The Buccaneers made some questionable roster moves on Friday as the team trimmed its roster down to 52 players – one below the league limit. Actually, some roster moves were very
Tampa Bay has done a great job of adding more talent this offseason, including signing three veteran starters in wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright in free agency, and adding three more starters via the draft in strong safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David. Those newcomers played a big role in the team’s solid showing in the third preseason game, a 30-28 victory over a playoff-caliber team in the New England Patriots.
But as the team assembled the back end of the depth chart on Friday, Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, player personnel director Dennis Hickey and head coach Greg Schiano made some mistakes that could come back to haunt the team in 2012 and deserve to be pointed out.RELEASING UNDERWOOD WAS STUPID
Tampa Bay’s most surprising roster cut had to be releasing Tiquan Underwood, who routinely made big plays in practice. Underwood was the Bucs’ most productive receiver in the preseason, catching a team-leading nine passes for 158 yards. He led the Bucs in receptions in the preseason opener at Miami with three receptions for 76 yards (25.3 avg.) and in the preseason finale at Washington with six catches for 82 yards (13.7 avg.).
For a team that admittedly wants to take shots down the field and make big plays in the passing game, cutting the team’s fastest receiver and best big-play threat not named Jackson doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, it could be considered downright stupid as Underwood led all Bucs receivers with four catches of 20 yards or more in the preseason, including a 44-yard reception against the Dolphins that was Tampa Bay's longest offensive play of the exhibition season.
Underwood is the only Bucs receiver that consistently demonstrated the ability to separate from coverage and he a great game against the Redskins on Wednesday night with a sideline toe-tapping 23-yard catch, a 39-yard kickoff return, which showed his special teams value, and a big hustle play tracking down a Washington linebacker who was close to returning an interception for a touchdown.
The Bucs kept just five receivers – Jackson, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter – in order to make room for seven cornerbacks on the roster. But Benn is coming off a torn MCL that sidelined him for the entire preseason. Benn has playmaking ability, but hasn’t caught more than 30 passes in either of his first two NFL seasons and he will be a game-time decision for the season opener against Carolina on September 9. If Benn can’t play, the Bucs will only have four receivers active against the Panthers.
The fact that Underwood was released and the team kept Parker is downright baffling. Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said that Doug Martin “outperformed” LeGarrette Blount to win the starting running back job in the preseason.
“I think – when you watch the tape, and LeGarrette’s a smart guy – when he watches the tape, he sees that he got outperformed,” Schiano said last week.
Blount had only 63 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries (2.9 avg.), and Martin did slightly better with 97 yards and two scores on 27 carries (3.6 avg.). But using that same measuring stick at the receiver position, there is no way Parker outperformed Underwood on tape.
Parker had one catch for seven yards in the preseason opener and two catches for 25 yards against the Patriots. He finished the preseason with three catches for 32 yards (10.7 avg.) and fumbled two punt returns, one of which resulted in a turnover. After a couple muffed punts in 2011, combined with multiple muffed punts in practice and two in the preseason, Parker can’t be trusted as a punt returner due to ball security issues. Isn’t ball security supposed to be a hot button issue for Schiano?
Stroughter, who also made the team over Underwood, had four catches for 53 yards – two for 23 yards and a touchdown against New England, and two for 30 yards against Washington – in the preseason and won the punt return job after Parker fumbled it away. But Stroughter lacks Underwood’s speed, evidenced by the fact that none of his receptions went for 20 yards or more in the preseason.
Newly acquired receiver Jordan Shipley was also released after an unproductive preseason and failing to make a splash in practice.BUCS SURPRISINGLY KEEP 7 CORNERBACKS
The Bucs will likely keep six cornerbacks on their roster in 2012, but were forced to keep seven initially because E.J. Biggers won’t be ready for the first week or two of the regular season due a broken foot that sidelined him for all of the preseason.
Surprisingly, Lewis made the team despite another inconsistent preseason. In the preseason finale, Lewis had two pass breakups and a tackle for loss, but dropped an interception, had a pass interference penalty in the red zone and was beaten on a couple of plays, including a 46-yard catch by Anthony Armstrong. The team appears to be unwilling to admit a mistake with its 2010 third-round draft pick, who has been a bust thus far in his NFL career.
Teams always use the line of “keeping the best 53 players” when it comes to formulating the 53-man roster, but oftentimes it’s as phony as teams saying they will draft “the best player available” and then drafting for need instead. It rarely happens. Underwood is a better player as a receiver than Lewis is as a cornerback, and when Biggers is ready to play Lewis will likely be released.
Undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson made the Bucs at the cornerback position, and that seemed well deserved after a solid training camp and preseason. Johnson lacks the ball skills to ever develop into a starter, but could provide quality depth behind Aqib Talib, Wright, Anthony Gaitor, Biggers and sixth-year veteran Brandon McDonald, who was recently acquired.
Despite playing in the pass-happy NFC South, the plan of keeping six cornerbacks through the season seems rather excessive when considering that sixth-round draft pick Keith Tandy can play both cornerback and safety.KEEPING GRIMM WAS A MISTAKE
The Bucs kept five safeties on their 52-man roster, but reserving a spot for third-year veteran Cody Grimm was a mistake. The reason the Bucs did so was because he has 12 games worth of starting experience, which is not a lot, but more than any other Tampa Bay player at the safety position, Ronde Barber, who became the starting free safety this year after spending his first 15 years in the NFL at cornerback.
Barber, rookies Barron and Tandy and second-year player Ahmad Black are on the depth chart ahead of Grimm, but undrafted rookie Sean Baker deserved a roster spot ahead of Grimm in terms of his ability and upside.
Baker has been solid, but not spectacular during training camp, yet stepped up and picked off a couple of passes and recovered a fumble in addition to compiling six tackles at Washington in the preseason finale. 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 much more opportunistic than Grimm, who finished the preseason with just seven tackles, including four tackles against the Redskins.
Meanwhile, Baker finished the preseason with 10 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Yet apparently Baker didn’t “outperform” Grimm, who still has a penchant for diving at players’ ankles and missing some tackles. In 14 regular season NFL games, Grimm has totaled just two interceptions and one forced fumble during his injury-hit career and it seems he has hit his developmental ceiling. It would have been interesting to see where Baker’s NFL ceiling is, but that is going to be decided by another team, unfortunately.TAMPA BAY’S DEFENSIVE TACKLE DEBACLE
What in the world are the Buccaneers doing at the defensive tackle position? The starters are Gerald McCoy, who has ended the last two seasons on injured reserve with two biceps tears, and Roy Miller, who is in a contract year after a back injury contributed to him losing his starting nose tackle job to Brian Price a year ago.
Dominik made the right move in trading Price, whose constant hamstring issues and demeanor were becoming a problem in Tampa Bay, prior to the start of training camp. While Price apparently made Chicago’s 53-man roster, he is expected to be released in favor of former Bear Amobi Okoye, who was signed by the Bucs this offseason, hampered by a knee injury, and released on Friday.
So Dominik and the Bucs stole a seventh-round pick for Price, who may wind up out of football this year. What else does Tampa Bay have to show at the defensive tackle position? The team only has three players listed as defensive tackles on its roster. One has to believe that the open roster spot might be used for a fourth defensive tackle.
Behind Miller is offseason acquisition Gary Gibson, a sixth-year veteran who has been battling a sore Achilles tendon throughout training camp and the preseason where he played sparingly and didn’t record a tackle.
Behind McCoy right now is utility man Wallace Gilberry, who could be compared to former versatile Bucs defensive linemen Tyoka Jackson and Ellis Wyms. It should be noted that Gilberry has the most career sacks – 14 – of any Bucs defensive linemen, but at 6-foot-2, 268 pounds, can he hold up inside against the run when McCoy needs a breather?
Gilberry offers up more pass rush than Frank Okam, who was released on Friday, did. But stopping the run was a major issue for Tampa Bay, which ranked dead last in that category in 2011 by surrendering 150 yards per game. If McCoy goes down with another injury, the run-stopping ability at the defensive tackle position goes down, too.
The Bucs kept five players listed as defensive ends in Adrian Clayborn, Michael Bennett, Gilberry, George Johnson and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Keeping Daniel Te’o-Nesheim over Okam seems questionable at this point, especially considering how undersized the Bucs defensive line appears to be in short yardage and goal line situations.
It appeared as if Dominik had bolstered the defensive tackle position in the offseason with the addition of Okoye and Gibson, but now that Okoye and Price are gone and Gibson has a gimpy ankle, the defensive tackle position appears to be on shaky ground in Tampa Bay.BUCS OFFENSIVE LINE TAKES A HIT
All season long the Bucs will feel the sting of losing right guard Davin Joseph, who had knee surgery on Monday. None of the candidates to replace him – Ted Larsen, Derek Hardman or journeyman Jamon Meredith – shined in the preseason finale at Washington with all three contributing to Tampa Bay giving up five first half sacks. Larsen appears as if he will get the starting nod on opening day due to his experience, but the depth along the offensive line is woeful outside of reserve tackle Demar Dotson.
Meredith has looked bad in the preseason and is only making the roster due to the fact that he has four years worth of experience. Hardman hasn’t stepped up his game this year despite the team needing him to with Joseph’s injury, and rookie Bradley Sowell has some potential, but needs a year or two to develop and should have been placed on the practice squad.
One more injury to any of the team’s remaining starters along the interior of the offensive line – Nicks, Larsen or center Jeremy Zuttah – would be disastrous for Tampa Bay due to the lack of quality depth.
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