Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik spoke with the media for the first time since the end of the 2009 season on Tuesday. Dominik met with the media in the stands of Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama where he and the Buccaneers are scouting talent for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris are also interviewing candidates for the quarterback and wide receiver coaching positions.It was during Tuesday's interview session that Dominik disclosed that the Bucs had allowed linebackers coach Joe Barry out of his contract to join USC in the same capacity, and had replaced him by moving defensive backs coach Joe Baker to LBs coach and hiring Jimmy Lake as the team's DBs coach.
Tampa Bay went 3-13 in Dominik's first year as general manager. Eight of Tampa Bay's losses came by more than one score, and the Bucs finished the season ranked 28th and 27th overall in offense and defense, respectively. The Bucs' 3-13 record was the team's worst since 1991.
The 38-year-old Dominik became the second-youngest general manager in the NFL when he was promoted from director of pro personnel, a title he had held for eight seasons. He originally joined the team in 1995 as a pro personnel assistant. A Kansas graduate, Dominik worked with the likes of Rich McKay, Tim Ruskell, Ruston Webster and Bruce Allen in Tampa Bay's front office.
Dominik was named Tampa Bay's new G.M. on Jan. 17, 2009 after the team parted ways with Allen, who had held that role with the Bucs since 2004.
The former Kansas graduate was charged with rebuilding the Bucs, and he made a splash initially, trading for tight end Kellen Winslow and using Tampa Bay's 2009 first-round draft pick to e quarterback Josh Freeman. However, free agent deals for QB Byron Leftwich, running back Derrick Ward, wide receiver Michael Clayton and kicker Mike Nugent didn't pan out, as well as the Bucs firing new coordinators Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates.
But Dominik and Tampa Bay have a plan in place to help the Bucs improve from their 3-13 outing in 2009. He discusses his plan with the media. Read Dominik's thoughts and comments regarding the Bucs in the Q&A provided by PewterReport.com below.
Dominik on if the Bucs have hired more people for their front office to help with the draft and/or free agency.
"We have [director of football administration] Digger Daley, who came in and took over the contract part. I have to give the guy credit. He came in and negotiated one of the toughest contracts in the NFL in terms of a [first-round] quarterback in the first round; that's about as hard as it gets. He's been very helpful in terms of budgeting and strategizing an approach to free agency and building spreadsheets to the draft. That's been very helpful. In terms of the front office, we have four guys in our pro department, we have 10 guys in our college department. If you look around here [in Mobile] today you won't see any pro guys here because they're working on free agency. All of our college guys are here interviewing and evaluating as many guys as we can because this Senior Bowl has a good roster. I feel like we are in good shape in terms of coverage."
On if the approach to covering Senior Bowl is a little different than in years past since front office members like [coordinator of pro scouting] Doug Williams typically would accompany the team to Mobile, but not this year.
"We're going to do a lot of things that are different. We've changed a lot of things externally that we're now working on internally in terms of evaluating our football team. The way we rank players, the way we look at players, our meetings are different, our scout meetings - there's been a big change internally that probably hasn't been noticed [by the fans and media]. But I want to believe that from Josh Freeman to Sammie Stroughter you saw some more results in last year's draft."
When asked about Raheem Morris and how he fared as a first-year head coach and why deserved to return in 2010.
"I felt like Raheem did a very good job of keeping the team upbeat and motivated. I think that was very important. Raheem did a fantastic job of calling the defense and being the head coach. The defense actually improved from his head coaching ability. I thought he grew into his role and continued to develop as a head coach. It wasn't anything different than any of the other coaches in the NFL. We obviously had changes. We had a plan that we implemented a year ago today basically. Raheem did a good job of sticking with that plan in terms of the youth movement we wanted to go with. With the struggles we had, we took a lot of heat, and rightfully so, with the coordinator changes. I do believe in the end that we made tough decisions when some organizations wouldn't do that. I believe it will pay off in the long run."
On if he has any concerns regarding Morris being the defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay.'
"No, we don't have any concerns with Raheem being a head coach and coordinator."
When asked if becoming the defensive coordinator helped Morris with the players during the tough season. ‘
"Yeah, I do. I think he had a chance to get back in the defensive meeting room, but he also became more alive on the practice field. He was already alive - you guys have seen him on the practice field. But he became more alive and I think he felt more like an integral part of what is going on on both sides of the football."
On whether offensive coordinator Greg Olson deserved the opportunity to put his offensive system in place after being moved into that position in September.
"We put him in a difficult situation last year right before the seasons started. I felt like as the season went on the work he did with Josh Freeman - you guys have covered the Bucs for a long time and I don't know if you've ever covered a quarterback with this much ability and talent. That's probably a question I should ask [the media]. I think a lot of that has to do with Coach Olson's ability to work with Freeman. We want to allow him to continue to work with Josh Freeman and give him an entire offseason to operate things the way he likes it and the way we like it."
On what Tampa Bay's offensive vision is at this point under Olson.
"It's still like what we talked about last year. You want to build around the quarterback, and in order to do that you have to be able to run the football. I still see us being a football team like the Jets. It was impressive what they did in terms of running the football. [Former Raiders coach] Bill Callahan is the offensive line coach in New York. I'm not saying we're running [former Bucs head coach] Jon Gruden's system. It's not the same system, but that's the football team we want to be. We want to run the ball first."
When asked if the Bucs want to run the football a lot because Freeman is young.
"I think that's a good philosophy to have in general."
On if the Bucs are content with Pete Mangurian as the team's offensive line coach.
"Pete was put in a tough spot last year, too. We had the Arron Sears situation. I thought Jeremy Zuttah did okay last season. Did we live up to the expectations we had? I wouldn't say we did that anywhere. We were a 3-13 football team. We are comfortable with Pete working with our offensive line."
On what the Bucs need to do to improve their running game.
"Consistency. That sounds simple to say, but it's something we have to become. We have to understand our reads and protections, but our backs have to be comfortable, too. I think the offseason will help when we're all together working to move this ship towards where we want and need it to be."
When asked what Tampa Bay needs to build on the team's 3-13 season.
"There are a lot of spots. That's the fortunate thing about having 10 picks in this year's draft. I'm a firm believer that you have to build this thing through the draft. I don't know if we're going to be big players in free agency because I'm a firm believer in building through the draft."
On if building the Bucs through the draft will require patience from the fans.
"Some. It's going to be somewhat of a process. I think we took a big step last year, and I think the fans are starting seeing some of that stuff pay off for Josh Freeman. We have a quarterback now that we can build around. He's a big piece. There might be 16 teams here at Senior Bowl that are thinking they need a quarterback. That's hard to find. I am excited about the picks we have and the way we're going to build this team. When you sit back and look at it, through the draft and through trades is the way I believe you can build your team. When you take a step back and look at how Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New England have built their teams, it's been through the draft and trades. The Eagles have been pretty active in free agency, but the teams for the most part that have had continued success have done it through the draft and trades. That's why we're doing some different things internally to attack the draft and make sure we produce."
When asked if the Bucs believe their offensive line is set after investing quite a bit in this unit over the years, but having the O-line underachieve in 2009.
"I wouldn't say it is set because I think we're in a good situation with the selections in the draft we have. A big fundamental philosophy of mine is protecting the quarterback. Protecting means you have to have the patience. You don't get a lot of good draft day grades by drafting offensive linemen. You're going to get C's and D's when you draft them because they're not sexy picks, but everyone notices when you don't have them. You have to have the due diligence to continue to look there, and if you have the opportunity to upgrade the team you do so."
On if Olson will not have as much zone blocking concepts as Jeff Jagodzinski had implemented last year.
"He won't have as many. That's fair to say. We'll be a hybrid of the two, though. The more we talked to Coach Morris and the more Coach Morris and Coach Olson talked about being the tough, physical football team we want to become, this is the direction we wanted to go in."
When asked if the defense hit its stride after Raheem Morris took over towards the end of the season.
"I felt good about the direction the defense was heading in. I thought Raheem was creative. He showed some different ways to get after the quarterback, whether it was a double A blitz, or a corner or a safety. I do believe Raheem has been able to mentally put it together now on defense, and it's up to us to continue to work with the guys we have and add to that talent group."
On if the Bucs are attempting to sign players like Donald Penn, Cadillac Williams and Barrett Ruud to long-term contracts right now.
"I wouldn't ever talk about negotiations with players publicly in terms of what we're doing."
When asked if the Bucs have found their starting weakside and strongside linebackers in Geno Hayes and Quincy Black.
"If we feel there's a guy that can help us and improve us then we'll select that player or bring that player into the organization. I thought they both improved throughout the season. I would like to think that they are starting-caliber players in this league. From the way they started in 2009 to the way they finished the season, it was encouraging."
On what fans and media members call mistakes in terms of personnel, including signing Michael Clayton, Derrick Ward, and the hiring coordinators Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates.
"I think every organization has struggles, things that don't pan out the way they want them to. I will say for Tampa and our organization is that we started a youth movement that our coaches believed in. We learned a lot about the guys that were on the roster already and what their capabilities were. From guys like [quarterbacks] Josh Johnson to [defensive tackle] Dre Moore to guys that aren't on the roster, guys that we took from other practice squads or from the waivers. All of these guys are part of the foundation, and we need them to get back to a winning mentality. When you look around our stadium, you don't see a lot of jerseys from our recent players. We want to have that type of foundation. We want a team you can get excited about, not only on the field, but off as well. That was really stressed in the draft and the guys we picked up. Some of these guys include drafting Josh Freeman, drafting [defensive end] Kyle Moore, signing [safety] Corey Lynch, or even [quarterback] Rudy Carpenter. Those kids are all great kids, and they all really like football because it's important to them. We had to the lay down that foundation; we thought we did that last year. I thought that our coaching staff worked well with the front office staff, and was on the same page. The main goal of this season was to go through a youth movement and move forward, and we are looking forward to adding to that nucleus. The quarterback that we have here, you all might not think that he's not that good, but we do. When you look at internally and ask if Josh Freeman is guy who can be the quarterback for this franchise, we think that we have a big piece of the puzzle intact, and we have 10 selections now to add to that."
On how youth factors in to the team's record.
"I think that youth can mean potential losses, but at the same time I think it is growing pains. I understand that. We're not saying that today we have to get younger. We went from one of the oldest lineups to the second youngest in National Football League. It's not like we are going to get any younger than we already are today. Especially with draft picks, it's not the same because we do have guys on this team with experience. Hopefully these draft picks can show up on Sundays, but at the same time they are still filling in holes and they are additions to this football team. You're still talking about our core group of guys like [center Jeff] Faine, [guard Davin] Joseph, [linebacker Barrett] Ruud, [running back Earnest] Graham, and [cornerback Aqib] Talib. Those guys are already parts that are here and are experienced. It certainly could be that we are younger next year, but that's not our prerogative. Our prerogative was to make the difficult decision to get younger, and now that prerogative is to stay as a young football team."
When asked what the fans' expectations should be for next season.
"I'm excited about our foundation, and I'm excited to build on that. I think they will see that."
On attendance at home games being down from the team's playoff seasons.
"I think you have to win. I've been to other sporting events that have been low in attendance based on the record. It's an important element. We need to have a team that everyone can get excited about, and players that everyone can fall in love with. That's an important point as we prepare for this 2010 NFL Draft."
When asked about his grasp on the upcoming draft.
"You have a feeling about what's going on, even though it's very early in the process. I felt like we had a very good grasp as an organization as far as what was going to happen in last year's draft. We knew where players were going to go, and knew what point certain players would come off the board, especially in the first round. After that it's a lot more difficult to figure how it's going to play out, and that's for anybody. I feel that we're in a good spot, to where we are going to have options. I actually feel very good about where we're at today."
On defensive Nebraska tackle Ndamukong Suh.
"If everybody likes Suh the way [Todd] McShay or [Mel] Kiper likes Suh, he should be on the top of everybody's boards. I think if I sat here today and said Suh isn't on top of everybody else's boards, they'd look at me and say, why is this guy in charge of our franchise? There are a few guys at the top of the boards that are sought after."
On how many starters he wants to get out of the upcoming draft.
"I don't look at it from a starter prospective. But I do want to see a lot of production from this draft. I think that it's important for them to make that kind of impact. [Wide receiver Sammie} Stroughter was a great story coming out of the seventh round, and we are very excited about what he could bring to this football team. But I want us to become one of that football team that finds Pro Bowlers in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds. I think that is very important. That is a bigger importance to me this year. I don't think that you will see it directly; I think that you will see their ability to ascend in the preseason. That's why we have done so many things internally about how we address the draft."
On WR Michael Clayton's future with the Bucs.
"He's under contract and we'll see how it goes. There are no hurries or anything from us in terms of his situation. The ball is in Michael's court. It's on Michael to see how his offseason goes and see how he prepares mentally and physically, but really it's up to Michael. I would have no problem telling [the media] that, and I would have Michael stand in front of me right now and say, ‘Hey, Michael, it's going to be on you and we'll see how you do.'"
On his experience as a rookie general manager this season and what he learned.
"It certainly is demanding, but it's fantastic. I feel good about the direction. I understand what the record is and that 3-13 is a reality, but I'm still very excited about the direction. I think as [the media] sits here today, they can pick apart the roster, but I do believe that if you look at the guys who are in our locker room, the guys that we added this year in 2009 ... and I think the success we had in our trades. Every trade that we did over the last 12 months was correct. I think a lot of the decisions we had to make were difficult, but I believe they were correct and I do believe that we had a successful draft. I think those are things that people can build on and we can build on in the organization."
On if there is a lot of pressure on QB Josh Freeman as he heads into his second season.
"That's the nature of the beast. If we take a defensive tackle or a cornerback with the 17th or 19th pick, people kind of go to sleep on it. You take a quarterback and everybody knows about it, but that's okay because that's what the position is. If you don't take a quarterback this year, you have to take a quarterback next year or the following year. At some point you have to address the position. We addressed it at the beginning of our opportunity and it was very unpopular at the time because this year's class was supposed to be the quarterback class of the future. I remember a lot of people thought that this was going to be the greatest quarterback class of all time. I don't know if it's still held in that same regard. What would [the media] say today [if we didn't take a quarterback]. ‘Why didn't you take one last year when you had the opportunity?' I don't know, but the point is you take a quarterback when you feel you have conviction. There are a lot of fans that watch this football team all season long and I think there are a lot of people that have confidence that Josh Freeman can be one of the best quarterbacks that has been here."
When asked if he will grade Freeman's performance on a curve this year because he didn't receive starting reps in the offseason.
"Mild. Obviously we wanted improvement out of every one of our players. I want [wide receiver] Sammie Stroughter to continue to catch the ball more consistently and I want [tight end] Kellen Winslow to block at the point of the attack better. I want Freeman's accuracy and ball protection to improve. Freeman was the most accurate quarterback. I think that gets lost too easily. He was more accurate then [Jets QB Mark] Sanchez and he was more accurate than [Lions QB Matthew] Stafford. Does that mean he's going to be more accurate next year? No, but the truth is the truth. Our fans should be excited about that. As much as people say this guy's accuracy is not very good, well then, what are we saying about Sanchez and Stafford, the first and fifth pick in the draft? I think that's something that we should be excited about and rally around our quarterback in our town. Why [doesn't the media] poll other G.M.s and other scouts and say, ‘What did you guys think of Freeman and how he played.' I bet you most people would say, ‘I was impressed because the guy was 3-6 as a starter.' That's reality. It could have been 2-7 if [Saints kicker] Garrett Hartley makes that kick. It could have been 6-3 or 7-2 if he was a starter. The same team was 0-7, so I think there's a lot to be excited about with Josh. I hope that everybody wants to be on board because he's a young guy that's now going to be 22 years old that a lot of teams in the National Football League would like to have right now and it works out that he's a Tampa Bay Buc. That is what [the scouts] said and they say that to me, so that's the exciting part. I think that kind of gets overlooked because as important as the position gets critiqued, when you have one, damn that's nice. It's nice to come to the Senior Bowl and watch other positions and sit there and feel like over half of the teams are looking at [the quarterback position] here and looking at quarterbacks available in this draft and saying, ‘Wow, we have to figure out which guy is the guy.'"
On if he believes that 2010 will be an uncapped year.
"That's why the pro [personnel] guys aren't here because they are preparing for either way. They're preparing for what it will be like with six-year [player] free agency and four-year [player] free agency (because of uncertainty regarding the CBA), and what the different lists look like to make sure we have all of the reports in and everything we need to have. Let's say we don't have a capped year. They're projecting what they think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to do with their players and how are they actually tender them and also trying to project what other clubs are going to do. It's a lot of work because you are preparing for two different scenarios and that's why they all stayed back. I think it's that important to be prepared for either direction."
When asked if an uncapped year changes the Bucs' approach in free agency.
"It doesn't really change a lot. I'm not only looking at our organization and how we got to our first Super Bowl, but also dissecting other teams that I feel like have long-term success. I'm studying the patterns of some general managers that I feel very impressed by over the years and it's consistency in the draft that really gets it going. So in terms of a capped or uncapped year, a lot of time is going to be spent on this draft class."
On having five picks in the top 99 picks of the draft.
"It's a good opportunity, but I hope it's an opportunity that we're not in again. You want to take advantage of it when you're up there and it's important that you do."
On if the tender deadlines will be changed or modified.
"There's a big modification depending on what happens with the cap. It will be close to the league year when you have to send in your tenders and at that point I think it will be close enough where the league will let us know what the proceedings are, but there is a different process this year."
On if there was any hesitation the Glazers had about retaining Raheem Morris for another season.
"Not that I know of."
When asked if there was a meeting between himself and the Glazers Monday after the season ended.
"I wouldn't talk privately about our meetings with ownership."
On if he thought it was necessary for the Glazers to put out a statement about Morris' future.
"I think there were a lot of false reports out there that they felt like were unfair and I think that's why the statement came out because it was just to make sure people knew which direction we were heading and that we're staying the same course that we started 12 months ago."