Bucs coach Koetter says changes are coming

Jan 2, 2018 - 3:46 AM TAMPA, Fla. -- When Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter addressed players for the final time Monday morning, he acknowledged they had fallen short of their expectations, thanked them for their effort and warned that changes were inevitable in 2018.

"There's always change in the NFL and this year will be no exception," Koetter said. "Change is hard at first and messy in the middle and hopefully good at the end."

Unlike the end of last year when he waffled on the subject, Koetter says he will continue to be the offensive play-caller.

"That's one of the things in there, but I'm going to be the play-caller," Koetter said.

The Bucs struggled on defense this season, finishing last in the NFL by allowing 378.1 yards per game. They also had a league-worst 21 sacks. But perhaps barring Mike Smith being hired as a head coach, he will run the Bucs defense in 2018.

"It's probably not 100 percent safe to assume anything. You know, just look at what's happening around this league today," Koetter said. "There's a lot of stuff (happening). Again, I am very appreciative of the Glazer family that they're going to give me and my staff the opportunity to come back and fix the things we didn't do good enough his year. I really appreciate that and I do think it took courage.

"You just look around the league and there's ones that surprise you the way they went and there's other ones that surprise you the way they didn't go. And I'm sure plenty of people are surprised by this. But I appreciate the opportunity and we're going to do our best to fix it.

"Yeah, as I stand here now (there will be no changes). But remember, a lot of stuff has happened since Friday at 3 o'clock. Our main thing was to finish out the season, finish out last night and we'll just have to see what happens here. Things are going to be moving fast these next few days, I'm talking about in the league. And anytime there's major things happening in the league it can have major implications to other teams in the league."

--Two obvious areas must be addressed in the offseason, Koetter said. They have to score more touchdowns in the red zone and acquire defensive linemen who can rush the passer.

"We moved the ball up and down the field, we didn't score enough touchdowns in the red zone, we missed too many field goals," Koetter said. "Points win games. There's metrics that add up to points. Turnovers, explosive plays, sacks. But the bottom line is points. How do you get them?

"I believe we're 3-7 in one-score games and you're going to have a hard time getting where you want to go winning 30 percent of one-score games. It's got to be higher than that. We have enough talent on offense to score more points. So score more points, that's one issue. No. 2, the biggest issue on our football team is we can't get pressure with a four-man rush. OK, I'm not telling anybody big secrets here. Those are the two big things on our football team that need to be addressed.

"There's a lot of other stuff in there, too. But those are two things right off the bat moving forward that have to be better if our team is going to be better."

--Koetter made a point Monday to defend left tackle Donovan Smith and his offensive line, saying he doesn't understand much of the public criticism of the three-year starter.

"If you listen to rumors, you'd think Donovan Smith should never play football again," Koetter said. "All Donovan Smith does is play hurt, play consistent, play against the best pass-rushers in the world. Donovan Smith is a pretty darn good football player."

Koetter said right tackle Demar Dotson was having his best season in the coach's three years with the Bucs before he was lost to a knee injury, missing the final five games.

The Bucs lost Dotson and center Ali Marpet with five games left, and lost guard J.R. Sweezy for the final two games, and Koetter was impressed by how well the line held up without three starters down the stretch.

"I think we have depth on the offensive line, we have versatility on the offensive line," Koetter said. "I know our O-line is heavily criticized. I think our O-line is in the upper half of the league. ... When I'm looking at tapes of other teams, I see some bad offensive line play. I think our O-line hung in there pretty good."

--The Bucs gave up 40 sacks in 2017 -- tied for 13th most in the NFL, and up from 35 last year and 27 the year before. But the two previous years, the Bucs gave up 52 and 47 sacks. In run blocking, the Bucs averaged 3.7 yards per carry on the season, which ranked 27th, and had just one game in which a back rushed for 100 yards.

Tampa Bay has decisions to make personnel-wise. Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith, who split time at left guard, are both free agents, and J.R. Sweezy is due to make $5.875 million next season. Marpet and Donovan Smith will be free agents after the 2018 season.

--Koetter said running back Peyton Barber -- who took over with five weeks to play and finished as the Bucs' leading rusher -- would be "in consideration" to be next year's primary running back.

Former Pro-Bowl back Doug Martin is a potential salary-cap cut, due to make $6.75 million after struggling for the second year in a row. In the last four years, only twice has an NFL back rushed 100 times or more and averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry -- Martin in each of the last two years.

"If recent history in the NFL has shown anything, it has shown that good running backs can come out of nowhere," Koetter said.

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