Bucs need more from Baker Mayfield ... in the run game?

TAMPA — Bucs offensive coordinator Liam Coen came up with a good description of Baker Mayfield.

“He’s an ignitor and that’s the type of guy you want to be around,” Coen said.

This season, however, the Bucs will count on Mayfield to also get the running game started.

Let’s explain. This past season, the Bucs again had the worst rushing offense in the NFL at 3.4 yards per carry.

Dave Canales was a first-time play-caller and while he had some good concepts for the run game, they didn’t always mesh with whatever defense the Bucs were facing on a given weekend. Mayfield had some ability to check to other plays, but a vast majority of the runs were “call it” types of plays. In other words, you anticipate a certain look and run the play as called.

This fall, Coen plans to change some of that — for the better.

It will put a lot more on the plate of Mayfield, who will have to be studious enough to get the Bucs out of some bad run plays against certain looks. Just as importantly, the offensive line will need to be more cerebral by anticipating such audibles.

“That’s something I think that Liam is going to do a good job of, presenting the whole package at once,” Mayfield said recently. “Instead of me just making a random call at the line of scrimmage, we’ll go into this game plan, week of saying, ‘Guys, this is what we’re looking for to run this play and if not, then this is the answer we’re going to have.’

“Obviously, it’s a little bit more film study when it comes to that and know that, ‘OK, this is what we’re looking for,’ but when it comes to that, you want to teach everybody else to where they’re expecting the audible or the check at the line of scrimmage.

“So when you teach guys like that, things are really going to happen and grow because they’re learning football and understanding, ‘Guys we’re in a bad look here, we need to do something else.’ So they might understand they have to run the route a different way or block a scheme a different way. It’s a special aspect that Liam is going to bring to us.”

One thing Mayfield doesn’t get enough credit for is his football I.Q. He’s played in a lot of systems. From Texas Tech to Oklahoma in college. He had Todd Haley, Todd Monken/Freddie Kitchens and Alex Van Pelt and Kevin Stefanski either as offensive coordinators or play-callers with the Browns, Ben McAdoo with the Panthers and head coach Sean McVay with the Rams.

Coen took the job before Mayfield and Mike Evans signed new deals, but he admitted that was the expcectation all along.

“It was hard to envision this thing without those guys. Especially given a true X-receiver, someone who can demand so much from the defense,” Coen said of Evans. “And then the familiarity with Baker. But not just the familiarity but the skill set. I know that we can push the ball down the field, that we can throw the football and he’s going to make decisions at the line of scrimmage that’s going to allow us to get into the right plays.

“That was huge.”

Zyon McCollum takes over

The Bucs feel they got good value by trading cornerback Carlton Davis and a sixth-round pick each of the next two years to the Lions for a third-round pick in 2024.

Davis is a lock down defender with suspect hands, but he also couldn’t stay healthy, missing 17 games over the past three years. He had one year remaining on a contract that averaged $14.5 million per year.

The key was the Bucs’ confidence in third-year pro Zyon McCollum, who started eight games last season in place of either Davis or Jamel Dean.

“It was a tough decision but it’s very rare that you get a third-round pick for a corner these days especially,” coach Todd Bowles said. “Carlton has been a heck of a player for us for years and as an organization, we felt bad. But you’re going to have to make those tough decisions as a coach and an organization going forward in order to get your team better and in order to get your cap down and to get better players, to be able to get an extra three, that was very important for us.

“I said it all last year, Zyon was like a third starter for us. He played most of the year anyway, whether it was the left side or the right side because we very rarely had Carlton and Dean on the field at the same time and Zyon played nickel, he played safety. You can just plug him in; it was so seamless, you really didn’t notice.”

Reliable Cade Otton needs help

The Bucs are beyond happy with the play of tight end Cade Otton. But the second-year pro appeared to wear down having to log 97% of the offensive snaps. He caught 47 passes for 455 yards and four TDs.

“Obviously, Cade is an extremely talented guy,” Mayfield said. “He’s not flashy. He’s just kind of is who he is. He’s really quiet. He lurks in the background, so I don’t think teams really game planned for him last year. Obviously, you talked about Mike (Evans) and Chris (Godwin) and those guys and Cade kind of gets lost in that.

“But he’s an unbelievable guy, does everything right, is so consistent. ... He’s a warrior and we ask him to do a lot considering the run game and all that. He really didn’t miss a whole lot.”

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