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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. Gaines Adams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2007 first-round draft pick, is a bust.
That’s the impression I got after skimming through various Buccaneers fans message boards, such as PewterReport.com’s, and listening to a few comments on sports talk radio over the past couple of weeks. How on Earth have people come to that conclusion yet?
My God, folks. Has our society become so impatient in this drive-thru, microwave world where after a couple of preseason games – preseason games! – we declare Adams a bust? Why? Because he hasn’t notched a sack in every game? Because Adams has yet to become a starter?
These days we are in such a hurry about everything. Five-minute abs. Fight wars overseas in five years or bust. First-round draft picks have to start immediately and be the team’s best players or they are busts. Sheesh.
Let’s roll through Adams’ stats through three preseason games. Through three games he has recorded five tackles, which is tied for second on the team among defensive linemen behind Julian Jenkins (six tackles), leads all defensive linemen with two passes defensed, leads the Bucs with two sacks and one forced fumble.
He’s also outplayed Tampa Bay’s starter at right defensive end, Patrick Chukwurah, who has notched only two tackles during the preseason and hasn’t come close to sacking a quarterback yet. Adams also has a couple of QB pressures and knockdowns in his initial preseason. I don’t know if Adams will get the start at Seattle in Tampa Bay’ 2007 season opener (he might if Chukwurah's knee doesn't improve), but I do know it will only be a matter of time before he cracks the starting lineup.
I also know that Gaines Adams is not a bust. It’s impossible to even label a player a bust during his rookie season, much less during his rookie preseason.
In 1993, Buccaneers rookie defensive end Eric Curry notched 21 tackles and five sacks and appeared on his way to becoming the next Lee Roy Selmon. But Curry, who was the sixth overall pick in ‘93 would only record seven more sacks over the next three years, earning the “bust” label before being released. Curry went the entire 1995 season without a sack until the season finale` in which he recorded two against Detroit.
In 1988, Kansas City used the second overall pick in the draft to select defensive end Neil Smith out of Nebraska. He was immediately labeled a bust after recording just 2.5 sacks in 13 games as a rookie. But in 2000, Smith, a six-time Pro Bowler, retired from the NFL at age 34 with 104.5 career sacks, 27 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, four interceptions and two touchdowns.
After carefully watching Adams during training camp, I will say that he plays much better when the lights come on than he practices at Disney or at One Buccaneer Place. That’s not such a bad thing, either, especially when Chukwurah appears to be the exact opposite. The thing I have been most impressed with in games is Adams’ ability to play the run.
On numerous occasions, I have seen Adams pursuing the ballcarrier from the backside. After years of watching Simeon Rice become a spectator when the ball went away from him, it’s refreshing to see all 11 –not just 10 – defenders run to the ball like defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin demands. Now if only Adams could get around the corner like Rice could. The Bucs hope that will come in time, but Adams might already play the run as good, if not better, than Rice did.
One of Adams’ most impressive plays this preseason came on a play that he didn’t make. On a key fourth quarter, fourth-and-3 play against Miami, Adams, who was playing left end, split a double team, lunged to penetrate the backfield and grabbed a hold of running back Ray Perkins. Adams was on the verge of making a key tackle, but because he was lunging, he didn’t have any center of gravity or momentum to bring down Perkins, who ran five yards for a first down.
But what Adams did on that play was penetrate and disrupt, which is what Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen are supposed to do in their one-gap scheme. The reality of it is that Adams tied up Perkins for a second and middle linebacker Ryan Nece, who came in clean and should have finished the play, overran the running back and missed the tackle. I fault Nece on that play more than I do Adams because Nece had a clean shot at Perkins and whiffed.
In time and through experience Adams will be able to make that play on his own. But what I saw on that play was effort, which is something we’ve seen from Adams all preseason.
Let’s face it. Adams had a reputation for taking a few plays off at Clemson. When head coach Jon Gruden introduced Adams at his initial press conference at One Buc Place, remember that Gruden said he wanted to see his first-round draft pick “lead the league in effort.”
That was a clear indication that the Bucs didn’t want to see Adams loafing. They wanted a high-motor defensive end that gives effort on every play. With hard-nosed coaches like Larry Coyer and Todd Wash, and no-nonsense hard-workers like Chris Hovan, Greg Spires and Kevin Carter in the room and on the practice field with Adams on a daily basis, loafing won’t be tolerated.
I’ve spoken with some of those vets off the record and without a digital recorder present to get the real inside scoop on how Adams is performing. So far, so good. Adams is humble and doesn’t have a big ego. He is also beginning to understand that practice is the place to sharpen your tools and add more tools to your toolbox, so that when he goes to work on Sunday that he’ll have everything he needs.
As one veteran told me, “If he gets a sack in preseason game, what could he have done in practice that week to turn that one sack into two sacks? That’s what he’s learning about the NFL. Sometimes one sack isn’t good enough. Sometimes two sacks aren’t enough.”
Good point. I’ll never forget living in Kansas City and watching the late, great Derrick Thomas record an NFL record seven sacks against Seattle on November 11, 1990. Believe it or not, the Chiefs lost that game as quarterback Dave Krieg slipped out of the grasp of what would have been Thomas’ eighth sack of the game and found wide receiver Paul Skanski for the game-winning, 25-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The aspect of Adams’ game that the Bucs seem impressed with is his instincts. Anyone who tells you Adams doesn’t have instincts isn’t watching the same game film I am. Knowing when to get your hands up and swatting passes down is instinct. When Adams halted his upfield rush and came down the line to the inside to nail David Garrard for his first NFL sack was instinct. Seeing Lemon roll your way and to come up after dropping into zone coverage and knock him out of bounds for a 3-yard loss is all instinct.
It’s hard to develop instincts. In most cases, football players either have them or they don’t. Adams has them, and that combined with natural, physical athletic ability and hard work should equal success in the NFL sooner or later.
Will Adams be the second coming of Selmon or Curry in Tampa Bay? It’s way too early to know and it’s too hard to tell right now. We’ll watch him get his first real NFL sack at some point and he’ll crack the starting lineup at some point, too.
Instead of trying to put a label on the kid right now as a rookie, let’s just watch him play, praise his highlights and criticize his gaffes along the way.
FAB 2. When the final roster cuts come down this weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in great shape salary cap-wise. No, actually they will be in fantastic shape salary cap-wise.
The Bucs are expected to be about $15 million under the 2007 NFL salary cap, which is roughly $109 million for most NFL teams, but about $112.8 million for the Buccaneers due to cap credits.
Buccaneers general manager Bruce Allen has come under fire from the media and some fans for the manner in which he has released some of Tampa Bay’s aging stars, such as John Lynch, Shelton Quarles and Simeon Rice. Allen also doesn’t spoon-feed the local media with information the way his predecessor, Rich McKay, did. Nor does he allow leaks that used to flow from the mouths of Tim Ruskell, John Idzik and others.
But you have to give credit to he and his senior assistant, Kevin Demoff, for getting the Buccaneers out of their salary cap mess. For the first time since the turn of the century, Tampa Bay didn’t have to release a player to get under the NFL-mandated salary cap. In fact, the Bucs were flush with cap room in 2007 to the tune of $24 million.
Looking back at Allen’s initial press conference in Tampa Bay on January 9, 2004, the Bucs’ new general manager had this to say about the salary cap woes he inherited: “I’m going to try to get a better understanding of it, but it doesn’t look good. But we’ll fix it and go forth. The key is the players. The players in this league understand the salary cap as well as any executive, as well as any league administrator. You have a great environment here of some special type of players, that are making a lot of money, where if they want to stay here and they’ll work with the team, then we’re able to acquire new talent. But I want to understand better some of the contracts that were done (before) and I’ll do that in the next few days. We have to fix it, and once again, the salary cap is not a year-to-year issue. It’s a long-term plan that you have to have.”
Unfortunately, Allen and the Bucs weren’t able to acquire as much new talent as they wanted due to the fact that the team’s highest-paid player from 2003-2007, defensive end Simeon Rice, never once took a pay cut or restructured his deal for the benefit of the team the way players like Quarles, Derrick Brooks, Michael Pittman and John Wade have over the years on more than one occasion.
And don’t think that Allen simply forgot Rice’s unwillingness to help the Bucs’ salary cap woes over the years when he cut him for once again refusing to take a pay cut on the opening day of training camp after he flunked a physical. Allen was actually offering Rice a contract extension through the 2008 season if he would have lowered his base salary from $7.25 million to $5 million because he would start the season still recovering from his injury with no guarantee how he would perform once healthy.
It should be noted that Rice still isn’t healthy enough to pass a team physical and has yet to sign with any NFL team. That won’t come until after Week 1, and it will be interesting to see if he makes more than more $5 million in 2007 elsewhere because that’s what he turned down in Tampa Bay.
So if the Bucs have more than $15 million in cap room, why did they insist that Rice take a paycut? And why doesn’t the team use that money to give cornerback Brian Kelly a raise right now, even though he has two years left on his deal?
Understand that there is a method at work here – right or wrong. Allen, Demoff and the front office crafted a plan of not overpaying players, and paying them only what the Buccaneers value them at. That’s why when Detroit was overpaying defensive end Dewayne White, Arizona was overpaying center Al Johnson, Pittsburgh was overpaying center Sean Mahan, Dallas was overpaying offensive lineman Leonard Davis and Cleveland was overpaying offensive lineman Eric Steinbach the Bucs let them do it. None of those players were Pro Bowlers, yet they were getting paid like they were.
In the 2007 free agency season, good to average players got paid like great ones. We saw players get guaranteed money in excess of $20 million. The Bucs didn’t come close to paying anyone that amount.
Ask yourself this question. At the end of the 2006 season, how much bonus money would you think Allen would have to have to land the top-rated quarterback in free agency (Jeff Garcia), the top-rated left tackle available (Luke Petitgout) and a former Pro Bowl linebacker coming off a Super Bowl victory (Cato June)? Would you have guessed a combined $8 million? Didn’t think so.
The largest signing bonus the Bucs doled out in free agency this year was the $3 million that Garcia and Petitgout received. June only received a $2 million signing bonus.
If it works, then the Bucs win in 2007 and are set up beautifully with plenty of salary cap room for years to come. If it doesn’t work, then there could be a regime change and the next group of guys inherits the windfall of having tons of salary cap space for the foreseeable future.
One thing you cannot say is that the Bucs were desperate to win in 2007. If they were, they would have spent money like crazy, buying all of the best players on the free agent market.
The Bucs don’t mind paying elite players elite money. That’s the front office’s philosophy. But they just aren’t going to overpay for a player – no matter how much excess cap room the team has.
By the way, Tampa Bay is expected to have in excess of $30 million in cap room next year and only one starter is scheduled to be a free agent. Center John Wade signed a three-year extension in 2006 (his contract runs through 2010), but the deal actually voids after 2007.
FAB 3. Although this number isn’t set in stone because the final roster cuts have yet to be determined, Tampa Bay’s dead salary cap money is pretty palatable to what it has been in recent years. In 2006, the Buccaneers had over $11.8 million worth of dead salary cap money. That translated to over 10 percent of the team’s salary cap last year.
Due to the recent salary cap cleaning by general manager Bruce Allen and senior assistant Kevin Demoff, not only are the Buccaneers in great shape cap-wise, but the team has reduced its dead cap money to approximately $6.9 million. Depending on which players are released on the final cutdowns on Saturday, that number could climb a couple million dollars, but should still be under $10 million.
Currently, the dead salary cap money takes up just 6 percent of the team’s $112.8 million salary cap figure in 2007. Here’s a list of the top players that account for most of the $6.9 million.
DE Simeon Rice $3,200,960
LB Shelton Quarles $1,575,000
OT Kenyatta Walker $1,160,000
LB Marquis Cooper $423,502
OT Chris Colmer $155,000
S Donte Nicholson $138,600
DT Anthony Bryant $72,000
CB Justin Phinisee $33,150
DE Charles Bennett $30,563
TE Tim Massaquoi $28,875
There are a couple dozen other players that comprise Tampa Bay’s dead salary cap room, mainly undrafted free agents that have been given a couple thousand dollars to sign with the Buccaneers.
Even though both Nicholson and Bennett are currently on the team, they were released last year after June 1, so some signing bonus money carried over into 2007. Players like Nicholson and Bennett actually count twice on Tampa Bay’s 2007 salary cap – once for their current contract and twice for the remaining proration of the signing bonus from the previous year.
Not only has Tampa Bay’s salary cap room grown in 2007, its dead cap money has declined quite significantly from years past.
FAB 4. Pound the rock, right? The key to the Buccaneers’ 2007 season will be in the hands of running back Cadillac Williams, right? Wrong.
Expect Tampa Bay to come out slinging the football all over the field this year. Head coach Jon Gruden finally has a veteran quarterback in place in Jeff Garcia and he expects to use him.
If you want a glimpse into what some of the Bucs’ game plans are going to look like, look no further than Saturday’s preseason game against Miami.
“We want to throw the ball. We’re excited about that,” Gruden said, following Tampa Bay’s 31-28 win at Miami. “We wanted to throw it 50 times tonight, really.”
Out of 68 plays that Tampa Bay ran at Miami, 40 of those were passes while 28 plays were runs. In a game that saw seven lead changes, that is somewhat understandable. But consider the fact that out of the Bucs’ first 18 plays, only four of those plays were running plays.
The time when Gruden really wants to run the ball is in the fourth quarter when the Buccaneers have the lead. But in the first quarter, expect Tampa Bay to come out throwing the ball first to set up the run.
Right or wrong, Gruden, who was a former third-string quarterback at Dayton, just can’t help himself. The guy works way too much with quarterbacks and wide receivers to not have them heavily involved in the playcalling.
I really can’t blame Gruden. I’m not yet convinced that this offensive line consists of five steamrollers that can consistently pave the way for a strong running game from the opening whistle, although I believe Cadillac Williams will have more success on the ground in 2007 than he did in 2006.
If this plan can unfurl during the regular season the way it did in Miami with Garcia throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and Williams ripping off gains of 12 and 14 yards after a slew of passes to open the game, then Gruden will be hailed as a genius. If not, he will open himself up to a lot of second-guessing and criticism for not using Williams early in games to establish the run.
FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:
• Thursday night is a big night for return man/wide receiver Mark Jones. Jones has already beat out fellow return specialist Chad Owens, who was released on Monday, but he still has to prove to the Buccaneers that he can be the guy to handle both kick and punt returns in Tampa Bay. Jones, a former seventh-round draft pick, had a 41-yard kick return and an 18-yard punt return against Miami on Saturday night and will likely need an encore performance against Houston to win a roster spot. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden sounds like he already has a plan for kick and punt returns in the event that Jones doesn’t shine against the Texans. “Do you keep a return specialist or do you let Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Phillip Buchanon have a round robin turn at it?” Gruden said. “You are only going to get so many real good looks at a return anyhow. You are going to have multiple fair catch situations. Ike can do that. When you have a chance at a return, you might not mind having Phillip back there because that son-of-a-*censored* can run. He’s good. He’s really good at it.”
• Prior to Saturday’s game at Miami, Gruden was singing the praises of young offensive tackle Donald Penn, who has emerged as a standout during training camp and the preseason and will likely make Tampa Bay’s 2007 roster. “We’re not going to say too many nice things about him because he doesn’t handle praise very well,” Gruden said. “As a pass protector, you can see that he’s a whole lot different from what we’ve had around here over the last 10 years. He’s got to improve in the run game. He’s got to be able to do that. But as a pass protector, he’s got some real natural ability.” Ironically, Penn’s pass protection skills weren’t up to snuff on Saturday night where he gave up a sack and a half. However, his half sack came on a Jeff Garcia scramble, and his sack came when Luke McCown held on to the ball too long. The thing that pleased Gruden and the Buccaneers in Miami was Penn’s penchant for physical play in the running game. He played like his hair was on fire and took a big step towards being more aggressive in run blocking, which the team was waiting to see.
• Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden is excited to get rookie safety Tanard Jackson back in the lineup for Thursday night's game against Houston. The last time we saw Jackson, he was a one-man-gang against Jacksonville in the red zone with three tackles and two pass breakups in the end zone. And that was just in the first half. Unfortunately, Jackson pulled a hamstring after making the tackle on the second half kickoff. “I’m convinced Tanard Jackson can play anywhere in the secondary," Gruden said. "He did that against New England. He played most of the time as Ronde Barber’s backup in the nickel. That’s been the position we haven’t been able to fill – ever – since I’ve been here. We need to find a back up to Ronde. For this guy to walk in there and perform like he did against the Patriots, and then go up there and play safety like he did up in Jacksonville, he’s the real deal. He could play corner for us, but you don’t want to say, ‘You are a right corner, you are a nickel corner, you are a free safety and you are on special teams – as a rookie.'”
• The fact that halfback Michael Pittman is also playing fullback should help his contract negotiations. Pittman is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2008 and although he is 32 years old, his versatility is a factor that the Buccaneers cannot ignore. With Mike Alstott on injured reserve this year, B.J. Askew will likely get the start at fullback in Tampa Bay. However, Pittman and Cadillac Williams will both be on the field at the same time in Jon Gruden’s “Rocket” backfield due to the fact that Williams has improved in the pass blocking and receiving department. Pittman has the size and strength to be an effective lead blocker. That should earn him a few extra bucks on his next contract, which he and the team are talking about.
• Pewter Report predicted Bucs rookie defensive tackle Greg Peterson would make the 53-man roster on Friday before Saturday night’s game. Why did we have the Bucs keeping their 2007 fifth-round pick? It certainly hasn’t been his production. Prior to Saturday night’s game at Miami, where he recorded a sack and made a couple of nice tackles, Peterson didn’t stand out in training camp or in the first preseason games on a regular basis. But defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, defensive line coach Larry Coyer and head coach Jon Gruden all recognize his raw, athletic ability and the fact that he’ll need a year or two to develop into an NFL player. “He’s a hard guy not to like because of the raw talent,” Gruden said of the North Carolina Central product. “Forget the small school stuff. There aren’t a lot of guys that you turn the tape on and see the raw talent and the strength. He plays high right now. I don’t think he has any idea how good he can be. He doesn’t talk much. He just comes to work and flashes big time at you. We just have to get him to put some plays together. It’s hard to find guys with that kind of strength and that kind of first step quickness and growing capacity. He’s a great kid and a hard worker. He’s never been through anything like this. He’s a guy we are quietly excited about.”
• The real interesting aspect to the 2007 season is if the Buccaneers win enough for Jon Gruden to stick around, the Glazers essentially have to extend his contract for at least one year. The reason is that Gruden’s contract runs through 2008. If Gruden is back next year, he can’t coach effectively with just one year left on his contract. He could possibly be viewed as a lame duck coach if that’s the case, and his authority could be undermined. So not only will Gruden be fighting for his job in 2007, he’ll also be fighting for a contract extension.
• One last note – be sure to stop by the Sports Fan-Attic store at Westshore Mall and meet Bucs strong safety Sabby Piscitelli on Saturday, September 15 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Piscitelli is doing a charity autograph signing and for just $15 you can get up to two autographs. That's the day before the Bucs' home opener against the Saints, so it's a great day to stock up on some new Bucs gear, too. If you want to avoid waiting in line on the day of the signing, you can stop by any Tampa Bay area Sports Fan-Attic store and purchase a $15 autograph ticket in advance.
I hope you enjoyed the inside scoop and analysis found in this SR's Fab Five column, which is a must-read for die-hard Bucs fans who want more in-depth information than the local newspapers provide. Feel free to share it with other Buccaneers fans.
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