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The well can sometimes run dry this time of year when it comes to offseason news regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fortunately for Bucs fans, Pewter Report is still coming by information and scoop that will hopefully make the start of training camp feel like it arrives a little sooner than July 26.
Pewter Report publisher Scott Reynolds recently touched on a number of topics in a must-read SR’s Fab Five column, which was published Tuesday. The good news is he has another scoop-filled column in the burner for next week.
In the meantime, I’ve come by a few nuggets of information that should interest Bucs fans. Normally, Flynn’s Focus concentrates on one particular story or theme. However, this week’s edition of the column elaborates on three different topics that will hopefully give Bucs fans their offseason fix or at least hold you over until next week’s SR’s Fab Five.
Three Players Competing For Long Snapper JobPerhaps the most unappreciated player and position on an NFL roster is that of the long snapper, who usually doesn’t get noticed unless mistakes are made.
Over the past three seasons, fans haven’t paid much attention to Tampa Bay’s long snapper, thanks to Dave Moore, who solidified the position when he re-signed with the Buccaneers in 2004.
Before Moore’s return to Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers handed their long-snapping duties to Ryan Benjamin, who was a serviceable snapper, evidenced by the fact that the Bucs won the Super Bowl with him handling those duties, but had some issues as blocker.
“They’ve got to be able to move their feet and protect the punter,” Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia said. “They’re involved in protection, so it’s a big deal whether they can protect the punter or not. Fortunately we had that here when we had Dave along with all of Dave’s intangibles.”
Unfortunately for the Bucs, Moore is an unrestricted free agent. Although he hasn’t officially announced it, the fact that Moore is 37 suggests he could retire from the NFL.
Moore suffered a broken rib and collapsed lung while covering a punt in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens last season. That injury rendered him unavailable for three games, but it also gave the Bucs a chance to take a look at Andrew Economos, who initially began his Buccaneer career on the team’s practice squad before being promoted to the active roster last September.
While Economos’ stint was short-lived due to a knee injury he sustained that landed him on injured reserve in October, the Bucs saw enough from him to give him a shot to earn the job on a full-time basis this season.
“We needed a snapper for a couple of games last year, and he snapped two games for us,” said Bisaccia said of Economos. “He did well until he got injured himself. We liked what he did and kept him around.”
Competing with 6-foot-1, 250-pound Economos for the long snapper job are offensive lineman Jeb Terry (6-5, 311) and tight end Keith Heinrich (6-5, 250), who joined the Bucs as a practice squad player last season.
According to team sources, the competition is “too close to call.”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden doesn’t like the idea of dedicating a 53-man roster spot to a player that can only handle one job on special teams. The three exceptions, of course, are punter, kicker and a return specialist that can return punts and kickoffs.
That said, even if the competition remains tight into training camp and preseason, Economos could be at a disadvantage since he only long snaps whereas Terry and Heinrich play offensive line and tight end, respectively.
As of right now, the Bucs seem to be pleased with the competition they have at long snapper. However, if none of these players emerge as Moore’s successor, the Bucs apparently haven’t ruled out the possibility of bringing back Moore for a 16th season in the NFL.
“We’ll see how it works out with all three of these guys,” said Bisaccia. “If it works out, then we will have our long snapper. If not, I hope Dave’s working out.”
Injury Concerns At Center? Who will be Tampa Bay’s starting center in 2007?
Well, there seems to be more question marks than answers hovering over this particular position at this point in the offseason.
In addition to Dan Buenning recovering from season-ending knee surgery, Pewter Report has learned that last year’s starting center, John Wade, has not participated in any of the organized team activities due to an MCL knee injury he sustained in 2006 that required surgery earlier this offseason.
“We went through the early part of our offseason program already and John hasn’t really been able to do anything because of his knee,” said Bucs offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir. “In the meantime, we’ve been looking at some guys there.”
The three players the Bucs have working at center in OTAs while Buenning and Wade continue to rehab their surgically repaired knees are Jeb Terry, a 2004 fifth-round pick, and Matt Lehr, who signed with the Bucs earlier in the offseason and Nick Mihlhauser, a player the Bucs picked off of the Chargers’ practice squad last season.
The Buccaneers expressed interest in several veteran centers in March, including Al Johnson and Jeremy Newberry. However, the Bucs were outbid for those players’ services in free agency.
Tampa Bay also elected to pass on arguably the best center in the 2007 NFL Draft in the second round, deciding to draft Tennessee guard Arron Sears instead of USC center Ryan Kalil, who was later drafted by Carolina.
The Bucs moved Buenning to center after they drafted Sears, but Muir said there’s no guarantee he’ll beat out Wade for the starting job or even stick at that position this season.
“I’m not convinced [Buenning can play center],” said Muir. “I’m just searching. The team will continue to develop and obviously when Dan comes back and he’s ready to participate, we think he has the versatility to play guard and center. We worked with him a little bit at center prior to this season, so it’s not that it’s any big revelation. It’s just that we’re expanding the possibilities. We’ll look at Dan at center and guard.”
Versatility will certainly play a role in determining which offensive linemen the Buccaneers keep on their active roster this season. The Bucs typically only dress seven offensive linemen for game days during the regular season, so the more versatile the player the better off the team will be if and when injuries occur.
That’s the type of versatility the Buccaneers had with Sean Mahan, who could play guard and center. While Mahan wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber player, the Bucs had value in his versatility, which is why they tried to re-sign him before he eventually inked a five-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Sean Mahan was nice because he could play either guard position or center,” said Muir. “As we try to evaluate our roster we’re looking for some type of swing depth. That doesn’t mean that if given a chance to play the position Dan is going to become a starter. Everything right now is in the process of, 'Hey, let’s look at what our options are.' But no decisions have been made. Nothing has been excluded or extended.”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden recently stated that the amount of reps each player will receive in training camp would depend on how they fare in OTAs. That means it likely will be difficult to decide how many reps to give Wade and Buenning seeing as neither player is healthy enough to play right now and may not be ready to go when the team reports to training camp on July 26.
“That falls under somebody else’s jurisdiction,” Muir said when asked if Buenning and/or Wade would be healthy enough to play by training camp. “See that field out there. When the guys come out with their helmets and shoulder pads on I coach the [expletive] out of them. When they come out with a baseball cap and shorts on I don’t know who they are.”
The good news for the Bucs is, according to team sources, both Wade and Buenning will be 100 percent healthy by the time training camp rolls around. Despite Buenning and Wade’s injuries and absences from the football field during OTAs, the Bucs still believe the battle for the starting center position will be one of the best this year’s training camp and preseason have to offer.
But with those injuries still an issue, the Bucs can only hope the battle for the starting center job is competitive for the right reasons.
When Will The Bucs' Draft Picks Sign? The Chicago Bears recently signed third-round running back, Garrett Wolfe, to a four-year contract. He was the first 2007 draft pick to sign his rookie contract this offseason.
This, of course, was the exception, not the norm when it comes to NFL draft picks signing contracts with their respective teams.
Most draft picks don’t sign their contracts until July. In the case of the Buccaneers, their draft picks don’t typically begin signing their rookie deals until one week before training camp begins. In some cases, it’s less than 24 hours before the Bucs report to camp.
Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and Gaines Adams’ agent still have to negotiate the first-round pick’s contract, but don’t be surprised if Adams receives approximately $16 million in guaranteed money.
That’s how much the fourth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, received when he inked his rookie contract with the New York Jets last year.
Some Bucs sources were happy that they lost the coin flip to the Cleveland Browns back in February. That coin flip determined that the Browns would pick third and the Bucs would pick fourth in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Tampa Bay felt that, no matter what happened, it would wind up with a quality player at No. 4 overall. The Bucs also liked the fact that they picked ahead of the Browns in the second round as a result of that coin flip.
There were several reasons why Tampa Bay wasn’t too serious about trading up with Detroit to put itself in a position to draft Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Not only did the Bucs not want to surrender their first-rounder and both second-round picks or more to the Lions in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the draft, they wouldn’t have been thrilled about the contract that pick comes with.
The second overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, running back Reggie Bush, received approximately $26 million in guaranteed money from the New Orleans Saints. Johnson likely will receive a little more than that when he signs with the Lions this summer.
By staying put at No. 4 overall, the Bucs, who are currently $7.2 million under the salary cap, saved their draft picks and about $10 million in guaranteed money. And they still managed to land arguably the best defensive player in the draft in Adams.
That’s a feat in itself for a team that just got itself out of salary cap hell and has no interest in going back to it anytime soon.
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