Today's edition of SR's Fab 5, which is typically a premium column reserved for our Pewter Insider subscribers, is FREE for all Buccaneers fans to read.
SR's Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
For decades the Buccaneers front office has always hired and promoted from within when it comes to college scouting. The lone exception would be the arrival of general manager Bruce Allen from Oakland in 2004. Since the mid-1990s, the organization has seen long-time regional scout Ruston Webster replace director of college scouting Tim Ruskell in 2001, and then promoted long-time area scout Dennis Hickey to that role in 2005 after Webster was promoted to the director of player personnel.
Upon Webster’s departure to Seattle where he served as the vice president of player personnel from 2006-09, Hickey served as new Bucs general manager Mark Dominik’s right-hand man in personnel beginning in 2009 when he was still Tampa Bay’s director of college scouting before being promoted to the director of player personnel last year. That’s when Dominik departed from the organization’s typical way of doing things and went outside Tampa Bay to hire the Bucs’ new director of college scouting, Eric Stokes, to fill Hickey’s previous role on May 29.
The 39-year old Stokes spent the previous 12 years with the Seattle Seahawks where he was first a player and then a scout, serving under the likes of Webster and Ruskell , the former Seahawks general manager, who are two close allies and former co-workers of Dominik in Tampa Bay. Dominik is thought of as a forward-thinking general manager who is eager to try new approaches when it comes to football and running an organization.
Not completely satisfied with Tampa Bay’s draft classes in recent years, Dominik wanted to bring in someone from outside of the organization that could bring new ideas and a fresh approach to the team’s college scouting.
“I’ve known Eric for years and I even scouted him as a player when he was a younger man coming out of Nebraska as a safety,” Dominik said. “In watching people around the league and who they are and how they carry themselves Eric was very attractive to me in that sense. He’s a very detailed, organized person who has a bright future in the NFL. I felt like it was an opportunity to really improve as an organization to hire a guy like that with his pedigree. He’s a new thinker that has drafted well over the last few years.”
While with Seattle, most recently as the team’s assistant director of college scouting from 2010 through the 2012 NFL Draft, Stokes was involved in the acquisition of first-round Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, third-round quarterback Russell Wilson, who emerged as both a starter and a star in 2012, and two starters in the secondary, safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman, both of whom were late-round picks. Dominik was impressed with Stokes’ production in Seattle and also what he heard from Webster and Ruskell, who gave Stokes glowing references.
“Not only those two people but Mike Yawarsky, who was on Seattle’s staff and is back scouting with us, was also helpful,” Dominik said. “We had a lot of feelers out there and Eric had to want to come to Tampa as well. I like the idea of bringing in new thinkers to our organization, and people that look at things from different angles. I think that’s why Seattle has had the success they’ve had with guys like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Russell Wilson and Russell Okung and some of the players they have been able to draft in recent years and Eric was a big part of that.
“He’s had a strong voice in that building. I’m good friends with John Schneider, who is the G.M. up in Seattle. There are a lot of reasons why he is here because a lot of people spoke very highly of him.”
Webster, who is now the general manager of the Tennessee Titans, is thrilled that Stokes was hired by the Buccaneers and is going through his first draft in Tampa Bay this year as the team’s director of college scouting.
“He’s very organized and he’s smart,” Webster said. “He’s a very good evaluator. He’s very hard working. He’s loyal. He has everything you want. I can’t imagine him not being successful and not being a big part of Mark’s team there. I think he’ll do a great job.”
“They are all good guys down there in Tampa. They are all low-ego guys and they will all work hard for one goal – to make the Bucs better. I think he’ll be great for them.”
While having a deep admiration for the thoroughness with which Tampa Bay has scouted players, Stokes’ approach is a bit more streamlined.
“I think I bring a little something different because of my philosophy,” Stokes said. “I’m more of a ‘go with your gut, go with your instinct’ kind of guy. I think that’s a little bit different perspective. I feel that I am a football guy through and through. I played at Nebraska and had a short stint in the NFL. I was raised through Ted Thompson and influenced by John Schneider and that’s how I see myself. I think that was an important element as to why I was targeted and thought that I would be the right fit.”
Drafting a football player like the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Wilson to be an NFL quarterback because of his overwhelming intangibles despite the lack of ideal measureables is what a “gut feeling” is all about.
“The Buccaneers attack scouting players from so many different angles,” Stokes said. “They like some of the data, but there aren’t that many differences when you get down to it. The biggest difference may be some of their web-based stuff, some of the data-based stuff. I think attacking a player from so many different angles is the biggest difference. I’m kind of a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I like to keep it simpler. I go with my instincts and my gut, but I am having my eyes opened to this type of analyzation. That’s one thing I’ve definitely taken away from being here. It’s different, and it’s opened my eyes.”
As Stokes continues to work on his first draft in Tampa Bay, he likes how open to his different philosophies Dominik and Hickey have been, and how much he has learned about scouting from Tampa Bay’s systems that have already been in place.
“Mark is one of these forward thinkers and he is always looking for something different and wondering how he and the organization can get better. He’s looking from me to add to that,” Stokes said. “Given my background as a player, I am always searching for ‘What is the essence of a football player?’ That’s kind of one of my own personal questions. I want to know the essence of a football player. What is his character? What is his talent? What is going to allow us to win football games with him? I think those are some of the key questions that I get into, and the characteristics I keep coming back to are: tough, smart, reliable, competitive guys. Those are the guys I am always looking for. That’s the makeup I am looking for.
“That’s what my interview centered around. I don’t think you can have enough of those kind of guys, first and foremost. I think my different way of attacking things helped. That’s why this mesh has been so good. I’m learning some things from them and they are learning some things from me. I definitely think we are getting better as a front office.”FAB 2.
Having a different approach to scouting college players that relies more on a simpler, gut instinct from watching tape rather than all sorts of other types of analyzation is not the only element new director of college scouting Eric Stokes is bringing to Tampa Bay. He’s also high on one of the scariest terms when it comes to NFL player evaluation – the word “potential.”
While most NFL front offices would rather focus on the other “p” word – “production” – Stokes doesn’t shy away from looking at a player that has potential due to his unique physical characteristics and measureables. That has aided some teams, such as the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers in drafting pass rushers such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith in the first round, respectively. Both Pierre-Paul and Smith have already exceeded their production from college and are taking their respective games to new heights.
“I am always driven by size, speed, length and the word ‘potential,’” Stokes said. “I do believe in the word ‘potential.’ If you have a raw player, an unfinished player, a diamond in the rough, give that player more credit for that. Lock into that player more because coaching on this level is so different from coaching at the college level. Players can truly develop and become something with NFL coaching.”
“Football is your business here, football is your job. There are no outside distractions. If you have the right makeup, if you have the right drive if you want to be successful, you can be as successful as you want to be and have a career if you have the talent. The coaching at this level is on another level. They truly are the best coaches and the reason they are at this level. If you give them something to work with and they can spend the time with the players you can allow guys the chance to reach their potential.”
Stokes’ belief in great coaching is likely one of the organization’s reasons to seek improvements at the defensive backs position as Ron Cooper was let go this offseason after the secondary surrendered 297.4 yards per game through the air. In order to draft talented, developmental players with high ceilings a team needs great position coaches.
Stokes’ approach when it comes to taking chances on unique players with potential has been tried in Tampa Bay before without great results. In 2007, the Bucs used a third-round pick on linebacker Quincy Black, who looked like Tarzan, but played like Jane for years and developed slowly because he played in a non-traditional defense at New Mexico. Black eventually developed into a starting strongside linebacker in Tampa Bay, but doesn’t have great instincts or Pro Bowl talent.
Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli and defensive end Kyle Moore, both of whom were drafted in 2009, also passed the eyeball test with their physiques, but were released after a couple of years because they lacked intangibles and instincts. The same fate may await another chiseled, physical specimen in wide receiver Arrelious Benn, a second-round pick in 2010 that has had trouble establishing himself in the NFL and is quickly sliding down Tampa Bay’s depth chart.
Finding the right guy with potential to take a chance on is Stokes’ main job with the Buccaneers.
“That’s one of my biggest changes in this organization. I give guys chances,” Stokes said. “That guy that is playing offense, maybe he is really a defensive player – some of that outside the box thinking. Maybe it’s taking a defensive tackle and making him a guard. Or maybe it’s taking a big tight end and making him an offensive tackle. Or maybe the big wideout that can become a tight end. Or maybe it’s cross-training the receiver that might be a DB or vice versa.
“Demar Dotson and Erik Lorig fall into that category in Tampa. At Seattle, Richard Sherman was a wide receiver at Stanford before he became a cornerback. Those are some of things that I am looking at, but the thing those guys all have in common is size, speed, length – they have something unique about them and that’s what you are trying to find.”
But what about some of the greatest performers in Tampa Bay history? Derrick Brooks was thought of as a safety by some NFL teams because of his slight build and small frame. He nearly slid out of the first round in 1995, but wound up as Tampa Bay’s greatest player of all time.
Fullback Mike Alstott is the Bucs’ all-time touchdown producer, but he wasn’t fast enough for most teams. His draft slide was stopped in the second round in 1996 by Tampa Bay.
A year later, a very productive, yet undersized cornerback named Ronde Barber didn’t wow scouts with his 40-yard dash time and fell to the third round. That’s where the Bucs picked him and he wound up picking off more than 40 passes to become the team’s all-time leading interceptor.
Brooks, Alstott and Barber had tons of production in college, but were not considered “potential” guys because they weren’t oozing with athleticism and top-end measureables in the minds of most NFL coaches and general managers at the time. What does Stokes think about that?
“I spoke a lot about that in my interview,” Stokes said. “I’m always more cautious of those players because I’m typically going to lean towards the big, fast, long guy. Mark always jokes with me and says, ‘I know you want the big, fast guy.’ Generally, you have to be very cautious of anomalies and exceptions. If you begin to make too many exceptions for guys you begin to become a team of exceptions and that can be a dangerous game. Exceptions are not always exceptional.
“I’m always more cautious of those guys and I’m probably going to role the dice on the big guy that may be more unrefined and raw. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t want a Ronde Barber, but I think a lot of that was my schooling and where I came from.”
One of the reasons Dominik was drawn to Stokes is because he wants to field a bigger, badder version of the Buccaneers. It started two years ago with drafting defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. The Bucs used to have smallish, undersized defensive ends with quickness. Simeon Rice was 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, while Greg Spires was 6-foot-1, 260 pounds when Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl a decade ago. Now teams have gotten bigger, stronger and faster offensive linemen and the Bucs have seen the need to go big along the defensive line, too.
Bowers is 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, and Clayborn is 6-foot-3, 275 pounds. The league’s top defensive ends in terms of sack artists are Houston’s J.J. Watt, Carolina’s Charles Johnson and Minnesota’s Jared Allen. Watt, the NFL’s best defensive player with 20.5 sacks in 2012, is 6-foot-6, 295 pounds. Johnson is 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, while Allen is 6-foot-6, 270 pounds.
“When I look at these playoff teams – Seattle, Green Bay, San Fran, Baltimore, Houston – those are all big, physical teams in the end. They aren’t just built for speed. They are built to last. The Pittsburgh Steelers teams – I’ve looked at a lot of that stuff. Who are the teams that are always in the playoffs? I’m always researching trends and history. I’m a big history nut of this game.”
Dominik and the Bucs continued that trend with its first-round pick of big strong safety Mark Barron, who is 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, and found an exceptional player comparable to Brooks in linebacker Lavonte David, who is a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds. Stokes, who was a huge fan of Barron in the draft last year, will continue to look to upgrade the Bucs’ roster in terms of size – and competition.
“I wasn’t here when they drafted those guys,” Stokes said. “I’m more a part of the magic that Seattle had with Russell Wilson and those guys. We were desperately searching for a quarterback in Seattle last year. We had just gotten Matt Flynn, but I’m a big believer in always competing. You are hearing that now more with Josh Freeman. We’re going to bring in some more competition.
“My job as a director of college scouting is to give Mark, Dennis Hickey and Coach [Greg] Schiano as much information as I can to make good decisions. But in doing that, I want to get players that put as much pressure on this roster and make guys uncomfortable in a way. I want guys to have as much competition as we can. That’s how we’re going to get better. That’s what we want. That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to put as much pressure on this roster as I can and raise the level of competition. The coaches will take care of the rest.”FAB 3.
Given the type of player that new Bucs director of college scouting Eric Stokes is looking for, Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson is an intriguing guy that Tampa Bay could be interested in on Day 3 of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Jefferson was an interesting participant in the East-West Shrine Game practices in St. Petersburg, Fla. this week. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, Jefferson stood out as an incredible physical specimen. The fact that he’s from Rutgers and played for Greg Schiano already puts him on the Bucs’ radar because of the familiarity between the tight end and his former head coach. Jefferson said he would love to play again for Schiano.
“Greg Schiano is down here in my territory because I’m from Winter Haven,” Jefferson said. “I was born in raised in Winter Haven, Fla., just around the corner. It would be an honor to be reunited with Coach Schiano. Being in his program a long time he has instilled a lot of things in me. Going into his program I would already know a lot of things, his teachings and his sayings. It would be a good, fresh start, but one that I’ve had before. I would love to play for him again.”
Jefferson has been one of the standout players for the East squad, using his size to present a big target for quarterbacks Collin Klein, Colby Cameron and Nathan Stanley. He routinely made a couple of big catches in practice daily, and has worked on his hands over the past year.
“I improved on catching and my route running,” Jefferson said. “I got a lot better at it. I honed in on it a lot more and I studied guys in the NFL during my senior year to mimic what they are doing. I want to be able to do both – catching and blocking.”
Schiano signed Jefferson as a highly recruited quarterback at Rutgers before switching him to tight end. Jefferson’s history of playing QB has helped his overall understanding of the passing game and how to find holes in zone coverage. That’s the type of characteristic that Stokes and the Buccaneers might find intriguing.
Despite his physical traits and ability, Jefferson was underused in the passing game, catching just 22 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown in his Scarlet Knights career.
“In our offense we had great receivers and the way it was set up they were making plays,” Jefferson said. “I didn’t get as many balls as I wanted, but when they put me in I executed the plays. I was happy with what I had. I wanted more, but it was just the circumstances. I need to work on the whole tight end craft. I’m looking every day to improve, so I’m excited about this opportunity. I’m working on my technique every day.
“It’s definitely exciting being a part of the East-West Shrine game. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. There aren’t too many people doing what we get to do right now. I’m taking advantage of every opportunity and enjoying it.”
With Tampa Bay needing an infusion of talent at the tight end position, Jefferson might be a guy to keep an eye on during the East-West Shrine game on Saturday. The Bucs will be, given his intriguing talent, size and history with Schiano at Rutgers.FAB 4.
As it turns out, the Buccaneers have not fired defensive line coach Randy Melvin as PewterReport.com reported on Wednesday. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik disputed our report on Friday in an interview with ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas,
who reported the hiring of quarterbacks coach John McNulty, which we suspected a week ago in last week’s SR’s Fab 5.
“Randy Melvin is our defensive line coach,’’ Dominik told Yasinskas. “He has never been fired or terminated from his contract. He’s handled this extremely well. Randy Melvin is our defensive line coach for 2013.’’
While several Bucs players set career highs with sacks in 2012, including defensive end Michael Bennett (nine), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (five) and defensive ends Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (four) and Da’Quan Bowers (three), under Melvin’s watch, and McCoy made the Pro Bowl for the first time, the Bucs ranked 29th in the NFL with just 27 sacks.
We have to protect this trusted source that revealed this information to us, so all we can deduce is that is that the Bucs were at least contemplating making a change at the defensive line coaching position based upon what we were told.
Was Tampa Bay thinking about replacing Melvin? Was the team attempting to upgrade its coaching staff at the defensive line position, but did a possible coach they were targeting go elsewhere or turn down the opportunity?
Or did we simply get some bad information from a source, which unfortunately has happened before to everyone that has covered an NFL team?
Keep in mind that Pewter Report has been way out in front of a
couple of other stories in the past. In December of 2009, we reported
that Bucs personnel director Doug Williams was going to be fired. That
ultimately happened, but not until a few months later after the 2010 NFL
Draft for the reasons we outlined in our original report.
We also heard from multiple league sources last spring that Bucs CB Aqib Talib was on the trading block, only to have head coach Greg Schiano come out and refute the report publicly, implying that Talib was a Buccaneer man. Six weeks into the 2012 season, Talib was traded to New England for a fourth-round pick.
We’ll try to get some answers to this story next week in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl. Let’s just say there are some folks at One Buccaneer Place that were surprised to hear the news about the team retaining Melvin, too. FAB 5.
Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 next Friday:
• In league circles, Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik is gaining more credit and prestige in terms of his forward-thinking approach. One such way is Dominik’s recent practice that begin in 2009 with tight end Kellen Winslow of staying away from upfront signing bonus that can have a long-term negative impact on the salary cap due to proration and doing more deals that include the first year or two’s worth of guaranteed money. That way, if a player that was signed to a long-term deal and turns out to be a bust the team doesn’t have any dead salary cap money bogging down the team for years to come.
It was that type of thinking when it came to the salary cap that is being mimicked in St. Louis and elsewhere, that attracted new director of college scouting Eric Stokes to Tampa Bay last May.
“Obviously I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t all in and had total faith and confidence in Mark and what he’s done,” Stokes said. “Being able to see his forward thinking and his presence and his command of things, I’m impressed. He’s thoughtful. The way he can process information. I can throw a lot of things at Mark and he can decipher it pretty quickly. He’s witty. I really appreciate how he can look at things from different angles. Mark is always firing questions at you, and some of those questions catch me by surprise. He’s always looking at things differently and outside the box.
“His salary cap approach is going to be a trend-setter. That’s one of the things that I love about him and I’m trying to take away from my interaction with him. Any time you have the time to spend with him you are going to come away with something out of it. We’re both kind of Midwest guys and come from similar backgrounds. He’s a humble guy and a hard-working guy. He’s a guy I want to keep pace with as we sprint through this thing.”
• PewterReport.com is reporting that cornerback Myron Lewis, the team’s third-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, will get another shot to develop into the player. The Bucs have no plans on cutting him prior to training camp and will allow him to compete during the preseason for a roster spot.
No, Lewis doesn’t have any illicit pictures of anyone in the Buccaneers organization. And no, Tampa Bay doesn’t appear to be holding on to Lewis because of pride due to the third-round pick the team has invested in him.
Instead, the Bucs still see the raw talent in the 6-foot-2, 205-pound cornerback and want to see if better coaching can turn Lewis into a player. Obviously Tampa Bay didn’t feel defensive backs coach Ron Cooper, who worked closely with the cornerbacks, didn’t serve Lewis or any other Bucs defensive back as the organization let him out of his contract so he could coach DBs at the University of South Florida.
There’s been no doubt that Lewis has been a bust in Tampa Bay. Despite the desperation at the cornerback position last year after Aqib Talib was traded and Eric Wright was suspended for using Adderall, the team turned to undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson and some street free agents in Danny Gorrer and LeQuan Lewis instead of turning to the Vanderbilt product.
In his three years with the Bucs, Lewis has been nicked with injuries, but has also been a healthy scratch on plenty of occasions. His on-field experience mostly consists of special teams as he has a combined 19 tackles, three passes defensed and no interceptions since entering the league in 2010.
• As the Bucs were clearing out their locker on New Year’s Eve, Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy admitted that it took some time for the team to buy into former college head coach Greg Schiano’s way of doing things, but he appreciated the way Schiano and his staff weren’t too stubborn to resist positive change and input from the players.
“His way of doing things to us was to us unorthodox, and with any new thing change is not going to be easy,” McCoy said of Schiano. “It’s going to be hard and there are going to be growing pains. You make adjustments in the offseason and you tweak things. He’s grading everybody and himself I’m sure very critically so we can make sure that we are not in this position again next year.
“The best thing about [the end of the season] is we get to sit down and be as honest as possible with our coaches and what we liked and what we didn’t like, and what we want changed and what we don’t want changed. That doesn’t determine what will happen and what won’t happen, but the fact that the door is open is big. It’s not offered everywhere, but it’s offered here. That’s why I love our coaching staff. Not all the suggestions that were made were used, but the fact that the door was open was all that mattered and that I could go in and talk. If I felt like I couldn’t go in there it would have been frustrated. The door being opened that means everything.”
• While there are no superstar players like quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III or running back Trent Richardson in the 2013 NFL Draft, the draft is solid at several positions, according to Bucs director of college scouting Eric Stokes.
“I like the offensive line and D-line depth,” Stokes said. “There are going to be some players at wide receiver. I would say those are going to be the top areas. The secondary has some guys, but I think the tackles, guards and DTs are going to get people excited. There is going to be some quality players throughout at those positions. I think you are going to really see the draft hone in on those positions in particular.”
• One of the benefits to being a Pewter Insider subscriber in 2013 is access to four special Pewter Report Get2gether events during the year. The first Pewter Report Get2gether event for Pewter Insiders will be held on Sunday, February 17 at Courtside Grille Tampa at 13234 Race Track Road from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. This event, which will be publicized next week on PewterReport.com, will be capped at 150 Bucs fans and is accessible only through RSVP’ing on the Pewter Insider message board (a thread will be posted next week) on a first-come, first-served basis.
This Pewter Report Get2gether event – like all four this year – will be catered with free appetizers, soft drinks and tea, courtesy of Pewter Report and Courtside Grille. Drink specials will also be provided to Pewter Insider subscribers, in addition to food specials for those Bucs fans that want to purchase beer, wine or mixed drinks, and prefer to purchase eat lunch or dinner at Courtside Grille Tampa rather than just feast on appetizers.
This Pewter Report Get2gether will also feature an appearance and autograph session with Buccaneers free safety Ahmad Black, in addition to a question-and-answer session with Black and Pewter Reporters Mark Cook and yours truly. As always, there will be plenty of inside information from the PR staff dished out at the Pewter Report Get2gether, and there will be also be some cool giveaways.
So Pewter Insiders need to save the date of Sunday, February 17 and be sure to quickly sign up on the Pewter Insider message board next week when we post the RSVP thread. If you are interested in becoming a Pewter Insider subscriber for just $10 per year, call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827)
or click here.
• And finally, Pewter Report’s 2013 Senior Bowl coverage is sponsored by The Theater Doctor and will be kicking off live from Mobile, Ala. on Sunday evening on January 20. In case you missed it, all of our Senior Bowl stories will be free and accessible by all Bucs and NFL fans next week. Click on this link to read the story with all of the details.
Be sure to visit The Theater Doctor website, TheTheaterDoctor.com, by clicking here
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