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January 20, 2011 @ 1:57 pm
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2010 Season Wrap-Up Issue

In The Lab: MLB Tyrone McKenzie

WRITTEN_BY Scott Reynolds Scott Reynolds
Scott Reynolds

Scott
Reynolds

Publisher
The Buccaneers may have a future starter at middle linebacker or weakside linebacker in former USF star Tyrone McKenzie. Find out why he left New England and what the Bucs coaches have to say about McKenzie in this month’s In The Lab feature.
This In The Lab article is a regular feature in Pewter Report's monthly digital magazine, which is available to Pewter Insider subscribers. This is a free sample of In The Lab, which focuses on up-and-coming, lesser known Buccaneers that could have a bright future in Tampa Bay. To subscribe to the Pewter Insider for $10 per year, which gives you access to over 200 premium stories in addition to 10 digital magazines available exclusively on PewterReport.com, call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or click here.

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.”
Last modified on Monday, 31 January 2011 09:44

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Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds

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COMMENTS

  • avatar

    I just hope the labor situation doesn't deprive the young Bucs of needed offseason work.
  • avatar


    I am so glad that we looked at players that couldn't get untrack untill they came to Tampa.GO BUCS
  • avatar

    this dudes going to be a beast
  • avatar


    Anybody but Ruud.
  • avatar


    BYE BYE RUUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • avatar

    I wouldn't be in such a hurry to dump Ruud. He certainly does his job.
  • avatar

    what exactly is that??????? c ya Ruud, go play a glorified safety position somewhere else
  • avatar


    The question has to be asked. If McKenzie was so valued at New England why did they draft a 1st and 2nd round player at his LB? I think McKenzie might be a replacement for Hayes and we still will need a MLB to replace Rudd. I don't see how we keep Rudd unless no one wants him and we sign him for the League minimum with his seniority. He could be a back up and help train the new guy.
  • avatar

    Because he was injured thats why. If he hadn't then they wouldn't have drafted Spikes.As much as I don't like Ruud in the middle he still is a good player. He just needs to sack up instead of playing so timid. Nice guys on the field don't cut it. John Lynch was a nice guy but he left that on the sidelines and went thru everyboy he hit. Ruud needs that.
  • avatar

    They had him and Mayo and then McKenzie got hurt and they were not sure of him so they drafted Spikes. Kind of like around here.. Safety is not a big need, but with out knowing what the future holds for TJax, they might be forced to draft another.
  • avatar

    There has been alot of talk about this kid from PR and I'm sure rightfully so as they do talk to sources from the Bucs Organization, but it is a huge unknown untill this kid plays in a real game. Letting Ruud hit the pavement is a little scary when you don't know what his replacement will handle the job. Ruud despite his physicality was a very good field general and a sound tackler be it downfield tackler but neverless a good tackler
  • avatar

    Every time I read comments about Ruud being "terrible", I remember just how ignorant some Bucs fans can be. Yes, the majority of his tackles are downfield and he doesn't consistently stand players up when he tackles...but he is the QB of our defense and has done it extremely well through thick and supremely thin. He's also dealing with a defensive line that gives him ZERO protection, fellow linebackers who play out of position, young/new safeties that provide little help, and has to take on an avalanche of blockers by himself at times; yet he still leads our team in tackles annually. I'd say, even with some of the mistakes he's made the past couple years, that he's done pretty well what with the cards he's been dealt. McCoy and Price were drafted to be the cure for our terrible run defense, but with Price out early and McCoy admittedly taking longer to find his game than we all wanted, Ruud was yet again faced with nearly the same problems that plagued our defense last year during our 3-13 campaign. I will say it now, as I've said it always...if we can make sure the defensive line protects our linebackers, even with Black and Hayes around him, Ruud will be able to play like the potentially elite Mike 'backer we all saw when he first came to Tampa. Letting him walk in FA would be a mistake IMO. A big one.
  • avatar

    That has to be the most intelligent argument I have seen regarding Ruud. You make some very valid points. I think Ruuds physicality issues is what holds him back as a player. He puts people in the right spot they just don't make the plays. The D line is the culprit because they don't slow rbs before they break past the line and then the LBs are alredy out of position because they aren't given enough time to be where they're supposed to be. The line gets pushed out of the way at the point of attack. The only way I don't say let him walk is if he realizes no one will pay him to start at Mike. Atleast in Tampa he has a better oppotunity to start at Will.
  • avatar


    ajaviles3, That is a very good question to ask. Rudd did look bad at times during several games. but I also knew it was because our DL wasn't doing it like we expected. I think you are seeing the same thing that I saw with McCoy? I am not saying he is a bust; I am just saying that I expected more from him at the Number 3 spot selected. He wasn't the impact player that he was suppose to be in his first year. If Price can't play healthy this coming season then we might have to look for other help at DT. I still like Pouncey at the No. 20 spot unless one of the top three DE's fall down to us. There's no question that we need DE help, I just don't want us to reach too much for a DE or LB in the first round.
  • avatar

    I appreciate you agreeing with me! haha I wish I could return the favor but I'm not sure I agree with you on McCoy. I DO agree he wasn't the impact player we expected, but I don't think you draft for immediate impact...you draft for need (whether you "need" the BPA or a certain position...or both) and you draft for future potential. As Bucs fans we all had the misfortune of being so bone dry on talent that we perceived our draft picks as saviors. Mike Williams and LeGarrett Blount were...but that doesn't happen all the time. If I remember correctly, Sapp didn't really find his "stroke" until a few years after he was drafted. I think we made the right move in drafting McCoy at #3; he wouldn't be a Buc otherwise, and when he peaks we'll be applauding Dominik and Morris for their genius yet again.
  • avatar

    Horse...they used a 1st on Mayo (understandably...dude is great), and a 3rd on McKenzie (to supplement their 3-4 defense). He got injured in 2009 and I'm sure New England obviously felt they needed to draft Spikes to make sure they had their two ILB's instead of keeping their fingers crossed that McKenzie was 100%. ACL tears have been career enders and career changers (for the worst) in the past. They took the opportunity to cover their *censored* by drafting Spikes and it ended up working out/pushing McKenzie out of town. It kind of says/infers most of that in the article.
  • avatar


    ajaviles, thank for the extra information. I am not sure where McKenzie is going to line up at? Do you see him replacing/backing up Rudd or Hayes?
  • avatar

    Best case scenario for me: we find a way to keep Ruud (who has said he wants to stay in Tampa), throw McKenzie in at Mike and have Ruud replace Hayes (as long as that's what he wants to do). I'd also love it if we drafted a hybrid guy to take that Clay Matthews type of role and make opposing offenses have to worry about blocking that extra guy on blitzes. I personally think we can get that hybrid guy later in the draft though...and we need a DE that can get to the QB. If we could have one of the top secondaries in the league without a pass rush...it gives me goosebumps to think of how nasty we would be if QB's constantly heard footsteps around them all game. Hello, top 10 defense again!
  • avatar


    The negative on Ruud in Raheems defense is he just isn't physical enough. Raheem always talks about how he wants all his guys mean, nasty and physical...that's not Ruud. They aren't going to give him a huge deal when he doesn't even fit what Raheem wants...especially at the Mike. IMO I think they will let Ruud walk (will want too much money) and will start McKenzie at Mike. They'll probably draft a LB like Carter or Jones etc. that can potentially play any of the LB spots and/or draft a guy like Justin Houston who can play SAM-Backer AND DE who can play every down in Raheem's hybrid defense.
  • avatar

    agreed. Ruud isn't as physical as Raheem needs him to be, but I think he can be coached back into that. In his earlier Buc days he was pretty beastly. People don't cheer "RUUUUUUUUUUUUD" because he studied the playbook really hard the night before the game, ya know?
  • avatar

    Ruud at Will & McKenzie at Mike- would be nice to see how that works. Ruud could still "QB" the D until McK gets seasoned. Hope he earns a place amongst the starters.
  • avatar

    Horse- this is a deep draft for De's there will be 6-7 DE's in the first round so getting one at 20 is not a reach, Pouncy is not a need for us, we are fine at guard so why keep saying that. I can't take another yr of Stylz and Crowder we need a DE NOW!
  • avatar

    True. This year proved they have depth at OG. If they draft an OL it will be an OT. 2 Des, 2 LBs, & a Safety Offensive draft picks: OT & RB
  • avatar


    So we now blame the rookie McCoy for Ruud sidestepping blockers, being steamrolled by runningbacks and arm tackling eight yards down field? I get that part of the D-line's job is to tie up offensive linemen to allow the linebackers to make the majority of tackles, but some of you people must only watch the games on your computer or on TV and only see what it shows you (the ball) and never actually watch what McCoy did in the games that don't show up in the statistics. You all want to look at the number of sacks as the sole determining factor but out of the 800+ defensive plays over the course of a season, of which probably 400 are pass plays the sack is a minute number. McCoy had three sacks in 3/4 of a season. If he had gotten three more would that have made you happy? McCoy, who started from day 1. He had an impact, some of you just didn't recognize it.
  • avatar

    No doubt that McCoy made an impact. I think he's good and will only get better. He openly admitted that he wasn't doing his job as well as he should be...and with that in mind, absolutely...it's partly McCoy's fault that Ruud never looked up to par. It's a team sport, and I also said it had a lot to do with the young linebackers and safeties that surround him. I don't care if you're Ray Lewis or Joe-Schmo off the street...with Jonathan Stewart running at you full speed, with an entourage ready to block for him you will second guess yourself every time. Get Ruud more protection and you'll get more production from his tackling. It's a fact. Also a fact...arm tackle or not...he's leading our team in tackles almost every year. He may not knock someone's head off, but he's stopping people from busting 60yrd runs every play when some of our other players don't/aren't in position to. He makes mistakes, just like everyone does, but they are highlighted more often because he's in the middle of the spot light on our defense being that Mike.
  • avatar


    SCUBOG- The new bf47!! How dare anyone have a different opinion than you. You are always right and you know how everyone looks at the game. Oh how I wish I was as good as you...
  • avatar


    Dbuc63: The "new BF47?" Now that's cold man. Your post name suggests a connection to the great Lee Roy Selmon who, with five sacks, had his detractors his rookie season. Arm-raising NT Dave Pear was the more popular player in 1976. Then in 1977 # 63 had thirteen sacks. Many times I missed the play because I just loved watching Lee Roy. Sapp Daddy himself had only three sacks his rookie season as some questioned the selection of the player who unexpectedly fell to us because we already had Santana Dotson. Focusing on # 99 battling the offensive linemen in his path was a treat. The point I was trying to make, to which you took offense, even though you had no previous comment to warrant it, was to defend the selection of Gerald McCoy who has been the target of some on this board who seem only to recognize the sack as a good play. My remarks were to suggest that the fans, who only see the games on TV, miss much of the play that goes on every snap because they are forced to follow the ball. Just because McCoy did not have the magnitude of impact Suh had with the Lions does not mean he's not a good, developing player. I'm not debating whether McCoy is a star in the making or a player destined to never live up to expectations like Big Daddy Wilkerson or Courtney Brown. I'm merely stating that it's way to early to make the declaration based on what most would consider a better than average start for a rookie. At least he started, many don't. Where is BF47 anyway?
  • avatar

    McKenzie adds some valuable depth and could possibly become a starter. It sounds like he has all the tools. The Bucs organization seems high on him and haven't really said what they intend to do with Ruud. I think he walks in free agency due to cost. I like Rudd as a player and he knows the defense and how to get everyone in the right position before the play. His lack of physicality at the point of attack has been the knock on him, but he's a good tackler. At the right price, I wouldn't mind seeing Ruud come back, but I wouldn't overpay for him when there might be a solid mike backer in the draft or on the roster.
  • avatar


    SCUBOG- I did not take offense to your comments. I agree with regards to your analysis on Gerald McCoy 100%. Also agree about Lee Roy and I do enjoy reading your posts. You are very knowledgeable and add valuable comments to posts. My point was that bf47 came across as a know-it-all and is what I call an absolutest. He put everyone in the "wrong category" if they didn't agree with his opinion and "everyone" didn't know what they were talking about except him...you know this. Go back and read the first post and how you described other posts and then your most recent. They imply a different meaning and "you all" and people must only see...is what I was referring to. Sorry to "offend" you because you clearly are not him but I hope you see the trend in some of your most recent posts. Regardless keep sending them as I enjoy reading about them.
  • avatar


    Dbuc63: You didn't offend me. I did say "you all" but I didn't really intend to mean "everyone". I meant only the people who don't get a chance to see the entire field when watching a game, look at statistics that show a defensive lineman had no sacks and few tackles and assume he had no impact on the game. A guy that has no impact for me is the rookie high draft choice who is sitting on the bench, not the best one on the team at his position who demands the most attention from the opponent. I consider myself more of a smart a** than a critic. I certainly don't have the disrespect for others like the all-knowing BF47. But I have to admit, reading some of the posters beating the same dead horse over and over starts to wear on me. Back in the mid 80's I had a chance to do work at Lee Roy's house and got to have a picture taken with him in his living room. He told me his season was in jeopardy because he got hurt in the previous Pro Bowl and was afraid to have back surgery. This was not public knowledge. He never played again.
  • avatar

    I like McKenzie's character - and think he should be given a shot, but nothing in his draft bio says he would be more than a role player? He's big enough to contribute as a 3-4 MLB, but he wasn't rated as a big hitter. I think a few scouts stated his high tackle total was due to "drag-downs"...which is not what you want from your MLB. In the zone scheme that Raheem Morris plays, he kind-of needs two types - he needs the big MLB for those 3-4 designs, but mostly for the base zone situations he needs a slightly bigger safety with a quick-step/explosive-tackler skill set. Of the two, he needs a more aggressive version of Barret Ruud - barring that - we need to resign Barrett Ruud.
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