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. McCOWN SHOOTING FOR 70 PERCENT COMPLETION PERCENTAGE
Josh McCown’s accuracy is the thing that immediately stood out when watching him during the OTAs this spring. I didn’t realize how inaccurate Josh Freeman was until comparing his hot-and-cold practices to McCown’s.
“If you can complete the throwing motion in practice you should be up around 80-85 percent,” McCown said. “If you are standing in the pocket and complete the throwing motion in this league, you should complete a high percentage of your throws. They don’t touch you in practice, and that helps. But the goal is to be efficient.”
That wasn’t always the case with Freeman, who on some days would barely complete half of his passes in practice it seemed. Yet in 7-on-7 drills in the offseason, McCown was nearly automatic, completing around 85 percent of his throws and rarely throwing a pass that was close to getting picked off. That’s a stark contrast compared to the player once considered to be the future of the franchise.
McCown’s dazzling array of throws shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though. In 2013, the Jacksonville, Texas native was the sixth-most accurate quarterback in the NFL with at least 20 completions. Check out the rarified air McCown’s passes were in last year:
TOP 6 MOST ACCURATE NFL QBs IN 2013
1. San Diego QB Phillip Rivers – 69.5 percent
2. New Orleans QB Drew Brees – 68.5 percent
3. Denver QB Peyton Manning – 68.3 percent
4. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan – 67.4 percent
5. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers – 66.6 percent
6. Chicago QB Josh McCown – 66.5 percent
The top five quarterbacks on that list are all current or former Pro Bowlers, and three of them (Brees, Manning and Rodgers) are all Super Bowl champions and MVPs. With the exception of Rodgers, who was injured last year, the top four QBs in terms of completion percentage passed for over 4,400 yards and at least 26 touchdowns.
McCown, who started eight games for the injured Jay Cutler in Chicago last year and compiled a career-high QB rating of 109, completed 149-of-224 passes for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and only one interception. While his 13:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio will be hard to duplicate, leading the league in completion percentage is something that McCown may be able to accomplish.
The Bucs’ offense will be run-first and will strive to be balanced, so that means McCown may not come close to passing for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. But hitting 70 percent of his passes? Possibly.
“We’ll see,” McCown said. “In this offense, maybe. Every quarterback goes in with the goal of completing 100 percent [of his passes], but the reality is that at the end of the day if that’s what is going to move the ball for us and if that’s what is going to put the ball in the end zone, I’m all for it. I don’t know if I’ve ever set completion percentage goals, but certainly if you did throw at that level or higher you feel good about what you are doing as a quarterback.”
Bucs Chris Owusu, who could start on Sunday in place of the injured Louis Murphy, has marveled at McCown’s accuracy since his arrival as a highly sought-after free agent in March.
“Every time he drops back he gives us a chance,” Owusu said. “Josh is so accurate. His accuracy is just very impressive.”
Tampa Bay’s best cornerback, Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner, who had a career-high five picks last year, knows how difficult it is to intercept McCown.
“He’s a smart guy,” Verner said. “He’s a smart quarterback. He doesn’t give us the chance to make a lot of interceptions in practice, which is unfortunate because I like getting picks. But it makes both of us better. It makes me try to work that much harder to intercept his passes and it keeps him on his toes to avoid picks.”
As a 12-year veteran, McCown is a late bloomer – playing his best football at age 35. Seeing action in three preseason games, McCown completed 20-of-27 passes for 178 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s a 74.1 percent completion percentage, and an indication of what’s to come this season with McCown under center.
Conversely, second-year quarterback Mike Glennon completed 22-of-38 passes (57.9 percent) for 261 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in the preseason. Glennon, who failed to beat out McCown for the right to start, was at the helm of 13 games last season and completed just under 60 percent of his throws.
McCown won’t be operating in a pass-happy offense like those found in Denver, Atlanta, New Orleans or New England. Instead, Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will want McCown to methodically move the offense down the field with shorter, high-percentage completions designed to move the chains, ideally throwing the ball less than 32 times per game.
“Their idea on defense is to make you go the long way and use a lot of plays to score,” McCown said. “That means you have to be patient on offense. As a quarterback, that’s where your completion percentage can dip – when you get greedy or impatient and you start forcing balls into holes that aren’t there. You start missing throws because you don’t want to throw picks and you want to complete it. At this stage of my career I feel like I have the patience for us to be successful.”
Simply put, if McCown’s patience pays off and he completes 70 percent of his passes this year, Tampa Bay’s offense will be clicking and the Bucs could be playoff-bound.
“He’s a very mature quarterback,” Verner said. “He’s been in a lot of games and seen many defenses. He trusts his abilities more and more as things have been given to him. You see that Josh’s confident out there and he’s very decisive in his actions and who he’s going to throw the ball to. He gives his guy the best chance to make plays, and that’s what you want in a quarterback. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
FAB 2. McCOWN’S ACCOUNTABILITY AND LEADERSHIP IS ADMIRABLE, REFRESHING
Josh McCown is the most accurate, mobile, veteran quarterback the Buccaneers have had since the days of Jeff Garcia from 2007-08. Garcia was the last QB to lead Tampa Bay to the postseason, and the Bucs are hopeful McCown can deliver the Pewter Pirates to the playoffs this season.
But that’s where the similarities between McCown and Garcia end – thankfully. It was hard for me to have a lot of respect for Garcia, who was more of a hired gun mercenary than he was a team player. In 2008 as the Bucs began to slump from a 9-3 start, Garcia’s tone in post-game press conferences changed.
When asked about Tampa Bay’s touchdowns, I remember that Garcia was quick to use the term “I” a lot – as in “I made the right read,” “I scrambled” and “I found him open.” But when asked about his interceptions, Garcia switched to the term “we” – as in “we weren’t on the same page” and “we made a bad play.”
It would have been more refreshing to hear Garcia own his mistakes, his bad throws and his interceptions, but that wasn’t his style. Conversely, McCown is the exact opposite of Garcia and it’s quite and admirable trait, and one his teammates appreciate.
McCown has had a very solid preseason for the Buccaneers, leading the offense on three touchdown drives in just over three quarters of action while completing 74.1 percent of his passes. But I asked him to talk about his two interceptions in August – both of which came when his footwork lapsed and he threw off his back foot.
“Things happen with those,” McCown said. “We don’t want picks to happen, period. The first week it was a little off the back foot and the ball sailed on me a little bit. At the end of the day, that can’t happen. That’s on me. I have to find a way not to let that happen.
“You look at the film and sometimes there are things you can control, and you change those. Other times there are things you can’t control and you don’t want to change what you are doing. The thing Lovie talks about the most is being on the plus side of turnovers. You have to find a way to minimize those and I will.”
That’s the kind of ownership that coaches love and players admire in a quarterback.
“He’s a great leader and we listen to him,” said Bucs wide receiver Chris Owusu. “He’s a strong man of faith. He plays with such a relentless attitude and a fearless nature – it’s impressive. He holds us accountable and he holds himself accountable, too.”
While he’s getting his second stint as an NFL starting quarterback, becoming a leader is not something that McCown has done recently. Bucs reserve linebacker Danny Lansanah noticed McCown’s leadership at a different level of football when the two were playing for the UFL’s Hartford Colonials in 2010.
“I saw him as a leader then,” Lansanah said. “He was always the life of the locker room. He was always getting involved with things outside of football and getting the team together. Being a quarterback you have to have those leadership characteristics, and he’s one of the best I’ve been around.
“I remember him walking into the team meeting room when he first got here this offseason and coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow! Can you believe we were in the UFL a couple years ago and now we’re here?” Lansanah said. “He says stuff like that a lot and we laugh about it. He’s just a great leader. Guys follow him.”
FAB 3. TEDFORD’S PRESENCE WILL BE FELT ON SUNDAY
One of the biggest storylines in the week leading up to Tampa Bay’s 2014 season opener against Carolina is the mysterious health condition of Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. There have been rumors that Tedford had a heart ailment, but the team has not – and will not – publicly comment on specifics regarding his health, and it’s not under obligation to do so due to HIPA laws.
But Tedford missed last week’s preseason finale due to a medical procedure and a hospital stay, and it’s questionable as to whether or not he’s going to be at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday calling plays or advising the Bucs offense in some capacity.
“Couple of things going on: of course a lot of you and a lot of people have asked about Jeff Tedford and how he’s doing,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said earlier in the week. “He’s getting better [and he] stopped through this weekend. We’re taking our time with him. Again, he’s getting better each day. When he’ll be back here full-time, I don’t know. When he’ll be available full-time, whether he’ll be able to go this week for the game and all those questions, we don’t have answered right now. Just know he’s getting better and we’ll see how that all plays out. In the meantime, the rest of our offensive staff will pick up for Jeff similar to how we did the last week, with all of the guys really kind of pitching in.”
Through modern technology, Tedford has been able to work away from One Buccaneer Place, breaking down practice film, game film and collaborating on the game plan. Just how many hours he’s put in is unknown.
“We’re praying for his health,” Bucs wide receiver Chris Owusu said. “That’s number one. We know that he loves this game with a passion. He’s been around it and he’s so smart. He brings a lot to the table as a play-caller. We miss him, and we’re praying for him. We haven’t had any team offensive meetings since he’s been away from us. It’s been mostly individual meetings with our position coaches to get us prepared for Carolina.”
Smith said the Bucs have a contingency plan that was operating last week in Tedford’s absence, but didn’t elaborate.
“Keep in mind right now, I’m going to give very little information from here on out,” Smith said. “We’re [in] game week. Anything we say, someone is listening. We’re going to show up, we’ll have someone calling plays. We feel good about that person calling plays. So I can hit you with that.”
It is believed that quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo could be the Bucs’ playcaller due to the fact that he called plays at the University of California under Tedford in 2012 and has two years worth of experience in Tedford’s offense (2011-12). Quinn Tedford, Jeff’s son, also helps the Bucs offense as an assistant, in addition to two others from Tedford’s days with the Golden Bears. Tampa Bay’s assistant offensive line coach Matt Weigand spent two seasons (2011-12) at Cal as a graduate assistant, and Ben Steele, the Bucs’ offensive quality control coach, was also at Cal from 2011-12 helping Tedford’s offense.
“We haven’t seen too much of him since he left for the hospital last week,” Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said. “I’ve seen his son, Quinn, who has been working with us. Jeff’s getting better, so that’s great.”
While there are plenty of former Cal connections in Tampa Bay, the entire Bucs’ offensive coaching staff had a whole offseason learning Tedford’s system and plays. Arroyo may know the scheme the best, but Smith said that the entire staff crafted the Carolina game plan during the past several months since the 2014 schedule has been known. That collaborative effort will help offset Tedford’s absence this week in the booth in case he isn’t cleared to participate on Sunday.
“It’s important, but for all of the staff,” Smith said. “You can’t put too much on just one person. I’m talking about a coordinator. It’s a group effort that we have. Of course Quinn and Marcus and Matt Wiegand of course know a lot more about that offense, but it’s really our offense now. And all of the coaches have really been there from Day One installing it with our players. So things have been going as smoothly as they could without Jeff being here right now.
“He’s feeling a lot better and will be a game-time decision. I’m pushing back. Of course Jeff would like to be here every day.”
FAB 4. BUCS’ FULLBACK LIVING LIFE IN THE FASTER LANE
Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith delivered a cryptic message about his thoughts on the fullback position during the NFL Owners Meeting in March.
“Fullback, what’s that position?” Smith said with a chuckle. “For us, we think that it is a position. I know as you look on our roster right now, but as a general rule, the fullback position is a position that is being pushed aside a little bit because of what type of guy you have to have at that position. I think there’s still a place for it, but that guy has to be able to do multiple things. You’re not going to have a two-back set that often. So you have to warrant him dressing, so he has to do more things like I said. Those things are normally special teams.
“You have to have a certain type of guy that can be a big lead blocker. You have other options at lead blocker, too. You can put other positions there, too, whether it’s a big offensive guard, a big offensive lineman, he can take some of the lead plays also. With your fullback, you want him to be versatile enough to go outside and not just line up in your traditional fullback position. That’s a hard guy to find.”
Well, Smith and the Buccaneers found that person in Jorvorskie Lane, who is the half-brother of Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley, who was out of football in 2013. With his powerful blocking and nifty hands and nimble feet, Lane beat out Lonnie Pryor for the right to be Tampa Bay’s lone fullback this season.
Earlier in the offseason, the Bucs were contemplating keeping four tight ends with Luke Stocker serving as a lead blocker in two-back sets. But Lane’s unique size, athleticism and track record as an offensive weapon made him an intriguing option for Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.
Lane rushed for 2,090 yards on 461 carries (4.5 avg.) at Texas A&M, including back-to-back seasons with at least 725 yards and 16 touchdowns as a running back during his sophomore and junior campaigns. As a senior in 2008, Lane, who had seven 100-yard games in college, was limited to 93 yards and five touchdowns on 35 carries (2.7 avg.) as he was moved to the role of fullback under new Aggies head coach Mike Sherman.
Lane has battled weight issues during his career, and after becoming the Aggies’ all-time rushing touchdown leader with 49 scores, he went undrafted after weighing as much as 295 pounds for the East-West Shrine Game in 2009. After being shunned by the NFL he was forced to play for the West Texas Roughnecks in the Indoor Football League.
The Lufkin, Texas native worked out for NFL scouts again at the Texas A&M pro day in 2011 and weighed 277 pounds, while running a disappointing time of 4.87 in the 40-yard dash. After a stint in the Arena Football League with the Orlando Predators, In 2012, Lane signed with the Miami Dolphins, who had Sherman as its offensive coordinator. He had trimmed down to 268 pounds and played in all 16 games with five starts at fullback, finishing with 79 receiving yards and one touchdown and 13 carries for 13 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
After sitting out the 2013 campaign, Lane is grateful to be on the Bucs’ roster, but isn’t content.
“It’s a good accomplishment, but I’m real hard on myself,” Lane said. “I’m not satisfied with just making the team. I want to win. Just being the fullback is not a real big deal for me. What is a real big deal for me is winning more than eight games and getting into the playoffs.”
Lane can help the Bucs by blowing open holes for running backs Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey and Mike James this fall, and by catching passes out of the backfield. Lane opened the eyes of Tampa Bay’s coaches and scouts during training camp with his receiving ability. In the preseason, Lane caught two passes for 15 yards, including a 14-yarder that picked up a first down.
“My catching ability is okay,” Lane said. “I like catching the ball, but I like blocking, too. Football is a tough position. You have to be a tough person to play football.”
Lane epitomizes the term “tough.” He injured his hand in Buffalo in the third preseason game and hasn’t missed a practice even though he wears a cast.
“The hand is doing good,” Lane said. “It’s not holding me back at all. I’m 100 percent full go.”
Whether it’s into opposing linebackers as a lead blocker or into cornerbacks in the flat catching passes as an outlet receiver, it seems like Lane runs at his foes going 100 miles per hour and has gotten even faster since he’s shed some weight.
“I weighed in at 268 – that’s real small for me,” Lane said. “I played at Texas A&M at 287 and 290 sometimes. Me being at 268 is real small. It was hard to drop the weight, and I didn’t make it a diet change for six months. It’s an entire lifestyle change.
“People say, ‘Oh, I’m having a cheat day today.’ There are no cheat days when it’s a lifestyle change. That was one of the hardest changes I’ve had to make in my life. But then I saw the benefits – the speed, the endurance – and it’s worth it. I see the difference on the film and in my clothes.”
Lane has gotten very little chance to show off his ability as a running back in practice or the games, logging just one carry for one yard during the preseason. But if Martin, Rainey or James falters as a short-yardage or goal line back, Tedford could always lean on Lane as another option.
“Every opportunity is precious and this coaching staff does a real good job of putting players in position to play to their strengths,” Lane said. “They know my background and I think it will come to the point where we’ll get there as a running back or a receiver.”
The reality is that Lane’s offensive highlights will be few and far between this year, as the fullback doesn’t play a huge role on offense in Tampa Bay. But watch out for Lane on swing passes out of the backfield where he’s isolated against a cornerback that he outweighs by 80 pounds.
“Oh, I like those plays because he’s going to get it,” Lane said. “There are no ifs, ands or buts. That little guy has got to pay for trying to tackle me. He has to pay no matter what.”
FAB 5. SR’S BUCS SHOTS
• Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith has marveled at the play and leadership of two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. In the days leading up to the 2014 season opener, Smith heaped heavy praise on the player he considers to be the face of the franchise.
“It’s the first time I’ve been around him and all I’ve seen is just a player at another level based on what I’ve seen,” Smith said. “I don’t know what he’s done in the past, but I just know I heard he’s a great player coming in and he was a good leader, now I’ve seen it firsthand. All of those things are true – great player by his play. He’s played dominant ball. No one works harder than him out there, and as a coach, ‘Gerald we need to get this done,’ you can’t coach him too hard, you can’t critique or criticize him too hard. He’s going to lead us to a lot of wins. Every team would want Gerald leading them.”
• Tampa Bay defensive end Michael Johnson has seen the work of the coaches’ first hand in a game situation. Since arriving at One Buccaneer Place, head coach Lovie Smith and the defensive coaches have instructed the Bucs defenders to pick up every ball on the ground – even incompleted passes – and return them for touchdowns to create the automatic reaction on the field on game days.
That scenario unfolded in Buffalo when Johnson sacked quarterback E.J. Manuel and forced a fumble that was scooped up by nose tackle Clinton McDonald and returned 17 yards for a touchdown.
“Clinton made a great play,” Johnson said. “It just goes to show you that what the coaches are telling us is paying off. Get the ball out and pick every loose ball up and get into the end zone. They really stress that here and it showed.
After a slow start in Jacksonville and at home against Miami, Johnson began to heat up towards the end of the preseason and finished August with two tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and half a sack.
“It’s been a process,” Johnson said. “I expect to improve each week. I have great guys around me that I get to feed off. I enjoy that and I expect to make the most of every opportunity and only get better.”
• Third-year wide receiver Chris Owusu is poised to get the most amount of playing time he’s ever received this Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 2014 season opener against Carolina. With Louis Murphy likely sidelined with a back injury, Owusu will likely start at the team’s third receiver alongside veteran Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. He’s also slated to be the Bucs’ kickoff returner.
“I’m not quite sure,” Owusu said. “I’ve gone out there and practiced like I’ve been practicing and we’ll see what happens.”
Owusu has drawn praise all offseason from head coach Lovie Smith, who has noted the former Stanford star’s 4.36 speed. He was once considered to be a solid mid-round pick in 2011 prior to a series of concussions in college, which hampered his draft stock.
“I don’t play with that in my head anymore,” Owusu said. “You can’t go out there and play with that – you have to be fearless. You can’t think about what may or may not happen. You have to go out there and live in that moment and play for that moment. Everything is in the rearview mirror.”
• Remember Jonathan Cooper, the guard from North Carolina that was drafted with the seventh overall pick by Arizona? Cooper broke his leg and missed his entire rookie season in 2013. Although he’s fully healed, Cooper has not worked his way into the starting lineup yet.
The player beating Cooper out? Surprisingly, it’s former Bucs guard and center Ted Larsen.
“I don’t care about draft status,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I want to see the results on the field, and Ted Larsen’s way outplayed [Cooper].”
Wow. I’m surprised, aren’t you?
• With tight end Tim Wright being traded to New England as part of the Logan Mankins deal, third-round draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins will undoubtedly catch more passes during his rookie season. In his debut season, Wright caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns.
With his departure, Seferian-Jenkins, who caught four passes for 54 yards (13.5 avg.) in the preseason, could post similar numbers with the catches being split between just he and veteran Brandon Myers as third tight end Luke Stocker is primarily a blocker. Had Wright not be traded there would have been three pass-catching tight ends on the roster to divide catches.
“Tim is a great player and I’m happy for him that he’s in New England and he’s closer to home,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I’m just going to catch the ball when it’s thrown to me so we can win games. I just want to win as many games as possible. I did some good things in the preseason, but there’s a lot of stuff to keep working on. I’m excited for the regular season.”
• The fact that the Carolina Panthers have an entirely new wide receiving corps led by rookie Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s first-round pick, makes it difficult for Tampa Bay’s defensive players to study tendencies because there isn’t a lot of tape to watch.
“It’s challenging because they have new guys and we don’t have a lot of film on them,” David said. “So far, they have some playmakers – young guys – coming in and stepping up. But they have Cam Newton and he’s always a threat whenever he’s on the field. They are the division champs and they’re going to play hard. They’re a great football team and we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
The Bucs will be keying on Benjamin, the former Florida State star, who grew up as a Buccaneers fan in Belle Glade, Fla., which is the home of former Tampa Bay wide receiver Reidel Anthony. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown in the national championship game against Auburn last year, and had 12 catches for 156 yards and one touchdown in the preseason while seeing action in all four games.
• In case you missed PewterReport.com’s annual Pewter Predictions, you can check out them out by clicking on these two links. Click here for PewterReport.com’s 8-8 prediction for the Bucs, and click here for PewterReport.com’s Bucs player awards predictions for 2014.
• If all goes well over the weekend, the new PewterReport.com website will make its debut next Tuesday. We are thrilled with the look and functionality of the new site, but did not want to take a chance with any technical issues and launch the site on or before the Buccaneers’ season opener. I wanted to give you a head’s up that the message board will have to be shut down briefly as we do a final transfer data, which will likely happen late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.
Bucs fans, the PewterReport.com staff has invested an extraordinary amount of time into the planning and development of the new website since late January. Our site sponsors have also have an investment in the development of PewterReport.com. If not for the renewals of our advertisers and the plethora of new advertising partners that have joined PewterReport.com during the winter, spring and summer we would not have been able to proceed with a new website for you – the diehard PewterReport.com visitor and Buccaneers fan.
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You can take a virtual tour of Shooters World by clicking on their banner on PewterReport.com, and also get a full schedule of events and classes. Shooters World just debuted new 100-yard retrievers for its rifle range for long-distance practice. Want the latest news of deals at Shooters World? Sign up for the mailing list, and if you visit their store, tell them you saw their ad on PewterReport.com.
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Be on the lookout for the FanDuel Fantasy Football Forecasts every Thursday on and the FanDuel Fantasy recap every Tuesday on PewterReport.com. These articles will be Bucs-related, as I know many of you like to draft your favorite Tampa Bay players like wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.
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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