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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. It’s taken awhile – 11 games and counting – but a lot of the major personnel moves that Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik has made are really paying off for the Buccaneers. Some fans and critics in the media will undoubtedly focus on some of the negatives, such as his ill-fated decision to re-sign wide receiver Michael Clayton to a five-year, $23-million contract, to acquire Derrick Ward, who has just one touchdown and has made little impact on offense, and the fact that kicker Mike Nugent, who received a $2.5 million deal, was a bust and released after only four games.
Yet it’s curious that Atlanta doesn’t seem to be catching nearly as much flak this week over cutting kicker Jason Elam, who received a $2.5 million signing bonus and had a base salary of $1.7 million in 2009, as Dominik did over Nugent. Was keeping an injured Matt Bryant, who was relegated to the UFL after failing to latch on with an NFL team all season until the Falcons signed him this week, a better option for the Buccaneers? I think not.
Dominik was criticized for missing out on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma in free agency, and was roasted for failing to land quarterback Jay Cutler in a trade with Denver. The player I was most anxious to see Tampa Bay land was Vilma, who would not only bring playmaking, but also fiery leadership ability. However, his loyalty ties to New Orleans were too strong for Dominik to overcome.
After forking over $100 million, including $41 million in guaranteed money, over seven years to Haynesworth, it’s clear that he isn’t worth the investment. Haynesworth has not played at a Pro Bowl level for the 3-8 Redskins, registering only 42 tackles, three sacks and one fumble recovery while missing two games due to injury. While Haynesworth’s presence may be felt with defensive ends Andre Carter producing nine sacks and Brian Orakpo registering seven sacks this year, his individual stats rival those of Tampa Bay rookie reserve defensive tackle Roy Miler, who has 41 tackles, two sacks, one tackle for loss and one pass defensed this year.
The fact that Cutler is the NFL interception leader with 20, as opposed to 16 touchdowns, for the 4-7 Chicago Bears shows that sometimes the best deals a general manager can make are no deals at all. In his last four starts, Cutler is 0-4 while throwing five touchdowns and nine interceptions. By comparison, Bucs rookie quarterback Josh Freeman is 1-3 with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
I admit that I was one of the many that lambasted Dominik and the Bucs’ handling of the quarterback position in training camp and the preseason. I believe “bungled” was the term I used on more than one occasion. I thought there was little thought process involved in all of the reps that were wasted between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown during training camp, only to have McCown dealt to Jacksonville prior to the start of the season, and Leftwich get yanked out of the starting lineup after a 0-3 start.
Call it luck or call it a master plan, but the decision by Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris to wait to insert Freeman until after the bye week certainly looks like the right move given that the Kansas State product has played well enough to have the Bucs win three of their last four games. Freeman needed in-season time to become more proficient in the offense, and in hindsight, the Bucs were wise enough to give it to him by inserting Josh Johnson into the starting lineup for four games.
Dominik was also savvy enough to realize that if Johnson were given four games before the fans got a taste of Freeman and he bombed, even if Freeman struggled there would not be any clamor from fans and the media for the team to play Johnson. Remember that Dominik’s first year in Tampa Bay came in 1995 and he saw the town divided over two young quarterbacks – Trent Dilfer, the first-round franchise guy, and Casey Weldon, the scrappy underdog without the acclaimed draft status. That’s the right way to defuse a potential quarterback controversy – stop it before it even starts.
With successful defensive stands in the final minutes of both the Miami and the Atlanta road games Freeman and the Bucs would be 3-1. There were plenty of critics on draft day that not only blasted the selection of Freeman, but also ripped Dominik for “needlessly” moving up two spots to get him, while surrendering a sixth-round pick. If Freeman ends the season with more games like he played at Atlanta – completing over 60 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions – that move can no longer be questioned.
Beset with an injured knee and an open mouth, it looks like Dominik made the right call on not signing mercurial wide receiver Antonio Bryant to a long-term deal. Bryant hasn’t come close to earning the $9.88 million he was awarded in the offseason as the team’s franchise player, but to be fair, the production of Tampa Bay’s top receiver has been stymied by his ailing knee and the fact that he’s had to play with three quarterbacks this season, including two very inexperienced ones in Johnson and Freeman.
When Bryant is healthy and productive, he’s a huge asset. When he’s not, he is prone to irritate the coaches and front office by spouting off to the media, as he did on Wednesday. Dominik will have some other big decisions to make in the offseason regarding Bryant. Is he worth keeping or not? And if he’s deemed a keeper, how much should he get paid based on his sub-par production? If he’s not deemed a keeper, who can he be replaced with so that Freeman has a legit go-to guy other than Kellen Winslow?
Speaking of Winslow, Dominik raised more than a few eyebrows when he not only traded for the 25-year old, playmaking tight end, but also when he was made the NFL’s highest-paid tight end. There were a ton of questions surrounding the health of Winslow’s knees and ankles as he has been prone to injury in the past in Cleveland.
However, Winslow has started all 11 games this year and has clearly been the team’s offensive MVP while leading the Bucs with 54 catches for 564 yards and five touchdowns. Not only was he worth a second-round pick in 2009 and a fifth-rounder in 2010, Winslow is worth every penny of the six-year, $36.1-million contract extension he signed.
What some fail to realize is that Winslow, whose contract was set to expire after 2010, did not receive a signing bonus or a roster bonus when he signed his new deal. It’s all in increased base salary money.
If Winslow keeps producing and stays healthy, how much could he and agent Drew Rosenhaus command in free agency if there were no salary cap in place and no extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement? Certainly more than the $6 million in salary he’s averaging right now. Winslow’s deal may seem rich right now, but it could prove to be a bargain in a year or two, as salaries will continue to escalate.
Then there was Dominik’s controversial decision to give up on defensive end Gaines Adams, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Not only did the Bucs snare a second-round pick from Chicago, which may turn into a top 40 pick with the way the Bears are playing, but the production from the right end position has soared with Adams out of the lineup.
Since being traded to the Bears, Adams has recorded three tackles, one pass defensed and no sacks. Meanwhile, Stylez G. White was given the starting duties upon Adams’ departure and has 25 tackles, 5.5 sacks and four tackles for loss over the last four games (White missed the Miami game with a shoulder injury). Anyway you slice it, the Bucs won the Adams trade, from scoring what could be a high second-round pick and finding out that White could be an effective starter.
If Dominik deserves some criticism for his in-season free agent moves, it could be directed at not bringing in more experienced veterans to help the team by providing an immediate impact. It was amazing to see free agent cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Mike McKenzie walk off the street and help shut down New England’s potent passing game on Monday Night Football a few days ago.
Dominik has remained consistent in his youth movement philosophy this year, careful not to look like a hypocrite for cutting linebacker Derrick Brooks and the over 30 crowd in the roster purge back on February 25. Instead of aging veterans, the Bucs have focused on trying to find some young, hidden gems off other team’s practice squads, as he did with left tackle Donald Penn back in 2006, and off the waiver wire.
Defensive ends Tim Crowder and Michael Bennett have shown flashes of pass-rushing ability, combining for 3.5 sacks in reserve duty. While neither one has shown the ability to become a starter yet, they have improved enough to stick around and develop for the 2010 season to compete with a couple more pass rushers that will surely come in the offseason. From a production standpoint, Crowder’s numbers resemble those of Carter’s, and he has much more upside than the past-his-prime veteran does.
Dominik snared a couple of interesting prospects from Cincinnati’s practice squad back in October and both have already begun to pay some dividends. Safety Corey Lynch was a ballhawk at Appalachian State where he recorded 28 pass breakups and 24 interceptions in his collegiate career. Lynch has starred on special teams, posting four tackles and blocking a punt that he recovered at Atlanta’s 8-yard line to set up a touchdown against the Falcons last Sunday.
He’s only seen spot duty on defense, but Lynch has already performed well in coverage, contributing to Aqib Talib’s interception against Carolina. If he continues to progress, he could be the team’s third safety next year and cost Will Allen, who is slated to be a free agent, his job.
Fullback Chris Pressley was also plucked from the Bengals practice squad. He is a 5-foot-10, 260-pound road-grader who is becoming more and more involved in Tampa Bay’s offense. The Bucs’ 23rd-ranked rushing attack needs to improve and with the powerful Pressley as a lead blocker instead of Earnest Graham, that may happen down the stretch.
While there is a side of Morris that would undoubtedly like to have more experienced and more talented players than what Dominik and the personnel staff has provided, the rookie head coach ultimately agrees with the team’s youth movement.
“You are talking about guys who were on other people’s practice squads or maybe even guys that were cut,” Morris said. “We have had the ability to steal some guys. We have always had the ability to build our roster from the bottom up. What I mean is that I’m going to try to steal some guys to come in at the number 53 spot and rotate them in to see if they can play until we find perfect fits. We have found some pretty good fits so far that has been able to help us. Crowder has gone from not playing to being cut, to being on the street, to being signed by us, to not playing, to being in the rotation and playing a significant amount of snaps and getting sacks. That’s been something we’ve been able to do with guys like Michael Bennett and Corey Lynch, too.
“We look at those guys as extra draft picks for us heading into next year, except that we got them a year early and they can get some experience. Who says that a player like Corey Lynch is not your fourth-round draft pick next year? Maybe we don’t have the chance to get a safety in next year’s draft. Now we’ve got one in Corey a year earlier. Who is to say that Tim Crowder isn’t that late round defensive end that we would normally get in next year’s draft? Maybe we can address another area because Tim is already here.”
While the early signs show promise regarding the aforementioned players, the jury remains out on others, such as cornerbacks Derrick Roberson and Brandon Anderson, guard Shawn Roberts, wide receivers Yamon Figurs and Terrence Nunn and quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
The job of a general manager is a delicate balance between trying to win today and grow the talent on the roster to set up a consistent run at the playoffs year after year. Under Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen it’s fair to say that they were too focused on winning now at all costs with a bunch of aging veterans like wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, quarterback Jeff Garcia running back Warrick Dunn and defensive end Kevin Carter among others – all are out of football, by the way – that not enough attention was focused on acquiring and developing young talent outside of the team’s offensive line.
It would be accurate to say that Dominik is accused of focusing too much on tomorrow and not enough on today when it comes to personnel moves. Yet isn’t that what you are supposed to do in a rebuilding year?
The net result of Dominik's personnel moves is that the team has a 1-10 record, so that can't be ignored. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will the Buccaneers. Consider 2009 a good start in collecting young talent that Tampa Bay believes will grow into good, and perhaps even great, players in 2010 and beyond.
Now Dominik certainly doesn’t get a free pass on his role in hiring offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates. That was clearly a bungled mess that also involved Morris and the Glazers owning those poor decisions, too. But that’s another column for another day.
Dominik was hired mostly for his personnel acumen and a look back at most of his personnel decisions show very favorable results as Tampa Bay heads into 2010 with some significant pieces in place and plenty of draft ammunition to add even more.
FAB 2. Should he be retained for another year despite the team’s one-win season, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik will be under the gun to significantly upgrade the talent level on the Bucs next year. Outside linebacker was a sore spot earlier in the season as both first-year starters Geno Hayes and Quincy Black struggled in pass coverage and with their assignments.
However, a switch back to the one-gap Tampa 2 defense, a scheme both linebackers were drafted to play in, resulted in immediate returns against Atlanta. Hayes set a new career-high with 16 tackles against the Falcons, and Black, who recorded his first NFL interception just three weeks ago, established a career high with eight tackles while posting two passes defensed, one tackle for loss and splitting a sack with defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson.
While Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris are evaluating whether Hayes and Black are starting-caliber players in the NFL, they will also be seeking to upgrade the talent at the position through the draft and free agency as backups Adam Hayward and Matt McCoy appear to be only special teams performers.
One such free agent linebacker candidate is Angelo Crowell. Remember him?
Dominik gave Crowell a one-year, $2.5 million salary, which included a $500,000 signing bonus. Perhaps not the wisest investment for a player that was coming off knee surgery from September 2008, especially since he was still suffering soreness in his knee in the spring that limited his participation in the OTAs.
Once Crowell got to training camp he was already behind and then was slowed down once again by a hamstring injury. In the second preseason game at Jacksonville, Crowell tore his left biceps and was placed on injured reserve. Despite never playing a down for the Buccaneers and the team having a dismal season with a 1-10 record, Crowell wants to remain in Tampa Bay in the worst way.
I caught up with Crowell in the locker room this week and asked him if he had seen enough of the Bucs to either keep his free agent options open or to want to stick around and finish something that he really didn’t have a chance to start.
“That’s my mindset. I want to finish what I started here,” Crowell said. “They gave me the opportunity and I want to be here. My mindset is such that I don’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t even want to look around. I want to be right here. But that’s not my decision. I’m going to be in the best condition and the best shape this offseason, so if they want to make a move on me, I welcome it. This is where I want to be and that’s the bottom line. I’m not even looking at other teams. I want to be right here. I want to give this team what they were looking for when they signed me. My health is a lot better than what it was last year.”
Crowell said his knee and hamstring are 100 percent, and his biceps injury is coming along fine.
“My strength is back, but I’m not quite ready to play football yet, according to the doctor,” Crowell said. “By the end of December I should be healthy and football-ready. I had surgery on my biceps because I tore the tendon off the bone. They had to re-attach the tendon. I’ve just been rehabbing and working out.
“My knee is 100 percent. It’s definitely unfortunate that I missed this season, but I definitely got more time to let my knee heal up and get right. I’m running and cutting right now and it’s night and day. It feels good to be myself again.”
When healthy, Crowell can be quite the playmaking linebacker. Dominik was attracted to his production from the 2007 season in Buffalo in which Crowell had a career-high 140 tackles, a sack, a safety, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery before a training camp knee injury caused him to miss the entire 2008 season. Crowell’s career totals over four on-field seasons with the Bills include 364 tackles, 19 passes defensed, seven sacks, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Crowell was originally signed to compete with Black for the right to be the starting strongside linebacker. With Tampa Bay wanting to get bigger, more physical players to play in Morris’ Tampa 2 defense, the 6-foot-1, 246 Crowell fits the bill. He’s a big believer in Morris as the team’s leader despite the rookie mistakes the 33-year old head coach has made.
“Anytime there is a transition between coaches there is going to be ups and downs, but Raheem is the kind of guy you want to play for,” Crowell said emphatically. “His attitude, the way he talks to players and his approach – that’s the guy you want to lay it on the line for. Things are going to turn around. Success doesn’t come easy. This is the grind time and right now the team is grinding for wins and we’ll get there. That’s the guy I want to play for.”
Crowell loves the fact that Morris has taken over the reins as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator and that he is in the process of installing a hybrid Tampa 2 defense.
“When I heard we were going back to more of a Tampa 2 concept it brought a real big smile to my face,” Crowell said. “That was like an early Christmas present for me. That’s my bread and butter, man. That’s what I know. I know the Tampa 2 like the back of my hand. That kind of defense gives you a chance to make plays and break on the ball. That’s what we ran in Buffalo. That move solidifies my decision even more that I want to stay in Tampa and play for Raheem.
â€¨“I believed in the last scheme, but this one suits me better for sure. When I heard that the Tampa 2 was coming back I was like, ‘Sign me up! Please! Please sign me again!”
Crowell, who was fresh from a workout in the weight room, looked to be in tremendous physical condition on Wednesday and his biceps will be fully healthy when the offseason arrives. Given his tremendous enthusiasm for wanting to stay in Tampa Bay, it sounds like Dominik could just walk down to the locker room and easily come away with Crowell’s signature on a contract for 2010.
FAB 3. The Bucs were definitely more aggressive when it came to blitzing with head coach Raheem Morris calling the defensive plays, but they weren’t exactly blitz-happy in Morris’ Tampa 2 hybrid defense, which had some similar concepts to the defense he ran at Kansas State back in 2006 when he was the defensive coordinator.
The Wildcats led the Big 12 with 40 sacks that season, but only 28 of those quarterback captures came from the defensive line. Twelve of those sacks came from linebackers (eight) and defensive backs (four) on blitzes.
Under Morris, K-State’s Tampa 2 hybrid also produced 91 tackles for loss (minus-355 yards), 17 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. As a K-State alum, I can attest that the Wildcats didn’t produce those types of stats for years prior to his arrival and haven’t even come close to replicating those numbers since Morris’ departure.
Having watched most of the games from the 2006 season, including the 45-42 win against No. 4 Texas in person when I went to visit Morris in Manhattan, what I witnessed against the Falcons on Sunday reminded me of what I saw from his defense at K-State.
Against Atlanta, the Bucs produced a season-high 10 tackles for loss and matched a season-high with six sacks, in addition to forcing and recovering a fumble. Keep in mind that Tampa Bay had produced only 28 tackles for loss all season with Jim Bates calling the defensive plays.
Earlier in the season, Bates would mix in some blitzes, but the Bucs didn’t have any success outside of a corner blitz by Ronde Barber that worked against Dallas on opening day. Bates called multiple blitzes at Philadelphia, but the Bucs got burned twice on two big catches by rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin that resulted in touchdowns when linebacker Geno Hayes failed to get to quarterback Donovan McNabb.
According to Barrett Ruud, Bates backed off the blitz after that game and the Bucs’ middle linebacker couldn’t blame him for not calling them more often – even though Tampa Bay’s front four would generate minimal pressure in some games.
“I think everybody likes blitzing, too,” Ruud said. “Early in the year we blitzed some and didn’t have much success with it. It works both ways. We do have to blitz, but when we blitz we have to get home. That encourages coordinators to call it more often. If you don’t get home on blitzes and get to the quarterback, there’s no reason to call blitzes. If you play your coverage better in the back end and the quarterback has too long to throw then he’s completing it that way, you better blitz. A lot of it is on us when we blitz to get home. I don’t think we’ve done a great job of doing that. We have to prove it. I don’t think we’ve blitzed well enough as a team. Like any coordinator, you are going to do what works.”
With Morris calling the defensive plays for the first time at the NFL level, I counted eight blitzes out of 50 Atlanta passing plays. Most of the blitzes appeared to be completely different from the ones schemed by Bates. These new blitzes proved to be effective half the time. Here’s the breakdown:
• On first-and-10 at 12:18 mark, Ruud blitzed from the right side of the line while weakside linebacker Geno Hayes blitzed from the left side of the line as Tampa Bay brought six pass rushers. The result of the play was an incomplete pass as defensive tackle Roy Miller almost got a sack, and Atlanta was called for an illegal formation.
• On second-and-12 at the 1:10 mark, strongside linebacker Quincy Black blitzed from the right side of the line and sacked Chris Redman for a 1-yard loss.
• On first-and-10 at the 12:49 mark, cornerback Aqib Talib blitzed the B gap between the tackle and the end on the right side of the line. Redman’s pass was incomplete and holding was called on guard David Dahl.
• On second-and-11 at the 6:37 mark, Morris called a zone blitz. Defensive end Stylez G. White dropped into coverage in the right flat, while Hayes and safety Tanard Jackson blitzed from the left. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularky timed a shovel pass to running back Jerious Norwood perfectly as he scampered up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown.
• On second-and-12 at the 7:54 mark, Barber sacked Redman for a 6-yard loss off a nickel blitz by rushing out of the slot on the right side of the line.
• On second-and-10 at 4:24 mark, Talib came again on a nickel blitz out of slot on the right side of the line. The blitz was picked up and Michael Jenkins was able to pick up a first down on an 11-yard gain.
• On third-and-2 at the 2:09 mark, it looked as though Barber ran the same nickel blitz out of the slot off the right side, but this time, he was picked up by the Falcons. Redman hit wide receiver Eric Weems for a 5-yard gain to pick up a first down.
• On first-and-10 at the 1:36 mark, Barber came on another nickel corner blitz – this time in the B gap between the defensive tackle and the defensive end. Redman got rid of the ball despite heavy pressure from Barber, finding Jenkins for a 9-yard gain on Atlanta’s final drive.
What was the overall result of Morris’ blitzes? It was interesting to note that only one came on third down, while four came on second down and three came on first down. Four blitzes produced two sacks and two incompletions, coupled with penalties. The other four blitzes picked up two first downs and produced one touchdown.
Considering that this game was the first contest all season that produced a sack from each level – 4.5 from the defensive line, a half sack from the linebackers and one from the defensive backs – I would say that Morris’ creative blitzing was more successful than anything Bates has shown this year.
Not only did the Bucs benefit from Morris’ blitzes, the return to a one-gap scheme where defenders could penetrate and make plays in the backfield was a welcome sight for the players.
“Certain players can play in certain defenses,” Wilkerson said. “I think the defense that Coach Bates brought in wasn’t fitting our style. We were so used to penetrating and making things happen in our Tampa 2 scheme. Not to take anything away from Coach Bates because his defense has been proven to work in places like Green Bay and Miami, but the players we have are so used to penetrating and attacking rather than reading and reacting. That’s just our mindset – to attack.
“We really stepped it up a lot, especially on the defensive line with the QB pressure and not letting Michael Turner get out. Some of their offensive linemen went out, but it really showed you that our Tampa 2 really works.”
Wilkerson, who split a sack with linebacker Quincy Black against Atlanta and now leads the team with six, said the defense was not only fired up to return to the scheme every starter was either signed or drafted to play in, but they were fired up to execute for Morris.
“He’s under a lot of pressure. I’ve been hearing that if we don’t win five games that he’s going to be fired or something,” Wilkerson said. “That shouldn’t be the case. Wins are just like sacks to a defensive end. Sometimes they come in bunches. If we can get on a consistent level of playing well against teams, we’re going to win some games. We have to be consistent in all four quarters. We were one snap away from winning and we didn’t finish the game. Look at the last three games. We won one and have been real close in two others. The only one that got away from us was the Saints game.”
The tackles for loss, the blitzing and the Bucs’ pass rush from the front four were all impressive feats, but the fact that the Falcons’ potent running game was held in check with Tampa Bay’s best defensive showing against the run this year. Not bad for the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense last week.
“We did really good. We held them to 75 yards rushing,” Wilkerson said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve held a team below 300 yards of total offense. We definitely made some progress. We just have to continue to do that, especially against Carolina.”
The Panthers rushed for 299 yards and four touchdowns on Monday Night Football the last time the Bucs traveled to Carolina. In Week 6 during the 2009 season, the Panthers gashed the Bucs for 267 yards rushing and three touchdowns, including the game-winner at the end of a monstrous, eight-minute drive in which Tampa Bay was helpless against Carolina’s ground game.
Morris won’t have the chance to do much blitzing if the Panthers continue to run the ball at will against the Bucs, but another 10 tackle-for-loss game would be welcome.
FAB 4. The Panthers have a myriad of successful power running plays that they can unleash against the Buccaneers, and undoubtedly one they will try is a play called “Belly Weak Bluff Bend.” Tampa Bay has faced the play – or variations of it – a few times this year, but most notably was Ricky Williams’ 27-yard run (watch the 2:40 mark of the highlight reel) at the end of the Miami game that set up the Dolphins’ game-winning field goal.
“Belly Weak Bluff Bend,” Morris said after the Miami game, naming the play that helped the Dolphins edge the Bucs. “Actually, it's not common; it's the fad of the league. I’m saying it’s the fad of the league right now. It’s one of the better plays in football right now as far as running plays and it’s pretty productive. It was a hard key, but it was a misfit. It’s one that you’re ready for and one that you practiced. It’s one that – it’s a copycat league – everybody’s starting to do. But it’s still tough to fit even when you know it’s coming. It’s just one of those deals.”
The play was made famous by the Atlanta Falcons last year, and was one of Michael Turner’s signature run calls. Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud breaks down the play. Sync up the video in another web browser window and read his description.
“That’s kind of an Atlanta Falcons play,” Ruud said. “They were the first team I saw to kind of really do that. Both the backs go this way [to the right] to make you think it’s a run to the tight end side. The bluff part is the tight end fakes like he is going to block, then he runs to the flat like it’s a bootleg. That’s the bluff. The bend is [the running back] taking it back inside. Belly Weak Bluff Bend. They start like it’s a Belly Weak play, but then they bend it back to the outside.”
The Bucs hope that Williams’ 27-yard, which occurred as defensive tackle Ryan Sims and linebacker Geno Hayes didn’t do enough to maintain gap integrity, isn’t repeated by Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart.
“It was just guys were a little bit of stuck on their guys and didn’t get off a block and it was good downhill running,” Ruud said. “It wasn’t a terrible play by us, but one person gets a little bit out of whack and you see what happens – a [27-yard gain]. That’s obviously unacceptable with the game on the line.”
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next installment of SR’s Fab 5:
• The Buccaneers not only need to acquire more talent on the field in 2010, they also need to acquire more talent in the front office. That’s what I’ve heard from a plethora of agents I’ve polled regarding Tampa Bay’s front office this year. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik continues to get high marks for his eye for talent and his dealings with agents and players. However, the consensus among the agents I’ve spoken with is that there’s not any proven talent evaluators around Dominik to help scout talent on the pro level. One person who is not well regarded in the agent community is pro personnel director Doug Williams. Even when Dominik was working his way up the ranks he would be responsible for finding some hidden talent, such as linebacker Shelton Quarles up in the Canadian Football League back in 1997, left tackle Donald Penn on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad in 2006 or little known Kansas City defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson in 2007. For years, agents I’ve spoken with have raved about Dominik’s scouting acumen as well as his personality. I haven’t heard many positive reviews at all about Williams from agents since he joined the front office in 2004. Williams’ calling card appears to be standing on the table for backup quarterback Josh Johnson on draft day in 2008 and being involved with Dominik in recruiting wide receiver Antonio Bryant to Tampa Bay last year. There have been some whispers from agents that the Bucs will shake up their personnel department and that Williams will get fired to make way for more experienced talent evaluators. That doesn’t seem far-fetched as the days of Tampa Bay’s front office boasting the likes of Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell, John Idzik and Dominik are long gone, unfortunately. Even the front office of Bruce Allen, Kevin Demoff, Ruston Webster, Dennis Hickey and Dominik back in 2005 had more talent for spotting players and experience in dealing with the salary cap and agent negotiations than the current collection of executives. If Williams, who is one of the more storied players in team history, gets fired at the end of the season in a scouting shakeup, which certainly seems like a possibility from the agents I’ve spoken to, don’t think of him as Dominik’s scapegoat. That term means “one that bears blame for others.” Williams might be portrayed as the fall guy by some in the media following a dismal season, but within the agent community, his potential firing will be justified because he’s regarded as not being great at his craft in NFL circles.
• Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has thrown touchdowns in back-to-back weeks from rolling to his left – even though he’s a right-handed passer. Most NFL quarterbacks are right-handed and thus feel more comfortable rolling right so they don’t have to throw across their body, which can cause passes to lose zip and accuracy. But having watched a ton of Kansas State games over the past three years while Freeman was a Wildcat, I’ve seen how effortlessly he moves to the left, quickly squares his shoulders and lets it rip downfield. The reason Freeman feels comfortable doing this unconventional practice is because it was born out of necessity. Freeman’s offensive line at K-State was so bad that the Wildcats started running a lot of bootlegs to the right to put him on the run and move his launch point. But defenses began taking away his bootlegs to the right, so out of survival, Freeman had to adapt and start rolling and scrambling to his left to make things happen because that’s where the least amount of pressure was coming from. Take a look at this K-State clip and compare it to what Freeman did in Atlanta last week. The only difference is that the touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant came off a designed play-action bootleg, but notice how quickly he turns his hips and shoulders and fires the deep ball. Freeman’s improvisational skills were honed at the college level where he always seemed to be running for his life against talented defenses.
• Bucs Connor Barth looked surprisingly good in his role as the team’s emergency punter in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss at Atlanta after Dirk Johnson tore his left hamstring trying to execute a fake punt. I wanted to find out how much previous punting experience Barth had, and the answer I received surprised me. “I did a little bit in high school, but none in college,” Barth said. When asked how often he practices punting during the season, Barth said, “Never. That was just a rare circumstance where Dirk got hurt. I just went in there and they told me to get it out quick. I was lucky and had a decent punt.” A 46-yard punt out of the end zone for a guy who hasn’t punted the ball in a game since high school? That’s better than decent, despite what Barth said. Tampa Bay’s new kicker discussed what went wrong his missed 51-yarder in the fourth quarter at Atlanta, which played a role in Tampa Bay losing by three points. “My goal inside the 50 is to try to be 100 percent,” Barth said. “Outside of 50, when you are in a dome, that’s a makeable kick every time. I’ll make that kick nine times out of 10 and that happened to be the one. This is my 14th game in the NFL, so I’m still learning. There’s a lot more in the NFL. It’s totally different from college. I just didn’t get my hips through the kick. If you see the kick, it went right down the hash. I just didn’t finish straight down the target. It’s just tiny little things like that. I missed by what – a pole length? I didn’t miss by much. It’s just a matter of going back to the basics and making sure I am good with my angles and the hashes.”
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