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. It was third-and-5 on the Tampa Bay 23-yard line when Philadelphia rookie quarterback Nick Foles saw receiver Marvin McNutt break across the middle of the field for what would be a crucial first down. The Eagles were trailing the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, 21-17, with 22 seconds left, and needed a touchdown to pull off an unlikely fourth quarter comeback.
Philadelphia had blown a 10-point lead at halftime and witnessed quarterback Josh Freeman get hot and lead Tampa Bay back in the second half. The Bucs had a 21-10 lead with 7:21 left in the fourth quarter.
Foles and McNutt were about to change that, but Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer, a midseason signee, intervened. Gorrer had a chance to make a game-clinching interception inside the 10-yard line, but dropped it.
“It seemed like it was right there and I kind of got excited, you know,” Gorrer said after the game. “I didn’t look it all the way in. I’ve got to make that play.”
On fourth-and-5, Foles hit wide receiver Jason Avant for a 22-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 1. Foles spiked the ball on the next play to stop the clock with two seconds left. On second-and-1, Foles zipped a touchdown strike to Jeremy Maclin, who eluded rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson, in the front right section of the end zone.
Game over. Philadelphia, who only had three wins all season, beat Tampa Bay, which was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers at halftime, in embarrassing fashion, 23-21.
The loss was devastating and dropped the Bucs’ record to 6-7 on the season. Reeling from the outcome of the Philadelphia game, Tampa Bay would suffer its worst defeat of the season, losing 41-0 a week later in New Orleans.
Gorrer had a chance to be a hero against the Eagles. Imagine how his fortune could have changed if he had held on to the ball. Gorrer would have finished the season with two interceptions, and not one.
The Buccaneers would have finished the 2012 campaign 8-8 with a .500 record and not a 7-9 mark that denotes a losing season. Freeman would have been heralded for leading the Bucs back in the second half to victory. Instead, the Eagles game was one of nine losses he presided over.
Tampa Bay’s pass defense may not have been perceived as being as bad as it actually was if Gorrer hangs on to that interception. The secondary would have risen up against Oakland, San Diego and Atlanta with interceptions and big plays down the stretch – in addition to Philadelphia.
Instead of being a guy fighting for the fourth or fifth cornerback spot on the depth chart behind Darrelle Revis, Eric Wright, Jonathan Banks and Johnson, Gorrer would have been on par with Johnson, who finished his rookie season with three interceptions, one of which was returned for a game-sealing touchdown against the Chargers, along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Gorrer’s stock with the Buccaneers certainly would have been elevated if he had picked off Foles on third down instead of dropping the pass that hit him in the hands.
But instead of dwelling on that play and letting it kill his career, Gorrer did what every cornerback is taught to do – forget about a bad play and move on to the next one. Cornerbacks, especially in the NFL, can’t let one bad play continue to beat them.
“On that play my job is always not to let the receiver catch the ball,” Gorrer said, recalling that fateful play seven months later during the team’s OTAs (organized team activities) at One Buc Place. “I did my job, and getting an interception would have been a bonus. That interception would have sealed the win for us, so in that aspect I could have done more. I failed to catch the ball. As a corner, you have to have a short-term memory and I had to go on to the next play. I’m here now to get better and I can’t wait for another opportunity to seal a win for us.”
While Gorrer dropped that interception against Philadelphia, the former Baltimore and Seattle cornerback was able to record his first pick two weeks later in a 28-13 home loss to St. Louis against Sam Bradford.
“It was real special to get my first career pick, but we were still in the game at that point and I had to go on to the next play,” Gorrer said. “This year I expect to make those plays more often.”
Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Gorrer has the size and speed combination the Bucs savor at the cornerback position. The Texas A&M product stands 6-foot, weighs 190 pounds and has been blessed with 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash.
Gorrer was taking reps with the second team while Revis sat out the OTAs and mini-camp as he continued to rehab his surgically repaired knee. Gorrer is ahead of others that have been on the Bucs roster longer, such as Myron Lewis and Anthony Gaitor, on the depth chart, which bodes well for his chances of making the team.
Gorrer is approaching his first Buccaneers training camp with the right approach. He is respectful of his competition, but has enough confidence to believe that he will not only make the 53-man roster again this year, but do so much more.
“The sky is the limit for our secondary this year, especially for a guy like Leonard Johnson, a young guy who had three picks,” Gorrer said. “Now I’m competing with Leonard, but I think I should have more picks than Leonard – and even Darrelle – this year. That’s just my mentality. That’s the mentality any cornerback has have to have in this league.”
If Lewis, the team’s talented, 6-foot-2, 203-pound cornerback, had that kind of confidence he wouldn’t be considered a bust after being drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Instead, Gorrer has that mentality and he’s in position to steal Lewis’ roster spot and make the team with a solid training camp and preseason.
FAB 2. Not only does Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer believe in himself, he is also a big believer in Tampa Bay’s revamped secondary. Gorrer was claimed off waivers from Seattle last year on Halloween due to the fact that starting cornerback Aqib Talib was traded in early October, and Eric Wright, the team’s other starter, was facing a four-game suspension for the use of the performance-enhancing drug Adderall.
Due to the team’s lack of quality depth at the cornerback position down the stretch, Gorrer was immediately thrown into the fire on Sundays along with undrafted free agent Leonard Johnson.
“Getting a lot of playing time wasn’t a first-time thing for me because I did play a lot in Baltimore,” Gorrer said. “It was hard, but as a professional you never know what to expect but you have to show up and play. I took the playing time for what it was and I’m glad I have this offseason to really know the terminology and the techniques. Now I feel like I’m on an even playing field with the rest of the guys that were here before me.”
Gorrer has had the benefit of preparing for practice each week during the offseason rather than the pressure that comes with preparing for a game every Sunday. It’s a much slower pace that favors technique work. He also has a new position coach in Tony Oden, who replaced Ron Cooper after one ineffective season in Tampa Bay. Cooper was let out of his contract because he was not vocal enough, especially on game days where veteran defensive back Ronde Barber would have to step up on occasion and take over the adjustments on the sidelines on Sundays.
“Coach Oden is younger and more detailed with the way we are playing our technique,” Gorrer said. “Coach Oden is a family guy. Coach Cooper was, too, but Coach Oden is more vocal and he’s more hands-on at the position. You have to be when we were where we were last year. He’s a lot more vocal and that’s what we need in our unit. This year we’re on a mission.”
The Bucs didn’t just upgrade their secondary with a new cornerbacks coach in Oden, who won a Super Bowl ring with New Orleans and spent last year coaching the position in Jacksonville, they also upgraded the talent. It started with the signing of Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson in free agency, included trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis and culminated with the selection of Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Although he hasn’t practiced one down in Tampa Bay yet, Revis has already made a huge impact on the secondary, according to Gorrer.
“It’s an honor just to be on the same field and in the same meeting room with Darrelle,” Gorrer said. “I try to pick his brain every time I come off the field. ‘What did you see? What would you have done?’ If he’s telling me something I have to listen and take it to heart. He’s Darrelle Revis for a reason. I’m picking his brain and he’s a big help to our whole group. He’s been like an extra coach for us. We’re fortunate to have him here.”
Although Banks has stepped on the field as the nickel cornerback ahead of Gorrer and Johnson on the depth chart, the team-oriented Gorrer has all the respect in the world for him.
“I think Banks has a lot of talent for a young guy,” Gorrer said. “He’s coming in not knowing what to really expect. I think when he really gets into the defense and knows it the sky is the limit for Johnthan. That’s what we need from him. We need him.”
One of the most impressive things about Banks is the fact that he can bend his knees and sink his hips so well for a tall cornerback that stands 6-foot-2, and weighs 185 pounds.
“For a guy to be that big and tall, he can move and bend and run so well,” Gorrer said. “He’s what we need in our secondary and I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Gorrer said that he has honed his coverage skills this season and is ready to show vast improvement in 2013. He credits working against two of the best receivers in the NFL for his development.
“Every day you are going against Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson,” Gorrer said. “Every day in practice it’s game time. I am a big believer in the way you practice is the way you play.”
On the day of his interview with PewterReport.com, Gorrer gave up a fade pass to Williams in the end zone for one touchdown and also surrendered another score to Jackson, who used his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame to literally leap over Gorrer and snatch a pass that was just above his helmet. Gorrer had ideal position on both plays, but couldn’t stop two great passes from Josh Freeman and two amazing catches by Tampa Bay’s gifted wide receivers.
Jackson makes so many crazy, acrobatic catches in practice that it almost doesn’t seem fair to players like Gorrer that can’t defend him even though they are in perfect position to do so.
“Yes, he does,” Gorrer said. “I agree. But I’d rather have him do that to me in practice than to have somebody do that to me on Sundays. I’m glad he’s on our team and getting us better every day. That’s just how it is.
“I’m getting better every day from going up against those guys. Not just myself, but our entire unit. It accelerates your learning curve when you go up against those guys. I ask myself, ‘What am I not doing that they are doing to be great?’ If they are going hard, I have to go hard. I can’t let those guys embarrass me in front of my peers and my teammates. By going against Mike and Vincent I’m ready for anybody come Sunday.”
The Bucs defensive backs will be facing some of the league’s best receivers, such as Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson this season with the likes of Arizona and Detroit on the schedule, not to mention the annual challenges that come when facing Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina twice a year in the NFC South.
“When you mentioned those names you didn’t mention that we have Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson,” Gorrer said. “Every Sunday in the NFL you are playing against a professional athlete at wide receiver that is going to bring their ‘A’ game. You want to go up against the best. Somebody is always watching. Let’s say you have a great game against a top receiver. That great game could further your career. I’m looking forward to playing against the likes of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald or whoever is on the schedule.”
FAB 3. While the Buccaneers appear to be quite stocked with talent at the cornerback position with Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis, Eric Wright, Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson and Danny Gorrer among others, Tampa Bay would be wise to scout the position hard this fall for the 2014 NFL Draft. The reason is that Wright, Gorrer and fellow cornerback Myron Lewis are all in contract years.
That leaves Revis, Banks, Johnson and Anthony Gaitor, who is not a lock to make the team this year, as the only experienced cornerbacks that are currently under contract in 2014. General manager Mark Dominik believes that the Bucs can never have enough cornerbacks, evidenced by the fact that he added Revis via a trade with the New York Jets and still spent a second-round pick on Banks this year.
It’s a safe bet that Tampa Bay will draft another cornerback in 2014, so let the scouting begin. As always, the PewterReport.com staff studies hard for the draft, and here are a few of the cornerbacks I’ll be watching closely during college football season.
Keep an eye on the University of Florida. The Gators have a trio of big, talented cornerbacks in juniors Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy and senior Jaylen Watkins. Roberson is 6-foot, 190 pounds, while Purifoy is 6-foot, 185 pounds. Watkins is slightly smaller at 5-foot-11, 182 pounds.
Roberson has three interceptions, 14 pass breakups, 45 tackles, and a fumble recovery in his two-year career. He also had a 31-yard punt return against Jacksonville State and a 50-yard punt return against Florida State. Roberson is big, physical cornerback but can get beaten deep because he doesn’t have elite speed. Watch his highlights against Vanderbilt by clicking here.
Purifoy has yet to record an interception in college, but caused three of his four career forced fumbles last year, in addition to breaking up five passes and blocking two kicks. Purifoy also recorded 51 of his 78 career tackles last year as a sophomore. He is one of the fastest, most athletic cornerbacks in the nation. See how fast he is by clicking here.
Watkins, who recorded all three of his three interceptions last year as a junior, has 81 career tackles, two tackles for loss and 14 pass breakups. His interception against Kentucky last year was returned 26 yards for a touchdown.
Aside from Florida, another college team to scout for cornerbacks next year is Virginia Tech. Having produced the likes of NFL players like DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Flowers among others, the Hokies have a pair of big, physical cornerbacks ready for the NFL this year in Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller.
Exum, who has first-round potential, is an amazing physical specimen. Standing 6-foot, Exum has a chisled, muscle-bound frame and weighs 224 pounds. His body type resembles that of former Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was a first-round pick in 2013. He’s not the most fluid of athletes, and he has to work on his technique and avoid penalties, but he’s an intriguing prospect with a lot of production. Here is a highlight tape of Exum against Bowling Green last year.
Exum, a former safety, has six career interceptions, and recorded five of those in a breakout season in 2012. He also has 182 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 35 pass breakups, five forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks in his three years with the Hokies. However, Exum tore his ACL, his meniscus and broke a bone in his knee during a pick up basketball game in January and his status for the season opener in August against Alabama is in question. However, he is on the mend after having renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrew re-construct his knee.
Virginia Tech may have to rely more heavily on Fuller this season, especially early on due to Exum’s recovery. Fuller, who is 6-foot, 190 pounds, had 52 tackles, five pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble in 2012, and has 149 stops, 18 pass breakups, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a blocked punt recovery for a touchdown against Appalachian State in his Hokies career. You can check out Fuller’s highlights against Georgia Tech from 2012 right here.
The tandem of Exum and Fuller is kind of reminiscent of the Mississippi State cornerback situation last year, which featured Banks and Darius Slay, who was also taken in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Three more cornerbacks to watch include San Jose State senior Bene Benwikere, Oregon junior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Duke senior Ross Cockrell.
Benwikere, who is 6-foot, and weighs 192 pounds, had seven interceptions last season for the Spartans, in addition to two fumble recoveries – one of which was returned 37 yards for a touchdown against New Mexico State. Three of Benwikere’s interceptions came against Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron, who only threw five all season, in San Jose State’s 52-43 victory.
Benwikere has nine interceptions for 180 yards and one touchdown in his career, along with 11 pass breakups, 159 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, and a blocked kick, which came in the team’s 29-20 bowl win over Bowling Green last year. You can see Benwikere’s skill set by watching this highlight tape. (Profanity warning.)
Ekpre-Olomu had four interceptions last year, including one of USC quarterback Matt Barkley, and two of Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, one of which he returned 54 yards for a touchdown against Arizona. The lightning-fast cornerback also recorded 63 of his 97 career tackles last year, while breaking up 16 passes of the 24 he’s batted down in his time at Oregon. Ekepre-Olomu, who is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, has forced an astounding six fumbles in his Ducks career. Check out his highlight film by clicking here. (Profanity warning.)
Cockrell had 13 of his 29 career pass breakups last year, in addition to recording five of his nine career interceptions at Duke. The physical, 6-foot, 182-pounder has 187 career tackles and a forced fumble. One of his picks in 2012 came against Clemson’s Taj Boyd, who is considered to be a potential first-round pick in next year’s draft. You can watch Cockrell’s highlights by clicking here. A couple other cornerbacks to keep an eye on in 2014 include a pair of seniors in TCU’s Jason Verrett and Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin, who are vying to be the top cornerback prospect next year, in addition to Ohio State junior Bradley Roby.
FAB 4. Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams expects Tampa Bay’s ninth-ranked offense to become even more potent with a full year in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s system. The Bucs averaged over 24 points per game last year and will try to improve upon those numbers this year in the quest to make the postseason.
“It’s the same offense with the same people,” Williams said. “We’ve added a few new people, but this year we know the offense. We’re going in there knowing where we break off, knowing which defender we’ve got, and knowing what zone to read. Now it’s just going out there and reacting to things.”
Williams, who had 63 catches for a career-high 996 yards with a team-leading nine touchdowns last year, says that quarterback Josh Freeman is ready to pick up where he left off last year after setting franchise records for passing yards (4,065 yards) and passing touchdowns (27). Both Williams and Freeman are entering a contract year.
“He has this offense down pat,” Williams said. “He knows all the hots (hot routes) and the sights (sight adjustments). That was our big problem last year. We couldn’t get on the same page with hots and sights and knowing where to break our routes off and things like that. He knows everything now. We’re going in there and just playing now.
“If you know what you are going to do out there at all times, with comfort comes confidence.”
Williams, who had a career-best 17 plays of 20 yards or more in 2012, has never been one to play without confidence. As Tampa Bay’s mini-camp came to a conclusion he said he couldn’t wait to go up against Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis in training camp.
“I keep telling him I’m not one of those receivers he can come up and check,” Williams said. “He said he’s gone up against the best and won. I told him if the ball is in the air I’m going to get it – even if he breaks on it. We keep arguing every day. I can’t wait to go against a guy of that caliber – a guy known as a shutdown corner. He can get me better.”
FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until next week’s edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum is recovering from a torn ACL and a torn meniscus that he suffered in January, and using Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis’ comeback from a similar injury as motivation. Exum, who is expected to be one of the top cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft, loves Revis and even came up with a rap song and video as a tribute to his favorite player. Check it out his rap video by clicking here.
• Tampa Bay’s secondary gained some confidence from beating the best team in the NFC, Atlanta, 22-17 in Week 17 last year. Quarterback Matt Ryan was held to just 238 yards passing and one touchdown, while the Falcons’ longest play of the game was a 28-yard reception by wide receiver Julio Jones thanks to a heavy dose of Cover 2. The game ended with a pass breakup by Bucs rookie safety Mark Barron, who swatted the ball away from tight end Tony Gonzalez on fourth down to seal the win.
“That was just an example of what we can do as a unit,” Bucs cornerback Danny Gorrer said. “That last drive in that game was what we needed to get our minds right this offseason. We put it on film, so why can’t we do that each Sunday? We take that game and we run with it. Now we’ve added a few more pieces to our secondary that will only help us.”
• What makes Tampa Bay Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson great? It’s not just his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame or his athleticism. It’s his work ethic.
“Every year when I go back and we start our offseason program I have a beginner’s mentality, something I stole from (former Chargers legendary wide receiver) Charlie Joiner,” Jackson said. “How do you continue to be good when you have been at the level so high and not get satisfied? So my mentality is to approach it as a beginner. Let me learn again, let me open that playbook, let me look at that first page like I have never seen it. I do that every day. We have a great coaching staff. Coach [Greg] Schiano has done a great job and I couldn’t be more impressed with the guys he has brought in. I feel like I am going to better this year than at anytime in my career. So I am excited about that.”
Keep in mind that Jackson set career highs with 72 catches for 1,384 yards along with eight touchdowns in 2012. Jackson, who had 24 plays of 20 yards or more to lead the team, also set Bucs records for the most receiving yards in a game (216 against New Orleans), and his 95-yard catch versus the Saints is the longest in team history. Can’t wait to see what Jackson will do for an encore.
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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