The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have embarked on a youth movement under new head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, but the team apparently isn't opposed to bringing aboard veteran players if they can help the Bucs this season.
One of the areas the Bucs are looking to improve is their pass rush. Tampa Bay recorded just 29 sacks in 2008. The Bucs invested a third- and fourth-round pick in defensive tackle Roy Miller and defensive end Kyle Moore in last weekend's draft. They join veteran defensive ends Gaines Adams, Jimmy Wilkerson and Stylez G. White on Tampa Bay's offseason roster.
On Friday, Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates indicated that the team has had discussions about signing Washington free agent DE Jason Taylor.
"Jason is a great football player," said Bates. "Last year he fell off a little bit, but he had the [knee] injury. He's a young 34 or 35, whatever he is. He's just a good, solid professional athlete. There's been discussion, and I don't know where we're going with it. You'll have to talk to [general manager] Mark [Dominik] and those guys about that. We have some good football players here, but we're always looking for more and ways to try and improve our football team."
Taylor, 34, has 120.5 career sacks. He played in Miami from 1997-07, including five seasons (2000-04) with Bates as defensive coordinator with the Dolphins. Miami traded Taylor to Washington last offseason. He started eight of the 13 games he played in while notching 3.5 sacks and struggling with a knee injury. The Redskins released Taylor this offseason, and he's a player the Bucs have at least discussed the possibility of acquiring.
"We've got to evaluate everything," said Bates. "We'll always keep our eyes open in terms of what is available and try to build the competition going into camp. There's always a place for a veteran to come in and show the younger guys how it's done."
Bates answered more questions at his press conference at One Buc Place on Friday following the team's first rookie mini-camp practice. The Q&A session is included below.
You've talked about pass rush a lot. You have some guys that might be able to help you in that regard. Can you talk about your two draft picks along the defensive line in Roy Miller and Kyle Moore? "It's just the first day and we're getting into things. We did basic fundamentals on defense. Kyle Moore is a good pass rusher, especially inside on third downs at Southern Cal. Roy Miller did a good job rushing the passer at Texas, but he's more of a run stopper. He had 5.5 sacks. He's an awfully strong young man and can get some push, which is important with how quick the ball comes out in today's game."
How does Roy Miller fit what you want to do defensively in the middle? "The main thing is being able to hold gap, keep linemen off the linebackers and taking up space. He's a strong young man. He's not the tallest guy in the league, but if you look around the league you see there are a lot of successful guys that are shorter, stronger guys that are hold-the-point guys."
Do you think Roy Miller can do that from what you've seen? "Yes. The Big 12 is just throwing them, it's like a basketball league now. He played against Ohio State and really did a good job. That was a game we really liked in our evaluation of him. Hopefully he can learn what we're doing, but there is going to be competition at that position."
Miller says he has a chip on his shoulder coming in. Do you like that type of mentality? "Oh yes. I like that from players, especially linemen. I like tough guys with something to prove. He's got something to prove to all of us and his teammates, and there's nothing wrong with that."
How are you working E.J. Biggers this week? "We're working him on corner and seeing what he can do there. That's where we need the most help. He's a good athlete – he showed that out there today. He's got to work on his technique and clean that up a bit. You can't do it overnight, though. It will take some time, confidence and patience. There's a lot to it, but he had a good start today."
What is the profile of a left end in your defense like Kyle Moore? "You want both ends to be able to stop the run on first and second down and rush the passer on third downs. My goodness, Trace Armstrong had 16.5 sacks, Adewale Ogunleye had 17 coming from the left end position. You want a good pass rusher because if you only have one good rusher they can turn that protection, chip out of the backfield, and it's hard sledding when you only have one guy that they really have to pay attention to. The left defensive end is just as important in the overall scheme of things as the right end."
What are your early impressions of Jermaine Phillips' transition from safety to linebacker and what is your previous experience with similar transitions? "Over the years bigger guys have been able to go from strong safety and sometimes when you're watching college you see safeties that are just too big to play safety at this level. They may have some stiffness or just not move as fluidly. We've had some success with these types of moves. Flip has done a real good job thus far. We haven't put the pads on and it's not coming at him at 100 miles per hour, but he's comprehended the scheme, and I think he's ahead of schedule based on what we've seen."
Was he open to making the switch from safety to linebacker? "Yes. When we proposed it to him he accepted it. He's into it and has spent extra time on it. Everything has been encouraging so far. Is it a given that he will be what we hope he will be? We won't know that until the preseason games and into the season, but right now he's on track."
Is there a precedent in your career for moving a safety to a linebacker in a successful manner? "Tommy Hendricks was a safety at Michigan and he came in and played linebacker at Miami for us. He made the transition pretty well. We've always tried to see if there are guys that were overlooked in the draft at safety that could make the transition because if they're physical enough, move well and have the size, it could take some time but it can work. Flip understands football, and that's one of the reasons why I think he can make this transition. He's played in this league and played at a high level."
Can you talk about the depth at cornerback, particularly the top three? "Ronde [Barber] and Aqib [Talib] are the top two, and E-Mack [Elbert Mack] is third. We have Greg Fassitt, Kyle Arrington and now we have E.J. Biggers, and we may bring in another corner. It's going to be a battle to see who that third corner is going to be. Ronde will go inside in nickel situations. He plays at a high level there and is a great blitzer. But we're still looking for a guy to come out and grab the third corner spot. We'll be in training camp before that competition gets into full swing."
Ronde has been in this league for a long time, so is it hard for him to adjust to the new defense and change? "Ronde has played at such a high level, but it's been mainly playing off and in the Cover 2 and going in the slot on third down. We're seeing where he's at. He improved each day in the first mini-camp. He struggled some the first day, but came back the next practice and followed that trend all the way through. You have to be able to adjust as far, ‘What kind of hands does that guy have? Can I get good cutoff angles?' You may have to do some things in terms of playing Cover 2 or rolling that way. We will do some things if we have to. We have to see where Ronde is at. We also have to be smart with how we practice Ronde. He's not a third or fourth year veteran. He's been in the league a long time. We have to feel him out along the way and be smart."