Just days before the Tyrone McKenzie and Josh Freeman-led voluntary mini-camp at the IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla., PewterReport.com takes a look at the negative impact the loss of OTAs (organized team activities) has had on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this spring and summer.
Even if the NFL lockout ends with a new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL owners and players, league sources tell PewterReport.com there will not be time before training camp for any club-sanctioned OTAs or mini-camps because the NFL has to fit in free agency before the start of training camp. So here's what the players and coaches have missed by not being able to work together over the past three months. THE UNKNOWN INJURY REPORT
The Buccaneers coaches don’t have a good feel for where players like wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who is coming off a torn ACL, really stand with their rehab other than reading media reports that have suggested that Benn is progressing ahead of schedule. Also, at the start of the NFL lockout the Bucs got word that long snapper Andrew Economos suffered a torn Achilles tendon and Tampa Bay does not fully know the extent of that injury because he has not been evaluated by team doctors.
That means the Bucs don’t know if he is truly out for the season and possibly beyond and needs to be replaced, or if Economos has a remote chance of playing this year and the team needs to get a short-term replacement. The coaches are crossing their fingers that former injured players like defensive tackle Brian Price and safety Cody Grimm have healed sufficiently from their season-ending injuries from last year.NEW LEADERS EMERGING WITHOUT RECOGNITION
One of the players that has been getting rave reviews from other Buccaneers is second-year linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, who has been working hand-in-hand with quarterback Josh Freeman in organizing workouts at the University of South Florida and planning this week’s mini-camp/OTAs at the IMG Performance Institute. McKenzie hopes to challenge for a starting spot at either middle or weakside linebacker this year and leadership is a big element of playing the Mike position and running the defense.
McKenzie’s teammates have seen how passionate the former Bucs practice squad player and USF star is about working out with his teammates this offseason and how he has been the main communicator with other players. It’s a shame the Tampa Bay coaches have not been able to see McKenzie’s leadership and commitment to drawing as many fellow Bucs to the workouts as he could because it would really aid him in his quest to become a starter.NEW PLAYERS BURSTING ON THE SCENE WITHOUT BEING NOTICED
There was a time when the quick footwork of backup offensive tackle Donald Penn was drawing the praise of former head coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay during the OTAs. Gruden told PewterReport.com in 2007 that Penn was one of the players that had impressed him in the offseason and that he was a sleeper heading into training camp that year before he eventually became the team’s starter at left tackle after a season-ending injury to Luke Petitgout.
Last year, head coach Raheem Morris was singing the praises of linebacker Quincy Black, who was on his way to a career year before missing the final five games of the season with a broken arm. This year, one of the players generating some buzz at the informal USF workouts is former practice squad tight end Nathan Overbay. The players have said that he has looked just as good – if not better at times – than rookie Luke Stocker, who was the team’s fourth-round draft pick in April. Overbay, an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington last year, could be making an early push ahead of Ryan Purvis and rookie Daniel Hardy this offseason for the third tight end spot behind Kellen Winslow and Stocker.SLACKERS NEED A KICK IN THE BUTT
Last year, left guard Jeremy Zuttah had a disappointing offseason and didn’t make any progress until he kicked it into gear during the season when pressed into duty at center when Jeff Faine went down with an injury in Week 5 at Cincinnati. Because they saw Zuttah underachieve in the offseason, the Bucs felt compelled to sign veteran free agent Keydrick Vincent in July right before training camp to help motivate Zuttah, which it did.
But the coaches and front office scouts haven’t been able to see which players are in shape, which ones aren’t and which ones are progressing and which ones aren’t this offseason. Word from Bucs players is that second-year wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, whom the team was forecasting as the number three receiver and a potential starter if Benn can’t go at the start of the season, has not been attending many of the offseason workouts.
Briscoe is talented, but was not a hard worker prior to the draft and many teams were put off by his soft frame, which caused him to slip to the sixth round where he was drafted by Cincinnati, and later signed by Tampa Bay. Some players, like Briscoe apparently, could have used some extra motivation by the coaching staff this offseason.NO TRY-OUT CONTRACT PLAYERS THIS YEAR
Through the hard work of director of college scouting Dennis Hickey and his team of able scouts, Tampa Bay has been able to find some diamonds in the rough in undrafted free agency in years past – even from signing some of those players to try-out contracts to take part in the team’s rookie mini-camp. In 2008, Clifton Smith was signed to a try-out contract and wound up making the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster and ultimately being named to the Pro Bowl as the NFC’s return specialist.
Demar Dotson, a former basketball player at Southern Miss, was also a try-out player that impressed the team with his athleticism and 6-foot-9, 315-pound frame to earn a contract as an undrafted free agent. Dotson was slowed last year with a torn ACL that placed him on injured reserve after training camp, but he has his supporters at One Buccaneer Place that believe he could challenge for the starting job at right tackle this year.
The lockout has eliminated the rookie mini-camp and thus the ability to sign players to try-out contracts. And a player like Dotson, who does not have a football background other than his two years in the NFL as a reserve and one year playing defensive tackle in college, could use every rep in OTAs and mini-camp this offseason to help develop his instincts and knowledge playing offensive line.LATE-ROUND DRAFT PICKS COULD BE IN TROUBLE
The Buccaneers have always been a team that has given their rookies the benefit of the doubt in years past when it comes to making the squad. In 2010, the entire Tampa Bay draft class made the 53-man roster, but that may not necessarily be the case this year.
The 2011 rookie class league-wide is behind the eight ball by either not having a playbook, or having one, but not the coaches on-hand to help them implement it. A player like Hardy or sixth-round pick running back Allen Bradford would have been kind of a lock to make the team in a non-lockout year. But without having a rookie mini-camp, a slate of OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp to introduce themselves to the coaching staff and impress the team’s front office, veterans like Overbay, Purvis and running back Kregg Lumpkin will get favored status by tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts and running backs coach Steve Logan, respectively.
The reason is that the assistant coaches are more comfortable with those veterans because of familiarity due to those Buccaneers being on the team last season, and their knowledge of the playbook. Not only will players like Bradford and Hardy feel the pressure of getting to know the assistant coaches and make a quick impression in just a four-week span during training camp rather than over the past two months, they will have to do that while learning the playbook instead of doing that in May, June and July and coming into camp with at least a base understanding of the plays and schemes. That is an awful lot of pressure for the rookie class to handle, especially those players picked on the third day of the draft.THE PLAYERS WILL BE OUT OF THE LOOP WHEN IT COMES TO STUDYING LEAGUE TRENDS
If there is any good news for the coaches this offseason when it comes to the lockout it is that they have used the time normally spent coaching OTAs and mini-camps and working with the players to study the Bucs’ upcoming opponents this year. Morris has been studying opposing offenses and trying to steal some clever blitzes and schemes that have worked from other defenses, while offensive coordinator Greg Olson has undoubtedly done the same from an offensive perspective.
However, this information still has to be passed on to the players, and is typically spoon-fed to them during the offseason in the classroom during the OTAs as preparation for training camp. Now some of that knowledge and intel won’t be able to be passed along until training camp at the earliest, and even as last pre-game preparation the week before the Bucs play their particular opponents. The NFL is typically a copycat league, and while the coaches are surely caught up on the latest trends in the NFL, their players likely aren’t.THE BUCS PLAYBOOK WON’T BE EXPANDING TOO MUCH
The Buccaneers coaches, like their counterparts around the league, have been forced to pretty much keep the playbooks the same as last year. With the players not getting any offseason play installation or tutelage, the coaches will be forced to use training camp as a four-week referesher course for the veterans and a crash course for the rookies. That means that Morris and Olson can’t install a whole lot of new formations, schemes and wrinkles as they would normally want to in training camp. Other NFL teams will likely have no choice but to follow suit and keep the playbook narrow and focused.
Of course the good news for Tampa Bay is that the offense and defense came to life down the stretch as the team beat two playoff teams in Seattle and New Orleans in back-to-back weeks to end the season. Picking up right where they left off with the same schemes just when the team started to master them may not be a bad thing for the Bucs after all.
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