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Tampa Bay needs to add a linebacker or two in the 2005 NFL Draft, especially a middle linebacker prospect to groom. Starter Shelton Quarles will be 34 this year and his backup, Jeff Gooch, will be 31. Also, perennial Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks will be 32. The Bucs are looking for an instinctive player with speed and the ability to drop into zone coverage and make plays on the ball.

Tampa Bay added some promising young linebackers in Josh Buhl and Byron “Bam” Hardmon in April. Buhl is expected to compete at weakside linebacker and Hardmon will add depth at middle linebacker. While the addition of these two players does not alleviate the need to draft a linebacker, it may allow the Bucs to draft a linebacker a little later in the draft because there is not such a pressing need for depth this year. Having said that, there is still a pressing need to find quality starters for the future. The Bucs got a great start with Marquis Cooper in the third round last year, and third-year player Ryan Nece showed enough promise to merit a long-term deal this offseason that kept him off the restricted free agent market. The number one attribute for Bucs linebackers is instincts, followed closely by speed.

Florida’s Channing Crowder and Georgia’s Odell Thurman are ideal fits for Tampa Bay’s scheme, but both are considered late first- or early second-round prospects at middle linebacker. Tennessee’s Kevin Burnett is an outside linebacker candidate in the second round. Nebraska’s Barrett Rudd has intrigued the Bucs and could be targeted at the top of the third round if he is still there. He has great instincts. Tampa Bay is also high on USC middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, and would consider drafting him at the end of the third round or in the fourth round. Tatupu is very productive and has some real savvy in pass coverage. Southern Miss’ Michael Boley is a tackling machine at outside linebacker with a knack for forcing turnovers and is an option in rounds 3-4. The Bucs also like both of the San Diego State prospects – Kirk Morrison and Matt McCoy. While neither has blazing speed, they play with high intensity and aggressiveness. Both Aztecs are candidates in rounds 3-4. UAB’s Zac Woodfin has the traits the Bucs are looking for and is also a mid-round option. Illinois State MLB James “Boomer” Grigsby will also be available in the middle rounds and has great speed and toughness, but isn’t proven in coverage. Clemson’s Leroy Hill really impressed the Bucs during the Senior Bowl and is a viable option in rounds 4-5. Alabama’s Cornelius Wortham also opened some eyes at the Senior Bowl and could be selected in rounds 6-7.

Upon further review, Channing isn’t a good fit, based on information we have received. The team feels he should have stayed in school is not emotionally or physically ready for the NFL yet. The team is very high on Thurman, who may be their highest-rated linebacker on the boards. The big question mark is character. He’s had some academic and off-field issues that concern the Bucs. But if he slips into the third round, his athletic prowess and production may force Tampa Bay to take a chance on him. The team is still very high on Ruud, but not as high on Burnett, who disappears on film a little too much for their liking. McCoy has been climbing the Bucs’ board lately, and Kirkland, his San Diego State teammate, is still a possibility on Day 2. Tatupu and the three stars from the Senior Bowl – Boley, Hill and Wortham – are still very much in the mix to be drafted by Tampa Bay on the second day. The Bucs have had a growing interest in Wortham over the past few weeks, so he’s one to keep an eye on in the later rounds.

Ruud, whose dad played in the NFL, is a tough, instinctive middle linebacker with the ability to drop in zone coverage and stuff the run. He leaves Nebraska as the school’s all-time leading tackler, which says something because the Blackshirts have produced some quality NFL defenders through the decades.

Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, Jeff Gooch, Ryan Nece, Marquis Cooper, Jermaine Taylor, Josh Buhl, Byron “Bam” Hardmon

For more detailed analyis on each draft prospect, refer to the positional draft previews in the on-line version of the Pewter Report Bucs Draft Preview.

This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years 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:
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