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. FOSTERING CONFIDENCE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TAMPA 2 DEFENSETampa Bay middle linebacker Mason Foster does get as much love from the Buccaneers fan base as he should. He misses a tackle here or there, despite racking up 92 stops last year, or falls victim to poor pass coverage on occasion, despite recording career highs in pass breakups (seven) and interceptions (three) – two of which were returned for touchdowns.
In the eyes of some Buccaneers fans, Foster is not anywhere close to the play of his new position coach, former Tampa Bay middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, or even former Pro Bowler Shelton Quarles. They are worried about Foster getting beat by tight ends or receivers down the middle of the field in Cover 2, which is one of the potential weak spots in that defensive scheme.
Yet in the eyes of Nickerson, Foster has all the physical tools to be a very effective middle linebacker in the Tampa 2, which is a scheme that asks the Mike to do much more than just cover the deep middle of the field.
“I’ve seen him on film and he’s got range,” Nickerson said. “He can run. He got a some pick sixes – two last year. He had three picks overall. For a middle linebacker that’s a big year. To get two pick-sixes where you are scoring? Those are big-time deals. He’s stumbling, rumbling, weaving through traffic and getting down the sidelines. That was huge.
“He has a knack for making big plays and I think he has the range to work down the middle of the field when we are in our Cover 2. He’s a guy that seems to be picking up things pretty quickly. I can’t wait to get on the field so we can get to work.”
At the NFL Owners Meeting back in March, I asked Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith, who coached Nickerson and the Bucs linebackers from 1996-2000, if he had the confidence in Foster to play the Mike position in the Tampa 2. Smith was emphatic in his answer.
“No doubt he does I’m convinced he does,” Smith said. “That isn’t as hard as you might think. The times we ask [the Mike to cover the deep middle of the field], a lot of people think we’re just asking him to run down the middle of the field. But he’s protected with guys on the outside, the half-field guys, back behind him.”
Foster enters just his fourth NFL season as a middle linebacker after playing both weakside and strongside linebacker at the University of Washington. In three years as Tampa Bay’s starting Mike linebacker, Foster has recorded 281 tackles (203 solo), six sacks, 10 passes defensed, five interceptions, including two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. You can check out Foster’s big plays from his first two years as a Buccaneer in this highlight reel.
In the season opener at New York, Foster had eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. In the next week against New Orleans, Foster totaled seven tackles, two passes defensed and an 85-yard interception for a touchdown.
Foster had another pick-six, a 37-yarder against Atlanta in Week 11, but missed the second half of that contest and the next game against Detroit with a concussion. In his first game back, Foster notched a season-high 11 tackles at Carolina in Week 13. The following week he had nine tackles, one pass defensed and an interception in a 27-6 victory over Buffalo.
Foster believes his pass coverage abilities really turned the corner in 2013. What was one of his strengths when he entered the league as a third-rounder in 2011 became one of his strengths.
“Definitely,” Foster said. “Run defense and run stuffing and thumping – that’s come natural to me since I was a little kid. I’ve definitely been working hard on coverage and understanding passing concepts and what quarterbacks are looking at and what they’re trying to attack. I feel like I’ve been working hard and it’s starting to come together.”
With sneaky 4.67 speed in the 40-yard dash, Foster relishes the opportunity to run down the middle of the field in Cover 2 and put his improved pass coverage the test more often in the Bucs’ new defense.
“Definitely,” Foster said. “You can get out there and get deep in the middle and make some big plays out there. I think I’ve shown that I can run. It’s just one of those plays where you need to get a good read and get a good jump on it. Then out there in space just show your athletic ability.”
In addition to dropping into coverage, shedding fullbacks and offensive linemen and making tackles, Foster will also be asked to rush the passer more often.
“He will blitz,” Smith said. “The position will blitz. Brian Urlacher will tell you that. You look at Brian’s numbers and he has quite a few sacks. Man coverage is also a part of what we will ask of that position also. Then just being out in front of the team. All those things, we feel like Mason can do.”
Urlacher had 20.5 sacks in his nine seasons playing middle linebacker in Smith’s Tampa 2 defense. The eight-time Pro Bowler and 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had 5.5 sacks in nine games in 2004, which was Smith’s first year in Chicago, followed by six the next season. Urlacher had five more sacks in 2007, in addition to a career-high 12 passes defensed and five interceptions, including a touchdown and two fumble recoveries.
Nickerson has watched Foster’s limited number of blitzes over the past three years on film, but likes what he sees in terms of his six sacks. “He’s had some big sacks,” Nickerson said. “He’s a guy that can make some plays. He can make it happen.”
Foster, who celebrates his big plays on the field with the “Nature Boy Strut” made famous by former wrestling legend Ric “Nature Boy” Flair, loves the idea of blitzing more in Smith’s version of the Tampa 2.
“I love it,” Foster said. “Anytime you can get out there and make a sack, a big play, cause havoc and pin your ears back and go, that’s the reason why you play defense. You want to go hit somebody. I’m excited.”
Over the past two years under former head coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs deployed a dime defense nearly as often as the team played nickel defense. Whereas the nickel defense called for just two linebackers – the Mike and the Will – the dime defense featured just one, which was Will linebacker Lavonte David.
The dime defense departed Tampa Bay along with Schiano in January after a 4-12 finish to the 2013 season. Under Smith and new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the Bucs will only be playing a base 4-3 defense and nickel defense and Foster won’t leave the field. That means Foster’s productivity will likely increase as he receives more snaps per game than he got over the past two years, and that’s perfectly fine with him.
“I want to be on the field as much as possible and do whatever I can to help this team win,” Foster said. “We have a great group of guys. You get that feeling from everybody. Everybody is willing to do whatever and play any part. I’m just excited. I just want to make some stuff happen.”
I’m anxious to see Foster develop his game under Nickerson, who I think can take the young middle linebacker to new heights. Nobody knows how to play the Mike ‘backer role in the Tampa 2 like Nickerson does. Foster, who is entering a contract year, is excited to hit the field with his new position coach, who is a legend in Tampa Bay, next Tuesday as the Bucs hold their first mini-camp of 2014.
“It’s great,” Foster said. “Just talking to him person-to-person, man-to-man he’s a great guy, but an even better coach. Just little things that he can help me with – and we haven’t even been on the field yet – like little tips here and there that are going to be really useful and help me make a lot of plays.”
Foster was more of a Derrick Brooks fan than a Nickerson fan growing up, but it sounds like his father was a huge fan of No. 56.
“I’ve watched a couple of his clips on YouTube,” Foster said. “My dad’s been talking about him non-stop since he got the job. He’s said, ‘Man, he’s a banger, he’s this and he’s that.’ I’ve been checking him out on YouTube and see him making big plays. He’s a big-time, physical presence in the middle.”
And that’s what Nickerson will help Foster become in the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense this year.
FAB 2. PREPARATION WILL BE THE KEY FOR NICKERSON’S BUCS LINEBACKERSThey won’t be able to flex their muscles like legendary Bucs middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson. They might not be able to roar and scream like Nickerson used to. They might not be able to hit with the bone-crunching authority that Nickerson did when the team played in the old NFC Central division.
But the young Buccaneers linebackers will be able to prepare like Nickerson. After all, Coach Nickerson will demand it of his players. The Compton, Calif. native will tell you that it wasn’t his speed or his crushing hits that made him a five-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team. It was his preparation that made Nickerson great.
Nickerson relished knowing that Chicago running back Neal Anderson was going to run behind guard Jay Leeuwenburg and then bounce it outside behind offensive tackle Keith Van Horne on a third-and-1 situation depending a certain defensive front from his film study and getting there to meet him in the hole rather than actually making the tackle.
“It’s knowing where the ball was going and knowing that I was going to meet it at that place at that time,” Nickerson said. “When you know where that ball is going and you know who is going to be carrying it, then you know you’re going to put yourself in a place where you can make a play. That’s when you add that extra piece of wood on the pile and really lay it on some people.”
Even as he aged into his 30s as Tampa Bay’s elder statesman on defense, Nickerson would walk around the halls of the old One Buccaneer Place with his pencils, notepads and backpack like a college kid. Nobody studied like Nickerson did. Nobody took notes like he did. No one was more prepared than Nickerson was on Sunday.
As Tampa Bay’s new linebackers coach he inherits a trio of fast, athletic starters capable of making big plays in weakside linebacker Lavonte David, middle linebacker Mason Foster and Jonathan Casillas, who will once again start at strongside linebacker. But it’s Nickerson’s job to make them smarter and more prepared than they’ve even been while learning the nuances and intricacies of the new Tampa 2 defense.
“Right now it’s all about getting prepared,” Nickerson said. “Preparation is key for me. I spent so much time away from One Buc Place studying, evaluating myself and figuring out how I could get better and then working at it. I spent hours away from One Buc Place after putting in a full day, studying my opponent, studying the playbook so that if Coach asked me a question – bang – the answer would come out right away. If I could do that in a game I wouldn’t have to think about it. Then it’s all reaction, flying around and playing fast and getting to the ball.
“Getting Mason and the other linebackers as prepared as possible to where they hit the football field and the thinking part is done and it’s just second nature. Then it’s getting to the football and having fun.”
One noticeable difference this year on defense is that Foster will be calling the plays in the huddle as he did as a rookie in 2011. David burst onto the scene as a rookie two years and was deemed to be the team’s best linebacker and the sole linebacker to be on the field in dime defense situations, so he was given the play-calling duties instead of Foster, who only played in 4-3 and nickel defenses under former head coach Greg Schiano.
“Our Mike ‘backer makes the huddle calls,” Nickerson said. “That’s just been part of the system forever. Everyone has a responsibility. When we get the call, one guy may be responsible for making certain adjustments and another guy may be responsible for making other adjustments. It’s a collective effort in terms of getting calls out, lined up and making checks.”
Nickerson said that Foster is “picking up things pretty quickly” in terms of his preparation, and he seems excited to be the quarterback of the defense once again.
“The Mike is always the Mike in terms of making the calls as the quarterback in this defense,” Foster said. “Nothing much has really changed with that. It’s going to be the same in terms of making your calls and getting everybody lined up, but that’s what you love to do.”
FAB 3. THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF THE TAMPA 2 DEFENSE TO TAMPA BAYPewterReport.com and several members of the media got to meet with a couple of Buccaneers on Tuesday after their workout at One Buccaneer Place and we got to learn a little bit more about Tampa Bay’s new offensive and defensive schemes. While the offense remains a bit of a mystery and players like quarterback Josh McCown aren’t very forthcoming about schematic details because the Bucs want to have the element of surprise early in the season, Tampa Bay’s defense is extremely familiar.
“We’re playing the old school, traditional Tampa 2 defense and all we’ve been watching is old Chicago tape when Lovie was there and 96-2002 or however long they played it (here),” said Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “When they were in their prime, from 1996-2002 or 2003, we’ve been watching all that tape, because that’s when the Tampa 2 was really thriving and took over the league. So that’s how I know we’re really running the old, traditional Tampa 2 and I’m excited about it.”
According to McCoy and defensive end Michael Johnson, that means the team will be penetrating with a straight-ahead pass rush and limited stunting. But perhaps the biggest difference from the glory days of the Buccaneers defense to this year’s unit is that there will be a heavy rotation of defensive linemen playing on Sundays.
In the old days under defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, the starters played the vast majority of snaps with one versatile reserve, typically Tyoka Jackson or Ellis Wyms, subbing in along the line when needed. Marinelli typically played five defensive linemen per game. Under defensive line coach Joe Cullen, a Marinelli disciple, who coached under him at Detroit, there will be a philosophical difference where seven or eight defensive linemen will see reps on Sundays.
The reasoning is to help with conditioning in the Florida heat and humidity, as well as keeping the entire unit fresher into the fourth quarter where the pass rush may be called upon to get a stop or create a turnover on defense to win the game. That’s why a player like Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald can be in play for Tampa Bay with the seventh overall pick – even though he plays the same position as McCoy does.
What’s not new about the Tampa 2 defense is that the three-technique tackle position, which was made famous by Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, is the engine that makes the Bucs defense go.
“You have a lot of responsibility as the under tackle,” McCoy said. “I’m no longer a three-technique. I’m an under tackle, and this defense runs how I run, so I have a lot of responsibility and it’s not going to be easy to be great in this defense. Does it fit to my style of play? Yes. But it’s going to take a lot of work to be great in this defense because I’m going to have a lot of one-on-ones, most of the one-on-ones, most of the two-way goes. When you depend on four guys to get to the quarterback and the under tackle is supposed to be your guy, I have to get there.
“The under tackle is the guy. It’s not the corner, not your outside linebacker, not your D-end – it’s the under tackle. He’s the best pass rusher on the team, or he’s supposed to be. He’s the piston that drives the engine, so if he’s not going we’re not going then that’s the difference. If you have a three-technique in another scheme, he can be okay and you can still have a great defense. But in the Tampa 2, the under tackle has to be the guy.”
Make no mistake. McCoy will still be playing the three technique, which is outside shading of the guard in the “B” gap between the guard and the offensive tackle. But by McCoy proclaiming he has to be the under tackle, he means that he will have to be as dominant as Sapp did. Sapp finished his Tampa Bay career with 77 sacks, which ranks second behind Lee Roy Selmon’s 78.5 sacks, and led the Bucs in sacks in four of his nine seasons with the team, including a career-high 16.5 in 2000.
McCoy, who is coming off a career-high 9.5 sacks and has 18.5 in his four years in Tampa Bay, hinted that the team will be playing an under front like former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin used in 1996-97 before switching to an over front. In the 4-3 Under front, the strongside defensive end plays the five-technique between the right offensive tackle and the tight end while the Sam linebacker plays closer to the line and essentially plays a seven-technique, playing the outside shoulder of the tight end.
The under tackle will always travel with the weakside (Will) linebacker and play on the same side of the formation in the “B” gap playing the three-technique. The Will linebacker is protected behind the under tackle and the weakside defensive end and is typically a free hitter that can flow to the ballcarrier. The role of the strongside (Sam) and middle (Mike) linebackers is to funnel plays towards the Will, who is usually the team’s leading tackler.
In the 4-3 over front, the Sam linebacker is back on the linebacker level and the strongside defensive end usually plays head up (six technique) on the tight end and the Sam is stacked behind him. The over tackle is the strongside defensive tackle playing the three-technique. The Will plays in the B gap between the nose tackle and the weakside defensive end, which plays the five-technique.
If you are looking for a great, comprehensive read on the Tampa 2, click here.
So why would the Bucs want to come out and reveal which defensive scheme they’re going to play? Because if it is played perfectly, the Tampa 2 is awfully hard to attack. Just ask the Oakland Raiders, who were sacked five times, intercepted five times – with three picks being returned for touchdowns – and held to just 269 yards, including 19 yards on the ground in Super Bowl XXXVII, which was won by Tampa Bay, 48-21.
“The Tampa 2, you don’t want to surprise nobody,” McCoy said. “You let them know what’s going to happen to them and you go do it. With the old Bucs D, they let you know what they were going to do and there wasn’t anything you could do about it. That’s what we plan to do.”
New Bucs linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson, who played middle linebacker in the Tampa 2 from 1996-99, said the scheme has evolved over the years to stay potent.
“It’s evolved a little bit over the years, but the basic premises are the same,” Nickerson said. “Obviously, there has been a change of terminology and a lot of the technique has changed. There have been some changes.”
One of those changes over the years has been blitzing. While the goal of the Tampa 2 is to traditionally drop seven defenders into coverage and rush four defensive linemen, coordinators must blitz occasionally to mix it up and give quarterbacks different looks with the expectation to create big plays, such as sacks and turnovers. In his second year in Tampa Bay, legendary cornerback Ronde Barber had three sacks blitzing from the slot as the team’s nickel cornerback.
“[Former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said] we can nickel blitz him,” Nickerson said. “With Ronde you saw that as a guy that could come off the edge or get an inside ‘B’ gap blitz. Things evolve. You have subtle things that catch an offense off guard and hopefully they result in big plays for you.”
New Bucs head coach Lovie Smith blitzed his linebackers more in Chicago. In his nine seasons with the Bears, Smith blitzed middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who recorded 20.5 sacks from 2004-12.
“[Smith] did a little bit more blitzing [in Chicago],” Nickerson said. “We evolved from an under front early on to an over front in Tampa. We didn’t blitz a lot. We didn’t have to. We let the guys up front ‘blitz.’ Warren Sapp is a ‘blitz’ by himself! We did our share [of blitzing], but not as much [as the Bears did]. Today, you have to give certain looks and you are showing certain things. There are more blitzes and more ways to blitz now. Those are kind of the changes that have come with the scheme.”
One of the reasons why the Tampa 2 has lost its luster over the years is because defensive coordinators who run the defense – or variations of it – don’t have the personnel necessary to execute the scheme and they get fired. With it becoming harder to find elite three-technique defensive tackles coming out of college football, and easier to find pass-rushing outside linebackers, the 3-4 defensive front has replaced the Tampa 2 as the en vogue defense in today’s NFL.
However, with McCoy playing the ever-important three-technique position, the signing of a premier edge rusher like Johnson, the safety duo of Dashon Goldson, and Mark Barron, Mason Foster at middle linebacker along with David manning the crucial Will linebacker, Nickerson believes the Tampa 2 will have instant success in 2014 and thrive in Tampa Bay once again.
“The scheme has always been successful,” Nickerson said. “If you go back to the early stages of it, Pittsburgh was running it. Bud Carson was running it, and then Tony [Dungy] in Minnesota and then coming here to Tampa Bay. The defensive scheme has stood the test of time. Offenses do catch up at some point, and that’s where you have to make that next adjustment and get ahead a little bit more. The key thing is that we have the personnel to really make this defense come to life.”
FAB 4. INSIGHT ABOUT PEWTERREPORT.COM’S LATEST BUCS MOCK DRAFT Judging by the amount of views the latest version of PewterReport.com’s Mock Draft received it was quite a popular read. However, judging by the comments left by Bucs fans the content in the mock draft – meaning the players we had Tampa Bay selecting – it wasn’t too popular.
Keep in mind that PewterReport.com forecasts which players we think the Bucs will draft – not necessarily which ones I like. As much as I like Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr – and I do – I wouldn’t draft him with the seventh overall pick. I would take Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald or possibly Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans with the seventh selection in the draft. If Tampa Bay can trade down a few spots and pick up some extra picks in a deep draft along the way that might be preferred.
However, if I’m the Bucs and I take a player like Donald, Evans or Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan – assuming players like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews and Auburn tackle Greg Robinson are gone – I would strongly consider moving back up into the later part of the first round to grab a quarterback like Carr if he’s still on the boards. The reason is because the teams ahead of the Bucs that may pass on one in the first round – Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland – will undoubtedly be looking to pick up a QB like Carr – if he slips out of the first round – or Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo near the top of the second round.
Some fans don’t like the idea of the Bucs drafting Carr, who visited One Buccaneer Place on Wednesday, and prefer Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, UCF’s Blake Bortles or another quarterback altogether. The receiver I gave the Bucs, Fresno State’s Davante Adams in the second round, drew plenty of criticism, too. If I’m Tampa Bay and I like Carr, why not draft his go-to receiver due to the obvious chemistry the two have? That was my reasoning for slotting Adams into the second round for Tampa Bay.
“We’re always together,” Carr said. “I think we’re better friends off the field than even on the field.”
In case you haven’t watched a lot of Fresno State football, Adams is very talented prospect that reminds me of a faster version of Mike Williams. The 6-foot-1, 213-pounder ran a 4.47 at his pro day and turned in a 39-inch vertical. He’s not as good as Watkins, but Adams is only .03 seconds slower and can jump five inches higher.
“I’ve seen him dunk and he’s looking down through the rim,” Carr said of Adams. “I don’t think that’s supposed to happen with how tall he is.”
Adams, a redshirt sophomore, led all receivers last year with 131 receptions for 1,718 yards and 24 touchdowns, and finished his Fresno State career with 233 catches for 3,030 yards and 38 scores. While the 21-year old Adams gets knocked by some for playing in a pass-happy spread offense that allowed him to put him big numbers, new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is planning on incorporating some of those spread gimmicks, such as bubble screens and middle screens, that Adams used his run-after-catch ability to thrive in with the Bulldogs.
“I don’t like to get tackled,” Adams said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “So I just run around as much as I can and try to get in the end zone. And I got in there a few times. So if that means setting records, that’s great that I get to be mentioned with some of the best in Fresno State history. But the numbers don’t mean as much to me as getting two conference championships back-to-back like we did and moving forward and seeing how excited my teammates are when we get a big win.
“Things worked out a little better than I expected, but I’m blessed to be on a team like I am. My quarterback’s great, and the other receivers take a lot of stress off me. So I got put in a real good situation.”
I can understand some of the criticism about the other picks by PewterReport.com, especially the lack of another wide receiver in this draft after the selection of Fresno State’s Davante Adams in the second round. I thought about putting Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, who has met with the team, or Colorado’s Paul Richardson in the third round for the Bucs, but the team does have a strong need to find someone who can play guard, and provide depth along the offensive line.
I’m not a huge fan of North Dakota State’s Billy Turner, who underwhelmed at the Senior Bowl, but has visited One Buccaneer Place. I’d rather see Tampa Bay draft a guard like Baylor’s Cyril Richardson, Stanford’s David Yankey or LSU’s Trai Turner instead, but again, I’m forecasting who I think the Bucs will select. For the record, I wasn’t a fan of the Bucs’ interest in wide receiver Michael Clayton in 2004 or running back Cadillac Williams in 2005, either, but that didn’t stop the team from taking them.
The team has also shown a good deal of interest in LSU middle linebacker Lamin Barrow, who is the fifth-round pick in the mock draft, and the same could be said of Bloomsburg defensive end Larry Webster, who was the sixth-round pick, and Bowling Green tight end Alex Bayer, who was the seventh-round pick. I like Baylor wide receiver Tevin Reese better, but I don’t have any indication that he’s received any interest from the Buccaneers.
The good news for those Tampa Bay fans that are fretting over our latest mock draft is that out of the mock drafts and Bucs’ Best Bets we forecast each year, we only typically hit on one or two actual draft picks by the team. That’s difficult enough as it is.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Count Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster as among those happy that Jonathan Casillas, last year’s starting strongside linebacker, was re-signed. Casillas, who is only 26 and entering his sixth NFL season, is the veteran among the Tampa Bay linebackers.
“It’s great,” Foster said. “J.C. is a great guy and the leader in our room. He’s a good guy to talk to about anything – off the field problems or whatever you’ve got. It’s good to have him back. Just the way we play together, it’s going to be exciting to play in this new defense and make some big plays for this team.”
• Not only will Foster receive quality coaching from a former legendary middle linebacker who thrived in the Tampa 2 in new linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson. Foster will also receive some tutoring this training camp from another former linebacker who was a stud in the middle of the Tampa 2.
New Bucs head coach Lovie Smith coached Brian Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowler, in Chicago, and has invited him to Tampa Bay this summer.
“He asked me to come help and hang out for a week in training camp,” Urlacher said. “I’m not a very good coach.”
But Nickerson is, and coached Urlacher to one of his finest NFL seasons in 2007, which was his lone season as the Bears linebackers coach. That year, Urlacher recorded 123 tackles, 10 pass breakups, five sacks, a career-high five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and two fumble recoveries.
Between Nickerson and Urlacher, Foster will be in good hands this summer once training camp rolls around.
• For those of you wondering if Nickerson, a former outspoken, trash-talking middle linebacker in Tampa Bay, will amp up the energy among the linebackers with his fiery presence on the sidelines – don’t hold your breath. There will be times when Nickerson will become animated, but he’s more reserved now with age. Interestingly, Nickerson told me that he won’t be demanding that a rah-rah, vocal leader emerge from the linebacker unit under his watch.
“Hey, I talked a little bit, but I didn’t talk as much as Sapp, though!” Nickerson said. “Everybody is different, though. Everybody has a different way of leading. I don’t know that I am looking for that fire and brimstone kind of guy, that guy that is going to be like that.
“That stuff will take care of itself when we get on the field, get some pads on and get into some live action and start getting after it that way. I think we have a really good group of guys from top to bottom. They are all eager to learn and get better. As a coach, I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
The most demonstrative of the linebackers is Foster, the team’s middle linebacker, but the real vocal leader on the defense figures to be outspoken defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, whose leadership role and influence over other players is ever-expanding in Tampa Bay.
• One player to keep an eye on in this draft for Tampa Bay is Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. The team had a private workout for the 6-foot, 190-pound Hokies standout. Fuller is expected to be drafted in the second half of the first round, and he could be a target for the Bucs if they can trade down in the first round or trade back up into the first round to select him.
Fuller is a physical, instinctive cornerback that is proficient in pass coverage and run support. He would be an ideal fit in Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense. Fuller was a team captain at Virginia Tech where he had 42 starts, which is a testament to his durability and toughness.
Fuller, who ran 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and a 38.5-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine, has been an All-ACC performer the last three years. During his Hokies career Fuller broke up 32 passes and intercepted 10. He also had 23.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his Virginia Tech career.
• Keel and Curley Winery’s 7th Annual Blueberry Festival is quickly approaching. If you are looking for something to do in late April now that the NFL Draft has been pushed back to May 8-10, come out to the Keel and Curley Winery and Two Henrys Brewing Company in Plant City, Fla. from April 25-27 for the Blueberry Festival.
Admission is free and it’s a family-friendly event. The event, which features plenty of award-winning wine and beer, as well as live entertainment, games for the kids, and dozens of food and craft vendors, starts on Friday, April 25 and runs through Sunday. Of course the highlight is the you-pick blueberries, which allows you and your family to traverse the winery and pick as many fresh blueberries as you want.
My family went last year and we had an absolute blast. I also saw about a dozen PewterReport.com and Bucs fans at the Keel and Curley Winery, which is great. We’ll likely be going on Saturday, April 26, this year, so I hope to see you out there. Click here for more information.
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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