The Buccaneers improved their record to 2-0 on Sunday with a 27-21 home win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa Bay’s rookies are still working through the expected early-season learning curve, but there were positives from a few guys in the victory. There’s still plenty of room for improvement as well. Let’s get going with this week’s rookie recap.
S Jordan Whitehead, CBs Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart
The fact that Jordan Whitehead, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart are even seeing the field gives them a step ahead of their fellow rookies. That they are getting playing time and not showing up on the inactive list is encouraging, as sad as that seems. But here’s the other thing: these guys are playing pretty darn well for the position they’re in. The injuries to Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves III and Chris Conte have opened a door for the rookies to dive right into their NFL careers. There are growing pains, as expected, but it feels safe to say that these guys are on their way to being good players at the professional level.
Whitehead stood out the most in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia, getting on the field after Conte left with an injury. The Pitt product finished the day with six tackles (four solo), coming up with a couple of strong run stops at the line of scrimmage and around the edge. He was largely effective in coverage as well, which of course provides a nice complement to Justin Evans. The Bucs obviously want Conte back as soon as possible, but they should feel good about what they have in Whitehead.
As far as Davis and Stewart are concerned, both are coming along nicely while being put in tough positions. Having to start your NFL career by playing a high volume of snaps against Drew Brees and last year’s Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles isn’t ideal. Despite facing that, the two young corners are showing flashes of why they were so successful at the college level. Davis came up with six tackles (all solo) and a pass defended on Sunday while Stewart tallied five tackles (four solo), a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
These guys are still developing, sure, but with the amount of playing time they’re getting, they’ll come along quick. In Sunday’s win, Davis played 77 of 79 snaps (97 percent), Stewart was in for 67 of 79 (85 percent) and Whitehead got 36 of 79 (46 percent). Tampa Bay has something here as far as the future is concerned. Be encouraged by that. But at the same time...
Inactives: DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones II, OL Alex Cappa, WR Justin Watson
No matter the reasons, it has to be somewhat of a disappointment to see this many of your rookies on the inactive list. Vita Vea has yet to return from injury, which is understandable. Injuries unfortunately happen and blaming Vea makes no sense. That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing that he is still sidelined.
The same issues remained this week for Alex Cappa and Justin Watson— there just aren’t enough open spots on the gameday roster at their respective positions. It’s understandable that both Cappa and Watson weren’t out there, considering they’re developmental type of guys that the Bucs want around for the future. There’s plenty of depth at both of their positions, so the team doesn’t need them too badly at the moment.
The Ronald Jones situation is an interesting one. Tampa Bay drafted him to be a one-two guy with Peyton Barber, but he has yet to see the field in the regular season. Head coach Dirk Koetter said last week that no one is mad at Jones, but the team will continue to put together a roster of the best 46 guys. Unfortunately, the feeling must be that Jones isn’t one of those 46 guys yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t ever be, but his progress appears to be much slower than the Bucs were anticipating.
It’s perfectly reasonable to think we will see Jones make his NFL debut soon. He has the talent to play in this league, surely. The big hurdle is whether or not he has improved his pass-protection. If he has a good week of practice, maybe he takes the field on Monday against the Steelers. The Bucs hope so and it’s a certainty that the fans want to see him. Hope isn’t lost for the second-rounder, no matter how much you think it is.
The best of the rest
Undrafted free agent Shaun Wilson was active again, but didn’t get any kick return opportunities. He did take his one carry out of the backfield for nine yards... Sixth-rounder Jack Cichy was also active, playing 13 snaps on special teams.