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October 12, 2012 @ 1:00 pm
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SR's Fab 5 - 10-12

Written by Scott
Scott Reynolds


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FREE SR's FAB 5: Is LB Lavonte David the next Derrick Brooks for Tampa Bay's defense? What type of rivalry exists between David and MLB Mason Foster? Is Doug Martin's lack of speed holding him back in the NFL? Which Bucs defender is a bargain? Get the answers and more in this week's edition of SR's Fab 5.
By popular demand my SR’s Fab 5 column is back on a regular basis, Bucs fans. You can count on this premium Pewter Insider column every Friday on PewterReport.com. Because of my plentiful duties as publisher, each SR’s Fab 5 will be leaner – and perhaps meaner – than in the past. Some of the biggest SR’s Fab 5 columns were between 5,000-7,000 words. When time allows, lengthy columns like that may surface from time to time.

In order for me to be able to produce quality – and I do stress the word “quality” – SR’s Fab 5 columns on a weekly basis the word count will be closer to 2,500-3,000 words, but I promise to make them as insightful and information-rich as possible.

This week's SR's Fab 5 column is free for all Bucs fans to read. If you enjoy the content and the type of analysis offered, I encourage you to to become a Pewter Insider subscriber by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or by clicking here. For just $10 per year, you'll get access to well over 200 premium articles, including 10 Pewter Report digital magazines, mini-camp, OTA and training camp insider reports as well as NFL Draft scoop from the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. And your subscription helps support PewterReport.com and its message boards, and grants you access to the Pewter Insider board, too.

Now on to the latest SR's Fab 5.

Here are some things that caught my attention at One Buccaneer Place this week:

FAB 1. It won’t make Lavonte David happy, but go ahead and make the comparison. The Buccaneers’ undersized 2012 second-round pick resembles Derrick Brooks with the way he looks in a football uniform, the way he runs and the way he tackles.

“I know a lot about Derrick Brooks,” David said. “I watched him at Florida State. He’s a great football player. He’s a great person as well. A lot of people are trying to compare my game to his but you can’t really do that. He’s one of the all-time greats. I’m just trying to make a name for myself.”

David isn’t one of the all-time greats yet, but after four games the rookie – who isn’t playing like a rookie – shows such tremendous promise that it’s hard not to compare him to Brooks, who is not only the greatest linebacker in Tampa Bay history, he is also the franchise’s greatest player next to Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon.

Brooks finished his rookie season with 79 tackles (60 solo, 19 assists), two forced fumbles and one sack. Through the first four games of his rookie campaign in 1995, Brooks had 28 tackles, including a season-high nine against Washington.

Through the first four contests of the 2012 season, David has 33 tackles (27 solo, six assists), including a career-high 14 stops against Washington. That’s five more tackles than Brooks, who started every game at weakside linebacker in 1995, had at that point of his career.

David is on pace to record 132 tackles in 2012, which would eclipse Mason Foster’s mark of 126 from a year ago and shatter Brooks’ rookie total by 53 tackles. Keep in mind that David is not getting any help from the assistant coaches padding the stats once they review the game film. Under Greg Schiano, the Bucs’ tackle totals will not change from the stats that are given by the NFL statisticians at the stadium each Sunday and will match those on NFL.com.

Every former Bucs head coach from Sam Wyche to Tony Dungy to Jon Gruden engaged in adjusting tackle totals, which are not an official NFL statistic, and that practice has benefited players in the past like Brooks.

However, it’s not the amount of tackles that has many thinking No. 54 actually looks like No. 55 on the gridiron. David has incredible instincts, blazing speed and is one of the most sure tacklers on the team.

There is a reason why Pewter Report forecasted David as Tampa Bay’s top rookie in 2012 – over strong safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin, both of whom were drafted in the first round. He’s the real deal.

The fact that David is calling the defensive plays as a rookie when Foster, who is in his second year, is fully capable of continuing to do so speaks volumes about what the Bucs coaches think of the rookie’s leadership skills. Although veteran middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson called the defense and was the undisputed leader while Brooks was a young player, Brooks still had plenty of leadership ability, and that was able to manifest itself in the years to come after Nickerson’s departure in 1996.

“Brooks was a leader on and off the field, and that was kind of my role throughout my college career,” David said. “The coaches brought me in, they felt like I was a good leader and a good football player, too.”

FAB 2. It’s early, perhaps way too early to be making this kind of comparison, but if the play of rookie weakside linebacker Lavonte David resembles that of Tampa Bay’s legendary linebacker, Derrick Brooks, it’s not out of the question to admit that the play of middle linebacker Mason Foster is beginning to resemble that of former Bucs great Hardy Nickerson. Keep in mind that I believe Nickerson is one of the franchise’s top 5 players of all time, so I don’t throw around that compliment lightly.

The reason I say that is because Foster had a Nickerson-like performance against New York in Week 2, recording a career-high 13 tackles (12 solo), two tackles for loss and an interception, in addition to knocking out running back Ahmad Bradshaw (swollen vertebrae) and wide receiver Domenik Hixon (concussion) with two big hits.

One of the fun things about covering Nickerson and Brooks for five years together with the Buccaneers from 1995-99 was watching them compete for the tackle total lead each season. Nickerson won that duel three out of five times (1995-97).

Fortunately for Nickerson, his franchise-record 214 tackles will never be broken as long as Greg Schiano is roaming the sidelines in Tampa Bay. The reason is because Schiano and his staff are not adjusting the tackle totals after watching the game film as the coaching staffs under Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris used to do. Tackles are not an official NFL statistic and teams are responsible for keeping their own tackle totals.

Under Schiano, the Bucs are using the stats from Sundays, which align with those on NFL.com, instead of going back and adding in more assists to pad players’ tackle totals as is customary around the league. As a result, if Foster keeps at his current pace and leads the team for a second straight year in tackles he will finish with 144 – 70 short of Nickerson’s mark.

A Bucs defender would have to average 13.5 tackles per game to top that mark. Foster leads the team with 36 stops and but is only averaging nine tackles per game through the first four contests of the year. He would have to average 15 tackles per game to surpass that mark, which isn’t going to happen. I would bet on Tampa Bay making the playoffs this year before that happens.

But what Foster can do is beat out David for the distinction of being the team’s leading tackler, a title he held last year as a rookie with 126 stops, which was the most by any first-year player in the NFL in 2011. Foster leads David by three tackles, 36-33, due to David’s career-best 14-tackle, three-tackle for loss effort against Washington prior to the bye week.

“It wasn’t all me. Those 14 tackles came from a team effort,” David said. “I would have traded it all in for a win, though.”

When asked about inching closer to become Tampa Bay’s tackle leader and surpassing Foster, David shrugged it off.

“We don’t really pay too much attention to our tackles,” David said. “We just focus on doing our jobs.”

However, that may have been David just playing it cool in front of the media. Foster painted a slightly different picture of the tackle total competition.

“That’s a fun race to be a part of,” Foster said. “It’s a lot of fun watching Lavonte play and watching [rookie strong safety] Mark [Barron] play. Those guys are ballhawks and they are always around the ball. I don’t keep track of stats, but when I’m getting up off the pile, Lavonte is always there, too. You hear him talking right next to you. He’s a great guy. I love playing with him. We play well off each other.”

The mutual respect is there between Foster and David much like it was between Nickerson and Brooks back in the 1990s. Both of those former Pro Bowl linebackers made each other better by competing with each other and racing to the ball in practice and in the game and the same thing will happen between Foster and David over time.

“I saw Mason play in college,” David said. “We actually played against each other a couple of times. I knew he was a great football player. We feed off each other out there.”

Ironically, Foster and David squared off twice in the same year during 2010, which was Foster’s senior year at Washington and David’s junior year at Nebraska. David had five tackles against the Huskies in the Cornhuskers’ 56-21 win at Seattle during the regular season, and then had seven tackles, including a tackle for loss in the Holiday Bowl as the two teams held a rematch in the post-season.

Foster had 14 tackles in the home loss to Nebraska and 12 tackles (nine solo), three tackles for loss and two sacks and one pass breakup in the Holiday Bowl, which the Huskies (7-6) won 19-7 over the 18th-ranked Cornhuskers (10-4). Foster dominated Nebraska and was named the Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP.

I asked Foster, who sports a lot of Washington Huskies apparel around One Buccaneer Place each week, if he ever leans over to David in the linebackers meeting room and whispers, “Holiday Bowl” in his ear just to continually rub it in.

“All the time,” Foster said with a laugh. “I let him know I was the Holiday Bowl MVP. It’s just a little friendly reminder. He’s my roommate at the hotel, too, so we are always watching U-Dub or Nebraska. It’s real cool, though. He’s a great guy.”

When asked if David ever rubs the Cornhuskers’ dominant 56-21 win at Washington in his face, Tampa Bay’s middle linebacker dismisses it.

“No, I always let him know it’s the last one – the Holiday Bowl – that counts,” Foster said with a smile. “I got the trophy, I got the black jersey. I got the hardware. It’s a cool little rivalry between us. But I tell you what, I’m excited to play a long time next to Lavonte here in Tampa.”

Foster might end up falling short of Nickerson’s level when his career is all said and done, but he and David make a nice, youthful one-two punch at linebacker not seen in Tampa Bay since the days of Nickerson and Brooks nearly two decades ago.

FAB 3. Tampa Bay left defensive end Michael Bennett is playing lights out football this season, which happens to be a contract year. The former waiver wire claim from Seattle by Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik has made steady growth since joining the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent defensive lineman from Texas A&M four years ago.

In his first full season as a starter in 2010, Bennett notched 49 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and a career-high four sacks. Through four games this season, he’s already matched last year’s sack total with four, and he’s forced a career-high two fumbles to lead Tampa Bay in both categories.

Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said that Bennett had “slither,” which he says gives Bennett the ability to twist and contort his body to get by offensive tackles while going at full speed. And going full speed is a trademark of Bennett’s game. To say that Bennett is a high-motor player is an understatement.

At $2.7 million, which is the one-year restricted free agent tender offer he signed this season, Bennett is a bargain for the Buccaneers. Not only is Bennett valued for his pass rush in Tampa Bay, but also the way his energy sparks the defense in practice and on game days.

“That’s the way he plays – that’s his personality,” Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster said. “His mind works a mile a minute. When you are feeling tired or something is going wrong, Mike’s mentality is there to keep you going.”

Bucs front seven coach Bryan Cox is not surprised by Bennett’s hot start, and says that he has untapped potential to become one of the league’s better pass rushers.

“He’s a rare talent,” Cox said. “His speed coming off the edge is wonderful. We just try to get him matched up when he’s on the field and get him going. We’ll see how that continues to unfold as the season goes on.

“He’s done a very good job at the start of this season. He’s a versatile, strong, inside-outside pass rusher. He’s a pretty good combo pass rusher. He can do it on the edge on either side or in the middle.”

Bennett, who loves football, is unfazed by the fact that he is in a contract year and put in extra work this year to become a better pro – not just a higher paid pro.

“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes,” Bennett said. “This offseason I just worked on my pass rush. I just came in this wanting to do the best I can getting around the corner, dipping around the corner and understand how to beat those blocks. So far, so good.”

The Bucs have not had a double-digit sacker since Simeon Rice last accomplished that feat in 2005. It’s doubtful that Bennett can keep up his torrid pace of one sack per game, which would put him on pace for 16 – one shy of the Tampa Bay franchise record. But if he can stay healthy, Bennett should be able to notch six more QB captures over the next 12 games and become the latest Buccaneer to end the double-digit sack drought that has plagued the team over the last seven years.

FAB 4. I applauded the selection of Boise State running back Doug Martin when the Bucs traded up to get him in the first round with the 31st overall pick. He was an all-around running back that could run, catch and block, and had two back-to-back seasons of at least 1,200 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. However, his one detriment was his lack of breakaway speed. Martin is more quick than fast.

Through three preseason games and four regular season games in his rookie season, Martin has yet to rip off a run of 20 yards or more. The front office and coaching staff love Martin and are still high on him, despite the fact that his rushing totals have declined each game from 95 yards in Week 1 versus Carolina to 66 yards in Week 2 at New York to 53 yards in Week 3 at Dallas to just 33 yards against Washington.

One Bucs decision-maker not only compares Martin to Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice, but also to that of Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, which appears ridiculous right now. My concern is that Tampa Bay drafted an Errict Rhett-type player rather than a Warrick Dunn-type player due to Martin’s lack of elite speed.

Martin ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash in the 40-yard dash and didn’t choose to run it again during his pro day at Boise State, which was curious. Looking back at Martin’s career he was the only running back drafted in the first four rounds that didn’t average at least 5.0 yards per carry during the 2011 college football season. Martin averaged 4.94 yards per carry last year.

While the player nicknamed the “Muscle Hamster” made his living carving up opponents from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), he didn’t have the same level of success against non-conference schools with only three 100-yard games in the 12 games he carried the ball in. After healthy rushing averages during his junior season, Martin’s average yards-per-carry dropped in non-conference games as a senior.

Martin in non-WAC games in 2011
Martin vs. Georgia – 24 carries for 57 yards (2.4 avg.) and 1 TD
Martin vs. Toledo – 19 carries for 70 yards (3.7 avg.) and 0 TDs
Martin vs. Tulsa – 21 carries for 75 yards (3.6 avg.) and 1 TD
Martin vs. Arizona State – 31 carries for 151 yards (4.9 avg.) and 1 TD

Martin in non-WAC games in 2010
Martin vs. Virginia Tech – 12 carries for 83 yards (6.9 avg.) and 0 TDs
Martin vs. Oregon State – 17 carries for 105 yards (6.2 avg.) and 1 TD
Martin vs. Toledo – 8 carries for 56 yards (7.0 avg.) and 0 TDs
Martin vs. Utah – 17 carries for 147 yards (8.6 avg.) and 1 TD

Martin in non-WAC games in 2009
Martin vs. Oregon – 2 carries for 5 yards (2.5 avg.) and 0 TDs
Martin vs. Miami (OH) – 6 carries for 28 yards (4.7 avg.) and 2 TDs
Martin vs. UC-Davis – 16 carries for 41 yards (2.6 avg.) and 1 TD
Martin vs. TCU – 16 carries for 42 yards (2.6 avg.) and 1 TD

Martin had a healthy average during his junior season when he had better blocking, but his averages were rather pedestrian during his sophomore and senior seasons.

Don’t think I’m rooting against Martin. I’m certainly not. I hope he starts ripping off big runs and becomes the big-play back Tampa Bay envisioned when it drafted him.

At the same time, Martin has yet to break off a run or catch longer than 17 yards despite 110 touches through three preseason and four regular season games. It’s my job as a reporter to illustrate why that may not be happening. Sub-par blocking by Tampa Bay’s offensive line may be one reason, but there is a chance that the Bucs overestimated Martin’s speed and playmaking ability, too.

FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 next Friday on PewterReport.com:

• Unless the coaches decide to have a change of heart over the weekend prior to Sunday’s game, it appears as if former starting right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will be moved to right guard and start in place of Ted Larsen, who has upset the coaching staff with sub-par play. Larsen certainly isn’t as talented as the player he replaced in Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph, nor is he as talented as Trueblood.

In talking to Dotson this week, it sure sounded like Trueblood, who had quite a bit of time with the starters at right guard after missing Monday’s practice with an illness, was going to be lining up beside him.

“He’s a natural tackle, and he’s not real experienced at guard yet,” Dotson said of Trueblood. “It’s going to take a little time to work at it because he’s new. But I think with work and time I think he can develop into a guy that can play that position.

“I know he watched Davin, but there’s only so much you can learn from playing next to a guy that has played. You have to get in there and go through the fire himself. He missed a padded practice day on Monday, and that was a big key. I would like to see the guy get some more work at it, but he will be a guy I enjoy playing next to.”

• The reason the Bucs made the switch at right tackle in starting Dotson in place of Trueblood was because of Dotson’s superior pass protection skills. Tampa Bay privately admits it has lost some oomph in the running game without Trueblood and that over the past couple games the right side of the line hasn’t produced much in terms of running the ball behind Dotson and Larsen.

The hope is that adding Trueblood, whose strength is run blocking, to the starting lineup can help bolster the Bucs’ interior ground game and also allow the team to run more to the right side of the line to keep opponents guessing.

• The key to beating the visiting Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday is simple. Stop running back Jamaal Charles, who leads the NFL in rushing with 551 yards on 103 carries (5.4 avg.). Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has already squared off against Charles before – in college during the Red River rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas.

Charles had 79 yards on 17 carries (4.6 avg.) in Texas’ 28-21 loss to McCoy’s Oklahoma team in 2007. McCoy had a pair of tackles in that game as a redshirt freshman.

“This ain’t my first go around with this guy,” McCoy said. “I played against him at OU. He’s dynamic. He’s always been good. He’s an animal. If he gets in some space he’s got some juice to him. We have to do what we do. We have to be gap sound and set an edge and make everything run back into the defense. Don’t let them get outside. That’s what they’ve been doing to everybody else and I don’t see them changing it for us.”

Last modified on Friday, 19 October 2012 07:27

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  • avatar

    I agree the the linebacker position, viewed as such a liability a year ago, has gotten considerably better with Foster getting an actual offseason and David coming in. NO doubt about that. I also think Martin will get those long runs when it comes together. It's going to happen, he certainly has the drive and ability IMO. Great to read a '5! Thanks and a hat tip!
  • avatar

    With any luck the Bucs will do well against this sub-par Chiefs team and gain some needed confidence!
  • avatar

    I believe too that Bowers will be activated after this game, but for different reasons? The Bucs have to decide whether to offer Bennett a big contract and that yeah or nay will be based on Bowers play. I believe he will get a series to play in around game 10 or11 and slowly work him in a little more at a time until the season ends. There is no need to rush him in, but there is a need to evaluate him to confirm that he will be the starting LDE.
  • avatar

    "Martin has yet to break off a run or catch longer than 17 yards" Actually he has had three runs over 17 yards that were called back due to penalties away from the run. That isn't his fault. He also had a run down the sideline vs. the giants that looked like it was going to be a big time run until his face mask was grabbed and his head was violently jerked backwards....with no call. Also not his fault. Truth is Martin is running straight up the gut into 8 and 9 man boxes like he is asked. The few times he has actually got the ball outside or in space he has looked very good. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people revert to 40 times for reasoning when they don't know the real answer to a problem.
  • avatar

    I was also going to point out those called back runs....I don't think Martin is the problem at all. The play-calling and QB performance hasn't complimented the RBs to this point so its no wonder he hasn't had a big breakout performance but if those things are addressed then I can see a PR apology in the near future.
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