Sitting inconspicuously in the corner of Ladd-Peeples Stadium on Tuesday, Bucs GM Mark Dominik met with the Tampa Bay Times, the Tampa Tribune and PewterReport.com, and answered questions for over 35 minutes about the upcoming draft, the coaching search, free agency and QB Josh Freeman. Below is a full transcript from that meeting.
Dominik on the team’s coaching search and finalizing the staff.
Dominik on the team’s coaching search and finalizing the staff.
“Until we get signed contracts I don’t want to comment on anybody. We’re still talking about a couple more interviews, even tomorrow. Right now we have no opening beyond the defensive backs job. We’re closing in on a coach for the wide receivers, but we don’t have anything official there yet. That’s imminent I would say. I would say that, are we 100 percent there, I would think so, but I would hard to say that until the staff is finalized.”
On the advantage to be hiring assistants now as opposed to late in the year.
“You appreciate continuity in the NFL, although it’s hard to have that, it’s next to impossible in the NFL. You do the best you can to try to get it, not only with your front office and coaching staff, but you try to keep as many players as you can going forward. And this years we’ve been a lot more football focused. We’ve been able to do a lot more evaluations of our football team whereas last year we didn’t have that opportunity. Greg Schiano is out at the Senior Bowl this year whereas last year he wasn’t even hired yet. So there’s a lot more evaluations going on, not only internally with our football team, but with how we’re going to fix the football team and get the roster better. I think that part is very encouraging. As far as the assistant coaches and the search, it’s still hard. You want to do your due diligence and make sure you’re interviewing the right guys and making the right choices, because they’re extremely important choices. And so far I think it’s very smooth.”
On quarterback Josh Freeman.
“You look at what Josh did over a 16-week season and you take it all in and watch the games again and you realize there are areas you are very excited about and things that he did this year that were as good as he’s been. Some of the big plays, the way he used his feet, I thought he moved around the pocket very well this year. But then, obviously, his completion percentage could be higher. I know Josh wants it higher and we’d like to get it higher and so we’ll work on that. You don’t want New Orleans-type games, but the reality is, you go back and look at the other games and the whole season and you’re excited about what he did and that’s why you’re excited and why he set some of those franchise records and again, I think continuity is important for Freeman. It’s important for us. As much as I was happy for Mike Sullivan to get an opportunity to interview for a head coach’s job, I’m glad that he’s our offensive coordinator and I think we’re going to add some really smart coaches to the room and continue to have him get comfortably with the guys we have here. So, when you step back and look at the season as a whole, we’re very encouraged.”
On where Freeman needs to improve to develop the consistency you want.
“Well, what I liked about Josh was how fast he and Vincent Jackson got together. Again, the continuity. He was in a brand new system that he started learning last year in March, or actually April. To have another offseason where he knows what’s going on, he has another season of film that he’s back there watching – and I know it’s important to him – I think the areas you want him to improve upon are the reasons I touched on. Obviously Josh wants to have a higher completion percentage. We all do. But at the same time, you look at his yards per attempt, which was significant and both of the starting receivers and at their yards per catch, those were significant numbers in the NFL and that to me is very exciting to think that we can continue to build the offense and work on the defense, build the defense, knowing your quarterback is there, your running back is there, you’ve got your receivers and hopefully you’ll have your two All-Pro guards back and that’s going to make us that much better also. There are a lot of areas we want the entire football team to improve on, not just Josh Freeman.”
On if you still believe Freeman is a franchise quarterback.
“I do. I think if you step back and look at the league as a whole and at what Josh can do and is able to do and what he’s done so far. He’s done a great job.”
On bringing in competition for Freeman.
“Josh is really talented, so competition, again, you can look at Connor Barth and say Connor had a great season. He finished over 85-percent and with all the 50-yard field goals, I think three of his misses were from 54, 55 and 56 yards, and yet Kai Forbath gave him unbelievable competition the entire preseason. He was in at the league minimum versus a guy that had the franchise tag and got a new deal, but it still made for great competition. So it doesn’t have to be to the level where the player has to make this kind of money or was drafted in this or that round. I think this is an interesting draft class of quarterbacks, too, because no one is really standing out saying they’re the guy and yet there is some depth throughout the class. The same with free agency. Obviously there are one or two guys that may come out of their contract and that could open things up. But we really like Dan Orlovsky and the fact that he helped Josh develop and we thought Dan played well in the preseason for us. And so at the end of the day, we do want to increase the competition at every position, quarterback is certainly one of them, but we won’t force the issue. That to me, when you force the issue is when you make a mistake and end up making a poor decision in either free agency or the draft that you come back and look at it and realize you could have spent the money better in another spot.”
On Dan Orlovsky and what bringing in competition means for him.
“We have Adam Weber who we signed back for another year for us, who is an interesting quarterback as well that hasn’t really played with us yet. He played with Denver all through the preseason and I know the coaches are excited about having him back. It doesn’t say anything other than Dan has another year on his deal and he’s in here competing just like everybody else. It’s not a shot at Dan Orlovsky, saying he’s not talented enough to be the competition. It’s more of, the whole football team understands that we want to get the best football players we can. Andrew Economos is a free agent and I like Andrew, he’s a heck of a football player, but he’s a free agent and will he be back, we’ll see. But the Diapulo kid we signed from Rutgers had a great preseason last year and he’s tough competition and that’s what it’s about. So it goes throughout the team, especially when you have a 90-man roster. And hopefully we can bring in the right guys but again, you don’t want to force it because when you force it you force yourself into making bad choices.”
On what steps the team needs to take to get to the next level.
“We can always improve the talent. That’s why we’re here at the Senior Bowl today. We’re always looking at these guys because last year we pulled Doug Martin and Lavonte David out of this bowl game and that was a good way to improve the talent of the football team. So you’re always looking to improve the talent but the other thing that made me so excited about the Atlanta game was we finished off a game the right way. The guys had to go out there and respond to a score and the defense had to get a stop and we did both. And that’s what we are striving to become, because if we could have been more consistent during the season specifically in the fourth quarter we might have had some more wins and been in that playoff hunt. But we know it’s a process, and Greg knows it’s a process and that’s why, if you step back and take a look now at the whole season and say there were a lot of strides made. But we do need to get to that next level, we all know that, we have to. That’s just the way this league is.”
On how much of the fourth-quarter play affected the outcome of games this season.
“Well, you think about some of the games – the Philadelphia game, the Redskins game and the Saints game when Mike steps out of bounds. The Giants game where Mike gets knocked out of bounds when we have a 14-point lead, the first Saints game at home we had a nice lead. Even the first Atlanta game, we were up by three with the ball back with seven minutes to go and we wound up losing that one by one point, we had the ball at midfield. So there were opportunities in the fourth quarter where we have to get better at finishing off games and that’s why it was encouraging that last game that we did that against a great football team like Atlanta.”
On injuries and how they affected the team’s depth.
“You try to establish depth as much as you can. It’s hard to do in this league. We had good depth on the offensive line. Bob Bostad and Steve Loney did a good job of working with our players and the players busted their tails to take advantage of the opportunity. Certainly Jamon Meredith did and Demar Dotson did and so we had good depth on the offensive line and the coaches did a good job of getting them ready. That’s where you try to have as much depth as you can. That’s why I’m encouraged by where we’re selecting in the draft, with the 13th pick. All the things you said, and on the offensive side of the ball, there is an opportunity to get better at any one of those spots and that’s what makes this draft a great draft for us, because again I think there’s different player at every position where you say, hey if they could have that position, how much better could they be. Although there are still a lot of areas that you want to improve upon.”
On if tight end Dallas Clark is contemplating retirement and his future with the team.
“I haven’t talked to his agent. I know Greg spoke to him at the end of the season. I don’t think Dallas Clark is contemplating retirement. I didn’t’ get that sense from him. At the same time, we do have to sit back and look at the whole situation and he has to make his decision and the thing that was good about Dallas was he came in here and it was the most catches he’s had since 2009.”
On if you want to re-sign Clark.
“I need to talk to his agent and go through that first and figure out where they’re at first because that’s kind of where it all starts. You want to have two people come together and make a deal happen as opposed to one side is happy and the other isn’t so sure what it wants to do yet. But I was happy with the way Dallas Clark played this year. He played 16 solid games, he stayed healthy, which is what a lot of people’s concerns were. We brought him in and felt good about where his physical was and where his health was and he played good this year. He was productive.”
On defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and what tender offer the team will give him.
“I have made that decision (on how to tender him) but I haven’t told his agent so I’ll hold it. Certainly we have those three options: to tender him as a first, second or a third-round draft pick.”
On if he’s talked with agents of other Buccaneer free agents.
“Yes, slowly. I talked this week with one of the agents last night, another tonight, we’ll slowly start to feel out what they’re thinking and let them know what we’re thinking and slowly, you’re still two months away from free agency, so there’s still a lot of time there to let them know what your plans are, both from a financial and a team building aspect. So I’m slowly getting with just about every guy that is an unrestricted free agent.”
On the team’s defensive struggles and what sticks out the most.
“You hate to say it was personnel because I was really proud of how Leonard Johnson continued to play and Danny Gorrer I thought stepped in and played really well for us. E.J. Biggers I thought had a nice solid season for us. You have to look at every facet of the football team because when you don’t have a winning season and you miss the playoffs, there areas till things that have to get done and from a player personnel standpoint, that is certainly part of it. And that’s why having the eight selections we do is important, and that’s why it was good that we were able to restructure two contracts to help open up, to see if there is a good fit for our team in free agency.”
On how far away the team is from getting where they need to be one defense.
“We had a lot of players that were in position this year and some of them made the plays this year and some of them had the opportunities and didn’t quite come through. But at the same point this was also our defense’s first year in this system and although there were some really good highs, there were some frustrations in the yards that we gave up in the passing games. Again, that can be solved in a lot of different ways and you have to have good players in this league.”
On the last game of the season against Atlanta and effectively using the Cover 2 defense.
“We hit [Falcons quarterback Matt] Ryan hard in that game. We got after him good in that game. The hardest part is every game is unique, because of the talent you’re going against and you have to figure out what is the best way to defend that football team to have a chance to win it. We played Atlanta tight twice and in good football games. That first game went well and so we did a lot of the same things we did in the first game I the second game, we just executed a little better in the second game. So no one has turned a blind eye to the pass defense, but you can’t turn a blind eye to the run defense either. You have to say that we know we have to get better in one phase and continue to maintain in another. And that’s tough to do but we can do that through new acquisitions and continuity. That’s why we’ve kept a pretty good continuity on defense with the coaches.”
On the pass defense and their struggles this season.
“It’s a combination of all those things. It’s a new defense, it’s new players that have to go back on the football field and last year we were hoping that on third down we’d have Michael Bennett, Gerald McCoy, DaQuan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, and we never had those four players playing together at the same time – ever. Whether that’s snakebit or bad luck you just have to hope you’re going to have that in the future. And those are important things that haven’t happened. We went into the season with the thought that we’d have Aqib Talib, Eric Wright and probably E.J. Biggers as our nickel and they played one quarter together the whole season. So it just didn’t happen that way and that’s disappointing. But that’s what it is. So we have to just continue to work on the entire defense. It’s not always just the corners that make the whole thing. It’s 11 guys and coach Schiano always talks about how the NFL is the hardest league to win in and that’s why, because it takes 11 guys and you get 16 shots and if you don’t; do it the right way someone gets exposed, and that other team is out there looking for that.”
On how the young developing players faired and if there are any keepers.
“We were very happy with the way Ahmad Black played. He was a big part of why we won the Oakland game. Daniel Te’o Neshiem continued to get better every week and his work ethic is tremendous and so you get excited about that. I thought Gorrer and Leonard Johnson finished out the season strong and those are players that, on defense alone, took advantage of the opportunities they had in front of them. I also felt like Mark Barron played his best the last three weeks of the season and that was very encouraging and leaves you feeling very excited about what 2013 can be on the defensive side of the ball. On offense it was the same thing. Chris Owusu got to play at the end and David Douglas [as well]. Tiquan [Underwood] had his opportunities all throughout the season, which was important. D.J. Ware handled his role on third down very well and we got a lot of experience on the offensive line as well for guys like Cody Wallace and Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith, who whether or not they’re starters next year, you know you can put them in the game and be successful. That was the best thing about losing the guys to injuries.”
On cornerback Eric Wright’s future with the team.
“There are no resolutions or decisions right now. Everything is still status quo.”
On if he thought the team was overworked by Coach Schiano this season.
“No, I didn’t. I thought coach really managed his roster well and managed his practice times well. He was really cognizant of how long players had the pads on and he’s very alert about what they’re eating and what time they go to bed, all the important elements. One of the important things is to make sure you have a fresh football team and I think coach did a great job with that and I think that’s why, in the last game, you saw us play so well. Something can be said because it was different than ever before, and you can say that different might be exhausting, but at the end of the day it was just different and I thought our players responded very well and respected the approach that Greg Schiano took with them, and he was always up front with them as they went through the process, saying this week we’re going to wear pads and in the last six weeks you only get three opportunities to wear pads and you’re only going to have them on for this long, and the players knew what was going on. Education and communication are pivotal to having people knowing what you’re doing and I think our players do.”
On three Tampa Bay players going to the Pro Bowl.
“Its’ really exciting. I’m very happy. Free agency is not a slam dunk proposition but Vincent Jackson has been that for us. In that way, it’s great for Vincent because he’s earned it both on and off the field and if you look at those three players what they are on and off the field, it’s not a surprise they’re Pro Bowlers. Doug Martin is very quiet and very humble and is all about football and doing things the right way and practicing hard and working his tail off. So very excited for him thinking a year ago he was out here on this practice field and now he’s in Hawaii . It’s a fantastic statement about what you can do with an opportunity and with Gerald, certainly, a full season healthy but also like we said, to get the respect of the coaches and other players around the league to say he deserves to go to the pro Bowl because he didn’t get the fan vote, it just speaks to his work ethic and the impact he makes on a daily basis, whether he get a lot of production or limited production in a game it speaks to what his impact on his opponents is. So that’s three players to the Pro Bowl, which is nice but I can still remember when we had 10 and that’s what we’re trying to get back to because that’s when you know you’re making significant strides. It means we’re having success in free agency and the draft and that’s important.”
On the people that still aren’t sold on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“They’re due their opinion. Internally we don’t process it very much because internally, we care more about what we’re seeing on tape and what they’re doing and we try to talk to our players about that all the time. If you do right by what the coaches are asking and how you handle your business and practice and everything will take care of itself and at the end of the day, that’s why Gerald McCoy made it to the Pro bowl.”
On if it’s an asset to the organization that Coach Schiano has intimate knowledge of a lot of the draft prospects.
“He’s got a whole year of being able to evaluate versus what he had last year, but I think the important thing is that he’s been in a lot of these kids’ living rooms or has been on the phone with them, texting them or trying to stay in touch with them. Obviously there were players from Rutgers at the East-West game and players here, so any more information you can have in the drafting process is gold. Those are things we rely upon and talk about in our draft meetings. We’ll talk about those in one-on-one stuff sometimes just right here on the sidelines. We’ll sit down and go, ‘Do you know this guy from’ and he goes, ‘Yeah I think I remember him from so and so and this is how is family life was and I remember his father was very influential in his life’, so those are always good elements that you can never have enough of – that information, it’s king at this level.”
On if it is safe to say that Butch Davis also has insight to those draft prospects.
“That’s absolutely right. He’s got insight into some of these young players as well, almost the same amount because of what he did with two different programs that have had a lot of success over the years with each coach and it’s not just Butch Davis. Bob Bostad coached at Wisconsin and if you go through our staff there’s a lot of information that we’re able to ascertain from coaches that happened to have been in college ball and in part of recruiting, and you use all that stuff.”
On if you foresee Butch Davis having any other role with this team in the future.
“I think we felt really good about his role last year and what it was, so I don’t see anything changing that capacity.”
On if you have had any conversations with Ronde Barber.
“No we haven’t. We will do that sometime early February, but we have not. We haven’t had a chance, doing everything else, to spend a lot of time with our players yet.”
On if it is safe to say you want Barber back.
“Yeah, we still…I want to talk to him. Again, I want Ronde to decide, I want him to declare and I’ll let him talk about it.”
On if you’ve been trying to field a bigger football team the last couple of seasons, with a couple of exceptions like Lavonte David and if that’s a trend that you’re wanting to continue.
“It’s always what you’re kind of looking at. You want to kind of look at that, but you don’t want to overlook where you miss a player like Lavonte, because if you put too much into being this tall or this high or weighing this much, you never draft Lavonte David and what have you done. You continue to use that as a parses and you’re willing to give in areas if you see that traits are stronger than other, but everybody wants the 6-4, 290-pound defensive end that can rush and play the edge. You’ve got to decide what you’re willing to give a little bit if you can see this trait go there, but it is something that I’ve always felt like you want to be as big a football team [as possible]. That’s why Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks were so appealing to me and to our organization because of their size and what they can do. It’s a big boy’s league. It was tough when you go through the evaluations of the sixteen games and you’re watching the first couple of weeks and looking at Carl Nicks and you’re like, ‘Boy do I miss that guy’ and you almost forgot how dominating he was just in those few games before his foot started bothering him. Then you think about the preseason with Davin Joseph and you’re just very excited about the opportunity of possibly having…we should have them both back next year and playing together, and that’s really exciting.”
On if you have any update on Adrian Clayborn and Carl Nicks’ health.
“I think everything’s going really well in terms of rehab and where they’re at. Greg and I met with Todd Toriscelli just recently, and really I’m encouraged about where all our guys are at and where their health is. Right now there haven’t been any setbacks and we hope there obviously isn’t, but guys are in a good spot in their rehab.”
On the health of linebacker Quincy Black.
“Quincy’s about to have surgery at the end of this month to help with his nerve damage. They were waiting to see how much re-growth happened naturally and this is supposed to continue to help to promote that. Quincy Black is still in the early stages of where he’s going to have to be long-term.”
On the strengths and weaknesses of this draft.
“That’s a good question. I do know the answer but I don’t really want to go there because I love where we’re picking in this draft. I like being at 13 because there is the opportunity to go in any direction as we’ve done. We’ve traded up in the draft and we’ve traded back in the draft so we can do anything in this draft class and I think there’s guys we can be very excited about at 13, but I think there are guys that you can sit there and consider moving up to get. At the same point there can be teams behind us that say that they covet player X, so that’s why I think where we’re at is a very good spot for this year’s class because it feels like a class where whether you’re picking at five or 15 you’re getting about the same caliber of guy depending on what position you really want. There’s a lot of really good quality players in this draft and that’s with the underclassmen and the amount of them that declared, it makes me excited about not just the first round but the rounds below us.”
On if picking up the phones to work a trade during the draft is something that you might initiate.
“I’m absolutely aggressive in trying to initiate the possibility of a trade. I always am and whether we pull the trigger, and we’ve had opportunities where we didn’t pull the trigger before, I think you have to stay aggressive on that to give yourself as many options as you can so you can ultimately make the right decisions.”
On how you felt Greg Schiano did in his first year as head coach and if that was that the right call to hire him.
“I feel very good about it, excellent. Having now spent almost a full calendar year with coach Schiano and knowing who he is and what he’s all about, he’s exactly as advertised and exactly what we are looking for. I know we want to win more certainly and it’s something we talk about all the time, but as a leader of men and as a man of character, it’s been an A+ for us.”
- Andrew Scavelli contributed to this report