The Buccaneers have hired University of Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian as the team’s quarterbacks coach, replacing Marcus Arroyo, who was let go last week. The news was first reported by Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans. Bajakian was an offensive quality control coach with Lovie Smith in Chicago from 2004-06, so he has ties to Tampa Bay’s head coach.
Bajakian left the Bears in 2007 to become the offensive coordinator at Central Michigan where he coached quarterback Dan LeFevour and wide receiver Antonio Brown. The Chippewas offense set several school record. Bajakian became the offensive coordinator for Butch Jones and the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2010 and then moved on to become the offensive coordinator for Volunteers in 2013 when Jones became UT’s head coach.
Bajakian was in the running for some collegiate head coaching opportunities prior to joining Tampa Bay’s coaching staff.
Tampa Bay also hired Andrew Weidinger as the team’s offensive assistant coach. He spent the last seven years with Atlanta, including three with new Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Bucs will be retaining Ben Steele, an offensive quality control coach last year. Like Weidinger, he will also be an offensive assistant coach.
A report on NJ.com on Tuesday stated that the Philadelphia Eagles were already plotting to trade up from the No. 20 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to acquire Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him until 2012.
“From No. 20, it’s certainly not going to be easy,” an unnamed source told NJ.com. “It’s probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There’s going to be some wheeling and dealing involved. Can it happen? I don’t know. But they are going to try.”
Tampa Bay currently owns the No. 1 overall pick and is currently deciding whether to draft Mariota or Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston first overall, or to trade the pick and acquire more draft choices. Mark Dominik, the former Bucs general manager and current NFL analyst on ESPN, has said that he believes Tampa Bay should draft Mariota and that it would be difficult for his former team to miss out on a chance to draft a franchise quarterback.
“It’s a long ways to go,” Dominik said. “I don’t know. You can come up with any pick-compensation you want, but if you’re the Eagles have to have the partner on the other side that says, ‘I really don’t want a franchise quarterback right now.’ That’s a hard thing to say, especially if you need one.
“There’s a reason why Russell Wilson is playing Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. There’s a reason why Peyton Manning makes the playoffs every year he’s a quarterback. If you don’t have a guy at that spot, you’re treading water every year.”
Whether he ends up running Kelly’s system in Philadelphia or playing for another team, Dominik said he believes Mariota can make the transition to a pro-style offense if he has to.
“People have questioned with Chip Kelly’s offensive system can work in the NFL, and some said it would never work,” Dominik said. “Now people are saying, ‘Will Mariota’s skill set transition to the NFL? Let’s wait and see, but I do think the private workouts he has with teams will be really telling.
“Having been around Chip Kelly a lot and talked with him, I think the kid is super smart. He can handle a playbook just as well as Winston. Just because he hasn’t done something doesn’t mean he can’t do something, but that’s where the private visit and the private workout come into play. You’ll want to spend a lot of time with him – both he and Winston. For Winston it’s the off-the-field stuff. For Mariota it’s the system and the on-the-field stuff.
With his team in need of a franchise quarterback and armed with the first overall pick, Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith went to see the two top prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft – Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota – play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day with general manager Jason Licht. With Oregon prevailing and advancing to the National Championship Game against Ohio State, Smith and running backs coach Tim Spencer went to that game in Dallas for another look at Mariota.
“I think anytime you get a chance to see somebody in person, you learn something,” Smith said. “Especially going to those games, and yeah, we went to the Rose Bowl game. Got there early and watched all the warm-ups and the chance to see two potential guys that are maybe going to be high draft picks. We watched them in detail and everything they did throughout the game and in-between.
“And of course the championship game – we got a lot out of it, too. I just think anytime you get a chance to see somebody perform or do something that you can make an evaluation on, you do it. That’s what we’ve done. We want to hit the pavement hard.”
Smith acknowledged missing out on getting a closer look at some of the prospects by turning down an opportunity to coach the Senior Bowl, but plans to spend more time visiting the pro days of some of the draft’s best players.
“So yeah, we missed coaching here but we’re seeing all the practices,” Smith said. “And were going to put in our frequent flyer miles this offseason. I’m going to travel a lot. Last year with [assembling] our staff – and I’m trying to think of when Jason was hired – we’re in a lot better of a position this year to get great evaluations.
“We know our roster now, instead of waiting for that. I had an early mini camp to see exactly what we had on the field, and that’s great. Buyt we’re going to do a lot of traveling and see a lot of players [this offseason].”
Former Bucs general manager and current NFL analyst Mark Dominik has already gone on record with his employer, ESPN, and PewterReport.com in saying that he thinks Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston will go first and second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, and that Mariota would be his pick for Tampa Bay if he was still in charge of personnel.
“I firmly believe they are going to go 1-2 in the draft because they are both really deserving of going No. 1 overall,” Dominik said. “The guy who doesn’t go No. 1 is going to go No. 2. That’s the amount of talent they’ll bring to your football team. They will bring hope to your franchise.”
But that doesn’t mean that Dominik’s opinion on Winston couldn’t be changed if questions about his character were answered in a satisfactory manner. Dominik said that if his character checks out that Winston, who was 26-1 as a starter for the Seminoles, could become another Russell Wilson-type quarterback due to his ability to operate in the clutch. Winston is 7-0 in games decided by seven points or less, including the BCS National Championship Game in 2013, and close games are the norm in the NFL.
“With Winston, you have to dive more into his background and get comfortable with it,” Dominik said. “Winston has shown to be a guy that can win a lot of high-pressure games and bring them back and rally them, even if he struggles in the first half. Look at what happened with Russell Wilson [for Seattle in the NFC Conference Championship Game]. That’s a classic example of Winston being in that spot before with a bad first half, but comes back and wins the game.
“If you want to draw that comparison, that’s a great comparison. If you draft Winston you could end up with another Russell Wilson, and you’re pretty happy.”
In talking with various NFL scouts and talent evaluators and overhearing several conversations about Monday night’s 42-20 victory for Ohio State over Oregon in the National Championship, there was quite a negative buzz about Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. Several sources told PewterReport.com that Mariota proved to be a system guy and that when Oregon trailed 35-20 with 9:44 left in the fourth quarter, the Ducks seemed doomed because their offense kept stalling.
With Ohio State’s defense taking away the Ducks’ ability to run the ball in the fourth quarter, Mariota was unable to move the Oregon offense throwing the ball. A combination of errant throws and drops by the Ducks receivers prevented any hope for a comeback.
“Want to know how to beat Mariota?” said one NFL talent evaluator. “Get him into second-and-10 and third-and-long. If Oregon doesn’t get yards on first down they seemed destined to punt.”
Oregon had four possessions in the fourth quarter and saw two of them end in punts, one end with a turnover on downs and the final drive end with a Mariota interception. In all, Mariota’s offense had 16 plays and produced just 58 yards.
While he completed 24-of-37 (64.8 percent) passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against Ohio State, Mariota was 4-9 (44 percent) for 50 yards with a pick in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line. That’s what scouts noticed the most, and some suggested he was strictly a system QB that would only be a real fit in Philadelphia at the NFL level without years of development in a pro-style offense.
Scouts also didn’t see much leadership from Mariota, who is normally quiet and reserved, in the attempt to rally his team down the stretch.
The positive buzz from the NFL scouts was more about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who is widely regarded as the best QB prospect on the field (character concerns aside), and about Ohio State running back sophomore Ezekiel Elliott’s 246-yard, four-touchdown performance against Oregon’s defense, which looked worn down by the fourth quarter. Scouts were also praising the play of the Buckeyes’ 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for 860 yards with seven touchdowns and two picks – mostly in the final three games of the year as he subbed for starter J.T. Barrett and led Ohio State the national title.
Elliot is ineligible for the draft until next year, and Jones is expected to return to Ohio State for his junior season. Mariota, who is believed to be one of the prospects the Buccaneers are considering in the first round, has yet to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft and has one more day to do so.
Former Buccaneers quarterback and current ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer ran an Elite11 Camp that featured some of best high school football quarterbacks, including Jameis Winston, three years ago. With ESPN cameras rolling, Dilfer praised Winston’s intellect and foresaw a bright future in the NFL.
“When you are playing on Sundays, which I really believe you will if you want to, it’s going to come down to a third-and-7 in the fourth quarter, down by four – and they are going to keep you in the pocket,” Dilfer said. “They are not going to let you be fast and quick and all that. And that’s going to be a mistake because you are going to beat them here (points to his head), and that’s what I’m most impressed with.”
To hear Dilfer’s entire comments about Winston, a player the Buccaneers are considering selecting with their first overall draft pick in 2015, watch this short clip.
Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a three-time Pro Bowler, is one of the most optimistic men on Tampa Bay’s roster. Almost as optimistic as his head coach, Lovie Smith, who suffered through a 2-14 season in his debut with the Buccaneers, but sees “a bright future” for the team.
McCoy and Smith share the same positive vision about the 2015 season, especially considering that Tampa Bay lost eight games by a touchdown or less, including four by three points or less. Smith’s optimism is the biggest reason why McCoy believes he is the right man to lead the franchise into next year despite a dismal 2014 campaign that started with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s absence and was filled with injuries to key players such as quarterback Josh McCown, linebacker Lavonte David and McCoy himself, who registered a team-leading 8.5 sacks despite missing parts or all of three games this season.
“He never wavered,” McCoy said of Smith. “It doesn’t matter what happened. We could play a terrible game and he comes in the next day and he’s smiling, pointing out the good. He says, ‘All right we didn’t do this well, that’s very obvious, but look at what we did do well.’ He would show us and we didn’t know we did that much well. We got blown out, but we did do this well. When a coach can point that out, it’s something that you can build off of. He’s so intelligent. He has a championship and he’s won at every facet of the game – as a position coach, a coordinator and a head coach. A guy with that much experience, he’s seen the worst to the best. To have a guy like that, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
McCoy said that Smith was full of optimism in the final team meeting and wanted to send the players into the offseason on a positive note despite a 2-14 record.
“That’s all it was about – there wasn’t much negative,” McCoy said. “It was all the positives. One thing he did that was awesome, he told all the guys on the team this year, ‘Thank you’ because this thing will turn around and a championship is coming. Everybody on the team this year played a part in that and setting the foundation. Whether they are here next year or when we do when a championship they did play a role in it by setting the foundation for how this is going to be run. Stuff like that is why I believe in him and why I think that is really awesome.
“He said to take a break and get off your feet. You all know I don’t rest, so I probably won’t listen. I ain’t resting. Get off your feet and get some rest and when it’s time to go to work, go to work.”
During Sunday’s season finale against New Orleans, Tampa Bay had two receivers top the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in the same season. Rookie Mike Evans came into the game leading the team with 997 yards and 11 touchdowns on 63 receptions, while team captain Vincent Jackson had a team-leading 69 catches for 991 yards and two scores.
Evans topped the 1,000-yard mark in the first quarter with an 8-yard reception on the game’s first offensive play. On the next snap, Jackson surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in the first quarter with an 11-yard catch.
Jackson also made history by tying former Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway as the only Buccaneer to post three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in Tampa Bay. Galloway set that mark from 2005-07, while Jackson has posted at least 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons in Tampa Bay, beginning in 2012.
Buccaneers wide receiver Louis Murphy was nearly the hero in a game that could have been Tampa Bay’s first home win of the season. Instead, Murphy’s 21-yard catch down to the Cincinnati 20-yard line with 26 seconds left didn’t count due to the Bucs being penalized for having 12 men on the field, and the Bucs lost to the Bengals 14-13 to fall to 2-10 on the season.
After the game, Murphy was distraught while sitting in the locker room trying to explain how the Bucs let another potential win slip through their fingers.
“All these guys, all these coaches and all of the work we put in all week, all season, to lose a game like that, it’s heartbreaking,” Murphy said. “I have to go back and watch the film. All I know is that this is a heartbreaker. It’s a heartbreaker. We got to the -yard line, but we didn’t get to the -yard line. It’s a tough one.”
The Bucs deployed four wide receivers and running back Doug Martin on the play, but also had Oniel Cousins, a reserve lineman, lined up on the field as a tight end. Murphy, who finished with one catch for seven yards, didn’t know how the Bucs offense had 12 men on the field for that play.
“Somebody has to,” Murphy said. “I don’t understand how it happened. I don’t know what happened. I have to go back and watch the film. But man, for us to lose like that…”
As bad as Tampa Bay’s last drive was marred by penalties, the team was flagged 16 times on Sunday against Cincinnati. Only 13 penalties for 94 yards were accepted by the Bengals, and a few of those infractions cost the Bucs’ chance to get touchdowns earlier in the game in two red zone opportunities.
“I don’t know, we just couldn’t,” Murphy said. “At the end of the day, we did put ourselves in position to win the ball game. For whatever reason we didn’t. We put ourselves in position to win the football game, but we didn’t come up with the win. That’s the heartbreaking part about it.”
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat themselves with 13 penalties for 94 yards in Sunday’s 14-13 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Bucs head coach Lovie Smith called the team’s penalties “dumb” and “stupid.” Two of the most egregious infractions came on Tampa Bay’s final offensive possession as the team tried to get into field goal range for a potential game-winning kick.
Garrett Gilkey, who replaced Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, was flagged for a 10-yard holding penalty with 38 seconds left that moved the Bucs back from the Cincinnati 31 to the 41-yard line. That foul was Gilkey’s fourth of the day, and was a precursor to the Bucs’ disastrous 12 men on the field penalty that wiped out a 21-yard reception by Louis Murphy down to the Cincinnati 20-yard line.
After the 5-yard penalty was enforced after an instant replay concluded Tampa Bay indeed had 12 players on the field, the Bucs were set up with a second-and-20 from the Bengals’ 46. After two incompletions, wide receiver Mike Evans hauled in a 13-yard catch down to the Cincinnati 33, but couldn’t get out of bounds to stop the clock as Tampa Bay was out of timeouts.
“It seemed like every big play we had there was some sort of penalty,” Evans said. “We’ve got to stop beating ourselves. We had 13 penalties and we lost by one? Maybe we get the win with a couple less penalties.”
After the change of possession with one second left, Evans got in Gilkey’s face on the sidelines and had some choice words for the team’s penalty-plagued center on Sunday.
“Things happen,” said Evans, who caught four passes for 49 yards. “It was between men. It was a spur of the moment thing. I was angry. It happens.
“It’s my competitive nature. I apologized to him afterwards. I lost my head for a split second. We have a good team bond, but I was upset. I lost my head for a little bit.”
Gilkey also had a few bad shotgun snaps, including one on third down on Tampa Bay’s first offensive possession that led to a sack of quarterback Josh McCown and forced the Bucs to kick a field goal to go up 3-0 on Cincinnati. The Bucs’ started that possession at the Bengals’ 9-yard line, but couldn’t punch it in for a touchdown.
“I think it just comes down to focus and being consistent,” Gilkey said. “I think for myself when I get out of sorts, I tend to get sloppy, and today that showed up. I was sloppy in several plays. So I look at myself, and it’s just a matter of maintaining focus and composure. We put ourselves in a position to lose today. I was a huge part of that, and I recognize that.”