Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2019 playoff chances are all but gone, this coaching staff might start getting into more of an evaluation mode with some of the young players on this team. Players that either hasn’t had much playing time or had some injury issues during the first half of the season may get more opportunities to prove that they belong on this team.
So I’ve gone through this roster and picked out a group of players that I think will get more of those opportunities in the second half of this season and will take full advantage of them.
Ronald Jones II – This year began with Peyton Barber as the starting running back for the Week 1 game against the 49ers. As the weeks have gone by, Jones has been building a stronger and stronger case for himself to take over that job. At the midway point of this season, Jones has just over 500 yards from scrimmage and is averaging over 4 yards per carry. His touches have been limited so far while sharing the backfield with Barber and Dare Ogunbowale, but when he’s had the touches he’s been able to produce. In the 4 games where he’s had at least 13 carries, he’s had games of 65 yards, 70 yards, 75 yards, and 80 yards. So what does that tell you?
FEED HIM THE ROCK!
He was given the starting nod for the game in Seattle and has now been officially named as the starting running back until further notice. I’m sure Barber will still get his carries, and I’m sure Ogunbowale will still be in there on third downs, but Jones will start getting more touches, and he is going to make them count. Look for him to finish this season strong and at least come close to being the Bucs’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Doug Martin in the 2015 season.
OJ Howard – The former first-round pick of the Bucs in the 2017 NFL Draft has not had a very good year so far. He’s on pace to have the fewest targets (36), the fewest receptions (26), the fewest yards (352), the fewest yards per catch (13.2), and the fewest touchdowns (0) of his young career. He’s missed at least two games in each of his first three seasons, including the Bucs last two games, but he is supposedly back healthy and will be on the field against the Cardinals. The good news for him is that Arizona has allowed the most yards (810) and the most touchdowns (9) to tight ends in the league this season. If there is a game on the Bucs schedule where Howard could put up some numbers and get on a roll for this second half of the season, then this is it. Once he shows what he’s capable of in this game, he’ll start getting more and more opportunities later this season.
Alex Cappa – Despite being on pace to give up an astonishing 60 sacks this season, the Bucs offensive line has been playing pretty good so far, and Cappa has been a big part of it. The second-year player from Division II Humboldt State College has been one of the team’s most improved players since last year. He was back in the lineup in Seattle after missing a couple of weeks with a broken arm, and the difference was noticeable. Look for him to continue his upward rise as one of the Bucs strongest players upfront in this second half of the season.
Devin White – He got injured and missed sometime early on this year, but he’s back healthy now and is starting to show off the reasons the Bucs took him with the fifth pick of this year’s draft. He had his best game of the year against the Seahawks finishing with 12 tackles, .5 sack, 2 QB hits, and 2 forced fumbles. Even though he’s only on pace for about 70 tackles this season, don’t be surprised if he eclipses the 100 tackle mark this year. That Seattle game was just a preview of what he’s really capable of, and we’re going to be seeing a lot more performances like that in the second half of this season.
Jamel Dean – This poor guy ended up being the scapegoat for last week’s loss in Seattle. Sure he was part of a secondary that gave up two 100+ yard receivers and 375+ yards and 5 touchdowns to Russell Wilson, but he also finished his first career start with 5 tackles and 4 pass breakups, including an athletic, touchdown-saving one in the endzone. The rest of the Bucs defense only had 2 pass breakups combined. Let us not forget that he is a rookie, and he was thrown into the fire starting unexpectedly after Carlton Davis injured himself in pregame warmups. He’s caught a ton of criticism from Bucs fans and Tampa Bay media members, but I don’t share that same opinion. This guy has all the tools. He’s got the height, length, speed, physicality, and good ball skills. He just needs more reps. He’ll get them this Sunday since he’s been named the starter with Davis still sidelined. I look for him to play much better this week, and I think he’ll even have an interception courtesy of Kyler Murray. I think he’ll end up earning a starting corner spot opposite Davis, replacing Vernon Hargreaves, at some point in this second half of the season.
Sean Murphy-Bunting – Head coach Bruce Arians said that Murphy- Bunting was the best player in the secondary in last week’s Seattle game. He is definitely the most improved player in that secondary, and it appears as though he has officially taken over as the Bucs starting nickel corner. I look for him to continue his upward trajectory and be a big factor in the improvement of this Buccaneers secondary in the second half of the season.
Vita Vea – His stat line may not reflect it, but Vea has been highly disruptive in opponents backfield this season. Whether he’s benefitting from playing next to Ndamukong Suh or reaping the rewards of playing with the NFL sack leader Shaq Barrett, he really is wreaking havoc in opposing team’s backfields. He’s on pace for the most tackles and most QB hits of his young career, but look for him to also finish with new career highs in sacks and tackles for loss once he gets on a roll with Jason Pierre-Paul back in the lineup.
Well, there you have it. My list of players to watch during the second half of this season. Their playoff hopes might be out the window, but this team has a real chance to get this season turned around in the second half. Five of their remaining eight games are at home, and one of their road games is in Atlanta against a bad Falcons team. If this team is going to right the ship, then these seven players will all be important pieces in doing so. It all starts this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in Raymond James Stadium, so come on out and let’s get this second half of the season started off right!
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!