Mark Cook offers up his insight and the latest inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from his sources at One Buccaneer Place and around the league in the Pewter Confidential, which appears on PewterReport.com weekly.
Trueblood Speaks Out
Offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood took a few minutes this week to speak to PewterReport.com on the record about the whirlwind that has taken place since the firing of Raheem Morris back on January 2.
“Last year was tough for everyone,” Trueblood said. “We know we are better than we played. I really believe there is a lot of talent on this team. But the losses started piling up and then everything just started a snowball effect. I won’t make any excuses. We all could have played better but I have no doubt we were better than 4-12.”
The six-year NFL veteran talked about the hiring of new Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, and also the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. Trueblood is impressed with the former Rutgers coach after seeing the rise of the Scarlet Knights’ program and also the resume that Sullivan brings to Tampa.
“When I got to B.C. (Boston College) they (Rutgers) were a joke,” Trueblood said. “I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who played or coached there, but at the time Rutgers was really the bottom dwellers in the Big East.
“After the four years I was there they were giving us fits. People that are from the area can understand what I am saying, but if you didn’t follow football in the Northeast I think it is hard for people to realize how much he did and how far he was able to grow that program.
“We (as an offensive line) are all really excited about Coach Schiano and Sullivan and the style of offense we might have. I think a power running game fits to the strengths of this team. We are all pumped up to get started again and show people we are better than we were (in 2011).”
Another new name that will impact Trueblood directly is that of new line coach Bob Bostad, although the Buccaneers have not officially named him as a member of the staff yet.
“I didn’t know too much about him so when someone texted me and told me he might be coming, I looked him up,” Trueblood said. “And I was like, 'Wow, his credentials are impressive.' Wisconsin has always had a physical running game, and again, that style really fits our strengths as an offensive line and as an offense overall.”
The success of Mike Sullivan in New York also has Trueblood excited.
“Eli Manning is a heck of a talent on his own,” Trueblood said. “But you can’t say Sullivan wasn’t a part of that. You don’t put up the numbers Eli did over the last two seasons all on your own. New York ran the ball and took their shots down the field and it worked. That is something we were able to do in 2010 when we were 10-6. Hopefully we can get back to that and if we do we will look more like that 2010 team than the one we put out there last season.”
Trueblood was also very candid about his former boss, Raheem Morris.
“Do I think Raheem Morris is a good coach? Yes,” Trueblood said. “ Do I think Raheem Morris could have done anything different? Not really. I like Coach Morris, and really everyone did. But just a combination of factors happened that no one could really pinpoint why. But when you lose 10 games, regardless of why, then you kind of knew things were going to change.”
After getting away for the month of January, Trueblood and his offensive line teammates are just beginning to start thinking about football again.
“Davin (Joseph) and I began our offseason workouts last week and are really looking forward to starting to get back into the swing of football things. Right after the season none of us wanted to even think about football, watch it or anything. Last season really bothered us a lot.
“But yeah, there is kind of a new excitement level with the new coaches but more importantly a chance to improve over last season.”What Bostad Brings To The Bucs
Though running very late in the assistant coaching game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have found a diamond in the rough with the reported addition of Bob Bostad as the Bucs offensive line coach.
While obviously the jury is out on how any college assistant will transition to the NFL, Bostad’s credentials throughout his college coaching career are eye-opening, and his success, if it can be even semi-duplicated, may be able to establish the physical style of offense head coach Greg Schiano and Mike Sullivan both mentioned they want to bring to Tampa Bay.
Under Bostad's guidance the Badgers offensive line has been one of the better groups in the country. The Badgers have rushed for over 3,000 yards the past two seasons. And in 2011, Wisconsin was 10th in the nation, averaging 237.4 yards per game on the ground and 5.48 yards per carry.
Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist, scored 38 touchdowns on the season, just one shy of the NCAA record. Last year the Badgers nearly made history as they fell just four yards short of having three rushers run for at least 1,000 yards in the same season, something that has never been accomplished in FBS history.
The Wisconsin offense has also averaged 41.5 points a year ago and 44.6 points this season which both were top 5 in the nation over that span and Badgers tied a Big Ten record with 48 rushing TDs in 2010 and had 46 this past season.
According to the Badgers football website, in the last two seasons four different offensive linemen have earned first-team All-America honors. The Badgers have also dominated the All-Big Ten teams the last two seasons, placing six offensive linemen on all-conference teams a year ago and having five honored this season.
While no one will confuse the Buccaneers offensive line with the legendary “Hogs” of the 1980’s Redskins or even the agile, finesse zone scheming days of the Denver Broncos back in the 1990’s, the fact remains the line was the most consistent unit over the last three seasons and remains the most veteran group on the team.
While some are begging for some players like Jeff Faine or Jeremy Trueblood to immediately be replaced via free agency or the draft, given the track record of the new line coach and the continuity that is already present, the offensive line should actually be one point of stability in a pretty serious retooling effort needed to make Tampa Bay competitive in the near future.
While the coaching search has taken on an air of lacking direction at times, along with some hiccups and stumbles, the Glazers and Dominik, if these assistants can pan out, may come out smelling like roses even after what was a frustrating and sometimes embarrassing experience at times for Bucs fans.
Not many people can honestly say they had ever heard the name Bob Bostad before last weekend, myself included, but this coaching hire may be one of the biggest coups pulled off this offseason.The Freeman Factor
Many factors played a part in the regression of Josh Freeman in 2011 from his second-year success in which he threw just six interceptions and led the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record and narrowly missing the playoffs. But perhaps none was more damaging than the lack of an offseason due to the 132-day NFL lockout. While the other 31 NFL teams faced the same hurdles, Freeman certainly was affected in his ability to prepare with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
Freeman was also severally hampered by a defense that was for the majority of the season, giving up huge leads and showed little fight, especially down the stretch when opponents reeled off 10-straight wins, ultimately sealing the fate of Raheem Morris and his coaching staff.
Looking back at one specific game provides a perfect example of the challenge Freeman and the offense faced. On the opening play of the home contest against the Houston Texans, Matt Schaub faked a handoff to running back Arian Foster, rolled out and found a wide open streaking Jacoby Jones for an 80-yard touchdown reception. One snap, one pass, and a 7-0 deficit.
Even the opening game against the Detroit Lions was a foreshadowing of things to come, as the Lions completely dominated the first half, and while perhaps too quick on the trigger, the Buccaneers abandoned the running game and rarely attempted to run the ball in the second half.
Now give Freeman a different receiving corps along the lines the of the Green Bay Packers or an other high powered offense, and maybe the Buccaneers stand a chance of winning eight games under those circumstances.
But despite the doom and gloom that some Buccaneers fans have fretted over after Freeman’s poor season, it is clear that many still believe in Freeman, including new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
“I think everyone knows that is here it is a quarterback-driven league,” Sullivan said. “No matter how you slice it – and ultimately defense wins championships, and there is no doubt about it – but you have got to have a quarterback.
“And I think a lot of things you look at with a guy like Josh Freeman – the skill set he possesses, the youth, the ability, the size, the strength – there is an awful lot there and I am chomping at the bit to work with. And you take into consideration that, and the big picture of in terms of a veteran offensive line and some hard-running backs.
“I would misleading if I said I had a thorough scouting report and have everybody evaluated with a pro grade on them, and I’m ready to smartly report to Mark Dominik on that. But I will be honest with you, it was the attraction to work with a special talent like Josh Freeman.”
And while Davis and Sullivan are the two Bucs hires that mentioned it you can bet that others that interviewed with the Buccaneers – Marty Schottenheimer, Brad Childress among them – were all just as intrigued about working with Freeman if given the opportunity.
Publisher Scott Reynolds made a great point several weeks ago when he said the Buccaneers have done a poor example of self-scouting the talent level on their own team. The interview process was a good way to gather opinions – good and bad – on outside opinions of team from independent sources.
We all need someone occasionally to tell us we need to wear more deodorant, and from what we have seen and heard from coaches around the league, the Buccaneers aren’t smelling too bad at least at the QB position.
This is no way an excuse for Freeman's decision-making last season, as there is no question Tampa Bay's third-year signal-caller clearly made a number of bone head plays, but No.5 still has plenty of fans around the league, including Schiano and his staff.Leadership Wanted, Apply Inside!
While many Bucs fans are getting excited about the new coaching staff and the leadership they potentially bring, not much will change without the addition players who can display the leadership in the classroom, locker room and on the field.
While a talent upgrade is crucial for the development of the franchise, management should also be looking in free agency not only for players that can step in and improve what takes place between the sidelines, but also around One Buccaneer Place.
Much has been brought up about the how Hardy Nickerson’s signing in 1993 began the transformation in attitude from the woeful 1980’s teams. And while it took a few years for the Buccaneers to add enough talent to become a playoff team, the leadership and the unwillingness to accept anything less than 100 percent from himself and his teammates, was essential for later success.
Many people point to players like Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Derrick Brooks as the reason the Buccaneers were able to turn the franchise around, but it may not have happened the way it did without Nickerson.
Before Nickerson, Tampa Bay was very much like the current Buccaneers – an organization deemed soft, not very talented, and a team with little fight. Nickerson took those negatives as a personal challenge and played with a chip – or perhaps a boulder – on his shoulder. His surliness and attitude on the field and even with his own teammates at times created an edge.
Chidi Ahanotu, former teammate and friend of Nickerson, remembers the impact the former Steeler made during his seven years in Tampa.
“Hardy, coming from a team with the history of the Steelers, brought instant credibility to our team,” Ahanotu said. “Hardy was from Compton, and while he was no thug, he could get thug if challenged. His whole personality was of nothing but leadership. When Hardy said something, us young guys listened. He didn’t give us a choice.
“Again, back then, he was the guy making the big money on our team and we respected him because he proved he was worth it and then some. From his work ethic on the field to his study habits, it was easy to see how serious he was about football.”
Ahanotu thinks a Nickerson-type leader was sorely missed last season in Tampa Bay.
“It is a huge leap from the college ranks to the NFL,” Ahanotu said. “I tell people that the hardest game you ever had in college still didn’t compare to the easiest game in the NFL. There were games in college that I was barely sore after. It was completely different in this league. It is a longer season and much more physical than guys coming up from college can even imagine. And when you have a bunch of young guys like the Bucs had last year there wasn’t anyone to help them transition.
“You can have the most fiery coach in the history of the NFL, but it still doesn’t replace that leader on the field in the heat of the battle.”
So when Dominik, Schiano and advisor Butch Davis start targeting free agents of course they need to look for talent. But maybe the most important piece of the puzzle should be another No. 56. They don’t grow on trees but if there is even someone close Tampa Bay would be best served by bringing that person aboard, regardless of the cost. Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson or Atlanta's Curtis Lofton would be good players to start with in terms of linebackers.Extra Point
• While many are concentrating on the Giants' mid-season slide during new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s tenure in New York as defensive signal-caller, consider Sheridan will have major input from head coach Greg Schiano and advisor Butch Davis to lean on, and a sounding board that Raheem Morris never had. Same thing goes for Mike Sullivan who will have over 30 years of play-calling experience of Jimmy Raye to bounce ideas off of.
The Glazers and Mark Dominik appear to have learned from their decisions three years ago, when Morris went from a defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator to head coach all in the matter of a few days. And Greg Olson was thrust into his role as offensive coordinator also overnight when Morris abruptly fired Jeff Jagodzinski less than two weeks from the first regular season game.
When things started going south this past season where could Morris go for input and to pick someone’s brain? Jimmy Lake or Joe Baker? I don’t think so.
And who could Olson rely on to help him figure out how to get Josh Freeman back in a groove within the framework of the offensive system? Steve Logan or Alfredo Roberts? Again, not the best viable options. Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt had very little play-calling experience to rely on.
While no one will say Morris and Olson were perfect in their roles as coordinators, they certainly weren’t given the resources and safety net that Sullivan and Sheridan will have. Credit the Glazers and Dominik for putting a few more resources in place for both Sullivan and Sheridan to have success in Tampa Bay.
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