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.
The Case For Kalil
Drafting offensive linemen rarely gets the crowd excited in New York City on draft night. Rabid, face-painted fans wearing their team’s jerseys usually have a look of disdain when commissioner Roger Goodell starts his words at the podium with, ‘with the ___ pick in the draft the ___ select offensive lineman ___.’
Groans and scattered boos normally follow. And who can blame them? Offensive linemen aren't a “sexy” pick, and don’t normally generate much excitement. But at the same time, other than perhaps quarterback; offensive linemen are the most important pieces of any team’s offensive system.
If somehow USC tackle Matt Kalil were to fall to the No. 5 pick the Buccaneers currently occupy, surely there will be a contingent of fans that absolutely lose their minds. Remember the 2006 draft when the Buccaneers took Davin Joseph then went back-to-back on the offensive line selecting Jeremy Trueblood in the second round?
Six years later, the Buccaneers' leading rushers averaged 4.13 yards per carry, and Joseph has represented the Buccaneers in two Pro Bowls.
There are several reasons that Tampa Bay fans should be excited to see Kalil on the board at No. 5 if it happens. First and foremost is his immense talent. At 6-foot-7, 306 pounds with 4.99 40-time, Kalil is almost a freakish athlete. And Kalil has room on his frame to even add more muscle and weight. A superb pass blocker, Kalil gave up zero sacks last season for the Trojans. A strong run blocker, Kalil has all the natural ability to get even better in his pro career.
Although Donald Penn has performed nicely for the Buccaneers, his play slipped a bit in 2011. Of course when you are in the midst of a 10-game losing streak it is hard to blame players for occasionally losing focus. Another concern for fans and even management was Penn’s weight gain that seemed to increase as the season went on. No one is suggesting Penn is ready to put be put out to pasture, but you can be assured at that the presence of Kalil will only make Penn a better football player.
Another thought if the Buccaneers wind up with Kalil, is to allow him to compete with Trueblood for the starting position during training camp. Fans have been unimpressed with Trueblood for the most part during his six seasons is Tampa, but even the biggest Trueblood skeptics would have to admit he is an upgrade over former Buccaneer enigma Kenyatta Walker. Trueblood is also in the last season of a two-year contract signed on the eve of the 2011 training camp.
Tackles, like any draft pick present a potential gamble. The Buccaneers have been blessed and also burned with first round offensive linemen. For every Paul Gruber and Randy Grimes, there is a Charles McRae and a Walker. But by many accounts Kalil is, other than Andrew Luck, the safest of any of this season’s top five talents.
General manager Mark Dominik will need to address the tackle position sooner or later. And addressing it in free agency is nearly impossible. The tackle position, particularly the left tackle who protects right-handed quarterback’s blind side, is a premium position in the NFL and anyone with average to above average talent seldom if ever make it to the free agent market.
One more thought that should be taken into consideration is the lack of depth the Buccaneers currently have at tackle. If Donald Penn goes down this year, who replaces him in the lineup? Demar Dotson, who for 15.5 games in 2011 was behind James Lee on the depth chart?
Chris Riley, who has zero game action in the NFL? Jamon Meredith, who has is now on his sixth NFL team since coming into the league in 2009? The thoughts of an injury to Penn or Trueblood is probably keeps Dominik, head coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan tossing and turning when trying to get some sleep at night.
So Kalil fits a major need for the Buccaneers, potentially as a starter in 2012, but if nothing else by adding tremendous depth and a future 10-year plus corner stone at tackle. While it may be wishful thinking that Kalil will be there at No.5 when Tampa Bay takes their turn on the clock at approximately 8:35 p.m. Thursday night, if he somehow falls in Tampa Bay’s lap, hopefully those in red and pewter who make the trip to New York will keep the groans and boos to a minimum.Freeman’s Future
As the 2012 season approaches many eyes will be on quarterback Josh Freeman. Entering the fourth year of a five-year contract, the former Kansas State star is entering somewhat of a make-it or break-it season.
A source within the organization told PewterReport.com that the Buccaneers would love to lock Freeman up to a long-term deal long before he is eligible to be a free agent after the 2013 season. The Saints see how the distraction of an unhappy quarterback can be, and the source cited the issues that placing a franchise tag on a quarterback can cause not only in the locker room but also to a team’s salary cap.
In fairness to Freeman this will be the third offensive coordinator in four seasons (Jeff Jagodzinski, Greg Olson, Sullivan). Not many quarterbacks succeed under those circumstances. And Freeman was extremely hampered by a poor defense in 2011 that usually put the team in a hole early causing the Buccaneers to chuck the game plan by the end of the first quarter.
Freeman's overall numbers are pretty decent when looking at them as a whole. Freeman has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 8,898 yards with 51 touchdowns and 46 interceptions and a QB rating of 79.0. But the consistency is what the organization will be looking for. The question will be is Freeman closer to the 2010 QB that finished with a 95.9 rating or the one who posted a 74.6 QB rating in 2011 while throwing 22 interceptions?
Looking back at other first round quarterback draft picks by the Buccaneers, Freeman’s numbers are head and shoulders above the others through the first three years of their careers.• 1978 Doug Williams – 7,014 yards passing, 45 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, 58.6 QB rating• 1987 Vinny Testaverde – 7,454 yards passing, 38 touchdowns, 63 interceptions, 59.3 QB rating• 1994 Trent Dilfer – 6,066 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, 43 interceptions, 53.7 QB rating
How Freeman rebounds under the tutelage of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ron Turner will be a huge for not just the organization, but also Freeman’s bank account. No one is expecting Freeman to put up Drew Brees numbers in 2012, but they must be better than last year in order for Tampa Bay to improve over last year’s 4-12 record. It appears everything in now in place for Freeman to succeed – a quality offensive coordinator, a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Vincent Jackson and an offensive line with three Pro Bowlers. Bucs Draft History – Top 5 Picks
Nine times in their 35-year history the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have held a top five selection in the NFL draft. Some have been tremendous, while others have been – well – complete busts. Making mistakes in the later rounds can be made up through free agency or the following year, but poor drafts with top 5 picks can absolutely doom a franchise.
With the draft coming up this week, and the Buccaneers selecting in the top five, let's rank all the franchises draft picks in the top five from worst to first.9. RB Bo Jackson – 1986 – No. 1 selection
What a total disaster from the beginning. Bo Jackson was a two-sport superstar at Auburn University and the 1986 Heisman Trophy winner. But Jackson was not impresses with the Buccaneers recent history (6-10 in 1984, 2-14 in 1985) and according to some stories of legend, Jackson wasn’t fond of Hugh Culverhouse either, particularly after the Buccaneers flew him to Tampa in a private plane which ended up being a violation of the NCAA, costing Jackson the remainder of his senior baseball season at Auburn. Against the advice of many, Culverhouse insisted on selecting Jackson assuming his bluff to play professional baseball was a way to get more money from the Buccaneers. Culverhouse did his part offering Jackson the richest rookie contract in NFL history at the time, but Jackson took his talents elsewhere – and the rest they say is history. 8. LB Keith McCants – 1990 – No. 4 selection
McCants, out of the University of Alabama, was another bumble by the Buccaneers front office in 1990. Coming into the draft with injury concerns, particularly with his knee, McCants was still selected by Tampa Bay. McCants ended up playing only three seasons in Tampa, collecting just 12 sacks. The former Crimson Tide star bounced around the league for four more seasons, playing in handful of games, notching just 1.5 sacks over those four years. A side note – the next player selected after McCants in the 1990 draft was USC linebacker Junior Seau, a future Hall of Famer.7. DE Gaines Adams – 2007 – No. 4 selection
Adams had all the physical tools to be a exception outside speed rusher, but during his time in Tampa he was never able put it all together or developed an inside move to counter the league’s better offensive tackles. Adams played 37 games for the Buccaneers and collected just 13.5 sacks during that time. Adams was traded to the Chicago Bears in 2009 and passed away unexpectedly in January of 2010 of an undetected heart defect.6. DT Gerald McCoy – 2010 – No. 3 selection
McCoy still has at least another season to move up – or down – on this list. Filled with potential, McCoy has battled two torn biceps in his first two seasons in the league, which ended his 2010 and 2011 seasons prematurely. During his limited action McCoy has recorded just four sacks in his two abbreviated seasons for Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are counting on a healthy McCoy in 2012 and look forward to seeing exactly what type of player they have in the 2010 third-overall pick. One more season with a major injury may spell the end of McCoy’s Buccaneers career.5. QB Vinny Testaverde – 1987 – No. 1 selection
Testaverde was an All-American and Heisman Trophy winner his senior year at the University of Miami leading the Hurricanes to the national championship game against Penn State. The Buccaneers didn’t reach when selected him No 1 overall in the 1987 draft, as Testaverde was easily the highest-rated QB in that year’s draft class, but his career in Tampa was filled with expectation he could never attain. Fairly or unfairly, Testaverde became the face of a futile franchise. Testaverde did get a measure of revenge later on, setting several NFL records related to his longevity in the league, including the NFL record for having thrown a touchdown pass in 21 consecutive seasons, the most losses by a starting quarterback with 123, and throwing touchdown passes to an NFL record 70 different players.4. RB Ricky Bell – 1977 – No. 1 selection
Ricky Bell was the NFL’s overall No.1 draft pick in 1977 by the Buccaneers despite future Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett being available. But Tampa Bay coach John McKay at USC has coached Bell and the familiarity was the determining factor in the selection of Bell. The former USC star rushed for 3,057 yards and 16 touchdowns in his Buccaneers career, including having a monster season in 1979 when Bell rushed for 1,263 yards, helping lead the Bucs to their first playoff appearance. Bell was traded in 1981 to the San Diego Chargers and played his last season in 1982. Bell died in 1984 of heart failure caused by the rare disease dermatomyositis.3. RB Cadillac Williams – 2005 – No. 5 selection
Williams was the third-rated running back in the 2005 draft behind Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson. After one season it appeared the Buccaneers had made a wise selection when the former Auburn star rushed for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns and won the A.P. Rookie of the Year Award. Williams struggled somewhat with nagging injuries the following season unable to duplicate his rookie success. In 2007, Williams suffered a devastating injury against the Carolina Panthers and although he made a miraculous recovery, he hasn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since. Williams signed with the Rams as free agent prior to last season as served as a backup running back to Steven Jackson.2. OT Paul Gruber – 1988 – No. 4 selection
Gruber was one of the few bright spots during some terrible times in Buccaneers history. A first-round choice in 1988, Gruber played his entire career in Tampa Bay, and most likely, had he played for a better team, would have made several Pro Bowls. Instead, he just came to work with his lunch pail everyday doing exactly what was asked of him.1. DE Lee Roy Selmon – 1976 – No. 1 selection
Selmon, Mr. Buccaneer himself, was known as the “gentle giant.” The first-ever draft pick in franchise history was also the best pick in franchise history. An unselfish player who left it all on the field, Selmon was a ray of sunshine even during the 0-26 start. By 1977, Selmon was beginning to get noticed around the league and in 1979 was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Selmon went on to six consecutive Pro Bowls and to this day is still the franchises all-time sack leader with 78.5. Selmon retired after the 1984 season and continued to work in the community and help build the USF football program until his unexpected death due to a stroke last September.
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