table of contents
- Secondary-Driven Defense Still Not A Finished Product
- Tampa Bay's Identity Is Now Offense - Not Defense
- Pewter Report Conversation: TE John Gilmore
- SR's Fab 5 - 1/21
- Pewter Report’s 2010 Buccaneers Season Awards
- The Glazers’ Approach Was Right After All
- Buccaneers' 2010 Season Grades
- Bucs' 2011 Draft Will Revolve Around Freeman
- In The Lab: MLB Tyrone McKenzie
- Pewter Prospect: OLB-DE Justin Houston
- Pewter Prospect: OL Mike Pouncey
One of the players the Buccaneers really coveted but ultimately missed out on in the 2010 NFL Draft was Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. In wanting to seek out a more physical presence in the interior of their front seven, Tampa Bay was strongly considering selecting Spikes with its third-round pick before New England chose him late in the second round with the 62nd overall pick.
But New England’s drafting of Spikes was the catalyst for Tyrone McKenzie’s arrival in Tampa Bay. McKenzie, who was the Patriots’ third-round draft pick in 2009, suffered a season-ending ACL injury on May 5 during the team’s rookie mini-camp and had to miss the season. With New England head coach Bill Belichick not knowing exactly what he had in McKenzie, he drafted Spikes in the second round in 2010 to pair with Pro Bowl inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. All of a sudden, McKenzie would be relegated to backup duty.
That prompted a conversation between McKenzie, who went to Riverview High School in the Tampa area, and Belichick in which the second-year linebacker asked to be released from the Patriots practice squad to have the chance to sign with the Buccaneers practice.
“It did, but the conversation that Bill and I had is between us,” McKenzie said. “But Coach Belichick is a great coach and I respect his opinions and his beliefs. It was a process we went through with our discussions.”
Belichick was surprised that McKenzie wanted to leave the Patriots organization, but after investing a first-round pick in Mayo and a second-round pick Spikes he understood McKenzie’s desire for playing time and ultimately granted the young linebacker his wish and released him on November 6. He was signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad on November 8.
“[He’s] a local guy from South Florida,” said Bucs head coach Raheem Morris. “Obviously he went up to the New England Patriots. He’s been the part of a great organization. He’s a really detailed kid. The first chance I had to be around him I had him run those scout team cards. I talked to him as a Mike ‘backer and having him (communicate with the defense). You can already see he’s sharp and bright-eyed. He’s into it. That’s always a good first sign.
“I’m excited to have him here. He’s one of those prospects you liked from a couple of years ago and he gets the chance to have the second wave of the draft as it’s called around here.”
McKenzie was a star linebacker for the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he set a school record for the most tackles in consecutive years with a total of 237. His college career began at Michigan State before he transferred to Iowa State for his redshirt sophomore season. He played one year for the Cyclones, recording 129 tackles, four forced fumbles, two sacks and one interception before he transferred to USF to be closer to his widowed mother, who was in a severe car accident and lost her daycare business.
While going to college and playing football, McKenzie had to work the overnight shift at a local Hampton Inn to support her. He finished his collegiate career with 369 tackles, 16 pass breakups, six forced fumbles, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one safety with a lot of that impressive production taking place for USF at Raymond James Stadium.
Needless to say, McKenzie is thrilled to be back on familiar turf as a Buccaneer. After five weeks on Tampa Bay’s practice squad where he generated a buzz, McKenzie was promoted to the active roster on December 14 when linebacker Quincy Black was placed on injured reserve with a broken forearm.
“I’m excited to help this team win and do whatever it takes from my part to help this team win, McKenzie said. “That’s my focus right now. I’ve just been learning everything. From Day One when I stepped in the door, I came here for a reason and learned everything as fast as I could and get a grasp on it so I could get the opportunity to go out there and play.
“It feels good to be out there; I’m familiar with the stadium. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Me coming in, I was just focused on learning as fast as I could so I could get the opportunity to go out there and play. It’s going to be exciting. I’ll play wherever they need me to play. I’ve been playing a lot of Mike linebacker and some Will as well.”
McKenzie credits the time spent with the Patriots organization over the past year for giving him a good foundation to start his NFL career with, but is so glad to be seeing the field in Tampa Bay where he recorded three tackles on defense over the last two games of the season, in addition to five special teams tackles.
“I loved it up there in New England,” McKenzie said. “I was up there for a year and a half with the coaches and my teammates. It was great. I still have a great relationship with those guys, but I did what was best for my future. I just wanted an opportunity. I didn’t know where I was going to go, but I wanted an opportunity to play.”
McKenzie had designs on landing with the Buccaneers, a team he followed growing up in the Tampa Bay area.
“I’ve always been a Buccaneers fan,” McKenzie said. “I always kept an eye on them even when they were wearing the orange uniforms. I always followed the Bucs and I was very fond of the defense growing up watching them. That’s how I learned to play defense – watching the Bucs growing up.
“Watching Hardy Nickerson and the linebacking crew they had back then was amazing. They shut down everybody. As an outsider and a fan it was great to watch. As a player, having a guy like [former Pittsburgh Pro Bowl linebacker] Greg Lloyd here as an assistant linebackers coach – I watched him growing up and learned how to play the game by watching guys like him and Hardy. Hopefully, I can do the same thing for a younger kid coming up and teach them how to play the game of football.”
McKenzie, who is labeled as a serious student of the game by his Buccaneers teammates, has already been around some great teachers in his two years in the NFL.
“It was awesome being drafted by New England,” McKenzie said. “I learned so much about defense from Bill Belichick and from all of them up there. Then coming here and learning so much about defense from Coach Baker and Coach Morris – those guys are really intelligent in what they know. When they are talking I am trying to learn as much as I can. When you can coach at the highest level of football, it’s great to be around those guys.
“Having Coach Lloyd around is great. At the end of the day, football is still played today like it was 15 years ago when he played. Being coached by him and Coach Baker is a blessing. I’m just blessed to be able to help my team win.”
McKenzie may be in line to win a starting job in 2011 as he prepares for his first offseason with the Buccaneers. With starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud poised to become a free agent, there is some talk that Tampa Bay may let him leave via free agency. Ruud’s price may be too high and the Bucs do want a more physical presence at the middle linebacker play. At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, that is McKenzie’s specialty.
“I’m a physical player,” McKenzie said. “That’s the way I learned how to play football. Anytime I can get a chance to be physical I’m going to make the most of it. If it means getting down there in the hole and smacking a running back – then that’s what I’ll do. It’s my job. Whatever I need to do to help the team I’ll do to the best of my ability.
“I take a lot of pride in being a big hitter. Whether I am playing Sam, Mike or Will, wherever the coach wants me to play, I’ll play. Shoot, if he wants me to play D-end, I will. Wherever I play I’m going to strike people as hard as I can.”
Over the last two games of the season, McKenzie saw action on the goal line defensive unit against Seattle and in Tampa Bay’s 3-4 defense at New Orleans.
If Ruud is re-signed by the Buccaneers, the team may decide to put him at weakside linebacker and have him compete with Geno Hayes, who had a disappointing season as a second-year starter.
“Tyrone is doing great,” Baker said. “He’s real physical. The thing you notice immediately is how smart he is. He’s doing a great job and he’s impressed me with how quickly he’s learned things. He’s able to play Mike or Will for us. He’s shown good aggressiveness, speed and toughness. He’s got a good, physical nature. He’s got size. We’re real excited about him.”
After having a taste of playing defense in the NFL for the first time at the end of the 2010 season, McKenzie is excited about his first offseason in Tampa Bay.
“I’m comfortable at Mike and Will because that’s where I’ve been getting the most reps,” McKenzie said. “But I’m going to come out this offseason and I’ll focus on getting better as a player wherever they want to put me.”
Veteran Bucs center Jeff Faine was impressed with what McKenzie was able to do from his first day on the practice squad going against the starters.
“It’s usually kind of hard to tell how practice squad guys fare because it’s so scripted,” Faine said. “But he’s got a pretty good head for the game. He’s able to react quickly, gets off his blocks well and is a really good athlete. It’s kind of hard when it’s scripted to evaluate guys because they generally know the play, but McKenzie is a player.
“That’s one of the things that I like about our team and the way they set it up in the front office. They promote guys from within. That way these guys learn the system and have grown with us. It will be interesting to see what happens with this guy.”
Although they missed out on drafting Spikes, Morris and general manager Mark Dominik deserve credit for seizing the opportunity and snatching up a talented former third-round pick like McKenzie, who is viewed as much more than a consolation prize. He’s viewed as a potential starter on defense in 2011.
“No question,” Morris said. “I’m not going to talk about Spikes. You know how much I love him, but with the way things worked out, I’m really pleased to have Tyrone McKenzie and I can’t wait to see what he can do for me next year. This is all going to work out great at the end for us and for him.”