Sunday was a forgettable day for the Buccaneers as a team, but a few guys will forever remember it as their first taste of NFL regular season action. Tampa Bay lost 48-10 and the debuting rookies didn’t put up any noteworthy numbers, but it was a step in the right direction for some guys that the franchise has high hopes for. Let’s get going with this week’s rookie recap.
Debuts: DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones II, WR Justin Watson
When it was announced Sunday morning that these guys were active, it felt like big news. The game going the way it did probably hurt the good feelings surrounding the sight of these rookies on the field. But nonetheless, Tampa Bay has now seen all but one of its rookies play in regular season action through the first four weeks.
No. 12 overall pick Vita Vea returned from a calf injury that he suffered very early in training camp. He didn’t register a tackle, but did open up some opportunities for his fellow linemen. At this stage in his career, it looks like that will be Vea’s biggest role. He is such a massive body to have in the middle of the line, one that will require a double-team more often than not. Fans can argue about whether or not it was worth drafting someone for that role so early, but it’s not a bad guy to have on a defensive line. Overall, Vea took 33 snaps, which was 54 percent of the defense’s total.
Second-rounder Ronald Jones was a healthy inactive for the first three weeks, but he showed up on the field for the first time on Sunday. He ran 10 times for 29 yards and caught one of his two targets for a loss of one yard. Those numbers aren’t going to impress anyone, but he showed some nice bursts throughout the day. His first career carry went for a nice five-yard gain, which was a small snapshot of what the team hopes it has in the USC product. The downside is that he dropped a screen pass on the very next play, displaying one of the big reasons the team kept him inactive for three weeks. He took 20 snaps (32 percent), so it seems like the Bucs still want to ease him in. Overall, there’s a long way to go for Jones, but there’s clearly talent to work with.
Fifth-rounder Justin Watson made his debut, playing three snaps (five percent) on offense and 18 (64 percent) on special teams. He came up with one solo tackle on special teams but didn’t get any targets in the passing game.
CBs Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart
Talk about forgettable... Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart have been put in a tough spot. At times throughout the first three weeks and perhaps even a little bit in week four, their sheer talent allowed them to have some success. But with injuries and a severe lack of depth, a lot is being asked of the two second-round corners. They are playing a pretty high percentage of snaps, with Davis getting 49 (80 percent) and Stewart playing 34 (56 percent) this week. The secondary as a whole got embarrassed by Mitchell Trubisky to the tune of six touchdowns.
There’s a lot of blame, and rightfully so, on defensive coordinator Mike Smith for Sunday’s performance. It’s clear that there has to be some sort of adjustments made to his scheme. The shortcomings of the scheme itself can’t be on the players. But there is definitely a lot left to be desired in terms of the current scheme’s execution, regardless of whether it’s a good scheme or not. Davis and Stewart aren’t excluded from that. They have to be better, no matter what Smith’s scheme might be. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
In the loss, Davis finished with three tackles (all solo). Stewart had two (both solo) and a pass defended.
Inactives: OL Alex Cappa, S Jordan Whitehead, RB/KR Shaun Wilson
Alex Cappa, taken in the third round, is now the only rookie that hasn’t made his regular season debut for the Bucs. It’ll come sooner or later, though he has some work to do after experiencing some growing pains throughout the preseason.
Jordan Whitehead, who is supposed to have a much bigger role in the secondary with Chris Conte out, missed Sunday’s game with injuries to his hamstring and shoulder. Tampa Bay has to hope he’ll be back after the bye week, both because he has been solid in the early part of the season and because of the lack of depth at safety.
With Jones active for the first time, undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson was on the outside looking in. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers took his place as the kick returner, but only got one chance to return a kick. He took it back for 21 yards.
The best of the rest
Sixth-rounder Jack Cichy remains a part of the special teams groups. He was active for the fourth time in four games, playing 18 snaps (64 percent) on special teams and two (three percent) on defense. He was credited with an assisted tackle.