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:FAB 1.
The Buccaneers traded away cornerback Aqib Talib, who had 18 interceptions in Tampa Bay. The team is contemplating releasing Eric Wright, who has 14 career interceptions, including one with the Bucs last year. The Bucs even let E.J. Biggers, who has three career picks during his Tampa Bay career, go to Washington in free agency this year on a cheap, one-year deal.
So why in the world are the Buccaneers keeping cornerback Myron Lewis, who has zero interceptions and only three passes defensed and has played sparingly in a reserve role in 28 games over three years with just one start? Lewis, former third-round pick in 2010, is widely considered by the media and Bucs fans to be a draft bust in Tampa Bay.
Lewis has seen his participation decline each year since he entered the league in 2010 when he was active in 10 games with one start and recorded nine tackles and three pass breakups. The next year, Lewis was active for 10 more games, but did not rise up the depth chart, and only finished the year with four tackles.
In 2012, Lewis only played in eight games before a hamstring injury caused him to be placed on injured reserve on December 10, ending his third season prematurely and in a disappointing fashion with just six tackles. Lewis saw action in just nine games, did not play in another and was inactive for three more during Greg Schiano’s first year as Tampa Bay’s head coach.
Lewis has missed time due to several minor injuries, such as hamstring strains, foot sprains and abdominal strains, but has also been a healthy scratch at times, too, due to lack of development as a football player. Last year, Lewis watched as he was leapfrogged on the Bucs’ depth chart by the likes of Brandon McDonald, LeQuan Lewis, Danny Gorrer and Leonard Johnson, an undrafted free agent.
So why hasn’t Myron Lewis been cut yet?
There are several reasons. First, the Bucs are desperate at the cornerback position. They need to be adding young, talented cornerbacks – not losing them. Lewis is young (he’ll only turn 26 on November 24) and he has talent. What he appears to be lacking is toughness – mental and physical – and confidence. Lewis missing the 2011 season opener against Detroit with a mild ankle sprain – after missing two preseason games a few weeks earlier with a hamstring injury – is one instance that stands out.
On the Wednesday before the Lions game to start the 2011 campaign, former Bucs head coach Raheem Morris lauded the toughness shown by Ronde Barber, who intercepted passes against Baltimore in 2000 with a cast on his hand, and returned an interception 92 yards against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game with a partially torn knee ligament. Meanwhile, 30 minutes later in the Bucs locker room, Lewis was saying he would probably have to miss the season opener due to what he called a “little ankle sprain.”
“We’ll just go with the flow and see what happens,” Lewis said at the time when asked if he needed to miss the game to rest the ankle. “It’s a little ankle sprain. Hopefully I’ll be better real soon.
“Pretty much, it’ll be what’s best for me. I don’t want to go out there and put bad stuff on film. If I’m not able to go out there, I’ll give the [opportunity] to the guys behind me and I’m going to support my teammates.”
Due to a “little ankle sprain,” Lewis essentially opted out of the season opener and told the media that. This came right after Morris told the media during his press conference that a picture of Barber, the Bucs’ iron man, hung in the team’s training room as a reminder that the players are professionals and need to play through minor injuries.
“I think I need a little rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover by my side,” Lewis went on to say about his injury. “It’s part of the game. Eventually, I’ll get over that hump and then I’ll put forth that good effort on the field and show everybody that they drafted me for a good reason.”
The Bucs are still waiting. Yet he’ll get yet another training camp – one last chance – to prove that he can actually play in the NFL.
The second reason why he’s still in Tampa Bay is Lewis’ size. Schiano and the front office like big cornerbacks and at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, Lewis is blessed with length and great athleticism. There isn't a cornerback with Lewis' size in the 2013 draft aside from North Carolina State's David Amerson, whom the Bucs aren't considering drafting because of his bad character.
Here’s what director of player personnel Dennis Hickey had to say about Lewis back in 2010 after he was drafted in the third round.
“Myron was a guy we always liked because he does have the rare length for a corner,” Hickey said. “He’s athletic, too. He’s not limited in that manner. He also has ball skills. He had better production as a junior and that’s where we first noticed him. We were watching D.J. Moore last year and we kept saying, ‘Who is this Lewis guy?’ You saw he was an underclassman who came back and had a good senior year.
“He has ball skills. He’s athletic and he’s long. He brings a lot of versatility and he can create some nice match-ups for us when we play against some of these bigger receivers. He’s almost 6-foot-2, and when you put him and Aqib Talib together you have two really long corners to supplement the other guys on our team that bring different things to the table.”
Lewis was a three-year starter at Vanderbilt and put together two very good seasons back-to-back. He totaled 170 tackles, 26 passes broken up, 10.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
During his junior season playing cornerback opposite the more heralded D.J. Moore, Lewis picked off five passes, defended six more, had five sacks and forced two fumbles. As a senior, his production dipped a bit as he intercepted four passes and broke up eight more.
Hailing from Vanderbilt, Lewis is certainly smart enough to play in the NFL. And his physical tools and college stats indicate that he is capable of having a greater level of success than he has had over the last three seasons.
“Myron can be amazing with some things,” Barber told PewterReport.com before last season. “He has a skill set that even Aqib doesn’t have. He has long arms and long legs and he can track guys down the field unlike anybody on our team. Raw is not the right word because the guy can play. He has some development that he needs to do and he’ll do that. The best training that I know of is on the field and actually playing – not scrimmaging or practicing. I got good because I got a chance to play my second year. By the time I got to my third year I had it down. I look at him and his skill set will get a chance to develop quickly once he gets more of a chance to play. He’s already made some strides.”
What strides Lewis has made have obviously been behind the scenes, and have not been enough for an NFL veteran entering his fourth NFL season. Lewis did lead the team in pass breakups last preseason with four, but also gave up quite a few big plays in the passing game, especially in the final outing against Washington.
The final reason why Lewis is getting a final shot to live up to his draft billing in Tampa Bay is because he received poor coaching last year. Not just Lewis – every Bucs cornerback did. Schiano took a chance on former LSU secondary coach Ron Cooper and the move turned out to be a mistake as Cooper was often too quiet and not assertive enough, especially on the sidelines on game days when it came to coaching up technique and relaying adjustments to his defensive backs.
The Bucs will say that Cooper was allowed out of his contract to make a lateral move to the University of South Florida after just one year, but he was essentially fired. New defensive backs coach Tony Oden has NFL experience with New Orleans and Jacksonville, and will get his shot at trying to make a player out of Lewis because Tampa Bay sure could use a big 6-foot-2, 203-pound cornerback on the field on Sundays.
In order to win over Oden, Lewis will have to stay healthy and play with more toughness. Jimmy Lake, who was Tampa Bay’s secondary coach from 2010-11, was a big Lewis fan until he kept getting bit by the injury bug during the 2011 season.
“He actually came on really, really well [in 2010],” Lake said of Lewis. “He was fighting through injuries early on in training camp, [but] came on and played really well. We were excited about him and then he got injured again in training camp if you guys remember. His injuries in training camp and through the beginning of the season kind of limited him.
“So if you are injured, the next guy is going to play and if the next guy is playing better – Elbert Mack took advantage in the preseason. He played lights out in the preseason. He played probably the best punt coverage of anybody. You go back and watch the tape. He played better than Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber – everybody. So he leap-frogged ahead [of Lewis] E-Mack continued to play stellar for us in games. He had a big interception in Green Bay. I am going to play the guys that are making plays. I am not going to play the guys who were drafted high. It doesn’t matter.”
The Bucs’ front office can keep Lewis around for another year if it wants to. It doesn’t mean the coaching staff is going to play him if he doesn’t develop. And Lewis needs to put it all together very quickly and have a healthy, confident, productive offseason in Tampa Bay during the OTAs (organized team activities) to impress both the front office and the coaches.
“Having more repetitions has always helped me,” Lewis said. “The more reps you get the more comfortable you are. You get in a comfort zone and you are able to play ball and show your athleticism out there on the field and show that they drafted you for a reason.”
Repetitions have to be earned, though.
“Ronde told me he was only active for one game his rookie year, but the next year when he went out there and started he never gave the job back,” Lewis said. “Who knows? That might happen to me. I’m just waiting for my time.”
Lewis’ time is almost up in Tampa Bay.FAB 2.
By now, many Bucs fans know that I believe Tampa Bay made a mistake in letting defensive end Michael Bennett go to Seattle.
I firmly believe that the Bucs need to be adding pass rushers – not letting them go. Bennett posted a career-high nine sacks to lead the team, in addition to forcing three fumbles, which was also a team-high.
While I don’t believe it was the right move, I can see what the team was thinking in letting Bennett go and inserting third-year defensive end Da’Quan Bowers into the starting role. Here is Tampa Bay’s reasoning regarding the left defensive end position.
Bennett signed a one-year, $5 million deal with Seattle. The Bucs obviously thought that was too much for the two-year starter. For less than one-fifth the price – a $752,512 in base salary in 2013 to be exact – Tampa Bay believes that Bowers can produce the nine sacks and three forced fumbles this year. The Clemson product had a career-high three sacks last year in part-time duty after missing the first six games of the season due to a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in the offseason. Given Bowers’ talent, it is reasonable to assume that he could produce nine sacks with more experience and playing time.
In fact, Bucs head coach Greg Schiano told the media at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. that he believed Bowers could be a double-digit sacker, especially after notching 19.5 sacks at Clemson, including 15.5 during his junior season in 2010.
“He needs to be,” Schiano said. “He should be. That’s why we drafted him.”
Schiano and Dominik believe that the 6-foot-4, 277-pound Bowers has more potential and a higher upside than Bennett did and it was time to accelerate his development by inserting him into the starting lineup. The feeling at One Buc Place was if Bennett was re-signed to a multi-million dollar deal that there would be pressure to start him over Bowers to justify the investment.
That’s fine and dandy for the Bucs, but Seattle – the team that signed Bennett – doesn’t seem to care about that. They paid Bennett $5 million for one year after signing defensive end Cliff Avril to a two-year, $13 million. Keep in mind that defensive end Chris Clemons, who led the Seahawks in sacks last year with 11.5, signed a three-year extension last season worth $22 million, and he’s slated to earn $6 million in 2013. Last year’s first-round pick, Bruce Irvin, signed a four-year deal worth $9.34 million last year and is averaging over $2 million per season.
The Seahawks, who entered free agency with less salary cap room than Tampa Bay, have four starting-caliber defensive ends on their roster, yet can really only start two of them at a time (although Bennett figures to get some snaps as a pass-rushing defensive tackle in nickel defense, as he did in Tampa Bay). The Seahawks are spending a total of $18.3 million at the defensive end position in 2013 and there will be times when one or two of those players will be on the bench during games.
Why that couldn’t have happened in Tampa Bay with Bennett and Bowers splitting the snaps 50-50 despite the disparity in salaries is beyond me. Instead of having adequate pass rush depth along the defensive line, the most sacks any Buccaneer has gotten in a single season is 7.5, and that’s from the rookie season of Adrian Clayborn, who is coming off a torn ACL that caused him to miss 13 game last year.
With Bowers and Clayborn expected to start at the defensive end spots, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is the top reserve, but he only has five sacks on his resumé, including a career-high four in 2012. The Bucs will have to draft another defensive end for depth and to eventually compete with Bowers and Clayborn, and that’s the other reason Bennett is no longer on the team.
Dominik calculated that Bennett has hit his ceiling as a professional, and is in position to spend a high draft pick – either a first- or second-rounder – on a pass-rushing defensive end with more potential this year. With Bennett, Bowers, Clayborn and Te’o-Nesheim on the team, there wouldn’t be room for another rookie defensive end. Now that Bennett is gone, the Bucs will have the room on the roster to draft another rush end.
The Bucs could be targeting BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah with the 13th overall pick, UCLA defensive end Datone Jones, or possibly LSU’s athletic Barkevious Mingo – although I don’t care for him and think he looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane too much. Or the Bucs could target SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, whom the team interviewed for over an hour at the Senior Bowl, in the second round.
So why would the Bucs spend a high draft choice on a defensive end when the team has a pair of high draft picks invested in its two 2013 starters, Bowers and Clayborn? The reason is because there is no assurance that Clayborn will be back at 100 percent in 2013 or that Bowers won’t experience a learning curve in his first year as a starter, and the Bucs will need another defensive end to fill out the roster behind Clayborn, Bowers and Te’o-Nesheim. While the team likes reserve ends Aaron Morgan and Markus White, both would be considered longshots and the Bucs could use better talent to the get to the quarterback.
Keep in mind that both Bowers and Te’o-Nesheim have the size to move inside to defensive tackle in nickel rush situations just the way Bennett would do in obvious pass rush situations. So even with Bowers and Clayborn being starters, Tampa Bay could justify drafting a defensive end with its first-round pick because of the flexibility that Bowers and Clayborn have to play tackle in certain situations. Given the fact that the Bucs play nickel or dime defense over half of the time, there will be ample snaps for Bowers, Clayborn and a first-round or second-round defensive end to replace Bennett. FAB 3.
If you are looking for a real wild card for Tampa Bay in the first round, how about West Virginia wide receiver-return specialist Tavon Austin? I wrote about Austin last November in a previous SR’s Fab 5 after his one-man-gang performance against Oklahoma in a narrow 50-49 overtime loss.
The 5-foot-8, 174-pound Austin, who had 14 carries for 103 yards in the first nine games of the 2012 season, ripped off a career-best and school-record 344 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 21 carries against the Sooners, in addition to catching four passes for 82 yards and returning eight kickoffs for 146 yards. His 572 all-purpose yards were the most in FBS history. He had not carried the ball more than five times in any game prior the Oklahoma game.
As I wrote last November, Austin juked, weaved and maneuvered around Oklahoma defenders like they were standing still. If you missed his incredible performance, check out this highlight video.
Austin, whose draft stock is on the rise, finished his senior season with 114 catches for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with 643 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 72 carries. His 2,910 yards made him the second-most productive all-purpose player in the FBS in 2012.
But Austin wasn’t a one-year wonder. As a junior, Austin had 101 catches for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns, in addition to 16 carries for 182 yards and a rushing score. He had 2,574 all-purpose yards in 2011, which led all FBS players that year.
Austin entered his senior campaign with six 100-yard receiving games under his belt, including a 12-catch, 123-yard, four-touchdown effort in West Virginia’s 70-33 demolition of Clemson in last year’s Orange Bowl. In 2012, Austin posted six 100-yard receiving games and has another two in which he had a 92-yard effort against Texas Tech and a 99-yard game against Iowa State. Against Baylor in West Virginia’s 70-63 shootout win, Austin posted career highs with 14 catches for 215 yards (15.4 avg.) and two touchdowns.
In his four years with the Mountaineers, Austin racked up 22 offensive plays of 40 yards or more that showcased his explosiveness and playmaking ability, and that’s not including his special teams prowess.
Austin could immediately help Tampa Bay’s stagnant return game, which did not have a touchdown in 2012. The West Virginia star returned 97 kickoffs for 2,407 yards (24.8 avg.) and four touchdowns during his career, in addition to picking up 433 yards and a touchdown on 34 punt returns (12.7 avg.).
If you haven’t seen Austin play, do yourself a favor and watch this highlight reel from his junior season.
Austin made quite an impression on Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano when West Virginia was in the Big East. Against Rutgers in 2011, Austin carried the ball two times for 96 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown on an end around. He also caught eight passes for 67 yards and a touchdown against Schiano’s Scarlet Knights in a 31-21 victory. In 2010, Austin had six catches for 121 yards and a touchdown and a 46-yard end around for a touchdown in a 35-14 home win over Schiano and Co.
Schiano has great respect for West Virginia – a school he never beat while at Rutgers. In Schiano’s first draft, the Bucs spent two draft picks on two Mountaineers he faced while at Rutgers – linebacker Najee Goode and defensive back Keith Tandy.
Against former Bucs defensive backs coach Ron Cooper, Austin ripped LSU for 11 catches for 187 yards in 2011 when Cooper coached the vaunted Tigers secondary that featured cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne and safeties Brandon Taylor and Eric Reid.
New Tampa Bay special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt, who employed Schiano while both were with the Chicago Bears in the 1990s, is also familiar with Austin and faced him when he was the head coach of Pittsburgh in 2010. In a 35-10 win against Wannstedt’s Panthers that year, Austin had two catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to a 12-yard carry.
While Austin was projected to be a late-first round draft pick, an impressive showing at the NFL scouting combine where he ran a 4.34, which was the fastest 40-yard dash time for any receiver in 2013, in addition to a 4.01 time in the 20-yard shuttle, which was also the fastest among receivers.
Austin’s small stature might give some NFL teams pause, but he is just two inches smaller and a pound lighter than Philadelphia’s receiver-returner DeSean Jackson, and is four pounds heavier than Kansas City’s receiver-runner Dexter McCluster, who was a high second-round pick in 2012.
Austin’s playmaking ability is on par with that of Seattle’s Percy Harvin, who was picked with the 22nd overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. Although Harvin is two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier, he ran a slightly slower 4.41 in the 40-yard dash than Austin’s time of 4.34.
“I call him the Human Joystick,” said Goode of Austin, his former West Virginia teammate. “That’s my boy. I know Tavon from being at school with him and he took one of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen anyone take. He’s tough for his size, and he’s so fast. You can’t hit what you can’t catch.”
The Bucs have great size at the wide receiver position with all four of the team’s top four wideouts standing at least 6-foot-1, but what the unit is lacking is breakaway speed aside from Tiquan Underwood, the team’s current slot receiver. Austin would be the fastest receiver – and possibly player – on Tampa Bay’s roster, in addition to being able to create more mismatches in the slot with his elite acceleration and elusiveness.
Austin does nothing to help Tampa Bay’s sluggish pass rush, nor does he help the Bucs’ woeful secondary. But he is a unique talent that could aid the Bucs’ lackluster return game, help Tampa Bay’s offense become even more explosive, could give Josh Freeman a blazing fast target to throw to, and improve the slot receiver position.
Keep in mind that Mike Williams, Underwood and Chris Owusu are entering a contract year and the Bucs’ depth at wide receiver could be ravaged by next offseason. The only receivers under contract for 2014 are Vincent Jackson, David Douglas and Kevin Olgetree.
There isn’t another player like Austin in the draft, and if the Bucs like him (and I’m not sure if they do or don’t) and can’t trade down later in the first round to get him, then the team should stick and pick Austin if he’s deemed to be the best player available at No. 13. He surely won’t last past the 22nd pick in the first round when the Rams are on the clock.FAB 4.
In case the Bucs don’t land West Virginia’s Tavon Austin or select another slot receiver candidate, here are a few things you need to know about new Bucs pass-catcher Kevin Olgetree. A few sources familiar with the Cowboys think that Dallas isn’t losing much by Olgetree following new Bucs wide receivers coach John Garrett, who was Dallas’ passing game coordinator and tight ends coach, to Tampa Bay.
While Olgetree was timed at 4.48 in the 40-yard dash coming out of Virginia, that speed has rarely been on display as he only had three 100-yard games for the Cavaliers and only had three receptions of 40 yards or more with a long of 51 in college. Out of his 57 career catches in the NFL, only two have gone for 40 yards or more, including a 65-yard touchdown against Atlanta last year.
Most of Olgetree’s career production (57 catches for 730 yards and four touchdowns) came last year as Dallas’ third receiver where he caught 32 passes for 436 yards and four TDs. He only had two noteworthy games – a career-high eight catches for 114 yards and two TDs in the season opening win against New York, and a three-catch, 96-yard, one-TD effort in a narrow loss to Atlanta.
Olgetree has decent size at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, and has experience working the slot. He will provide good competition for Tiquan Underwood, who had his own breakout season in his first year in Tampa Bay last year, catching 28 passes for 425 yards and two touchdowns. While Underwood needs to become a more consistent pass catcher, he’s a tick faster than Olgetree and had a 15.1-yard average last year, while Olgetree’s average of 13.2 yards per catch was slightly lower in 2012.
One more thing to keep in mind is that just because Garrett, who was Olgetree’s position coach in Dallas, will be coaching him in Tampa Bay doesn’t mean that he has an upper hand over Underwood. Olgetree has to learn Mike Sullivan’s offense and the Bucs’ playbook, and that’s something that Underwood spent last year doing. In fact, that may give the former Rutgers star a leg up on Olgetree.
Expect the Bucs to take advantage of a relatively deep and talented class of wide receivers in the 2013 NFL Draft and add another slot-type receiver to the mix to compete with Olgetree and Underwood. FAB 5.
Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Some of the buzz at the Senior Bowl was regarding how dominant Alabama left guard Chance Warmack actually is. In a deep draft at guard that also features the talents of North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper and Kentucky’s Larry Warford, not only is the Crimson Tide stud the best guard, some NFL scouts actually believe that Warmack is the best player in the draft.
In fact, one NFL scout recalled a conversation with a member of the Tampa Bay scouting department that suggested that Warmack was actually better than Davin Joseph and just as good as Carl Nicks in his opinion. That’s lofty praise considering both of those Buccaneers guards have been to the Pro Bowl.
• One of the reasons why the Bucs are hesitant to part ways with their first-round pick in 2013 in their attempts to trade for New York Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is not just because Tampa Bay wants to use it for a pass rusher or a starting-caliber offensive tackle. It’s because first-round picks come with five-year deals as opposed to four-year contracts that come standard per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
That’s a big reason why Bucs general manager Mark Dominik traded back into the latter part of the first round last year to draft running back Doug Martin. He knew that Martin would become the team’s feature back and he has him under a rookie contract for four more years before he hits free agency.
In an era where there are some player salaries that are rising and the salary cap is not necessarily growing accordingly, getting good players on cheaper, first contracts is becoming essential to salary cap management. Dominik knows this, and that’s why first-round picks are so valuable to him and the franchise. It’s not just about getting superior talent that comes in the first round. It’s also about securing that talent for five years instead of four.
• New Bucs wide receiver Kevin Olgetree and new receivers coach John Garrett are apparently joined at the hip. Not only did Garrett coach Olgetree in Dallas, he also recruited him out of high school to attend the University of Virginia when he was a college coach. Once Garrett wound up in Dallas, he once again recruited Olgetree to the Cowboys when the former Cavaliers receiver went undrafted and was an undrafted free agent. Four years later, Garrett again recruited Olgetree – this time to Tampa Bay.
What's a bit scary is that after all of that time together, Olgetree did not develop enough under Garrett to get drafted in 2009. And he didn't develop enough under Garrett to warrant a contract extension in Dallas, which was ready to move on with Dwayne Harris. Will the third stop together be the charm to finally allow Olgetree the chance to become a consistent, playmaking receiver? Or is Olgetree simply overrated?
• Former Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers signed a one-year deal with Washington where he is reunited with former head coach Raheem Morris, who drafted him in Tampa. Morris is the Redskins defensive backs coach. Biggers made out fairly well for a cornerback that only had three career interceptions in three years.
The former Western Michigan standout signed a one-year deal worth as much as $1.5 million. Biggers gets a base salary of $635,000 with a signing bonus of $365,000 and a roster bonus of $500,000. He also has a $500,000 NLTBE (not likely to be earned) bonus in his one-year contract as well.
While Biggers’ inability to create turnovers and get interceptions, in addition to his soft coverage at times frustrated some, I’m sure there are some fans that wouldn’t have minded having him return. Especially since Tampa Bay has yet to upgrade its biggest need – cornerback – after two weeks of free agency.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.