Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik addressed several topics with PewterReport.com and the local media on Wednesday at the 2011 Senior Bowl. The following is a Q&A of the entire interview.
Opening statement on what the Bucs have been doing at the 2011 Senior Bowl:
“We’re still finalizing our staff. That’s been a big part of the last couple of weeks – getting the staff completed. We’ve conducted a lot of interviews here at the Senior Bowl and I would like to think that by the end of next week we would have a pretty good feel about our last two hires. Right now we’re down to defensive line and we’re focused on that with all of the interviews we’ve had going on.”
Will you hire an assistant defensive line coach?
“Maybe. We might. We are considering a defensive line coach, two defensive line coaches, or maybe just one defensive line coach and a quality control coach. We’re looking at three different options. We’ve interviewed a lot of different types of candidates. It’s an important decision, obviously. Bucs fans concur that the defensive line does an important job and we need to fill it with the best candidate, so we’re taking our time and making sure we do it right.”
What type of specific attributes are you looking for at that position?
“Energetic. I think it would be fair of Coach [Raheem Morris] to say he’s looking for a guy that’s a good thinker that has a rush plan – guys that can come up with rush plans and how to attack teams. [We want] a guy that is not just going to do our system, but a guy that is going to make our system better and what he can bring from a knowledge standpoint and a teaching standpoint. Teaching comes back to it – the teaching and the fundamentals, the basics, the get-offs – and it is what makes Tampa’s defense what it has been. We’re going to focus on all of those things.”
This is a big hire because of whom the defensive line coach will be coaching in terms of franchise-type players in Gerald McCoy and Brian Price and possibly a defensive end that you will draft in the first round.
“It is. It’s an important hire and I know that is why it is taking longer than maybe people want it to take, but we want to make sure we get it right.”
Is the Eric Yarber-type of hire what you are looking for with this position coach?
“Energetic, smart guys. You like that [Yarber] had some experience in the pros a little bit, which was good. He certainly played a little bit, which is never a bad thing either. But then he also came from a college mentality where it is all about fundamentals. Because that’s where we’re at with our football team right now that’s an important way we’re looking at it right now.”
Has the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement made it more difficult to sign a defensive line coach?
“No, it really hasn’t. The candidates we’ve talked to sound really excited to be a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I think they see the direction in which we’re going and they see the pieces and the guys they get to work with. That hasn’t been a distraction at all.”
Have you met with Ronde Barber yet to discuss a contract extension?
“I saw his agent here, but I haven’t had the chance to sit down and talk with him yet. I did see him up in the stands, but I haven’t had a chance. We’ll cross that river as soon as we can, but really I’ve been focused on finishing up the staff and coming here and getting prepared and educated for the Senior Bowl.”
Do you envision re-signing any of your players or at least getting into negotiating with the players you want to re-sign prior to the first week of March?
“We could do that. I’m certainly going to talk to all the agents. We are going to have conversations – either prior to the combine or at the combine with the agents for all of our players, including the unrestricted free agents. I’m sure that will lead to inside information in terms of contract extensions in terms of what they’re thinking and where we are at.”
Do you envision this team signing one or two free agents before March?
“I don’t know. Right now I haven’t gotten deep enough into that because I’ve been trying to finalize the staff and really try to get on the right page here with so many of these senior prospects.”
Right guard Davin Joseph is one of those free agents for you. What did you see on tape from him last year?
“I think Davin played consistent football this year. I think from the start to the finish the same way. That’s been good for Davin. He’s been a power player like we all know. He’s got a good, big-framed body and he’s a smart guy and a great teammate. All those things are taken into it. He had another solid year for us and that’s really good. That’s what we’re looking for.”
After signing Donald Penn to an extension there was a lot of talk about Barrett Ruud maybe being the next guy. Your answer was that you wanted to see him play some football first. Now you’ve seen him play 16 games. What’s your evaluation there and is he a guy you want to bring back?
“I thought Barrett had another good season for us. He obviously led our team in tackles again. I think he had more splash plays this year than he did before, which is good. Now we’re kind of sitting back and I’ve got to sit down with his agent. As these always go with negotiations there are two sides to it. Just because you say you want to sign him or just because they say they want to be back doesn’t mean that it is how it is going to work out. So, we haven’t gotten into those discussions just yet.”
You stated that your free agent philosophy was to build through the draft and then focus on re-signing your own free agents. Now with a lot of your players coming up for free agency it seems like this year will be a big test for that philosophy.
“I think we all look at it from an organizational standpoint that as we draft players and acquire players, we map out how we’re going to use our money and how it is going to be allocated. At the end of the day in a few years, Josh Freeman is going to be out of his contract. And we’re going to make sure there is money available for our own guys. We have to look at each guy individually and kind of figure out what we’re going to allocate for that position and for that player, specifically. We’re just at the start of that now. We started that last year with Donald Penn’s extension and we’re just going into that phase right now. That’s the direction we’re going to head.”
So what is the state of the Bucs right now heading into 2011?
“I think the exciting thing about 2010 now, being able to look through all the games and watch it all over again was the energy that the football team played with. That was really the most exciting thing. They believed in themselves and they played and produced and we got a lot of great experience for a lot of good players on our football team. That has been rewarding. But the thing you come back to is the play of our quarterback and what that meant for this team and all the players on the roster. And to know that you’ve got that guy and you come out here to the Senior Bowl and you watch practice and you are not watching the quarterback as hard – that’s a good thing. But even out here at the Senior Bowl we have interviewed every position. We’ve interviewed quarterbacks. We’re going to be prepared for that day in April.”
Has there been any talk of long-term extensions for you and Raheem Morris aside from having your option years picked up?
“I’d keep that private, but we’re both having fun. This is a great time of year at the Senior Bowl. That’s why we’re all here. It’s an awesome week.”
After not selecting a defensive end last year, how good is this class of defensive ends now as you start to break it down?
“Before we go into any draft, we talk to our scouts. We just talk about if we’re going to do it this year and what it looks like in 2012. What’s going to be the strengths and weaknesses? So that way you can take advantage of the draft like you are supposed to. Last year, we did. We thought that this class was going to have really strong defensive ends. As you see the names and as you see them out here practicing, and you hear about the juniors coming out you’ll see that it’s a heck of a group. I don’t know how many are going to go in the first round, but it’s going to be a good number. There’s a lot of work to do, but there are other positions that we feel like we can upgrade at. We could always use more depth.”
Is linebacker a position that you would like to upgrade?
“It’s hard to say until free agency is completed. We have Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, and Niko Koutouvides all of whom are unrestricted free agents. Those all play into it. The thing I love about these young linebackers is that they are going to come in here and they’re going to impact special teams, just like Dekoda Watson did this year. He was one of our best special teamers, while he developed as a linebacker. That was important to us.”
When you look at the Super Bowl matchup between Green Bay and Pittsburgh, there are two great quarterbacks and two great defenses. Is it time that you turn your attention to defense?
“I think it started last year. I think we’re already underway. I’m comfortable where we’re at with Cody Grimm and E.J. Biggers really devolping. Myron Lewis got more work. We’d like to see the defensive tackles play more than they did because of injuries. When I look at the super bowl, I look at the two quarterbacks to start with. That’s why our entire team is excited about what is going on in Tampa. Certainly the old model of “defense wins championships” I still have a hard time believing that that’s not the truth.”
When you took over, you started to go with a youth movement. Is age still a major factor when signing and re-signing players?
“We’re not discriminating against age on our football team. We’ll look at what they do. That’s why Ronde Barber is still playing. We look at the tape and that’s going to tell us who is going to stay and who is going to go. It’s all about building the right chemistry and the right team.”
Where do you think this defense is in the rebuilding process?
“We have a lot of new working pieces right now on defense that are developing their ability as well. I think the early days in 1995 when I was watching [Warren] Sapp and [Derrick] Brooks out there playing, fans weren’t sure what we had back then. The difference is that we attacked our offense this year. We started out with the attacking offense. It’s always hard to not to want to give more poise and tools to Josh Freeman. It’s important to keep him consistent and to keep him upright. From a defensive standpoint, I think we’re just in an early phase. But the thing that’s been important to us is continuity and the transition for our defense. A lot of guys got to get a lot of experience particularly on that side of the ball. You talk about [Aqib] Talib going down, Brian Price going down, Quincy Black going down, and Gerald McCoy going down. There was a lot of experience spread around.”
How are the players progressing with injuries so far this offseason?
“Everyone’s actually doing really well from a health standpoint. Arrelious Benn had his surgery, and you guys know what he’s made of. I’ve been really encouraged by what Todd Toriscelli has told me about the progression the guys are making right now. Hopefully those guys can participate as much as they can.”
Will injured players such as Aqib Talib and Brian Price be ready to practice after the draft?
“I would think so. As far as I can tell, it looks like most of them are right on track. The only one [that might not be ready] is the guy that had the worst injury, Rejus Benn. Arrelious is probably the guy that has a little bit farther to go just because his injury was right at the end of the season and it was an ACL, but because of his work ethic and the surgery being successful, he should be good.”
Will the Bucs be forced to spend money to reach the salary cap floor once a new CBA is agreed upon?
“I don’t think we would be forced to. Is there a concern? No, I wouldn’t say that. Without knowing what [the salary cap floor] is until it’s negotiated, it can be up or it can be lower than what it was prior, it’s really hard to say. We’re going to continue the model that we had going forward at the end of the day and maybe one or two years we’re going to be sitting here hopefully and asking about contract extensions on a lot of guys on our football team that we like. We’ve got to make sure that we budget for those accordingly too.”
What is the team doing internally to try to reduce off-the-field issues with players?
“We do a lot with our player programs. We talk to them a lot about how to be a pro and what it’s like to be a pro. We’ve done a lot of internal things that I think are helpful. Certainly it was disappointing that we had arrests and we had guys that got pulled over because of a driving infraction like an invalidated driver’s license. We’re really working hard with our director of security in making sure that he checks all that stuff and sees that guys are driving around with valid driver’s licenses and making sure that even those kinds of arrests don’t occur. All of those things are important. Really what we talk to them about is what it’s like to be a pro and what that means to your career if something happens and how that actually plays out. I’m hopeful that there’s not a repeat [offense]. We try to address each one accordingly to what it was and that’s how we handle it.”
Do the Bucs have a plan for Tanard Jackson?
“No, we’re not allowed to talk to him so I can’t have a plan for him. I just hope he’s doing good and we’ll find out if the league re-instates him.”
Did the league give any indication to the Bucs on when Jackson will be re-instated?
“I haven’t had any discussions with the league office about that. I believe [he is eligible to return to the team] one year from the day he was suspended, but I haven’t talked to them at all. Re-instatement is handled by the league office. I don’t get into it.”
Will the Bucs consider using the franchise tag this offseason?
“It’s an option that we believe still exists, but until it actually does [because the CBA is not settled yet], it’s an option that we certainly understand that we have and that if we have to or feel like it’s necessary or warranted, we will use it.”
Does the team have a plan in place if a new CBA is settled just before the season starts and the players don’t have a lot of time to prepare for the season?
“I think that’s where it goes back to the continuity that we talked about right after the season was over. Having the same offensive philosophy and the same defensive philosophy is a big part of that so [the players] are on the same page and they’ve been though a year and a half of [those systems]. That’s what’s been most important to us and that’s how we’ve really been focused on making sure that our continuity and that philosophy stays with all of the players that played in it and because we had so much experience last year, I think that gives us an extra advantage. I think we have young guys that stay in great shape and stay healthy. All those things work to our favor.”
Has there been an effort from the coaching staff and trainers to provide players with homework just in case?
“We have our own plan mapped out and I’m sure every club does, but I don’t think any club wants to tell everybody what they plan on doing or how they’re going to do it.”
Talk about Greg Olson’s improvement as coordinator from last year and the continuity on offense with the players he’s had to work with.
“I think for Olson, the frustration or difficult part for him was the way that he got put in the position that I put him in. Once we made that decision, he didn’t have enough of a time frame, so certainly I think you saw some of the fruits of the labor of an offseason that provided for the Bucs. We had young players really step up and play good so it’s a good combination and it’s a good system that’s working well and has players fitting into it that are talented. I think we saw the beginning of what the production can be and that’s exciting. What Josh Freeman did last year was a very special season. It’s a shame it didn’t get us further.”
Talk about Shelton Quarles’ promotion to Coordinator of Pro Scouting on a one-year contract
“I certainly promoted Shelton because of the job he’s done and the leadership that he’s shown within the pro department, so I thought he earned that right to be promoted. It’s the same path that I followed and in my career in Tampa. I was probably on a lot of one-year deals. That’s how it works so I wouldn’t read anything into that fact other than he’s doing a great job and we’re happy he’s a Buc.”
Does the fact that Quarles is a product of your pro department give him a certain perspective and help him do his job?
“It does because how he got his chance and where he got to go and then how he got back and how he’s took advantage of it. He’s done a great job with that and he’s just like everybody else in our building. He’s on the same page fundamentally and shares our philosophy on how we want to build the Bucs. Because he was part of that train, it’s easy for him to push guys and find guys that want to work that way because that’s how it worked for him.”
How do you know whether a former player like Quarles has the tools to do a job like that?
“It doesn’t start with evaluation for me right away. It starts with work ethic and their commitment. There’s a big difference between playing the game, coaching the game, and scouting the game. There are a lot of time constraints and a lot of time spent away from your family and a lot of sacrifices you make. You want to see if that person has the ability to put it in. We’ve had guys in this building that haven’t. The first trait you look at is intelligence and what their chemistry is because you’re going to be with them every day. Quarles is a guy that I have long-term chemistry with, but also knew that he had good office dynamics because of how much time we spend together.”
By Scott Reynolds, Eric Dellaratta and Andrew Scavelli