The 2015 offseason is officially here for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished the 2014 campaign with a dismal 2-14 record. Rebuilding the roster has already begun with a handful of small signings to future contracts, and will continue as the Buccaneers scouts and coaches attend the East-West Shrine practices in St. Petersburg, Fla. beginning on Monday.
The players attending the East-West Shrine Game are typically second- and third-day draft prospects, but there have been some success stories from the game – most recently New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in 2013, St. Louis running back Zac Stacy from 2013 and Washington running back Alfred Morris from 2012. PewterReport.com will have daily reports from the East-West Shrine practices, and to kick things off, here is a list of prospects that could interest the Buccaneers.
EAST-WEST SHRINE POSSIBLE BUCS TARGETS South Dakota State RB Zach Zenner
The 6-foot, 220-pound Zenner resembles a smaller, sleeker Mike Alstott and is one of the sleepers at the running back position in the 2015 NFL Draft. Zenner, who runs with reckless abandon, has rushed for over 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons for the Jackrabbits. Zenner does run with a reckless abandon the way Alstott did – trucking defenders in his way. And like Alstott, Zenner is also a good receiver out of the backfield, catching 49 passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns over the past two seasons alone. But with five runs of 75 yards or more, including two over 90 in his career, Zenner is just as capable of running away from would-be tacklers as he is running them over. The Bucs should seriously consider selecting a multi-purpose runner like Zenner on the third day of the draft.
Tony Washington DE Oregon
Oregon’s hero in the Rose Bowl, Washington nearly single-handedly beat Florida State in the first round playoff game. Against the Seminoles, Washington stopped quarterback Jameis Winston on the goal line on fourth down to deny the Seminoles a first half touchdown. He also had a sack and recovered a Winston fumble for a touchdown in the second half. On the season, Washington a 6-foot-3, 250-pound 3-4 outside linebacker, had six sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 11 tackles for loss. Last year, he had 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, which speaks to his pass rushing abilities, which should intrigue the Buccaneers. Despite a smallish frame, Washington has long arms and could develop into a situational pass-rushing defensive end in Tampa Bay due to his knack of getting to the QB and creating takeaways.
Michigan State MLB Taiwan Jones
Jones is a big, thick middle linebacker with a 6-foot-3, 253-pound frame. Physically, he resembled Danny Lansanah before he trimmed down 10 pounds during the offseason, but he’s a better thumper in the run game. Jones started his career at weakside linebacker before moving to the middle of the defense as a senior. He had 60 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups and one interception in 2014 and finished his Spartans career with 183 tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception. He showed well against Licht’s Cornhuskers this year, notching 10 tackles and three tackles for loss, and could be a solid developmental middle linebacker prospect for the Buccaneers.
Memphis DE Martin Ifedi
Ifedi was one of the best pass-rushing defensive linemen in the country entering 2014, but a knee injury cost him the first four games of the season and hampered his production. After a sophomore season in which he had 46 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, Ifedi had a breakout junior campaign in which he notched 52 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and a forced fumble as Memphis’ right end in their 3-4 defense. In his injury-shortened season, Ifedi had 29 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in 2014. The 6-foot-3, 265-pounder plays with great pad level and sheds well enough with his initial quickness to where he could thrive as a one-gap penetrating defensive end in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 scheme. The Bucs should be interested in his production, which includes 140 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.
Georgia C David Andrews
Andrews is not the biggest guard at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, and that lack of size hurts his draft stock. But he has great grit and determination when blocking and has been a three-year starter at center for the Bulldogs. In addition to blocking for first-round draft pick Todd Gurley, Andrews was instrumental in blocking for Georgia’s leading rusher in 2014, freshman Nick Chubb, who rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns despite splitting time with Gurley before his injury. Andrews is a very smart center, who rarely makes mistakes. He is adept at run blocking and pulling as a lead blocker. While he needs to add more bulk and strength at the next level, there is a lot for Tampa Bay to like in Andrews as a developmental center behind Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Oklahoma TE Blake Bell
Bell, a former quarterback at Oklahoma for the first three years of his collegiate career, is an interesting prospect because of his size and athleticism. Known as the “Belldozer” at OU for his use as a physical, goal line runner where he scored 24 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons, Bell made the transition to tight end during his senior season with the emergence of Travis Knight at quarterback. At 6-foot-6, 259 pounds, Bell has the size to play the position and has a good understanding of the passing game due to his experience at quarterback. With good hands (16 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns in 2014) and very good speed, Bell is an interesting prospect in the red zone and in the open field with the ball in his hands. Where he needs to improve dramatically is his route running and in-line blocking. If he shows those skills in St. Petersburg, he could be an intriguing prospect that might interest the Bucs as Luke Stocker is a free agent and Brandon Myers is in a contract year.
Arizona OT Mickey Baucus
A four-year starter at left tackle, Baucus protected the blindside of quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Scott at Arizona, and also helped pave the way for record-setting running back Ka’deem Carey, who rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2012. At 6-foot-8, 305 pounds, Baucus has an NFL frame, but may be better suited to play right tackle in the NFL as he lunges too much to handle speed rushers that beat him with a quicker first step. He also has difficulty with handling counter moves inside due to a lack of agility, but he is well-balanced prospect that can run block and pass protect rather efficiently and could develop into a competitor at right tackle in Tampa Bay with the versatility to play left tackle in a pinch.
Toledo OL Greg Mancz
The versatile Mancz was moved to center for his senior season and finished the year as MAC’s Most Valuable Player Award, known as the Vern Smith Award, and became the first offensive lineman in conference history to accomplish that. In addition to that honor, Mancz, who has started at left guard and right guard as well as right tackle, was named a second-team All-American by the Football Writers of America. The Buccaneers could use a versatile lineman with the intelligence and frame (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) to develop at center and guard Evan Dietrich-Smith and Logan Mankins, respectively.
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
While defensive end Kenny Gregory and running back Ameer Abdullah got all of the headlines at Nebraska, Bell quietly put together a very solid career in an offense that features the run over the pass. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Bell didn’t have great quarterback play around him, but caught 181 passes for 2,689 yards and 21 touchdowns and was the Cornhuskers’ most reliable weapon in the passing game. Running smooth routes and capable of making big plays downfield, Bell caught 47 passes for 788 yards (16.8 avg.) and six touchdowns, including a 73-yarder. Bucs general manager Jason Licht is a Nebraska alum and has seen Bell play for years. With kick return experience, including a 99-yarder for a touchdown, Bell also has special teams value that could interest Tampa Bay.
Kentucky OL Darrian Miller
The 6-foot-5, 292-pound Miller was a four-year starting left tackle at Kentucky and has good, quick feet and agility and the awareness and intellect to pick up stunts and counter moves from defensive linemen. What he lacks is ideal size as he is under 300 pounds, and will need to add strength and bulk at the next level to excel. Miller could move inside to guard at the next level where his quickness may be even more sought after against three-technique defensive tackles. The fact that the Wildcat has experience playing left tackle is an added bonus that may appeal to teams like Tampa Bay.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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