Bucs Urged to Bench Underperforming Starter

Tom Brady

Getty Tom Brady and Byron Leftwich talk over the offense in a 2022 game.

Amid Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Donovan Smith‘s on-field issues, it’s time for someone else to step in.

That’s the way JoeBucsFan.com sees it after two major holding penalties by Smith and overall struggles with drawing yellow flags. Smith’s grabbing of San Francisco 49ers defensive end Jordan Willis cost the Bucs a 68-yard touchdown pass in a 35-7 defeat on Sunday, December 11. His late holding penalty against the New Orleans Saints on a touchdown pass nearly cost the Bucs a 17-16 comeback victory on December 5.

Smith has committed a league-high 11 penalties among tackles, and he has allowed six sacks per Pro Football Focus. JoeBucsFan.com noted that “Smith’s play has slipped the past three games and he’s making a terrible amount of penalties, often at the worst of times”.

Smith tried to explain his struggles during a December 9 press conference, which led to more questions. He didn’t want to get into all of the details though.

“Playing the game of football the best way that I know how. I’m dealing with some things. That’s the way it go,” Smith told reporters. “Personal [things]. Don’t feel like sharing it with the world.”

That’s where JoeBucsFan.com touted benching Smith — at least temporarily — if his off-field issue is impacting his on-field play. As dismal as things look for the 6-7 Bucs, the team still sits in first place for the NFC South Division and can host a playoff game.

“If Smith cannot lock in mentally, then he shouldn’t drag the team down with him,” JoeBucsFan.com wrote. “Find someone that can focus consistently and stay away from holding at critical moments.”

“If a player cannot perform adequately with an injury, coaches pull him,” JoeBucsFan.com added. “So how would that be different for a player struggling with something personal and letting it affect his play?”

Todd Bowles Says Why He Won’t Bench Smith

Bucs head coach Todd Bowles notably got asked about replacing Smith with backup tackle Brandon Walton on Wednesday, December 14. Walton played a heavy load of snaps, 109, in early-season games against the Saints and Green Bay Packers. The Bucs beat the Saints 20-10 and nearly rallied to beat the Packers in a 14-12 loss.

“We’ve considered everything and Donovan, right now, is our best option,” Bowles told reporters.

Bowles also expressed confidence that Smith can correct his issues but emphasized that the mistakes must end.

“Yeah, they’re physically correctable — we’ve got to correct them. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again — it’s costing us,” Bowles said.

Tristan Wirfs Returns to Practice

Tampa Bay could get help on the offensive line sooner or later if All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs can get back on the field.

Wirfs, who sustained an ankle injury in Week 12, practiced on Thursday, December 15. Fox 13’s Kevin O’Donnell reported that Wirfs “only worked on the side” during the open media portion of practice, the former Iowa standout wore a his practice jersey and helmet.

Bowles, on Wednesday, expressed doubt that Wirfs will return for the December 18 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“No, I don’t think so. He’s working to get better, but I don’t think it’s this week,” Bowles said.

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