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. REVIS WILL FLOURISH IN SMITH’S TAMPA 2 SCHEME
I had the chance to catch up with former Buc great Donnie Abraham, who was in attendance at Lovie Smith’s introductory press conference at One Buccaneer Place on Monday. Abraham is widely regarded as the second best cornerback in Tampa Bay history behind the legendary Ronde Barber, and I wanted to get his insight into how well Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis would fare in Smith’s version of the Tampa 2 defense.
“He will perfectly,” Abraham said. “When I see a bunch of the stuff about the Bucs cutting him or trading him and he won’t fit in this system, I’m thinking, ‘Are you crazy?’ For this guy to have the talent that he has and to be a shutdown corner he will flourish in this system. He can do it all. He can play man, and he can play zone. He’s smart. He’s going to be put in position with this scheme to make plays. I personally think he’s going to make more plays in this system than he has ever been in.”
That’s a bold statement. Revis, who is coming off a 50-tackle campaign, complete with a team-high 11 pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in his first year in Tampa Bay, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 when he had 54 tackles, a personal-best 31 pass deflections and a career-high six interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
But Abraham knows what he’s talking about and had an even better season statistically Tampa 2 in 1999. Abraham had 78 tackles, 25 passes defensed, seven interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes, two sacks and a forced fumble that year, and followed that up with another seven-interception season in 2000, which landed him in his first and only Pro Bowl.
“He’s going to be pretty awesome in this scheme,” Abraham said. “It’s kind of funny because when my wife sees Darrelle play it always reminds her of myself and the way I played. She tells me that all the time. We do have a lot of similarities, and I think he’ll flourish in this defense. He’s going to love it. The guys on defense are going to love the teachers that are on staff. It’s going to be pretty awesome. I think you are going to see his interception ratio actually go up compared to what it used to be.”
Abraham thrived in the Tampa 2 defense 31 interceptions in his Buccaneers career from 1996-2001, and ranks second in all-time picks in Tampa Bay behind Barber (47). The Bucs’ third-round pick in 1996, Abraham played man coverage at East Tennessee State and stepped in the starting lineup in his first year and set the franchise rookie record with five interceptions. Abraham, who played with Smith when he was the Bucs linebackers coach from 1996-2000, became the shutdown cornerback within Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin’s defense.
Revis did struggle periodically in Cover 2 zone defense last year in Greg Schiano’s scheme because he hasn’t played too much of it while with New York. There were times when the Bucs would be exploited with underneath routes in Revis’ zone as he would stick too long with his receiver and drift away from his landmark.
As a result there has been much speculation that Revis, who is known around the league, as Revis Island due to his ability to play man coverage and be left on a theoretical island within the defense, wouldn’t be a great fit in Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme. But Abraham bristles that at the notion that the talent of the league’s best cover corner, who is scheduled to make $16 million in 2014, would be wasted with the new defense.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about the Tampa 2,” Abraham said. “When everybody thinks you are in the Tampa 2 they think you are in zone the whole game, but you are not. It was a process we went through in 1996 and everybody on the defensive side of the ball will understand that. Once they all understand that and buy into it, it’s going to work wonders.”
Past the 1997 season, the Buccaneers began using less and less Cover 2 zone defense as teams began catching on, and the defense evolved into a scheme that mixed in Cover 2 with man coverage underneath, Cover 1, Cover 3 and Cover 4 (quarters). But the reason why the Tampa 2 defense is called that is because the defense traditionally shows a Cover 2 shell with two deep safeties during a quarterback’s pre-snap read before morphing into a different defense at the snap to create confusion and turnovers.
“It’s a very versatile defense with a Cover 2 shell we showed all the time,” Abraham said. “You are able to do multiple things out of that. We did a lot of zone blitzing out of that, and we played a lot more man than you would think. A lot of people on the outside didn’t realize that, but Cover 1 and Cover 3 use man concepts as coverages. Revis will be tremendous. Having a player with his skill set is going to be awesome in this defense.”FAB 2. SMITH INHERITS A ROSTER FULL OF HIGH-CHARACTER BUCS
When he was hired two years ago, the first order of business for former Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano was to rid himself of the punks and players with questionable character at one Buccaneer Place. Safety Sean Jones, who had visibly quit in some games in 2011, wasn’t re-signed. Linebacker Geno Hayes, who had been tasered by police outside of the Blue Martini nightclub for refusing to leave the premise, wasn’t re-signed either.
Starting free safety Tanard Jackson, who was in the league’s drug program and had been suspended an entire season because he was addicted to marijuana, was released, which immediately weakened the safety position. Tight end Kellen Winslow, who was just arrested for possession of synthetic marijuana a few days ago as a member of the New York Jets, was traded due to his bad attitude. Troubled defensive tackle Brian Price, who picked a fight with then-rookie strong safety Mark Barron and got pummeled by Tampa Bay’s first-round pick, was also traded. Wide receiver Dez Briscoe, who missed a lot of the voluntary mini-camps in the 2012 offseason due to his frequent appearance on Basketball Wives reality show on VH1 when he dated the star, Royce Reed.
Heck, Schiano even got rid of starting quarterback Josh Freeman, who turned his partying up a notch to a point where it negatively affected his game, three games into his contract year in 2013.
All of this is good news for new Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, who inherits a locker room full of good guys and hard workers that never quit on Schiano or their teammates during a tumultuous 2013 season. As the Tampa Bay players cleared out their lockers after a stinging, 42-17 defeat in New Orleans, several of the prominent Buccaneers rallied around the fact that the team was able to stick together.
“It was a tough season, a hard season,” Bucs All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David said. “Even through the tough times there wasn’t any pointing of fingers. Everybody was sticking together. We’ve got a lot of great character guys.”
Tampa Bay middle linebacker Mason Foster was asked what he would have thought if he would have been told his team would finish the 2013 campaign with a disappointing 4-12 record.
“I would have told you that you were nuts,” Foster said. “I wouldn’t have believed you at all. I don’t know, man. You say four wins … you look at our roster and look around this team there’s no way that you would say that we would have four wins – but it happened.
“It was rough. It’s hard to even talk about. I couldn’t believe it. Anything that could happen that was bad did happen. It was a snowball, but guys made it through it and that’s why I love all these guys. Even though we went through all that they were still coming to work and they were still trying.”
Through a rash of injuries that started when kicker Connor Barth tore his Achilles tendon prior to training camp, to a MRSA and staph outbreak that infected the likes of right guard Davin Joseph, kicker Lawrence Tynes, left guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Johnthan Banks, to the Freeman debacle in which the quarterback’s poor play was detrimental to the team and prompted his release during the bye week, the 2013 Buccaneers went through the ringer in a season that began with an unexpected 0-8 start.
“It’s not easy to deal with all this stuff, but like I’ve said, it shows the character,” Tampa Bay’s two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said an hour before he learned that Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik were going to be fired. “From the GM down to the head coach – all the way down to us – character is in this building, and how we were able to handle all that stuff shows the type of character we have.
McCoy, a team captain, was asked about the job that the head coach did in navigating the team through the rough patches of the season.
“He did a bang up job in my opinion,” McCoy said. “To see where we were at in 2011, and how we finished that season it was awful. There was no discipline around here, and we had given up. I wasn’t playing that year, but you can clearly see when you watched the game that we had just given up. Just because of how we lost [at New Orleans], I don’t think you could say that we gave up. Our offense came out and put on a performance that they haven’t done in a while. They moved the ball and put up some points. Us as a defense, we just didn’t hold up our end. But that’s the difference. There hasn’t been that give-up feeling that you had seen in 2011. I think that starts which your head coach and what is imparted in us, and the type of guy he is and how hard we want to play for him.
“But I think mentally and physically we are just beat down. We do need to sit down and rest. We’ve had a mental beating all year, whether it was the quarterback situation, the MRSA, or whatever it was – there was so much going on this year it was ridiculous. We just need to take some time off.”
Foster also praised Schiano and the team leaders for helping the team stick together from the first week of the season to the last.
“Schiano was always there, pushing us,” Foster said. “He never let us hang our heads or feel sorry for ourselves. He was a great coach and a great person. No matter what was going on, good or bad, he was there with an even keel. He kept us going. A lot of it was leadership, too with [Darrelle] Revis, Dashon [Goldson] and Wood (Adam Hayward). No matter what was going on we found the positive in it and kept working. Nobody pointed fingers at each other.”
Even though the Bucs weren’t winners in 2013 and haven’t posted a winning record since 2010, Smith inherits a team that not only has a winning mentality with their work ethic, but a team that is also hungry for wins after a forgettable season.
“[The 2013 season] makes the whole team better because guys aren’t going to quit,” Foster said. “No matter how tough it was to get up and come to work losing four games in a row, five games in a row by one or two points or a call here or there, guys came in with a smile on their face ready to work. Nobody quit. We kept each other going. Imagine when things are going good how these guys are going to react to it.”FAB 3. SMITH HAS AN ADVANTAGE WHEN IT COMES TO THE DRAFT
When he arrived in January of 2012, former Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano had an advantage coming from the college ranks where he had a lot of personal relationships with other head coaches. That would serve him, and the team, well when it came to the draft.
In his first draft, Schiano and former general manager Mark Dominik selected strong safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David in the star-studded 2012 draft, and followed that up in 2013 with a nice crop of rookies that included cornerback Johnthan Banks, quarterback Mike Glennon, nose tackle Akeem Spence and defensive end Will Gholston among others.
Schiano got some inside information, as he had a personal relationship with Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who urged Schiano to draft Gholston in the middle rounds and mentor him. Schiano knew Glennon because he tried to recruit him out of high school.
New Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith hasn’t coached in college since a stint as Ohio State’s linebackers coach in 1995 before he made the leap to the NFL to work with Tony Dungy in the same capacity in Tampa Bay. But Smith did spend a year out of football and watched an awful lot of college football to prepare for his next draft whenever the opportunity to become a head football coach presented itself again, and that gives him an advantage.
“My son, Matthew, is my agent, having a chance to go around with him and just watch college games – I’m a football fan – high school games was great,” Smith said. “I think every time I saw something related to football it helped me and I just put myself in those situations, that should make me a better football coach now.”
And make Smith a better talent evaluator when it came to studying for the draft.
“I only went to one NFL game, but college games, high school games, I watched a lot of those. And Sunday mornings and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I studied football, I watched the previous games, trends in the league. Just make sure, I had a plan hoping I would be in this position.”
Smith has a big head start on most of the other NFL head coaches in that they typically don’t get to start watching college football tape until January because of the rigors and time demands of the regular season in the NFL. There’s no doubt that Smith already has a few names in mind when it comes to the players he wants to see in pewter and red this May when the NFL Draft rolls around.
“I think it helps him tremendously,” said Bucs director of pro personnel Shelton Quarles, a former Bucs linebacker who played under Smith. “From him being in his basement and studying film, watching games and getting to see the pluses and minuses of what we did and our personnel, I think it’s going to help him tremendously. I’m looking forward to working with him and bringing a winner back to Tampa.”
Smith also has the advantage of having a few coaches on his new staff that have come from the college ranks, such as quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who came from Southern Mississippi, and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who spent two decades in college football as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State, Oregon and head coach at California. Tedford is well known, well respected and has a ton of contacts with other college head coaches like Schiano had.
That could pay off in a big way in Tampa Bay this May as the Buccaneers look to extend their streak of great drafting as the franchise continues its goal of building a winner and perennial playoff contender.FAB 4. 5 DRAFT PROSPECTS TO WATCH IN THE EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME
The practices for the 2014 East-West Shrine Game are set to take place in St. Petersburg, Fla. next week, and as usual, PewterReport.com staff will be in attendance to do some scouting for the 2014 NFL Draft, which will take place on May 8-10 this year. The East-West Shrine Game is the lesser college all-star game compared to the Senior Bowl, and typically features lower-round draft picks. Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacey, St. Louis’ fifth-round pick in 2013, was one of last year’s East-West Shrine Game participants.
Here are five players I’m familiar with that I’ll be looking forward to scouting next week. All five are at positions of need for the Buccaneers.Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo – 6-3, 222
Garoppolo is one of the most underrated passers in the 2014 NFL Draft after completing 66 percent of his passes while throwing for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdowns and just nine interceptions as a senior. He outplayed Jordan Lynch in a 43-39 loss to Northern Illinois, passing for 450 yards with six touchdowns a week after lighting up Illinois State with 480 yards and seven touchdowns. Garoppolo, a four-year starter at Eastern Illinois, has passed for 13,156 yards with 118 touchdowns and 51 interceptions. Garoppolo, a likely third-round pick, could compete with Mike Glennon for the QB job in Tampa Bay.Cornell QB Jeff Mathews – 6-4, 229
Mathews completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 2,953 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2013, while rushing for four more scores. Mathews was a prolific passer in the Ivy League and finished his career with 72 touchdown passes with 42 interceptions while throwing for 11,284 yards. Mathews is not ready to step in and start in the NFL, but he certainly has the intelligence necessary to pick up new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s complex offense.Colorado State TE Crockett Gilmore – 6-6, 245
A tall target in the passing game, Gillmore caught 111 passes for 1,308 yards and eight touchdowns in his Rams career, including a career-best 47 catches for 577 yards with two touchdowns in 2013. Despite his solid receiving stats, Gillmore is considered to be a better blocker, and helped pave the way for Kapri Bibbs, who rushed for 1,741 yards and 31 touchdowns last year. The tight end position isn’t deep in Tampa Bay with only Tim Wright and Tom Crabtree as via options under contract in 2014, and the team could use a solid in-line blocker.Colorado State LB Shaquil Barrett – 6-2, 250
The Rams’ Buck linebacker has the ability to play both linebacker and be used as a situational pass rusher at the next level. Barrette was a big-time playmaker last year, racking up 80 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. In his first year at Colorado State since transferring from junior college, Barrett recorded 67 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2012. With Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward and Jonathan Casillas all slated for free agency in 2014, the Bucs may need a new playmaking linebacker.Oregon State CB Rashaad Reynolds – 5-11, 186
Aside from having a cool last name, Reynolds has great ball skills, evidenced by six interceptions and four pass breakups in 2013, including a pick of Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. In his Beavers career, Reynolds has 10 interceptions, 25 pass breakups and one forced fumble. He finished his Oregon State career with 170 tackles, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Reynolds returned two fumble recoveries for touchdowns that proved to be the difference against Boise State in Oregon State’s 38-23 win in the Hawaii Bowl. In a 52-24 win over bowl-bound Washington State last year, Reynolds dominated with six tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup. He would be an ideal fit in Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense.FAB 5.
Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• The Glazers certainly had Lovie Smith in mind when they fired Greg Schiano on Monday, December 30 after the team’s 42-17 loss at New Orleans, but they didn’t make any overtures to the former Chicago Bears coach until after Schiano was fired. There’s no doubt that the Bucs owners did their research and due diligence, which led to Smith being the team’s top option, but Smith’s son and agent, Matt Smith, dispelled any notion that signing Smith was a done deal prior to Schiano’s departure.
“After the season,” Smith said when asked about the Glazers’ first contact with his father. “It was after the season. There wasn’t any backdoor dealing. The Glazers are above-board people and Dad is an above-board guy. When the move was made, obviously we were sitting there on Monday like everybody was, saying, ‘Did you hear what happened?’ We knew when this opportunity came up that he knew he was going to want to talk about it. Was there going to be interest the other way, and obviously there was.”
• A few years ago I did an interview with legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber and I asked him about former Pro Bowl middle linebacker and team captain Hardy Nickerson. Little did I know how Barber revered Nickerson, who would become Tampa Bay’s new linebackers coach on Wednesday. Here are Barber’s insights about one of the former greats that does not get enough credit for Tampa Bay’s turnaround in the late 1990s.
“My experiences with Hardy are probably way different than [Derrick] Brooks’ experiences with Hardy and even John [Lynch]’s or Warren [Sapp]’s. I wasn’t Ronde Barber the star player on the Bucs when I knew Hardy. I was a third-round pick that was trying to make the team and making a few plays here and there. The resume wasn’t sparkling for me back then. I was early in my first chapter. I watched Hardy from a distance. It wasn’t like Hardy ever came to me and put his arm around me and told me about football, life or anything else. I was more in awe or fear of Hardware when he was there. It’s hard to explain unless you have been on a team in a team sport where you have that larger than life player-personality on your team, and that was him for me. I didn’t want to talk to him because I didn’t know what the heck to say to him. And if I did talk to him I didn’t want to say anything stupid.
“To me, he was the penultimate football player. If I had to carve out the perfect football player it would be him. He had the physique, the angry personality where he was spitting on people, but he was also the nicest guy away from football. He could turn it on. He was my example of what a great football player should be. I’ve always held that example with the way I approach the game and my energy on the field. It has to be approaching what his was. It can’t go the other way. If it does then I’m not even approaching being the penultimate football player that he was.”
Nickerson is be a huge addition to the coaching staff and will take the games of Lavonte David and Mason Foster to new heights. Expect Foster, who plays the same position Nickerson played in Tampa Bay, to be the most improved under his tutelage.
• While there is a lot of obvious excitement over bringing back Lovie Smith to coach in Tampa Bay, former head coach Greg Schiano will be missed by the players. Though there were plenty of reports of his heavy-handed tactics and micromanaging ways, the players felt that Schiano was a good man and a good leader that was willing to listen to the players and make some changes for the betterment of the team.
“Coach and I are actually friends,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “We have a really good relationship outside of football. He’s a great guy. He’s more than just a good guy, he’s really a great coach. I can honestly say I know more about football in the past two years than I’ve known my entire life. He makes sure to take time to make sure that his players know the game of football – all of the situations, and what to do in certain situations. Outside of this, I might want to be a coach or something. You never know. He makes sure we know the game, and that we are really the smartest team in the NFL.”
Just an hour before Schiano was fired, defensive end Adrian Clayborn was asked if he wanted Schiano to return in 2014. It took a while for Clayborn to warm up to Schiano and understand him and the defense, but he put together a great season statistically in his defense in 2013.
“It’s not for me to say, but I would like him back,” Clayborn said. “He’s a good coach. Everyone has gotten accustomed to his offense and his defense and I think it could only get better.”
While Schiano will be missed for what he did to their respective careers, McCoy, who became a two-time Pro Bowler and an All Pro under Schiano, and Clayborn are great, loyal soldiers who will now turn their allegiance towards Smith.
• Former Buccaneers cornerback Donnie Abraham loves the hiring of Lovie Smith, and says that Smith and former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy are cut from the same cloth.
“It’s just being truthful with you and always knowing where you stand,” Abraham said. “If you are a player that’s what you want. You want to know if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing or not doing it. You don’t want someone to lie to you and tell you you’re okay when you’re not. With Lovie and Tony Dungy and his staff, they are going to be truthful to you. They are going to be men and look you in the eye and tell you what you need to do to get the job done.”
Abraham, who lives the Tampa Bay area and coaches high school football, longs for the Buccaneers’ return to their winning ways.
“I think it was very important to hire Lovie,” Abraham said. “That’s where the foundation started in 1996. To go back to that, rekindle that fire and build from there is awesome. We had great teams here and great teachers here with him and other coaches. You look back and you enjoy it. You enjoy this atmosphere of bringing guys back like Kevin O’Dea and everybody in the building being happy. That’s what we had. That’s the chemistry that we had back then and I think throughout the years that was sort of lost. He’s just the guy to bring that back. He’s the blast from the past and he can get that family atmosphere back and getting guys loving to play with each other, and I think that’s what we need.”
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