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. I had the chance to catch up with former Buccaneers star defensive back Dwight Smith at Ronde Barber’s retirement announcement. It was good to see the 34-year old Smith, who entered the NFL as Tampa Bay’s third-round draft pick in 2001 and played a huge role in the Buccaneers’ 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Smith, who was the team’s nickel cornerback in 2002, set an NFL record with two interceptions that he returned for touchdowns. His first pick, which he returned 44 yards for a score, came in the third quarter and put Tampa Bay up 34-3. He ended the scoring for the Bucs with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the game’s waning moments, pushing the Bucs’ lead to 48-21.
Free safety Dexter Jackson recorded two interceptions in the first three quarters and returned them for a combined 34 yards. Because the Super Bowl MVP voting ends near the beginning of the fourth quarter, Jackson was announced as the winner just moments before Smith’s Super Bowl record second interception return for a touchdown.
You can take a stroll down memory lane and recall Smith’s Super Bowl exploits by clicking here.
Jackson became the second safety and the third defensive back to win Super Bowl MVP honors. In addition to the distinction and the trophy, Jackson also was awarded a brand new Cadillac Escalade.
Although his record-setting accomplishments were better than those of Jackson’s there are no hard feelings from Smith over getting snubbed for the Super MVP award.
“I have no regrets whatsoever,” Smith said. “Dexter Jackson is a great friend of mine, and if I was the Super Bowl MVP that means I would have to take it away from him for me to get it. That’s something I would never want to do. They give out the Super Bowl MVP every year, but I set a record that could stand forever.”
Smith’s two interceptions of Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon that were returned for scores totaled 94 yards, which trails only Darrien Gordon’s Super Bowl record of 108 yards worth of interception returns in Super Bowl XXXIII.
As much as Smith treasures his Super Bowl record of two touchdowns on interception returns, he is most proud of the fact that he helped the Buccaneers achieve a monumental team goal for the 2002 season that turned into a franchise record. Prior to the start of the 2002 season, new Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden challenged the team’s Super Bowl-ready defense to score nine defensive touchdowns, as the revamped offense would take some time to come together, and learn and properly execute the new playbook.
The Buccaneers entered Super Bowl XXXVII with six defensive touchdowns but would need a miraculous performance by the defense to reach Gruden’s lofty goal.
“When Gruden said that, that’s when Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks stood up and said, ‘This is what we’re built on. We’re built on defense, so put it on our backs,’” Smith said. “We would rather have the game put on our backs than the offense. We came out and lost the first game that year, but when we went out to Baltimore and shut them out – the switch went on. Brooks got the first defensive touchdown when he picked off a pass and returned it all the way. Karl “The Truth” Williams also returned a punt for a touchdown in that game. We understood right then that we didn’t need offensive scores to win games.
“So we walked into the Super Bowl three touchdowns short and nobody thought it was going to happen. Nobody thinks we are going to score three defensive touchdowns in the Super Bowl. When I got the first one, Derrick Brooks brought up that it was seven on the sidelines. He actually brought up the goal in our huddle.”
The Brooks took matters into his own hands with a 44-yard, game-clinching interception return for a touchdown of his own late in the fourth quarter.
“Then it just so happens that Brooks gets the eighth,” Smith said. “We’re thinking that eight is good enough because we’re actually winning the game at that point. We wanted nine, but eight was good enough to win the Super Bowl.
“I put the ninth touchdown on the board. That means just as much to me as the two interceptions for touchdowns I had in the Super Bowl because that was a goal we set as a defense in the beginning of the year. We were a defense that wanted to reach or exceed any goal. For us to reach it was huge.”
Smith recalls setting his Super Bowl record and securing Gruden’s goal of nine interceptions with just seconds remaining in regulation.
“Then the ball goes up in the air and I see it and all I’m thinking is that it’s touchdown number nine,” Smith said. “I’m not thinking that it’s a Super Bowl record. I had no idea. I’m thinking about our defense scoring nine touchdowns on the year. It’s funny how it happened.”
While fans may remember the names of legendary Tampa Bay cornerbacks like Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham and Brian Kelly first, Smith’s performance in Super Bowl XXXVII outshined them all in the Buccaneers’ biggest game.
FAB 2. If rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks pans out it and becomes a good or even great starting cornerback for Tampa Bay it would resurrect an amazing streak of finding the right cornerbacks in the second and third round for the Buccaneers. Donnie Abraham was a third-round pick in 1996. Ronde Barber was a third-round pick in 1997. Brian Kelly was a second-round pick in 1998. Dwight Smith was a third-round pick in 2001.
Banks, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2013, has a chance to continue the Bucs’ trend of finding talented cornerbacks in the early part of the draft. Usually the Bucs strike gold in the second or the third round with cornerbacks – the lone exception being Myron Lewis, who was a third-round pick in 2010.
Aside from Lewis, the four other former Bucs cornerbacks are all in the top 14 on Tampa Bay’s all-time interception list. Of course Barber leads the way with 47 interceptions for 923 yards and eight touchdowns in his 16 seasons, and he is followed by Abraham, who had 31 interceptions for 341 yards and two scores as a Buccaneer from 1996-2001.
Kelly had 22 interceptions for 237 yards and a touchdown in his Bucs career, which lasted from 1998-2007, and ranks seventh on Tampa Bay’s all-time interceptions list. He is right ahead of Aqib Talib, a first-round pick in 2008, who had 18 interceptions for 277 yards and three touchdowns in his four and half seasons in Tampa Bay. Smith had 12 picks for 55 yards, but added two more that he returned for touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, Lewis has yet to record his first NFL interception or even see significant playing time on defense. After three years of disappointing play and earning the “bust” label, Lewis will be fighting for his professional life in training camp and is a long-shot to make the team this year despite being blessed with great size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and incredible athleticism.
Banks comes to Tampa Bay with proven playmaking ability, evidenced by his 16 career interceptions that he returned for 320 yards and three touchdowns at Mississippi State. It would be surprising not to see him crack the top 15 in interceptions by the end of his rookie contract in Tampa Bay.
The rookie cornerback has been starting in place of the injured Darrelle Revis during OTAs (organized team activities). When Revis enters the starting lineup – likely opposite Eric Wright – Banks will likely become the team’s nickel cornerback and see plenty of playing time as a rookie, starting with a Week 1 matchup in New York against the Jets.
The early guess here is that Banks will shine in Greg Schiano’s defense and have a very fine career with the Buccaneers.
FAB 3. Much was made over the 2013 Dallas Cowboys’ draft board that BloggingTheBoys.com, a website that follows that team, reconstructed after team owner Jerry Jones held a press conference in front of it. Bucs fans may have been surprised to learn that Dallas gave a sixth-round grade on cornerback Johnthan Banks, who was selected in the second round by Tampa Bay.
Quarterback Mike Glennon, who was the Bucs’ third-round pick, received a fifth-round grade from the Cowboys. Nose tackle Akeem Spence, who was chosen in the fourth round, was given a fourth-round grade by Dallas.
It just goes to show you how much draft opinions on players vary from team to team. If you were reading PewterReport.com before the 2013 NFL Draft you would know how high we were on Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson. In fact, we believed he was the top-rated offensive lineman in the draft.
It turns out the Bucs had the same opinion and had him as the top-rated offensive tackle, followed by Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. In the 2013 NFL Draft, Fisher went first overall to Kansas City, while Joeckel went second overall to Jacksonville. Johnson went to Philadelphia, who had the fourth overall pick.
Want more draft scoop? Sources tell PewterReport.com that if the Bucs didn’t make the trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis that the team might have taken Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert with the 13th overall selection.
He was the highest-rated player remaining on the draft board at No. 13, even though tight end was not a pressing need in the organization’s eyes – evidenced by the fact that the Bucs didn’t take one at all in the 2013 NFL Draft. This was a weak crop of tight ends, and the Bucs really only liked two of them – Eifert and Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce.
The Bucs might have taken the best player available in their eyes – Eifert – and then addressed the cornerback position by taking Johnthan Banks with their second round pick, which actually happened, and then traded back up into the second round for UConn cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, who was a PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bet. Banks, Wreh-Wilson and Eric Wright would have likely formed Tampa Bay’s starting trio at the cornerback position as head coach Greg Schiano even said in a press conference prior to the draft that he would not be opposed to starting rookies at the cornerback spot.
The Bucs had lower first-round grades on Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant and Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who would not have been options for the Bucs at No. 13. Trufant was taken with the 22nd overall pick by Atlanta, and Rhodes was taken with the 25th overall selection by Minnesota.
Had Banks not been available to Tampa Bay in the second round, the Bucs would have likely drafted SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, who was a PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bet, and then drafted Wreh-Wilson. Tampa Bay was high on Hunt, who was interviewed by the team for over an hour in Mobile, and visited One Buccaneer Place on a pre-draft visit.
FAB 4. The Buccaneers agreed not to trade cornerback Eric Wright after he agreed to a contract renegotiation that reduced his contract down to a one-year, $1.5 million deal after he signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract in 2012. But the team did not guarantee him a starting job, nor did it guarantee him that Wright would be a part of the team in 2013.
So far, Wright has done what has been asked of him from general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano this offseason. But just last year, Schiano was singing the praises of former Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib and refuting a report by PewterReport.com that indicated that Talib was being shopped on the trading block prior to the 2012 NFL Draft. (http://www.pewterreport.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=7903:schiano-refutes-talib-trade-talks) a few months later, Talib was traded to New England for a fourth-round draft pick.
Schiano was complimentary of Wright when asked about him two weeks in the midst of OTAs (organized team activities), but stopped short of naming him as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks.
“Well, he is doing some good things,” Schiano said. “Again, it is all about the competition, right? And we will not know until we get going. There are some guys that finish the year that they think it is their position and Eric thinks it is his position. We will see. I am not sure exactly how everything will turn out. Nor do I care. I like the guys that are right now competing and that is the most important thing. We will let it all play out.”
Of course Wright, who has been running with the starters during the OTAs and playing in the slot in nickel defense, fully intends on maintaining his role as a starter.
“I have been playing this game for six years and I have been a starter for six years,” Wright said. “That says something about the person and player I am and where my mind state is at all times. I do not see it being any different.”
If Wright does all the right things – no pun intended – he will achieve that goal in a very important contract year. However, if he slips up just once with one more league suspension or a team infraction, Wright will be jettisoned during the season just like Talib was last year.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• While at the Ronde Barber retirement announcement press conference, former Tampa Bay defensive back Dwight Smith talked about making the transition from cornerback, which he played from 2001-02, to safety, which he played for the Bucs from 2003-04 when he replaced Dexter Jackson in the starting lineup. Barber played the first 15 years of his career at cornerback and the final year starting at free safety in 2012 where he led the team in interceptions with four as a Pro Bowl alternate.
“It was the hardest transition of my life,” Smith said. “It was definitely the hardest transition of my life because at cornerback you are a singular focus guy. Either you are reading the tight end or you are reading your guy. You never have this wide-open field of keys you have. As a corner it’s so much about reacting. If a guy pump fakes, you react. As a safety, you can’t. You have to wait until the ball is released to react. As a guy like me who wanted to be at the point of attack so quick, I had to learn patience at safety. That was the biggest adjustment to me.”
Like Barber, Smith made a successful transition to safety as he played the position for four more seasons (New Orleans in 2005, Minnesota in 2006-07 and Detroit in 2008).
“I led the Bucs in interceptions in my first year at safety,” Smith said, recalling his career-high five interceptions in 2003. “People might look at the number and see five interceptions, but three of them might be tipped balls or overthrows, so they didn’t really count in our DBs room. I made more plays and breaks on balls as a cornerback in 2002 [when I had four], but I had more interceptions as a safety.”
• So what is Dwight Smith doing these days and why did he show up to Ronde Barber’s retirement press conference and Warren Sapp’s Bucs Ring of Honor ceremony in a suit and tie? Smith is a partner in the Pro Athlete Planning Network selling annuities and helping athletes make a successful transition to life after football.
“I’m a part owner of a financial planning firm,” Smith said. “We do life insurance and annuities on players. I’m also doing speed and agility training and I’m trying to stay active. I want to give back as much as I can.
“The way I stay above water is that I bought myself a $2.5 million annuity. It basically pays me monthly the rest of my life. I try to get guys to see the value of that. You make all this money – there’s no need to find work when you’re done. You should work because you want to – not because you have to.”
• The abrupt retirement of newly signed wide receiver Steve Smith was no skin off the Buccaneers’ back. Sometimes in the NFL there is a quid pro quo situation in place between teams and agents, and that was the case with Smith. Newly signed free safety Dashon Goldson shares the same agent, Ben Dogra, with Smith.
While it wasn’t a contract stipulation, the Bucs threw Dogra a bone by signing Smith to a one-year contract after signing Goldson. Those are the types of favors teams do for agents sometimes to help strengthen relationships and help land premier free agents, and that was the case with the signing of Smith.
Dogra has had a great relationship with general manager Mark Dominik over the years and that played a big part in the Bucs re-signing right guard Davin Joseph in addition to the signing of Goldson, left guard Carl Nicks and other players throughout the years. The Bucs wanted to increase the competition at wide receiver and didn’t mind giving Smith a shot as a favor to Dogra to help strengthen the relationship even more.
• The Buccaneers weren’t too surprised by the sudden retirement of tight end Drake Dunsmore this offseason. Dunsmore, who was a seventh-round draft pick a year ago, spent all year on the team’s practice squad last year and the Bucs wanted to promote him to the active roster, but got a sense that he really didn’t love the game of football, which is why he stayed on the practice squad.
The departure of veteran Dallas Clark would have aided Dunsmore’s opportunity to make the 53-man roster, but it’s obvious he didn’t want it bad enough – hence the retirement. Dunsmore’s tale of players trying out a year in the NFL and then suddenly retiring is nothing new. It happens occasionally in pro football, but it’s a lesson learned for the Bucs college scouting department when it comes to judging a player’s passion for the game in pre-draft interviews and background checks.
• I want to continue to promote The Theater Doctor in time for Father’s Day. If you’re a dad and your wife is looking for the perfect gift for you, have her call The Theater Doctor and hook you up with a big screen TV, a surround sound system or a home theater system for your big day. Bucs season is right around the corner and every man cave needs a big screen TV and surround sound to fully enjoy watching NFL football on TV.
Click on the The Theater Doctor ads at the top of PewterReport.com or call (813) 929-6816.
• And finally, thank you for your congratulations on my recent nuptials. They are very much appreciated.
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: email@example.com
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