SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. VERNER DETERMINED TO BOUNCE BACK TO PRO BOWL FORM
On tape he was everything the Buccaneers wanted in a cornerback, especially if he was going to be replacing Pro Bowler Darrell Revis. Aside from being about $11 million cheaper than Revis, Alterraun Verner was a tough, physical tackler and he was a ballhawk.
Verner had 11 interceptions in his four years with the Tennessee Titans, in addition to four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. To Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith, who loves takeaways on defense, Verner had a hand in 20 takeaways as a Titan – an average of five per year. That’s certainly good enough to play in his defense.
In 2013, his last season with the Titans, Verner had a career-high five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, to go along 22 pass breakups, which was a personal best, and two fumble recoveries. Despite Tennessee being one of the worst teams in the league, those stats allowed Verner to be rewarded with a Pro Bowl berth.
Smith’s Tampa 2 defense calls for its cornerbacks to be good tacklers in run support. Verner notched a career-best 101 tackles as a rookie in 2010.
When Verner was signed to replace Revis in free agency last year the expectations where as big as the All-Pro shoes he was filling in Tampa Bay. The Bucs sold Verner on the notion of being a Pro Bowl-caliber playmaker during his free agent courtship, and that’s what he envisioned would happen in Tampa Bay.
Despite being the Bucs’ fourth-leading tackler with 75 stops, seven tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, which ranked second on the team, two forced fumbles and two interceptions while missing two games with a hamstring injury, more was expected from Verner. So what happened?
“That’s the million dollar question that I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time,” Verner said. “My expectations for myself in the defense based on them signing me was to be a playmaker. Looking at Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Ronde Barber were able to do in the past in this defense, that’s what I had envisioned. Creating a lot of takeaways by forcing fumbles and getting interceptions. The interceptions were the main thing. I was expecting to have a real, real high interception total. I thought our pass rush was going to be awesome with Michael Johnson, Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald and there would be so many opportunities because of that.
“Then we get into the season and Adrian Clayborn is hurt in Week 1 and he’s out for the year. Michael Johnson is battling an ankle injury all year. Gerald McCoy gets injured at the beginning and Clinton McDonald gets injured at the end. Then I get injured. Our whole defense was injury-filled and we never got to collaborate like we wanted to.”
Two interceptions weren’t good enough for Verner. Revis only had two picks in 2013 – his lone season in Tampa Bay – but he only gave up one touchdown that season and made the Pro Bowl with the Buccaneers. Verner had given up a couple of touchdowns by the bye week, including scores by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Baltimore’s Steve Smith.
“The reality is that I came nowhere close to my expectations,” Verner said. “I thought I was going to have at least six or seven interceptions – minimum. I only had two and dropped three or four. If I did my job better and understood the defense better I could have had more.
“It’s nobody’s fault other than myself. Having that season last year is only going to make this year better. That was my expectation, and the reality is that I wasn’t the playmaker creating turnovers that I was supposed to be. I will be this year.”
Adjusting to the Tampa 2 scheme proved to be more problematic to Verner than he expected.
“It’s not the first time I’ve played Cover 2, but it was the first time I’ve ever run Cover 2 they way they run Cover 2 with the responsibilities and discipline,” Verner said. “The defense is very simplistic, but the reason why it’s simplistic is because the defense is so detailed. We don’t run a lot of defenses, and because we don’t, they expect you to run it extremely well. Most of the time teams are going to know what we’re doing, but it takes the discipline to run it well. That was more of a learning curve than I anticipated. Our whole defense wasn’t able to really get disciplined together due to all the injuries until the end of the season. That’s why it’s going to be interesting this year.”
Every single starter on Tampa Bay’s defense missed at least one game due to injury, which contributed to the team’s dismal 2-14 record. Staying healthy will be one of the keys to an improved Bucs defense in 2015. Having another year in the system will also pay dividends for Verner and the other Bucs that struggled to play with the discipline necessary for the Tampa 2 scheme.
“It all starts with the people up front not allowing the quarterback to have enough time to throw and sit there in the pocket,” Verner said. “There are weaknesses in any defense and given enough time, quarterbacks will find the weaknesses in ours. If our defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback he won’t have time to exploit those weaknesses. If the pass rush doesn’t get there, if the linebacker doesn’t get his drop at the right time, in the secondary if we’re not at our landmarks at the right time or re-routing our receivers to help the defensive line get there, then yes, somebody is going to be open. That was happening way too much at the beginning of the year.”
After getting beat by two backup quarterbacks in losses to Carolina and St. Louis to start the season, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan shredded Tampa Bay’s secondary in a 56-14 annihilation, completing 21-of-24 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns. A few weeks later, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco completed 21-of-28 passes for 306 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-17 blowout at home.
Had Verner ever been under such an aerial assault like that before?
“Unfortunately I have been a part of a day like that before and it isn’t fun,” Verner said. “We played the Broncos in Tennessee the year before and Peyton Manning was lighting us up with Demaryious Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas.”
Manning completed 39-of-59 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns against Verner and the Titans in a 51-28 destruction in Denver.
The Ravens debacle caught Verner and the Bucs off guard. Tampa Bay had scored an upset at Pittsburgh in Week 4 and had battled the Saints valiantly in New Orleans, losing in overtime 37-31. Verner notched his first interception as a Buccaneer against Drew Brees, who was picked off three times in that game, and his second came in a crushing, 14-13 home loss to Cincinnati.
“Most of the games I’ve had interceptions in we’ve won, and we should have won those two games,” Verner said. “It took to the fifth game for me to get my first pick. That was frustrating to say the least with my expectations being what they were about getting a lot of interceptions. But interceptions can come in bunches. I know Richard Sherman one year had eight and he didn’t get his first one until Week 6 or 7.
“You really want to start off hot, but it was good getting one off Drew Brees, who I have a lot of respect for, on the road and in a division game. It was good to get one, but it was unfortunate we didn’t get the win. It was the same with the Bengals game. I was able to get one before halftime to help the team out, but we ended up losing by a point in that game. This year our interceptions have to lead to more wins and gives our offense the chance to do more damage.”
Verner fully expects that he and the Bucs defense will storm back with a vengeance after a disappointing showing last year.
“There has been a lot of reflection on the 2014 season,” Verner said. “Having another year in the defense is going to be huge. The additions we’ve been making haven’t been the big names that people were hoping for or expecting, but you have to realize that there is a method to the madness. Every one of the guys we’ve brought in on defense has played in the system, so there isn’t going to be a learning curve. They are going to be able to jump right in with us.
“The driving force for me is that I’m a competitor. Knowing what happened last year wasn’t acceptable. I’m not going to have that repeat. For me personally, I want to be considered to be one of the best corners in the NFL. I want to be on a team that is considered to be one of the best teams in the NFL. That means I have to improve this year because I didn’t play up to my standards. I want to prove that I belong and be considered one of the best and make the plays I was called on to make. You want to be selected to the Pro Bowl but you never want to play in it because that means you didn’t make the Super Bowl. I definitely want to get back to Pro Bowl status.”
With offseason workouts beginning on Monday, April 20 at One Buccaneer Place, Verner’s season of redemption begins now.
FAB 2. BANKS IS BECOMING BUCS’ SHUTDOWN CORNERBACK
Free agent Alterraun Verner was signed in the 2014 offseason to be Tampa Bay’s shutdown cornerback last year. Mike Jenkins was signed last year to start opposite Verner and give the team two veterans in Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense.
Johnthan Banks, a second-round pick by the previous regime in 2013, was a mere afterthought last summer in the minds of the Bucs’ brass. Despite recording three interceptions during his rookie season, the book on Banks was that he wasn’t fast, and he lost the training camp battle to Jenkins for the starting right cornerback position.
But after Jenkins suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in a Week 1 loss to Carolina, Banks was thrust into the starting lineup and seized the moment. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Mississippi State product recorded 50 tackles, and led the team with four interceptions, including one for a touchdown at Washington, and 10 pass breakups.
After struggling with the transition to the new Tampa 2 defense at first, Banks got hot in the month of November, recording three of his interceptions and six of his pass breakups in a five-game span.
“The Cleveland game was the game I really saw the switch flipped from him,” Verner said. “A lot of people don’t know, but he made so many big plays in that game, and he was the reason it was so close and were so competitive in that game. The Cleveland game was the game I saw it and the coaches saw it. He had an interception that game and two or three third down stops. He played really, really well.”
In the month of December opposing quarterbacks stayed away from Banks, who had become the Bucs’ shutdown cornerback. He only broke up two passes in the final month of the season because teams no longer targeted him.
“It’s respect, but I’m trying to be one of the best corners in this game,” Banks said. “I’ve just got to keep grinding. People game plan, and I don’t know if it was respect, but it happened and [quarterbacks] weren’t looking my way. We’ll know next year.”
Banks’ career-high four interceptions got the attention of the front office and the coaching staff who now view him as one of the defense’s strengths instead of one of its question marks.
“It was big getting that many pick, but I didn’t get enough because we didn’t win enough,” Banks said. “It’s just something to build on for next year. I’ve just got to come back in the offseason and work on the things we need to work on and get better as a unit. I’ve just got to keep trying to get better.
“I made a big leap from my first year to this year. Just knowing the game and how the game slowed down for me, it was crazy. I could just feel myself out there learning and growing and getting better every week.”
Verner became a huge Banks fan during the season as he watched the young defender mature and grow into the role of a playmaking shutdown cornerback.
“I have nothing but good things to say about him,” Verner said. “He’s a hard worker and a great competitor. He had four interceptions last year to lead us, which was huge. He had three the year before. He’s shown improvement. I like his length, how big he is and his ball skills. There’s not too much to dislike about Johnthan Banks.
“From his rookie year to last year there has been so much improvement. The sky is the limit for him. I truly think he can be one of the best corners in this league. As long as his confidence keeps on progressing and he knows that no receiver can affect him. He has the size, so big guys can’t give him problems. He’s not slow – even if his 40-time wasn’t fast. I haven’t seen many people run by him. He doesn’t have to worry about fast guys either because he’s so physical.”
As good of a season as Banks had in 2014, there were a couple of plays he left out on the field. There was an illegal use of hands penalty on third down in overtime of the team’s 37-31 loss at New Orleans that kept the Saints’ game-winning drive alive. Against Minnesota, Banks dropped a game-clinching interception with 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Vikings would kick a game-tying field goal five plays later and win the game in overtime on a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
“Everybody in this league looks back and says, ‘Damn, I wish I had that play back,’” Banks said. “I had some plays I know I wish I had back, but I feel like I had a good season. I got better.
“We’ll be elite,” Banks said. “We’re close. We’ll get it together. We know what the coaches want now. We know how each other plays. Next year it will be very exciting to see how this defense plays.”
Despite having a great year and heading into the offseason as a starter, Banks will have to work hard this offseason and compete to keep his job. Jenkins was re-signed and Brandon Dixon is a promising young defender who played last year as a rookie due to injuries at the cornerback position and recorded nine tackles, two pass breakups and had an end zone interception against Cincinnati.
“I want to see how Brandon Dixon plays this year,” Verner said. “He had a lot of pressure to step in right away and play when I got hurt. He had to play more than he expected. I don’t want to say he wasn’t ready, but it was a good experience for him. I’m excited for him because he’s a very physical, very, very fast, strong guy. He listens and is very coachable. I’m excited to see what he’s going to bring to the table because he got that little taste of playing time. I know he’s not going to be okay with just taking a backup role.”
Due to Banks’ strong finish to the 2014 campaign, Verner has little doubt that he will be the opening day starter opposite him in 2015.
“Johnthan is very competitive, and that’s why when I came and Mike Jenkins came to the Bucs he didn’t let that affect him,” Verner said. “He just worked. He knew he was going to have an uphill battle, but he came to work, got better and he’ll have to work again this year.
“We talk about being the best tandem in the league and for him to not be overshadowed by me because of what I’ve done, but to make his own name. I think that he was able to get started with that. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do this year.”
FAB 3. McDOUGALD EMERGING AS A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH IN TAMPA BAY’S SECONDARY
Tampa Bay cornerback Johnthan Banks isn’t the only young member of the Bucs defense that could be considered a rising star. In the month of December no Tampa Bay player received as much buzz as second-year safety Bradley McDougald.
McDougald stood out during training camp and his emergence behind the scenes played a huge role in the front office trading away former first-round pick Mark Barron, who wasn’t deemed to be as good of fit in the Tampa 2 as McDougald was.
Injuries to Dashon Goldson and Major Wright down the stretch allowed McDougald some much-needed playing time and experience. After receiving 46 snaps on defense in the first seven weeks, McDougald was given 31 versus Cleveland. His big hit on Browns tight end Gary Barnidge creating an interception for nose tackle Clinton McDonald.
McDougald, an undrafted free agent in 2013 out of Kansas, logged 59 snaps against Cincinnati, 60 plays at Detroit, 71 snaps at Carolina, 70 plays against Green Bay and 60 reps against New Orleans to end the season. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound strong safety finished the season with 46 tackles, seven pass breakups and a dramatic interception in the end zone against Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
“That’s a tip to the coaches, getting us prepared all week,” Bradley said about his interception against New Orleans. “We’ve been seeing that play all week and then once I saw it I looked back like they coached us to do and I found the ball and tried to make a play.”
“From the start, you trade a first-round pick here and then you look on the depth chart: you have Major Wright who you signed, and you have an undrafted free agent guy who you know nothing about. I know he was catching heat for that and it felt good to go out there and do something good for my coach. I’ve been trying to make plays since I’ve been playing, I think I started back in Chicago with the defense – I was playing special teams – but ever since then I’ve been trying to do something to stand out and let him know he made the right decision.”
McDougald became one of Smith’s favorites in the month of December as the Bucs’ head coach was often praising him in press conferences.
“At the safety position we had a guy who really stepped up this year in Bradley McDougald that I like an awful lot,” Smith would regularly say. “You’ve heard me talk about him quite a bit and I think most guys know that I think he can play and I think that he’s going to be a pretty good football player and he has a good future ahead of him. He hasn’t done anything to make me alter that statement – the last couple of weeks, yes [he has performed well]. The part of the game he hasn’t been able to show people so far, is that he has good hands. He can cover. I think when you’re looking for a safety: he can cover, he has good hands and he’ll tackle, that’s a good starting spot.”
To put McDougald’s coverage skills into proper context, consider that his seven pass breakups ranked third on the team behind Banks (10) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (nine). But McDougald defended that amount of passes in 445 plays, while Verner played 818 snaps and Banks logged 869 plays, and thus had far more opportunities to break up more passes.
“The guy makes plays when he’s able to get on the field,” Verner said. “The one thing about him is that his confidence is never lacking. He’s not arrogant. He’s just very sure about himself as a football player.
“He’s very competitive. He wants to get the most interceptions. In everything he does he wants to have the most of. You see that in the way he prepares. With him having a full offseason he’ll be ready for this year. Last year we had Mark Barron, who was a first-round selection, and we had Dashon Goldson. He had to wait for his opportunity, but he made the most of it. This year with the job being there for the taking, he’ll take it.”
Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier alluded to the fact that McDougald still has a way to go in his development but his athleticism and talent are too good to keep on the sidelines. Tampa Bay will give him every opportunity to keep the starting strong safety job while Wright and newcomer Chris Conte will battle for the starting free safety spot to replace Goldson.
“[McDougald] has done some good things,” Frazier said. “At times you can see some of the things you’d like to see in a young safety: the athleticism, the speed, the range, his ability to come up and tackle. But there are also some things that, as he gains some more experience that you’d like to see him get a little better at. Just being able to have good field awareness and good judgment on the back end. Some of that will be the growing pains that we’ll go through when he’s in the starting lineup, but he’s fared well in the times that he’s been out there.”
With the strong finish on defense down the stretch, Verner believes that Tampa Bay’s secondary is blossoming into a star-studded unit thanks to the emergence of some young star players.
“Johnthan Banks and Bradley McDougald might not be the biggest names, but after this year, they are both going to be talked about in terms of the Pro Bowl,” Verner said. “That’s how highly I feel about both of them.”
FAB 4. 5 REASONS WHY WINSTON IS THE RIGHT FIT FOR TAMPA BAY
To celebrate my 20 years of covering the Buccaneers I’m going to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes encounters I’ve had over the last two decades. These stories will appear in the first 20 SR’s Fab 5 columns of 2015, which encompasses much of the offseason.
Instead of a story from my past to entertain you this week, I’ve decided to delve into the future and paint a picture of what life will be like when the Bucs select quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. In honor of Tampa Bay’s new No. 5 – and erasing some unpleasant memories of the last player to wear that jersey, quarterback Josh Freeman – here are five things Winston will bring to the Buccaneers.
1. Relevancy and the Florida State effect
When the Glazers hired head coach Lovie Smith he declared that the Bucs have been irrelevant for too long and that he would help them become relevant again on the national landscape. Drafting a dynamic player like Winston with a dynamic personality would instantly put Tampa Bay into the national discussion due to his popularity and notoriety. That has to not only appeal to the local Tampa Bay area residents that like their teams to have national attention and respect from a pride standpoint, but also to Bucs fans nationwide who have to rely on ESPN and Fox Sports for their television coverage of Tampa Bay because they are out of the market.
The Glazers would instantly benefit from drafting Winston due to his impact on the ticket office as Florida State fans would latch on to the Bucs in droves and fill Raymond James Stadium to see him play. When the Glazers bought the team in 1995 they built the Bucs’ fan base by drafting local talent from Florida (wide receivers Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green and offensive linemen Jason Odom and Kenyatta Walker), Florida State (linebacker Derrick Brooks, running back Warrick Dunn and free safety Dexter Jackson) and Miami (defensive tackle Warren Sapp and middle linebacker Nate Webster).
Drafting Winston would tap into that old marketing strategy and vastly increase the fan base. Drafting Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota wouldn’t come close to having that same effect.
2. Bucs need (and want) a pocket passer
What do Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco all have in common? They are pocket passers that have won a Super Bowl in the last decade. The NFL has been – and likely always will be – a pocket passer league. Remember all of the times former Bucs quarterback Josh McCown threw ill-timed interceptions while running for his life last year or got sacked despite being labeled as a mobile quarterback?
Winston enters the NFL as the most pro-ready pocket passer in this draft after coming from Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style offense at Florida State. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will bring a vertical passing game to Tampa Bay this year and he has only worked with pocket passers. Mariota is a project. That’s not to say that he can’t develop into a pocket passer, but the Bucs question his pocket presence coming from a spread offense, and the fact that he got sacked 29 times last year as a junior.
For Bucs fans that have envied the likes of Brady, Brees, Rodgers, the Mannings, Matt Ryan or Andrew Luck over the years and wish Tampa Bay had an elite quarterback that could go toe-to-toe with those elite pocket passers, help is on the way in a week – as long as the team drafts Winston. He will definitely throw his share of interceptions – as rookie quarterbacks are prone to do, but he will also make his share of big plays from the pocket as he did for two years at Florida State.
3. Close game master
If you want to know why Smith and general manager Jason Licht are so optimistic about a quick turnaround in 2015, consider that Tampa Bay lost eight games by seven points or less last year. The only close game the Bucs won was a come-from-behind upset at Pittsburgh. Had the team prevailed in each of those close contests, Smith and Co. would have produced a 9-7 record. Going .500 in those close games would have given Tampa Bay a more respectable 6-10 mark last year.
Winston rightfully gets knocked for putting the Seminoles in a hole with 13 of his 18 interceptions coming in the first half of games last year. But he also gets credit for leading the Seminoles back to victories every time that happened. The fact that Winston is 7-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less, while Mariota is 3-5 in similar games in not lost on the Bucs’ front office.
Most games come down to a field goal in the NFL. The Bucs were 1-4 in games that were decided by three points or less last year. Winston has an uncanny ability to rally his team and did that on numerous occasions last year, and also in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn. Winston has the type of confidence that elevates those around him and he has proven that he can overcome interceptions and still pull out a late-game victory.
4. Winston’s charisma and leadership ability
For those Bucs fans that are fans of Mariota, you’ve probably had to defend the fact that he’s a quiet, docile quarterback by pointing out that Flacco and Eli Manning have similar, bland personalities and they have gone to Pro Bowls and won the Super Bowl. The only problem is that personality matters to the Bucs’ front office. The team puts a tremendous amount of weight on the personal interviews with quarterbacks because that player is the leader of the offense and the leader of the team.
The Bucs didn’t draft a quarterback last year because they couldn’t find the right match between personality and game film. Tampa Bay would have passed on Central Florida’s Blake Bortles had he been there with the seventh overall pick because he didn’t come across a “take-charge” personality kind of guy.
Tampa Bay wants an alpha male quarterback with a type-A personality under center and in the huddle. After Licht and director of player personnel Jon Robinson spent time with Brady in New England, that’s the type of poised, charismatic leader they are looking for. Winston is a much closer fit to Brady than Mariota will ever be, especially in terms of personality, vocal leadership and charisma. Bucs fans that used to be jealous of Brett Favre and want a take-charge leader with a fiery demeanor will be happy with Tampa Bay’s selection of Winston.
5. Avoiding the hot seat
The Glazers are preaching patience right now after a surprising and deeply disappointing 2-14 season in the first year of the “Lovie and Licht regime.” That’s not what anyone expected coming off a 4-12 season and spending a fortune on veteran free agents that were supposed to make the team better – not worse. Smith and Licht aren’t on the hot seat now, but if they follow up 2014 with a 4-12 record this year they will be on the hot seat in 2016 – if they don’t get fired.
Because they are committed to drafting a franchise quarterback, Smith and Licht need to draft the QB that gives them the greatest chance to win now. That’s Winston, who completed 92 percent of his passes for four touchdowns while running for another score against Aaron Donald and the Pittsburgh Panthers in Winston’s first ever start for the Seminoles in the 2013 season opener.
Mariota has never called plays in a huddle. He’s rarely taken snaps under center. He doesn’t yet have the pocket presence and savvy needed to have the greatest chance for success in Koetter’s offense. Like all NFL head coaches and general managers, Smith and Licht are about winning and self-preservation. Drafting Winston gives them the best opportunity to win now. Drafting Mariota would be selecting a developmental-type quarterback for the next regime.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner loves playing for Tampa Bay cornerbacks coach Gil Byrd, who pulls no punches with his coaching style.
“I grew a lot last year because he allowed me to see a lot of deficiencies or weaknesses in my game that maybe I was too prideful to see I had or maybe didn’t want to see that I had,” Verner said. “He said there is an inner greatness in all of us. That’s something he presented over and over again. He didn’t harp on it, but he wanted to let us know to be better. It was a learning experience because it’s not something I’m used to hearing or seeing or doing. He definitely made me a better player.”
• Tampa Bay’s secondary needs to make a lot more plays on the ball in 2015. Heading into the season finale against New Orleans, the Bucs had only recorded 11 interceptions – and three of those picks came from linebacker Danny Lansanah and one came from nose tackle Clinton McDonald. Until the Saints game in Week 17, the only defensive backs that had recorded interceptions were cornerbacks Johnthan Banks (four), Alterraun Verner (two) and Brandon Dixon (one).
Verner was shocked that the Bucs safeties and nickel cornerbacks didn’t record an interception until the last game of the season when Bradley McDougald, Keith Tandy and Leonard Johnson all came up with picks against Drew Brees.
“It was crazy,” Verner said. “I was surprised by that. With the way I thought I would be getting interceptions last year, I also thought the whole team would be getting them, too. When it was really just Banks and I getting picks in the secondary it was very surprising. The free safety in this defense should be getting a lot of opportunities for picks and the nickel corner should, too, based on the style of defense that we play.”
“That’s why I’m excited to see Chris Conte play. He got a bad rap [in Chicago]. I might be a little biased, but we go way back and I think he’s really going to have a great season. He had some really good seasons when he played for Lovie [Smith] with the Bears and I see him going back to that form. When you are in the system and you know the system you see what the problems are. The problem wasn’t him or Major Wright the year before. They were doing their jobs. It was the other stuff that was going on [in Chicago] that I won’t get into. With him being reunited with Lovie I think he’s going to jump back into the scene.”
Conte has nine career interceptions, including three in each of the last two seasons with Chicago. He’ll compete with Wright for the starting job in 2015, but don’t be surprised to see Tampa Bay draft a free safety this year to throw into the mix, too.
• While all eyes are on Tampa Bay’s offense this offseason in terms of finding a starting quarterback and adding talent to the offensive line, the Bucs defense needs to do a better job of handling its business, according to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who addressed that topic in a recent interview with Bleacher Report.
“We had fourth-quarter leads six or seven times last season, and we lost them,” McCoy said. “When you have a fourth-quarter lead, it doesn’t matter what your offense is doing. If you’re leading, that means you’re winning the game. If the defense then allows the opponent to score, that’s why you lost.”
Despite playing better after the bye week, the Bucs defense still finished 25th overall in total defense and ranked 19th against the run and 28th against the pass in 2014.
• Yes, the Buccaneers fully anticipated Erica Kinsman’s civil lawsuit against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, which was filed on Thursday. This is not a new development at One Buccaneer Place and changes nothing about how this team has evaluated Winston’s draft viability.
As Winston’s legal counsel, David Cornwell said in a statement issued Friday, “Kinsman’s false accusations have already been exposed and rejected six times. This time will be no different. Mr. Winston welcomes the opportunity to clear his name with the truth.”
The Bucs believe Winston’s version of the accounts that happened in December 2012 and that the sexual encounter between Winston and Kinsman was consensual. The State’s Attorney Office and Florida State University did not find enough evidence to charge Winston with any crime.
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Photos by: Getty Images (Verner INT Titans, Banks & Verner, McDougald Lions, Winston), Cliff Welch/PR (Verner INT Bengals 1, McDougald INT) and Mark LoMoglio/PR (Banks INT Bengals, Verner INT Bengals 2)
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
Thank you for another great column. I am optimistic about next season. Go Bucs!
Oh Scott you’re going to get roasted for this one. But on point as usual.
Ha! It’s definitely happening.
And let the roasting begin….no, no – I appreciate your work Scott. But sometimes I think you write stuff just to get a reaction. Verner…yes, he was very good last year I thought apart from some early struggles learning the T-2. Banks, yes he’s also looking very good – not sure about “shut-down” but very good. McDougald…really….that’s our answer to our safety woes….I hope not. Now for JW….I’ll just set aside any comments on him as a QB and accept that I’m going to be watching and hoping for some miraculous improvement in his propensity for turnovers….but “the Florida State effect”…come on man….I guess all of those fans wearing GMC and LvD jerseys I saw last year just forgot where they went college….the Leroy Selmon highway is named after a different Leroy Selmon than the formerBuc…the list of former Bucs you mention includes our two HoFers from the SB team and a lot of Florida busts that nobody was buying a ticket to come see…”the Florida State effect”, pff far good one!
In terms of the other points in this article, I really like banks and verner as our starting corners. They fit the system very well. As for safety I’ve said before I would love holliman out of Louisville. And for the fan base if Winston is selected, there is a little credence to it as just location of the Nole fan base alone will bring in a few fans . It’s going to be an interesting two weeks till the draft.
Fab 1: I agree with Verner’s assessment. However, there’s no excuse for dropping the number of INT’s he did. They were all easy INT’s too so that’s no one’s fault but his.
Fab 2: We as Bucs fans are so bad at evaluating the play of our CB’s going back to when Biggers and Talib were here. Biggers always got a pass for some reason while everyone saw Talib as “too inconsistent”. Banks is a average #2 CB at best. He let Kelvin Benjamin catch plenty of passes in their matchup at the end of the season. He also played poorly against Calvin Johnson. I expect Banks to match up better against bigger WR’s like that. You also can’t just look at his INT’s, you have to look at how he gets them. Most of the time he wasn’t in position to make a play and had no receiver close to him, but the QB was under duress and threw it right to him. I made the same argument when Foster was getting INT’s two seasons ago but I pointed out he never makes plays on the ball 12 or 13 yards past the line of scrimmage. Banks may continue to develop and I hope he does but he’s far from a shutdown CB.
Fab 3: Now McDougald I’m actually a fan of. He’s looked good since last year’s training camp. I think he will be our long term solution at SS.
Fab 4: I’ve countered these points already and since the tide is already turning I don’t feel the need to address the same points over and over again anymore. If a new point is made I’m willing and ready to discuss it.
Fab 5: Nothing much more to say on these.
Pink still not sold on banks? Look at had of Sherman’s interceptions, they are thrown right to him. Playing cb in today’s nfl is the hardest position on defense, especially with the new rules.
Banks has the size to match up with bigger receivers and for his first year in this system he did pretty darn good.
As for Winston we all know where we both stand, just don’t be so sure the tide is turning as you think. Nothing has happened that the bucs didn’t already know was going to happen.
I guess we’ll see in a couple of weeks. I will admitt I am a bit nervous.
“INT’s thrown right to Sherman”? I disagree, like hi mor not he is one of the if not the best corner in the league his catch radius and athletic ability is off the charts and to watch the int vs Sf in the chamionship game was a play he could have made.
Pink- Will still hold onto the illusion we are drafting Mariota even after Goodel reads Winstons name and holds a Bucs Jersey he will still say we are just drafting Winston to trade him for Mariota the guy is so thick headed I don’t respond to him anymore.
As for Banks I like him he is a nice young corner who shows potential.
Not saying Sherman isn’t good jon, not at all. But I can think of three picks that kapernick threw right to him off of the top of my head. He is a great corner but I have seen a few thrown right at him.
C’mon JonnyG, Pinkstob isn’t “hard headed”. He’s just sticking with his beliefs about Mariota while some, like me, continue our preference for Winston. I admire his stamina. Hang in there Pink.
I agree 27. Sherman is the most overrated player in the league because of his mouth. Nothing has changed with Winston.
Played poorly and Megatron, who doesn’t.
Yes, Scott and Mark Cook have a love fest going on with FSU these days they have us drafting Winston, Irving, Jackson, and recently saw a article for Rashad Green, I can’t believe they don’t want us drafting O’Leary at TE
FSU? Take a look at this mock! lol.
Yes. More FSU love from another mock
Just read Kiper’s 3 round draft projection for the Bucs…1. Winston-Fl.St., 2. DJ Humphries-Fla., 3. Mario Edwards-Fl.St. I guess he also believes the Glazers and L&L will go back to the marketing strategy of drafting home-state heroes as mentioned in SR Fab 4, reason 1. To be honest, that would be just fine with me if those players were available. If the Bucs take Ali Marpet instead of Mario Edwards and plug him in at guard in the 3rd round, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Good Article Scot. What I got out of it the most was that I hope your next FAB 5 will address the other two reasons we are going nowhere until we get these two area resolved? DE and OT and OG. Why is Gilkey still on this team? I’m going to ask that question continually until he is gone. He has to go down as one of the worse OL we have ever picked up with blind expectations to fill a void.
Well Scott do you really feel that Jameis Winston with off the field Issuses is the player to guide Tampa to the next Level! Do You Really Believe that Winston Off The Field Has No concusions on who Tampa will draft! My Comment,with all these off the field Issuses must be address my the entire organization. I Hope they are right!
george, I agree with you. Too much risk, we need to pass!
Banks is now a shutdown corner? PR is becoming the Theater of the Absurd.
SR, tons of respect for you however I think PR is totally underestimating the risk of drafting Winston. There is a second women now who has come forward. She takes this out of he said/ she said. Its pretty obvious something is up with this guy.I agree he is very talented. My concern is that in today’s NFL one slip up with a women and Goddell will throw the book at him. There is WAY to much risk drafting him. I feel bad for JW but don’t think we should draft him. I dont think we will. I think this is a big smokescreen and the BUCS are playing you and all of the local media. I think we are picking Mariota and playing Glennon this year. Too much risk with JW. Women’s groups will be picketing RJ if we draft JW. Glazers wont stand for that.
Anyone picketing Heinz Field?
I agree with just about everything Scott. I still believe that our defensive problems were less an issue with talent than they were with a new scheme, injuries, and fatigue.
I’m hoping that our offense will improve enough this year to make us a contender. Only time will tell if our QB selection works out but Koetter will make a big difference regardless who we pick up. Go Bucs!
If the Bucs/Glazers are drafting Winston just for FSU fans to fill seats as PR would want you to believe. Then the Bucs are only interested in filling the stands, NOT WINNING. You have 2 QB’s that are of equal caliber. One has some many issues that you’ve spent countless hours vetting his background. On the flip side you have a QB and person that is beyond reproach.
Where will the Bucs be if Winston continues his off the field escapades and gets suspended for a year? Especially when we could have drafted Mariota with no worries and he is taking the Titans to the playoffs? L&L will be fired for taking a foolish risk and we will have to start over once again and be the laughing stock of the NFL. Make the smart choice and don’t be confused by the FSU fans who are too used to keeping their hands over their eyes and seeing no evil or risk with Winston. Dungy and the top draft Guru know best–Mariota!
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No more talk or pictures of Winston you are wasting our time we will not pick him you are way off target. It will be Mariota and his merry band of Buccaneers.
Well in the last couple of days a lot of speculations about what the bucs are going to do.I think now one week before the draft I think this is probably the senario should play out. No#1 Tampa ends all speculations and selects QB Jameis Winston. Afer Day one of the draft Tampa will regroup and see what players are available for the #34 and #65. I think if a Dt ot De is available then they will select at #34. But if one of those prize Offensive Linemen drop to #34. Tampa should take him its really will be deteremined on who was still on their draft board or do the bucs drop down to acquired more draft choices in Rd-2 or Rd-3. I believe that Tampa could have 3 starters within those 3 picks. Go Bucs always.
I think that Tampa’s un sung heros are the young bucs that have step foward.I think Tampa may surprise everyone and get another safety from this draft class to replace barron!Go Bucs
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