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Here are a couple things that caught my interest this week:FAB 1.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hopeful that the league reinstates former starting free safety Tanard Jackson for most of the 2011 season. And multiple team sources have suggested to PewterReport.com that the Bucs will welcome him back if the NFL allows him to return to Tampa Bay.
The 25-year old Jackson was suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance abuse policy after the first two games of the 2010 season and he is not eligible for reinstatement until September 22, 2011. In 2009, Jackson missed the first four games of the season for violating the substance abuse policy and indicated that he had learned his lesson upon his return to the team in October of that year.
“I could sit here and go on forever as to how much I learned,” Jackson said. “The main thing is that this is what I love to do, this is what I’m blessed to do.
“I definitely felt I let my team down. I disappointed myself, but your actions affect others around you, and that’s one thing that hit home.”
Apparently it didn’t hit home hard enough as Jackson was unable to emerge victorious over his demons and was suspended again in 2011 – this time indefinitely.
Despite Jackson’s four-game suspension in 2009, the Bucs didn’t draft a safety in 2010 until the seventh round when general manager Mark Dominik selected Cody Grimm, who replaced Jackson in the starting lineup after his most recent suspension, and actually fared quite well. Still, Dominik was disappointed by Jackson’s actions in getting suspended for the majority of the 2010 campaign.
“Tanard is a talented young man whom we hope is able to use this year to put his troubles behind him and ultimately return a stronger man and player,” Dominik said. “It’s up to Tanard whether the teams and our fans eventually realize his considerable promise.”
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, who had a personal hand in drafting him in 2007 after coaching the 6-foot, 200-pound Jackson in the Senior Bowl and overseeing his transition from college cornerback to pro safety, wants Jackson back as a Buccaneer.
“Obviously disappointed,” said Morris after learning of Jackson’s indefinite suspension last fall. “We hope that he can come back a stronger man and help us in 12 months.”
The friendly Jackson was one of the most well-liked guys in the locker room and one of the most well-respected players on the field at One Buc Place.
“It's unfortunate and you feel for Tanard because he is a likeable guy and he has a lot of friends in this locker room. It’s a tough deal,” said middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
Buccaneers cornerback E.J. Biggers agrees with Ruud after watching Jackson record a team-high and career-high five interceptions in 2009, returning two for touchdowns. In his four-year career with Tampa Bay, Jackson has 24 pass breakups, eight interceptions and five forced fumbles playing in just 46 career games.
"Tanard is a great guy to be on the field with,” Biggers said. “I feel like he's one of the best safeties in the league.”
The Bucs think so, too, and it will be interesting to see if they opt to draft another safety in case Jackson is not reinstated by the league or if he is given the green light to return to Tampa Bay and then suffers a relapse and is permanently suspended. The safety position in terms of quality and quantity is rather weak in this draft, and with the Bucs needing to focus on the front seven in the draft, the guess here is that Tampa Bay does not draft a safety – certainly not in the first four rounds.
Grimm and strong safety Larry Asante were acquired last year, in addition to free agent veteran Sean Jones, and Corey Lynch proved he was a capable defender when given the opportunity to start at the end of the year when Grimm went on injured reserve with a broken leg. The Bucs like all four players and Jackson is the most talented of the bunch. With his expected return, Tampa Bay should be set at the safety position for 2011.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who is one of the many staff members or players I’ve spoken with about Jackson’s potential return, offered his thoughts on Jackson.
“I have not talked to T-Jack since the middle of the season,” Barber said. “I know some guys have. I have to imagine that he is struggling with where he is at right now. He’s still got to go through the whole reinstatement process before he even has a chance to come back. I imagine he is getting along as well as he can. Nobody has given me any information to the contrary. When he has the opportunity to come back I’m pretty sure we’ll take him back and we’ll love him up like we always have.”
Because Jackson did not play the entire 2010 season due to his suspension, he is not eligible for free agency and will remain property of the Buccaneers in 2011. Jackson’s relapse back to what is alleged to be marijuana, according to sources, was not just a mistake that hurt Jackson financially because he did not get paid in 2010, but will also cost him millions in 2011 due to the fact that he would have been a free agent.
Barber has always been a big fan of Jackson’s and hopes that he can come back clean and sober and continues to star for Tampa Bay. Barber has called Jackson “the most instinctive player I’ve ever played with.”
“There’s no doubt about it,” Barber said. “He’s an irreplaceable type of talent. He showed that in just his first couple of years. When he gets himself right he’ll be one of the greats. He has to know that.”
Even without Jackson, the Bucs secondary was the strength of defense, largely due to the play of Barber and cornerback Aqib Talib, who led the team with six interceptions before landing on injured reserve on December 6. Morris revealed to Pewter Report that his style of play-calling differs dramatically from that of former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Morris, the team’s former secondary coach, believes that as long as the coverage is right in the secondary the defense can win on any down. Kiffin believed that as long as the front seven was aligned properly, the defense could win on any down.
“I think Raheem knows that’s where our talent is coming from his background,” Barber said. “Monte was always the kind of coordinator that never really gave us credit back there [in the secondary]. His superstars were Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks and Marcus Jones for about a minute, and Anthony McFarland. Those are the guys he believed could make plays for him. Everything else was kind of reciprocal.
“With Raheem, he’s the reverse of that and I think he knows what kind of talent we have in the secondary, especially right now. I think that’s where his emphasis is. If he’s sound in the back end with me, T-Jack, Aqib and Sean and the other guys back there, there’s not many people that can beat us. I think he trusts our talent now more than he trusts the guys up front. That’s not saying anything against those guys, it’s just [the secondary] is where we are good now. We’ll be even better if and when T-Jack comes back.”FAB 2.
Not only did Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber touch base with me about suspended safety Tanard Jackson, he also provided me with an update on the health status of cornerback Aqib Talib, who tore a tendon off his hip bone during Tampa Bay’s 28-24 home loss to Atlanta on December 6. Barber has told me previously that Talib is the best cornerback he has ever played with – even better than former Bucs greats Donnie Abraham and Brian Kelly – and that he fully expects Talib to break his career interception record, which currently stands at 40, and eventually become Tampa Bay’s all-time interceptor.
Talib has 15 interceptions in his first three seasons in the NFL, which is the sixth-most in the league from 2008-10, trailing the likes of Baltimore’s Ed Reed (20), Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel (20), Green Bay’s Charles Woodson (18) and Nick Collins (17) and Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu (17). If he maintains his five-interception average per year, Talib should reach that mark in the next five seasons as long as he remains a Buccaneer and stays healthy.
That’s the key according to Barber.
“Aqib took a lot of time off [after the injury], which he needed to do,” Barber said. “That was not a common injury. You don’t really tear that tendon often. He took time off, which was necessary, and I think he’s still in Dallas. I’m assuming he’s working out at this point. He’ll be back and he’ll be fine.
“I told him even right after that injury that he is too good of a player to get hurt. That has got to be an emphasis for him in 2011 and onwards. He can’t afford to be hurt – not only for him, but also for the team. He is one of the guys – one of the key guys – that can’t afford to be sitting on the sidelines. I think he took that to heart. I know he’ll come back strong in 2011 and hopefully he won’t have any more injury problems.”
Talib missed the final four games due to injury in 2010. By contrast, Barber hasn’t missed a single game since he was inactive for one contest back in 1999 – 12 years ago. That’s a big reason the Buccaneers wanted Barber back in 2011 for a team-record 15th season. Not only is he still playing at a high level, Barber is reliable because he takes incredible care of his body during the season and the offseason and is a professional in every sense of the word.FAB 3.
After discussing Aqib Talib’s rehab and recovery from his torn hip tendon, I asked team captain Ronde Barber about another Bucs player coming off a tendon tear, defensive tackle Brian Price, who placed on injured reserve on November 8 after missing two games following Tampa Bay’s 31-6 loss to New Orleans on October 17. Price played in just five games and recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss before going on IR.
As I mentioned in my column for the February issue of Pewter Report, the Buccaneers front office has some concerns about the rehab of Price, who was one of the team’s second-round picks in 2010. Price suffered from a severe hamstring injury during the rookie mini-camp and that injury flared up again in training camp which caused him to miss a good deal of the offseason work.
The team shut Price down and placed him on injured reserve after it was deemed that he needed surgery to repair his hamstring, which had essentially detached itself from his pelvis. Apparently, this problem first surfaced in college at UCLA, but had become so serious that it was best if he had it surgically fixed once and for, which is why Tampa Bay placed him on IR.
The concern the Bucs have is that Price has screws that are fastening his hamstrings to his pelvis and that the procedure he had done is not a common one for professional athletes. Apparently, the surgery is more common for everyday folks, but will the hamstring tendons remain attached to the screws in the pelvis when a defensive tackle like Price repeatedly fires off the ball with explosive movements? That is where the concern lies at One Buccaneer Place because there is little track record of success or failure with this type of procedure in the world of professional athletics.
“I imagine he will be back with us,” Barber said of Price’s return in 2011. “I haven’t heard from Brian lately. He was rehabbing his injury at the end of the season and I imagine he still is. I haven’t been in there [to the training room]. This is my offseason, which means I stay away. But I know it was something he had been dealing with since college and he knew he had to get it taken care of and he did. It’s probably good that he got it done when he did so he can come back around whenever the new CBA deal gets done and we’re back in camp and he has the ability to get in there and work.”
According to both offensive and defensive coaches and players, Price was the most unblockable defensive lineman during the first couple of days of training camp before his injury flared up again. Price was giving starting center Jeff Faine fits with his quick first step off the ball and was doing way too much penetrating for the likes of offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterback Josh Freeman.
“He’s an explosive guy,” Barber said. “There’s not many guys that I have been around that I’ve seen that were that explosive off the ball. We have a chance [at being great upfront] when he returns. [The defensive line] was young last year and I think with some good coaching under their belt this year that the defensive linemen can be even better. Maybe the strength of the defense returns back to the front four for us.”
While fellow rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy continues his rehab and to build strength following a torn biceps that occurred on December 12 in Tampa Bay’s 17-16 win at Washington, insiders at One Buc Place say that Price’s healthy return to the field could have just as much impact as McCoy’s return in 2011.
For all the talk and comparisons of McCoy, who was selected third overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, to the play of Tampa Bay legendary three-technique tackle Warren Sapp, some observers, including Barber and I, feel the comparisons are completely unwarranted and that it is the 6-foot-1, 303-pound Price that more closely resembles Sapp in terms of his size and playing style.
“Gerald and Warren are hardly alike at all if you ask me,” Barber said of McCoy, who at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds is much taller and angular than Sapp was. “They are great players, but completely different players. Warren was a freak. He was just a big-*censored* athlete. If Warren was smaller he could have played any position on the field. Do you know what I mean? That’s not taking anything away from Gerald. He’s a big, big human being with a lot of natural ability and some strength. His game is going to materialize a lot differently than Warren’s did over the years. But I think Price’s game is closer to Sapp’s.”
The Bucs have no intention of moving Price, who played the three-technique defensive tackle position at UCLA, from nose to the three technique spot in 2011 because of the draft pick and cash investment the team has in McCoy. But I think Price is more of a natural three-technique than McCoy is because he is quicker and more disruptive off the snap.
To me, McCoy would be a perfect left end in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 defense because of his size and skill set and could move inside next to Price on obvious passing downs to provide a strong interior rush. It’s no coincidence that McCoy plays left defensive end when the Bucs go to their 3-4 or 3-3-5 defensive packages.
But for 2011 at least, McCoy, who recorded his first three sacks of his career right before going on injured reserve, will continue to develop as the team’s three-technique tackle while Price will battle top run-stopper Roy Miller for playing time at nose tackle.
“Gerald got comfortable and got a better understanding of his job and his role at the end of the year,” Barber said. “He was a rookie and you have to expect rookies to have a slow learning curve. Most of them just don’t jump up the learning curve very fast. Once he did and he started to understand where he could make plays he took off.
“We always talk about making plays in the secondary and in the linebacking corps, but it’s the same process on the front four. There certain areas and certain play calls where you can make plays. I think he was starting to figure that out at the end and it was unfortunate that he got hurt because it was really starting to show. Not just on his splash plays, but on his every down plays.”
The return to health of Talib, Price and McCoy should pay huge dividends for Tampa Bay’s ever-improving defense in 2011.FAB 4.
Tampa Bay has really struggled against AFC opponents over the last five years, evidenced by a mark of 6-14. The Bucs have fared no better than 2-2 against AFC foes (2-2 vs. the AFC North in both 2006 and 2010) over that span, and they went 0-4 against the AFC East in 2009 and 1-3 against the AFC West in 2008 and 1-3 against the AFC South in 2007. The Bucs will be facing the AFC South this year, hosting Indianapolis and Houston and traveling to Tennessee and Jacksonville. The Bucs beat the Titans, 13-10, in 2007, but have struggled against Houston and Jacksonville in both the preseason and the regular season over the last five years.
In the 2010 preseason, the Bucs won at Houston, 24-17, but lost against Jacksonville, 19-13. In the 2009 preseason, the Bucs lost at Tennessee, 27-20, and against Houston, 27-20, while winning at Jacksonville, 24-23. In 2008, the Bucs lost to the Jaguars, 23-17, and then won at the Texans, 16-6. In 2007, Tampa Bay lost 31-19 at Jacksonville, but beat Houston, 31-24. In 2006, the Bucs lost 29-18 at Jacksonville and were defeated by the Texans, 16-13.
For some reason, the Bucs have always struggled against Jacksonville and haven’t matched up well with them, as their 1-4 record in the preseason record indicates over the past five years. Throw in the 24-23 loss to Jacksonville in the 2007 regular season and the Bucs are 1-5 against the Jaguars in every meeting over the past five years.
In six meetings – five in the preseason and one in the regular season – against Houston, the Bucs are 3-3 versus the Texans. The Bucs have only played the Colts once in the last five years, losing 33-14 at Indianapolis in 2007. Collectively, the AFC South went 30-34 last year, with the 10-6 Colts being the only team with a winning record. Jacksonville finished 8-8, while both Houston and Tennessee went 6-10.
If the Bucs can go at least 2-2 against the AFC South they will likely have a chance to post another double-digit winning season.FAB 5.
Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• The main mantra for Tampa Bay head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris last year was “Score and get the ball back.” The Bucs did a great job of that in 2010, and by generating 28 takeaways on defense and making most of them count offensively, that played an instrumental role in the team’s surprising 10-6 record. In fact, the Bucs generated 102 points off takeaways in 2010, which ranked seventh in the NFL.
New England led the way with 143 points, followed by Pittsburgh (120), Dallas (117), Atlanta (115), Green Bay (111), the New York Giants (104) and Tampa Bay. The Bucs scored at least seven points off turnovers in eight of the 16 games it played last year.
Tampa Bay’s defense contributed three of those touchdowns last year with free safety Cody Grimm and cornerback Aqib Talib scoring their first NFL TDs on interception returns. Linebacker Geno Hayes also had his first defensive touchdown in his career with a pick-6 last year. Those scores gave the Bucs 35 defensive touchdowns since 2000, which is tied with New England for the fourth most defensive scores over that span. Baltimore has 38 defensive touchdowns since 2000, followed by Green Bay (37) and Tennessee (36).
The Bucs have had the fourth-most takeaways in the NFL since 1999 with 381. That trails only Baltimore (396), Carolina (385) and Green Bay (382).
• In an effort to portray exactly how meaningless 40-yard dash times can be at the NFL Scouting Combine and pro day workouts can be on occasion, I present exhibit A: Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount. The former Oregon rusher ran a 4.7 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and ran decent times of 4.53 and 4.55 at his pro day. Not blazing times for a regular rusher, but pretty good times for a 6-foot, 240-pound back.
There are plenty of faster backs in the NFL than Blount, but 40-yard dash times do not always equal productivity. Blount had nine runs of 20 yards or more in just 16 games in college (his senior season was marred by a 10-game suspension), including seven runs of 35 yards or more and two jaunts of over 65 yards. The pedestrian 40-yard dash times along with the fact that he punched a Boise State player after the 2009 season opener caused Blount to go undrafted.
But after getting claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay, Blount carried the ball 201 times for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns and showed off the same breakaway speed he displayed at Autzen Field rather than at Oregon’s 40-yard dash track. The Perry, Fla. native had nine runs of 20 yards or more in only 13 contests during his rookie season in Tampa Bay.
“I love the open field,” Blount said. “I like to showcase some things that people don’t think I have. Some people don’t know that I can run. They don’t think I’m fast, but I am. I like to surprise people.”
In 2007 and 2008, the Bucs drafted two of the fastest performers at the combine in Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams and Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson. Adams ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.6-range and was tops among defensive ends in 2007. Jackson ran in the 4.3-range and was one of the fastest wideouts. Neither player lived up to their draft status and their track speed didn’t translate to the field on Sundays.
But a 4.53 guy like Blount has proven to be more productive and has accomplished more in his brief tenure in Tampa Bay than either one of those track stars, and that’s why general manager Mark Dominik is wise to not put too much stock into guys that can run fast 40-yard dashes.
• With the five-year, $33.75 million deal that the Packers gave inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, there are rumors that Green Bay will attempt to trade fellow inside linebacker Nick Barnett. Pewter Report originally had Barnett as one of its Bucs’ Best Bets at inside linebacker when he entered the league out of Oregon State in 2003, but don’t expect the Bucs to be in the market for the 29-year old Packer. Barnett has missed 19 games over the past three years and his productivity has slipped in recent seasons.
Ruud’s camp is certainly looking at Hawk’s deal, which averages just over $6.6 million per year, and will use that as a benchmark in free agency. In fairness to Ruud, he’s just as good a player as Hawk is – if not better. He’s recorded more tackles, forced eight fumbles to Hawk’s two, and has just five less sacks and only two less career interceptions.
The Bucs wish Ruud was more stout against the run and more capable of shedding blocks at the point of attack. Tampa Bay’s run defense has suffered over the past two years, finishing 32nd in the league in 2009 and 28th in the NFL last year, and Ruud has made too many tackles downfield instead of at or near the line of scrimmage.
But Ruud certainly has his positives. He’s a smart, savvy player that excels in dropping into coverage and his intelligence and football I.Q. allows him to read offensive formations and line up the defense correctly and call audibles. Bucs head coach and defensive playcaller Raheem Morris greatly appreciates these qualities, in addition to the fact that Ruud has never missed a game due to injury.
The Bucs will let him and all of their other free agents, including right guard Davin Joseph, hit free agency to let the market set their price. The Packers thought Hawk was worth $6.6 million, but even though Ruud may be a better linebacker other teams may not think Ruud is worth that much in free agency. From what I know about the Buccaneers’ level of interest in Ruud, they don’t think he’s worth that much.
• Sources tell Pewter Report that Tampa Bay did place tenders on all of the players that were slated for restricted free agency, including the likes of guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, and exclusive rights free agency to prevent them from becoming unrestricted free agents. However, because there is no current collective bargaining agreement between the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association, sources at One Buc Place admit that the practice the team and other NFL teams have instituted to try to tie up potential free agents may not even apply or be valid when a new CBA is completed.
Pewter Report did learn two interesting things about the tenders that were issued by the Buccaneers. First, defensive end Stylez G. White, who despite being 32 only has accrued four years in the NFL, did receive a tender from Tampa Bay even though he was projected not to return in 2011 after recording just 4.5 sacks and losing his starting right defensive end job to Michael Bennett at the end of the season.
However, the Bucs do have the right to rescind the tender as long as White doesn’t sign it, and the amount of the tender is currently unknown, as the team did not release the compensation levels of the tenders it issued. White could have been tendered the league minimum salary tender that comes with no draft pick compensation for all we know.
The second revelation was that the only potential restricted or exclusive rights free agent that did not get a tender was running back Kareem Huggins. Huggins is facing a very difficult rehab after suffering a severe knee injury against New Orleans on November 17. The former practice squad player out of Hofstra suffered multiple ligament damage and a torn meniscus when he was hurt against the Saints. He is still walking with a noticeable limp after having surgery in early November.
Conversely, wide receiver Arrelious Benn had a clean tear of his anterior cruciate ligament on December 26 against Seattle, had surgery in January and did not have a limp at all in February. In fact, Benn’s recovery is way ahead of schedule and he is fully expected to be ready by the start of training camp and possibly by the mandatory mini-camp in June.
The team wants Huggins to get completely healthy before it offers him a new contract as his injury and slow rehab would likely cause him to miss training camp and start the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list at best, and perhaps miss the entire 2011 campaign at worst if his knee does not cooperate during rehab.
Complicating matters is the fact that without a new CBA, players like Huggins will be forced to rehab and workout away from team facilities and team doctors in the advent of a lockout. That will certainly have a negative effect on Huggins’ potential return to the field in 2011.
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