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Here is what the Pewter Reporters think of Tampa Bay's 30-3 loss at Washington in the 2012 preseason finale:
PUBLISHER SCOTT REYNOLDS
• In the Bucs’ 30-3 loss to the Redskins, Tampa Bay really wanted to get a close look at cornerback Myron Lewis in Washington to figure out if the enigmatic third-year veteran had developed enough to make the 53-man roster. Lewis has been considered a bust since he was drafted in the third round in 2010 because of his timid approach to coverage. Despite being blessed with ideal cornerback size at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, the Vanderbilt product has been susceptible to getting beat and not making enough plays.
The type of play that Lewis had in Washington was indicative of his young NFL career – a few decent plays and a couple of really bad ones. Lewis had two pass breakups and a tackle for loss, but one of those pass breakups was a dropped interception in the first quarter that would have greatly aided his cause in making the team.
Lewis got beat deep on a 46-yard pass play by Anthony Armstrong in the first half and then had a pass interference penalty later in the game. Being a third-year player, the Bucs need to have more confidence in Lewis than they do. His play, as demonstrated on Wednesday night in Washington, is untrustworthy, which is why he is fighting for the fifth cornerback job behind Aqib Talib, Eric Wright, Anthony Gaitor and E.J. Biggers.
Undrafted free agent rookie Leonard Johnson is a better player. He may not have Lewis’ physical skill set and athleticism, but he’s tougher – physically and mentally – and is a more reliable player against the run and the pass because of the angles he takes and his anticipation. Johnson is worth keeping over Lewis because of his upside.
Lewis will likely get a reprieve for a few weeks because Biggers won’t be ready by the start of the season and Tampa Bay will likely need to carry an extra cornerback on the roster until Biggers returns to action, which should be in a couple weeks. After he’s healthy, it could be the end of Lewis’ tenure as a Buccaneer.
• Reserve safety Sean Baker had the type of game that reminded me of the one former Bucs safety Corey Lynch had a few years ago in Houston with two interceptions, including one he returned for a 91-yard touchdown. Baker was a more sure tackler than Cody Grimm was on Wednesday night at Washington, finishing the game with six, including a couple that could be defined as touchdown-saving.
More importantly, Baker, who has been solid, but not spectacular during training camp, picked off a couple of passes and recovered a fumble. Those splash plays were the only bright spot for a pathetic defense that didn’t record a sack and gave up 459 yards, including 228 yards on the ground.
Baker, a 6-foot-1, 209-pound rookie from Ball State, did what he did best in college – create turnovers. Baker had 18 interceptions for the Cardinals in four seasons and also returned a pair of fumble recoveries for touchdowns. In one game against Washington, the rookie proved to be more opportunistic than either Grimm, fellow backup Larry Asante or even sixth-round draft pick Keith Tandy, who led the team in tackles with nine on Wednesday.
The Bucs could keep five safeties, especially with Tandy’s ability to play both cornerback and safety, and after Ronde Barber, Mark Barron, Ahmad Black and Tandy, Baker deserves a roster spot due to his toughness, sure-tackling and playmaking ability.
• The real weakness in Tampa Bay’s defense is the defensive line. The Bucs just don’t have any pure pass rushers on the team outside of defensive ends Michael Bennett and Adrian Clayborn, who only combined for 11.5 sacks last year. Clayborn has the talent and potential to become a double-digit sacker in the NFL, but he will face his share of double teams this season.
The Buccaneers defensive line only produced one sack this preseason, and that was from Bennett against the Patriots last week. The only two other sacks came from linebacker blitzes from Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward.
Tampa Bay was a poor sacking team last year and to only get three sacks in the preseason was very disappointing, especially considering the fact that the Bucs not only have a new defensive line coach in Randy Melvin, but also a front seven pass-rushing coach in Bryan Cox.
The Bucs defensive line is still a work in progress and it will be interesting to see which players end up making the 53-man roster. Clayborn, Bennett, defensive tackles Gerald McCoy, Roy Miller, Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson appear to be locks – although Okoye and Gibson have been hampered with injuries. That’s six players. The Bucs will likely keep two more from the group of George Johnson, Frank Okam and Wallace Gilberry, but that’s not saying too much.
If the preseason is any indication, Tampa Bay will have to rely on a lot of blitzing from linebackers, safeties and nickel corners to generate any pass rush and produce sacks. Of course, if defensive end Da’Quan Bowers comes back healthy from his Achilles injury within the next six weeks that could be the game-changer Tampa Bay’s pass rush needs. Editor-in-chief Mark Cook
• When Davin Joseph went down last week against the Patriots with a severe knee injury that landed him on injured reserve, the Buccaneers knew their depth along the offensive line would be tested. After watching Wednesday night’s game it is clear how poor the offensive line depth actually is.
For the record, offensive line depth is something few NFL teams possess the luxury of having. The free agency market for offensive line depth is thin year after year. If you can play at decent level, teams lock you up contract wise usually before the player reaches free agency.
So with that said, what direction do the Buccaneers go in an effort to replace Joseph? In a perfect world Ted Larsen steps into that role and performs at a decent level and the bus keeps rolling. But again, after Wednesday night’s game at Washington, did Larsen show enough to allow general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano a good night’s sleep? It is highly doubtful. Larsen, along with another potential replacement, Derek Hardman looked exactly like backups, and at times even worse. Desmond Wynn fared no better.
Tampa Bay could look to sign another team’s castoff after the cut downs Friday night. But again, will there be a talent upgrade even available to sign?
Perhaps the Buccaneers move Larsen to center and shift Jeremy Zuttah back to guard. But that creates a step backwards, as Zuttah has been working at center since last spring when Jeff Faine was released, and Zuttah signed a new contract. A center and quarterback need to develop somewhat of a chemistry. Josh Freeman and Zuttah have spent the last 5 months developing that relationship which includes pre-snap line calls. Throwing Larsen in at center now, one week before the season opener isn’t the most ideal scenario. But at this point it may be the team’s best option after watching the performance of the offensive line in Washington.
• I created quite a bit of discussion on Tuesday when I suggested the Buccaneers should consider trading running back LeGarrette Blount. While I have no inside knowledge of any trade talks, looking at it, it seems to be something Tampa Bay should at least explore. With Doug Martin clearly the starter – as confirmed by Schiano this week – Blount could possibly bring as high as a second-round pick in a trade with teams looking for a No.1 running back.
First of all I totally understand how important it is to have a capable backup running back. We saw how critical it was last season for the Buccaneers after injuries to Blount and Earnest Graham. But with Doug Martin, Michael Smith, and Mossis Madu, the Buccaneers may be better off this season than last, even without Blount.
If Dominik were offered a second or even a third-round draft pick for backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky and didn’t take it, most Bucs’ fans would think he were crazy. Yet a majority of NFL teams go into every season with huge drop off at what is the most critical position on any NFL team – the quarterback!
I also question how effective Blount will be as a backup. He clearly isn’t a third down back, and I am not sure how the Buccaneers plan to utilize Blount coming off the bench. He isn’t a short-yardage back either. Blount, going into his third season, still has numerous false steps in the backfield before hitting the hole, so would he be beneficial on third-and-short or around the goal line?
After two seasons Blount is still a one-dimensional type running back. And for those who keep saying you need to have a two-headed attack at running back to win in the NFL, just take a look at the two teams that played in the Super Bowl last season, the Giants and Patriots. One was ranked 20th in the league while the other was dead last. Yes, the Super Bowl winning New York Giants finished 32nd.
Of course in a perfect world it would be great to have two No.1 running backs on the roster, but it would also be great to have two No. 1 quarterbacks, or right guards for that matter. It most certainly would be a gamble, but if the reward was great enough it is at least something Tampa Bay should consider.Beat Writer Dory LeBlanc
•Wide receiver is one of the few positions of depth for the Buccaneers. With two locks in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the competition for the assumed remaining four spots has been a battle over the last month, and got even hotter when the Bucs claimed Jordan Shipley off of waivers from Cincinnati 10 days ago.
With essentially no offseason workouts, and a very short period of time to learn the basics of Mike Sullivan’s playbook, Shipley started behind the curve and needed a big game against Washington to ensure his spot. The only problem is, Shipley could’ve made the loudest noise in returns, but was silent – signaling fair catch on all three opportunities (one punt, two kick). To be fair on the kickoffs, Billy Cundiff kicked two touchbacks, and as far as the fair catch on the punt, Shipley may just not have liked what he saw ahead of him.
If Shipley was counting on the returns as a way to seal the deal with final roster cuts coming up Friday, the defense is more to blame than the three-year receiver out of Texas. The Bucs forced only one punt, which is where Shipley would be utilized on special teams with rookie Michael Smith more than likely a lock as the kick returner. On offense, Shipley was targeted three times, catching one pass – a 12 yarder in the middle of the field. One of the reasons the Bengals released Shipley was the uncertainty of how he would bounce back from reconstructive knee surgery after being cleared to practice July 30th.
At One Buc, Shipley has looked every bit of the slant receiver he was his rookie season when he caught 52 passes for 600 yards, but with wideout not necessarily an area of need for Tampa Bay, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bucs just don’t think Shipley is where he should be after missing so much time not only with the Buccaneers, but football in general. Keeping Shipley and hoping he catches on and the knee holds up is a gamble, and if there weren’t six other receivers vying for the coveted four spots, it may have been an easier bet for the Bucs.
•One of the most important parts of the offensive line puzzle is making sure all the pieces fit together. The easier and most efficient way to do this is to make sure that the players are on the field together. Schiano decided against this theory in order to rest starters Donald Penn, Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah and Jeremy Trueblood and left Jamon Meredith who got the nod in place of Davin Jospeh to fend for himself on the second team line.
Meredith held his own at right guard, but his progress at the position could have been hastened if he would have played with the starters. Chemistry is the key ingredient to a successful O-Line, and the Bucs need to make sure they are giving Josh Freeman ample protection and opening up running lanes for Doug Martin before the season opener next week. Coupled with Schiano wanting to test the waters at right tackle with both Trueblood and Demar Dotson, the right side of the line is in some trouble.
Escaping more injuries is the Bucs’ top priority, but getting the new linemen installed and working as a well-oiled machine has to be on Tampa Bay’s short list of things to do. The Bucs O-Line will undoubtedly be working hard when they resume practice to establish the chemistry it needs heading into the regular season, but it would have been nice to have them play together in a live-game against another team.
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