JACKSONVILLE — It is not just outside the organization where concern has been voiced about the strength of Buccaneers’ revamped offensive line. Concern has been voiced from inside the organization as well.
Now everyone inside and outside of One Buc Place knows why.
After a year on the sidelines, Lovie Smith made his debut as Bucs coach on Friday, but the play of his offensive line during a 16-10 loss to the Jaguars at EverBank Field might have left him wishing he’d stayed away.
During a discouraging 17-play span that briefly bled into the second quarter, the Bucs’ line allowed the Jaguars to apply so much pressure that quarterback Josh McCown looked like the constant target in a game of tag.
On the few occasions when the line held up long enough for McCown to either stand in the pocket and deliver the ball or run out and throw it, he completed two of four passes for 20 yards.
More often than not, though, McCown was trapped and the result was usually disaster — he was stripped of the ball once, sacked twice and pressured so often that he made a throw that resulted in a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Winston Guy.
“We’re not ready yet,’’ Smith said of the line. “This first game we kind of see where we are a little bit. We had some protection issues. We didn’t protect the quarterback well enough. That’s pretty much it.’’
It’s not all of it. The Bucs’ projected first-team line also was penalized three times, once for holding (right tackle Demar Dotson), once for illegal use of hands (left guard Oniel Cousins) and once for a false start (right guard Jamon Meredith).
Dotson’s holding call, on the third play from scrimmage, wiped out a 17-yard McCown pass to wide receiver Chris Owusu on third-and-9 and pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening.
“We still have some kinks to work out,’’ said running back Doug Martin, who was limited to 6 yards on three carries and once pass reception for 2 yards. “But that’s what practice and the preseason are for.’’
That’s the good news. The Bucs still have a month’s worth of practices and three preseason games to either work out the kinks in their offensive line or continue to revamp it, which may be a necessity.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht has said on several occasions that he plans to scour the waiver wire for possible upgrades, and he might have no other choice, because the Bucs’ reserves didn’t fare well either.
They helped the Bucs produce just 249 total yards (an average of 4.3 per play) and literally had a hand in wiping out the biggest gainer of the night, a 48-yard Mike Kafka-to-Austin Seferian-Jenkins pass that was erased by a holding penalty.
Looking deeper at those numbers, the Bucs’ biggest problem was on third down, where they converted just four of 15 opportunities. The Bucs also were 0-for-1 on fourth down.
Despite those problems, though, there were some bright spots and they were provided by the defense, which was almost as stifling as the Jaguars’ defense, and backup quarterback Mike Glennon.
Led by two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, who dropped Jaguars running back Jordan Todman for a 5-yard loss on the first play of the game, the Bucs limited Jacksonville to three third-down conversions in 13 tries and didn’t allow an offensive touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter.
“We have something to build off of,’’ defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “It’s not where we want it to be yet, but it’s looking all right so far.’’
The strong defensive play through the first three quarters allowed Glennon, who completed 11 of 19 throws for 140 yards, to engineer two scoring drives, the first ending with a 44-yard Connor Barth field goal, the second with a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tommy Streeter.
The scoring strike to Streeter completed a 10-play, 85-yard drive and tied the game at 10 early in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars came right back, though, and regained the lead on their next series.
Denard Robinson finished off the game’s decisive scoring drive, running 23 yards for the score, which left the Bucs lamenting their failure to capitalize on several opportunities to turn the game in their favor.
One of those came early in the game, when linebacker Lavonte David tipped a Chad Henne pass that safety Mark Barron also touched before it fell into the hands of tight end T.J. Tialavea for a 13-yard gain.
“We have to capitalize on our opportunities,’’ McCoy said. “This is the NFL and they call it a game of inches for a reason. There are very few opportunities to take the ball away and we have to create our own opportunities with how we play and capitalize on the ones that we see.”