ton since he’s been here is catching the football and in pass protection. He’s a stout guy when he steps up there. The last two weeks he’s done a good job of running the football and he’s made a couple nice runs.”

CB Carlton Davis

Carlton Davis returned from injury in week seven after missing last week’s game in Atlanta. In the first game under interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, Davis played well. He got 65 snaps (96 percent) on defense and stayed consistently effective in both zone and man coverage. He was tasked with keeping up with Jarvis Landry for part of the afternoon and held the stud receiver in check for the most part. Overall, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for just 215 yards against a pass defense that had been horrible under Mike Smith.

Duffner may not be the reason for the secondary playing the way it did, but for whatever reason, the back half of the defense put up its best performance of the year. Davis was a major part of that. The Auburn product did an excellent job of reading Mayfield, especially on a key play in overtime. On third down, Davis dropped into coverage, read the route of tight end David Njoku and jumped at it for a pass breakup that forced a punt:

Davis could emerge as a top performer on Tampa Bay’s defense very soon if he gets put in the right situations.

DT Vita Vea

Vita Vea does a lot of really nice things that don’t show up in the box score. Tampa Bay’s first-rounder was effective again on Sunday, playing a higher volume of snaps with Gerald McCoy out. He was in for 38 snaps (56 percent), racking up one tackle. But again, it was the eye test that determined the success of Vea’s day against Cleveland. He continued to get excellent push up the middle and just missed his first NFL sack in the second half.

On his lone tackle, he got solid push before the ball-carrier escaped in space. Vea didn’t give up on the play, chasing down the runner and bringing him down about 15 yards down the field:

Again, not much of what he did well will show up on a stat sheet, but Tampa Bay has to like what it getting from Vea right now.

With McCoy likely to miss more time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see No. 50 play even more snaps in the coming week or two. For someone who missed all of training camp, preseason and the first few weeks of the season, the No. 12 overall pick is progressing awfully well.

(Going forward, the argument as to whether he was worth being selected in that slot will not be a part of the weekly rookie recap. The fact is, he is a Buccaneer and is coming along well in the middle of the defensive line.)

The best of the rest

M.J. Stewart played 53 snaps (78 percent) on defense and totaled five tackles (four solo)... Jordan Whitehead had three tackles (all solo), playing 23 snaps (34 percent). He appeared to still be a little banged up, which could be the reason he wasn’t all that involved... Linebacker Jack Cichy entered the game on defense after Kwon Alexander went down with an ACL injury. He recorded a tackle before unfortunately leaving the game with an injury of his own. It was reported Monday that he will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL... Justin Watson played two snaps (two percent) on offense and 24 snaps (73 percent) on special teams... Alex Cappa and Shaun Wilson were once again inactive.