The Buccaneers’ hidden gem
Defensive end Jacquies Smith has been bouncing around the NFL since 2012. The Buccaneers are finally giving him a chance to show what he can do on Sundays. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White sees a bright future for the former journeyman.
I admit I was low key hating on Buccaneers rookie defensive end Jacquies Smith after they first signed him in response to losing Adrain Clayborn, who went down with a season-ending injury in the first game of the season. I’m a very loyal person and having been around the Bucs defensive line for OTAs as an intern, those guys all came to grow on me. So it didn’t sit well with me that some guy that the Bills cut, who didn’t even have a sack in the preseason, was immediately put on the nickel rush unit taking reps away from holdovers like William Gholston and Scott Solomon. Yeah, it’s cool to be a starter, but third-and-longs are the money downs. Guys generally have to earn those reps rather than having them just handed to them. While I didn’t verbally hate on Smith when I was on the radio here in Tampa and didn’t write anything negative about him, I would still judge him pretty harshly in my head when watching the coach’s tape after the games.
Then something funny happened. After awhile Smith started to grow on me too.
It probably has something to do with his exceptional ability to rush the passer. Especially in light of the fact that the Bucs are in dire need of guys who can do just that at defensive end. The big money free agent acquisition at defensive end, Michael Johnson, has been so bad so far that his wikipedia page url should redirect to the word “bust.” Gholston, while being a shit-kicker against the run, has been a disappointment as a pass rusher outside. If not for Smith, I’m not sure the Bucs would have a single defensive end who could win a one-on-one pass rush on the roster.
Watching this kid turn his hips, dip and rip to turn the corner with such great technique has me intrigued. That’s when I come to find out that this “rookie” was actually an undrafted free agent back in 2012, two years ago. Somehow, some way he bounced around from the Dolphins, to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, to the Jets, Bills and Bucs all in the last two years without ever getting into an NFL game until a few months ago. In fairness, all of the teams he latched on with besides the Bucs do have impressive defensive lines. Still, it’s just hard to imagine that a team like, say, the Dallas Cowboys couldn’t have used Smith’s talents over the last two years.
Photo via Getty Images
That’s when I also noticed that Smith went to Missouri, and it all made sense. One thing I observed by breaking down two of Missouri’s defensive linemen for the NFL draft this past spring is that they are a well coached bunch. The whole unit plays with great pad level, effort and technique. I know they have another defensive end coming out this year named Shane Ray who is supposed to be drafted pretty high. Their defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski must be a bad you-know-what because I love what he is doing with his pupils. When you see the whole group playing the right way you know the coach had something to do with that.
I would bet you anything that it’s technique Smith learned back in college that is helping him right now get pressure with the Bucs. I say that because he looks so much better than every other guy at defensive end on the roster when it comes to getting consistent pressure.
Look at the first of his two sacks against the Lions last Sunday. Smith starts off lined up head-up on the tight end. After the tight end releases, he immediately turned his hips toward the quarterback, approached the right tackle, gave him a long arm to the chest with his inside arm, immediately chops his outside hand down with Smith’s outside hand and rips through Adrian Waddle’s outside arm to finish the move. Smith turned on the jets after freeing himself of Waddle and swept Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s feet from under him to get him down before he could cross the line of scrimmage.
Watch all of the film from this season and you will almost never see another Bucs defensive end make that kind of move. Hell, I’d be happy if one or two of them, other than Smith, would just turn their hips toward the quarterback while they were pass rushing. I hardly ever even see that.
In fairness, some guys just are naturally good at turning their hips to rush the passer. That’s a fact. Regardless, it can also be taught, so either the teacher or the other students are doing a shitty job of getting that movement to translate from practice to game day. Maybe they should all just sit and watch cut ups of Smith so they can try to emulate what he does, I’m just saying.
The nomadic Smith now has six sacks on the season after the two he notched in the Bucs’ loss to the Lions. That’s as many sacks as veteran defensive ends Michael Bennett, Olivier Vernon, Carlos Dunlap and Charles Johnson. That’s more sacks than veteran defensive ends/rush linebackers Jared Allen, Tamba Hali, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Pretty good company, I’d say.
Smith is a very good pass rusher from the left side, but he can do just as well on the right. The Bucs ought to be starting Gholston at left end, in hopes his pass rush can one day match his destructiveness against the run, and have Smith starting on the right to maximize the one-on-one rushes he’ll get. That’s if the NFL really was a meritocracy.
In the real world Michael Johnson just makes too much damn money to ride the pine. The Bucs pretty much have to play him, so the only other place to start Smith is at left end. Unfortunately, his play against the run on early downs leaves a bit to be desired. It has nothing to do with his “want to.” Smith hustles like his hair is on fire, which I love. But he is just a little light in the ass to be taking on power O plays at just 6’2, 260 pounds. So the Bucs are weaker up front than they have to be due to financial considerations, but that’s just the breaks, I guess.
What I do know is that Jacquies Smith is a keeper. No matter my initial feelings about the kid, the Bucs need to find a way to lock up his services while he’s still relatively cheap. I would imagine a guy who has bounced around as much as Smith has is looking for stability, so I doubt he would turn his nose up at a decent long-term extension. However, if the Bucs choose to let another full season go by without extending him, they run the risk of his value skyrocketing. I say that because I have seen a lot of pass rushers in my day and what this kid is doing is no fluke. He is a legit pass rusher so the more they put out there, the more production going to put up, plain and simple.
I don’t know what they will do with Johnson after this season. Hell, as disappointed as I’ve been with him, I still think he has all the ability in the world and just isn’t using it right. What I do know is that Smith is the one guy on the defensive line, other than Gerald McCoy, who has earned some new money this year. McCoy already got paid. Now, the Bucs had better start setting aside a pot o’ old for Smith. Just remember, I said the same thing about Michael Bennett early on in his career and now he is out in Seattle big ballin’ and shot callin’ with a Super Bowl ring while the Bucs are only now possibly, maybe finding his replacement in Smith.
I just hope the Bucs don’t make the same mistake twice.