A year after Bucs left tackle, Donovan Smith had his best season in 2021, and in 2022 he will have the worst season of his career.
With four games to go, Smith leads the league with 11 penalties. His six sacks returned are tied for sixth in the NFL.
Smith’s career-high in penalties was 13 in 2016, his second year in Tampa Bay. The most firings he’s allowed was eight in 2018. Last year, Smith gave up just one firing and was flagged just six times.
It’s not just the number of sentences Smith has given up that’s alarming. It’s when those flags are thrown that the killer has been.
In the waning moments of Tampa Bay’s 17-16 comeback victory over New Orleans, a guard call to Smith negated a Chris Godwin touchdown. Fortunately, the Bucs scored two plays later on a touchdown catch by Rashaad White with three seconds remaining.
Last week in one 35-7 loss in San Francisco, another Smith offense took points off the scoreboard. Smith’s guard call negated a 68-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans that would have made it 7–7 in the first quarter.
But despite Smith’s difficult year, which he attributed to personal issues, Bucs head coach Todd Bowles said he remains the best option at left tackle.
“We’ve considered everything and Donovan is our best option at the moment,” said Bowles, when asked if he would consider starting reserve Brandon Walton at left tackle.
Bowles said Smith’s glitches, which contribute to call holding and bagging, can be fixed.
“They are physically correctable,” Bowles said. “We have to correct them. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. It costs us money.”
Bucs will face the talented Bengals D-Line without Wirfs
Bowles noted that Smith and the Bucs offensive line face another talented defensive line this week with Cincinnati, a week after facing Nick Bosa and San Francisco’s dominant defensive line.
“They’re strong, they’re very physical and they play hard,” said Bowles. “Of course DJ [Reader] is a big guy, he’s been doing it for a while. They’ve got guys on the perimeter that can play, they’ve got guys in the middle and back that can play. We face a tough D line every week. That’s the NFL – you’ll see one every week. So we have to be ready to play and we have to be physical too.”
The six-foot-tall, 335-pound Reader presents a major defensive tackle challenge for the Bucs, while defensive ends Sam Hubbard (6.5 sacks) and Trey Hendrickson (six) are a problem as edge rushers. Hendrickson broke his wrist against Cleveland last week and his status for Sunday’s game is uncertain. He recorded three sacks against Smith in two games in 2020.
On Wednesday, Bowles said Wirfs would not be ready to return to action in time for the Bengals game from his sprained ankle.
“No, I don’t think so,” Bowles said. “He’s working on getting better, but I don’t think it’s this week.”
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