SR's Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:FAB 1.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected linebacker Najee Goode in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft there was a lot of head-scratching from fans that were unfamiliar with the former West Virginia starter. Goode was far from being a household name, and aside from being versatile enough to play all three linebacker positions and a great athlete with 4.61 speed in the 40-yard dash, most didn’t see the appeal of drafting him because he didn’t make many big plays for the Mountaineers.
His first preseason as a Buccaneer was fairly nondescript as well, as he totaled 12 tackles to rank second on the team in August, including six tackles in his first start in the preseason finale versus Washington.
“I’m an under the radar guy and people do not know much about me,” Goode said. “I just take what I hear and try to excel at it. If I have to prove people wrong, I’ll prove them wrong. I can play in this league.”
One of the members of the Bucs’ brass that is interested in seeing how much progress Goode can make from his rookie year when he saw very little playing time to his second NFL season is Tampa Bay’s new director of college scouting Eric Stokes. He was asked which Buccaneer drafted in the later rounds might break out in 2013.
“I think Goode will be a guy that can be interesting,” Stokes said. “He came from such a different scheme at West Virginia with the 3-3-5 defense and is making an adjustment to a more traditional 4-3 scheme and the intricacies to it. I think he will be kind of interesting to track through this process. We’ll see where he is coming off a year in which he didn’t have the chance to play a significant role. He’s kind of a guy that we liked in Seattle as well. He has the right kind of makeup. He is a leader with a great background. I will be curious to see if he can take his game to the next level with another year under his belt.”
The knock on Goode’s game was that he struggled in pass coverage, and that was evident as he gave up a touchdown in the red zone on a crossing route by Miami tight end Charles Clay early in the preseason. But a few weeks later on a similar play, Goode showed progress, and recorded a pass breakup against the Redskins in the middle of the end zone.
“That’s exactly what happened,” Goode said. “It was against the Dolphins and I was going up against Ryan Tannehill and I was reading the quarterback’s eyes too much and I was too excited and too juiced up for my first game and I gave up a touchdown. Coach [Bryan] Cox was a great linebacker and he told me to calm down, play what I see and do what I do. At the end of the preseason I faced almost the exact same play, but I was going up against a wide receiver on that play and I had a pass breakup. If I had turned around I would have gotten a pick, but I got better at the same technique because we had been doing the same things in practice all the time.
“I think I’ve made huge strides in that area. I didn’t have any picks in the preseason games, but I’ve had a few interceptions in practice. I’ve definitely gotten better in a lot of different types of coverages in man-to-man and zone. Learning from Coach Cox and Coach [Bob] Fraser has helped me out big with that stuff.”
Because of the lack of playing time last year, Goode had to take a lot of mental reps on Sunday and spent a good deal of time in the film room to become a better student of the game.
“The most growth I need to experience is preparation and game-planning,” Goode said. “The game that we had at Carolina is a game where Coach [Greg] Schiano was talking about having a high level of preparation and details and that allowed us to come back. The attention to detail is what separates the good players from the great players and the great players from the best players. Right now I’m just learning how to be great. Everybody is good when they come into the NFL.
“I would love to be out there doing more to contribute to the team, but I’m learning behind the scenes and I got some playing time at Dallas and against the Redskins earlier in the season. Playing against those teams was able to give me some good experience. Right now I’m learning from the vets and taking down every note I can and still trying to get every advantage on other teams that I need to in the film room.”
One of the areas that Goode also improved in practice was blitzing. He was not called on to blitz as much at West Virginia as the Buccaneers do with their linebackers, evidenced by the fact that both Lavonte David and Mason Foster had a pair of sacks last season. Goode has spent a lot of time with Cox, who was a great blitzing linebacker in the NFL, working on getting to the quarterback.
“I’ve become a better blitzer because of what Coach Schiano and what Coach Cox has taught us,” Goode said. “One thing Coach Cox tells us about is the offensive linemen and the little details about where they lean and where they are looking at. When we go through that situation on the field we can relate to what Coach Cox has seen and what he’s saying to us. Some of the stuff that’s going to happen he already knows about.
“We like to blitz just like any good defense does. Coach Cox tells us how to use our hands and he stresses to the linebackers and the defensive line how we have to use our angles. It’s huge.”
Goode appreciates the fact that Cox is a former player and can relate to what he’s teaching because of his previous playing experience.
“It’s different playing in the NFL than it is watching,” Goode said. “The different things Coach Cox stressed to me from his standpoint is how guys look at you and how guys approach you and what are other guys you are playing with saying about you. For example, if you are a linebacker on a receiver you are a target. The fact that he played in environments like that and actually excelled in it he wants to stress the same thing to me. He’s done a great job of that and I keep responding to it. The coaches are what make players go from good to great. Coach Cox really stresses that game-time experience and that adrenaline rush and that anxiety – he can relate to it.”
There can be a lot of anxiety for rookies coming in to a new team in a foreign city and having to treat football like a job for the first time in their lives. What has made Goode’s transition to Tampa Bay a good one is the fact that he has had a very familiar face in the locker room at One Buccaneer Place. After selecting Goode in the fifth round, the Bucs drafted West Virginia defensive back Keith Tandy, who was Goode’s roommate in college, in the sixth round.
“It’s huge because Keith goes out to places and he’ll find a new spot to go or a new spot to eat or hang out,” Goode said. “Just having him down here is huge. The fact that we used to be teammates we hold each other to a higher standard. He knows what I can do and I know what he can do. Hopefully we can get on the field at the same time like we did in college.”
Mostly due to special teams, Tandy saw more playing time than Goode did during his rookie season. He also excelled on defense, leading Tampa Bay with 22 tackles in the preseason, including a monster game against Washington in the preseason finale with a team-high 17 stops and a pass defensed.
“He’s developing nicely,” Goode said of Tandy. “He’s getting playing time due to his talent and injuries to others. It’s cool to have him here because I still get to pick on him and beat on him. Everyone calls him my little brother. He’s a great athlete and we’re always talking to each other about everything. We’re both on special teams and that’s where we get the most of our playing time. We’re always racing each other on special teams trying to see who can get to the ball faster. It helps out the transition of coming here by having him here, too.”
Goode might be able to get some playing time in Tampa Bay sooner than expected as the future of starting strongside linebacker Quincy Black is in doubt due to nerve damage he suffered in his neck and shoulder from a collision with running back Ryan Mathews last November against San Diego that sent him to the hospital. Black is having surgery this offseason in an attempt to speed up the nerve regeneration, but may not be ready to play in 2013.
Goode backed up Foster during the year at middle linebacker, but is also excited about the idea of playing the strongside linebacker position.
“I’m comfortable playing Mike,” Goode said. “That’s what I was playing when I came into camp. I’m learning all the spots and would love to play anywhere just to be able to contribute on the field. I would love to play Sam because that’s where I played my junior year and that really got me out there. I excelled at the line of scrimmage and really attacking instead of watching things and then attacking. At Mike and Will you do it from a distance.
“Actually, playing all three in college there wasn’t too much difference except you have four down linemen here and only three in college. Mike is where I feel really comfortable, but if I had to move anywhere else it would be Sam.”
Goode might get his wish in 2013 depending on Black’s availability.FAB 2.
The Buccaneers will have a better idea of Quincy Black’s post-surgery progress when the NFL Draft rolls around on April 25, and if the team doesn’t like what it hears Tampa Bay may be forced to draft another linebacker to compete with Najee Goode and Dekoda Watson and find a possible replacement at strongside linebacker. The fast and athletic Watson made strides on special teams in 2012, but some within the organization question whether he can handle the mental challenges of the playbook and assignments that come with being a starting linebacker on defense, especially in Greg Schiano’s complex system.
One player that mastered Schiano’s defense at Rutgers and thrived as a playmaker is linebacker Khaseem Greene, who is projected to be a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Greene has been the Big East’s leading tackler the last two seasons, totaling 266 tackles and being named the conference’s co-MVP in 2011 after posting 141 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his first year playing weakside linebacker.
Greene was a former safety that led the team in interceptions with two as a redshirt freshman in 2009 despite only starting three games. In 2010, Greene’s ballhawking ways continued has he amassed 77 tackles and two more interceptions in addition to forcing a team-high four fumbles.
At 6-foot-1 with a growing frame that would eventually get to 236 pounds, Greene was asked to switch positions from safety to linebacker in the spring of 2011.
“When Coach Schiano moved me to the position from safety he told me I would be special at linebacker,” Greene said. “At first I didn’t want to do it, but he had a vision of me far better than from what I saw. Seeing it turn out exactly like he said it would is truly amazing. It’s humbling. Now I pride myself on being an all-around linebacker.”
Greene’s stats line as a linebacker backs that up, especially after a monster season senior in 2012. Greene worked hard to come back from a gruesome broken ankle injury he suffered in the Pinstripe Bowl in Rutgers’ win over Iowa State
and showed no ill effects in his final season with the Scarlet Knights, notching 133 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries for touchdowns.In a 23-15 win over Syracuse, Greene had a monster game with 14 tackles, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and an interception of Ryan Nassib that he returned 25 yards
while showing off his coverage skills. In his Rutgers career, Greene has been a part of an astounding 20 takeaways – 12 forced fumbles, six interceptions and two fumble recoveries – in addition to 17 quarterback hurries, 11.5 sacks and nine pass breakups.
“I attribute that to preparation,” Greene said. “Coach Schiano installed a great system – a ball disruption drill – where we would catch interceptions, strip balls from behind and punch balls from behind and save fumbles from going out of bounds. I took those to heart and I realized that those drills were very important. Those situations do come up in games and that’s what happened to me. The more I focused on it in practice the more it started showing up in games. I credit that to the ball disruption drills and the tackling circuit from Coach Schiano, and also to having a motor that keeps going. I just find myself around the ball.”
Greene got the chance to catch up with Schiano at the Senior Bowl and would love to be drafted by the Buccaneers in the second round.
“Coach Schiano has been with me from the beginning of my career to almost the end at Rutgers,” Greene said. “He’s taught me so much, so to be reunited with him and those guys would be amazing. I’m getting worked up just thinking about it. It would be awesome and truly special.”
With so many familiar faces from Rutgers in Tampa Bay, there is one Buccaneer that Greene has a special connection to. That would be his former teammate and fallen football player, Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed a few years ago while playing defensive tackle for the Scarlet Knights.
“I know one person that has influenced my life the most and that’s my former roommate Eric LeGrand,” Greene said. “He’s changed my whole perspective on life and how to go about it by not taking things for granted. The guy would do anything to be out of a wheelchair and playing football. The way he carries himself every day and goes through life really touches me. I call him my living hero because he’s an inspiration to everybody in the country. But personally, he’s affected my life more since he’s been injured than anyone else.”
While interviewing Greene at the Senior Bowl, it was easy to see his maturity, friendliness, confidence and enthusiasm. His interviews with NFL teams will surely move him up the draft board, especially when it comes to discussing his love for the game of football.
“I definitely want to work with younger kids at the Pop Warner level when I retire,” Greene said. “I want to help youth kids from the inner city and teach them about the process of going through high school football and getting recruiting – things I could have had a little more assistance with coming up. Those are the things that mean a lot to me. I want to be a leader and I love football. I love the game so much.”
Greene was a captain at Rutgers, and is certainly on the Bucs’ radar, although it is unclear if the team believes he could play a position other than weakside linebacker where Lavonte David, last year’s second-round pick, is a star in the making. His coverage ability and tackling prowess could help him transition to strongside linebacker in my opinion, and Greene even said he would move back to safety if teams wanted him to.
“Whatever NFL teams want me to play I’ll play,” Greene said. “I could see myself playing weakside or in the middle. I think I can still play safety if I lost some weight. I still have some DB in me. If a team needed me to shed some weight and play safety to make the team and contribute I would do it.”
While it’s doubtful that the Bucs would spend a second-round pick on Greene and put him at strongside linebacker where he would only be slated to play about 40 percent of the downs given Tampa Bay’s penchant for playing a good deal of nickel and dime defense, his ability to create turnovers and his comfort level in Schiano’s defense make him a very intriguing prospect. One thing is for certain, and that’s Greene’s faith in Schiano. He knows Tampa Bay has a real winner in its new coach.
“Most of their losses were by a play here or a play there,” Greene said about the 2012 Buccaneers. “I was not surprised by Coach Schiano’s success in Tampa at all. If you look at his track record for success you see where Rutgers started and where we were when he left. In 2011 we controlled our own destiny. We could have won the Big East championship that year and this year. As the players – not the coaches – we blew some games we should have won. That’s on us.
“There were days in Rutgers history when nobody would come to our games. Now that’s changed because of him. We have sold out games now and we’ve gone to bowl games and won them because of him. His success in the NFL doesn’t surprise me. From them to go from four wins to seven wins in one year was great. They will be contenders – serious contenders – this year and beyond with him. I’ll go on record to say that, and I would love to be a part of it. We’ll see.”FAB 3.
Another player that would love to suit up for the Buccaneers is Georgia Southern’s J.J. Wilcox, an unheralded safety prospect that has spent only one year at the position. His athleticism and standout senior season in which he recorded 88 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions garnered him a Senior Bowl invite where he showed he belonged among the nation’s top talent despite his lack of experience playing safety.
“I started playing safety in July,” Wilcox said. “I played wide receiver my freshman year and running back by sophomore and junior year and this year I got transferred to safety and it worked out real well for me. It was definitely a blessing. I’m glad my coaching staff did that and it put me in position where I am right now.
“It was definitely a challenge. My coach gave me this position and the chance to step up and be a leader in the secondary. That was a big need for us this year. I took it on and ran with it. It wasn’t just me, though. My secondary coach did a great job with me day in and day out to help me get better and watch film. It was a great challenge.”
The athletic Wilcox rushed for 968 yards and 14 touchdowns on 138 carries (7.0 avg.), in addition to catching 45 passes for 898 yards (19.9 avg.) and four more scores, demonstrating what a skilled offensive player he was.
“I’m a versatile player,” Wilcox said. “I’m a good team player that can do it all. I’m accountable. You can give me one second or one minute and if I can’t do it, I’ll have learned to do it by the next day. You can put me in any position – even on special teams – and I’m accountable, dependable, athletic and hard working. That’s my motivation and that’s what drives me.
“It’s great being the hammer now on defense. I got tired of being the nail for years as a runner and receiver. It’s great. You get to sit back and roam and zone in on people, which is fun. I love defense and I’ve always loved defensive players. This is a change that I love.”
The fact that he made such a seamless transition to safety in just one season has caught Tampa Bay’s attention. Wilcox got to meet with the team’s scouts and apparently head coach Greg Schiano.
“I did meet with the Bucs,” Wilcox said. “They are a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. I loved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers growing up in South Georgia. I love that coaching staff and I hope to be down there playing for them real soon.”
At 5-foot-11, 214 pounds, Wilcox has a very solid build and loves to hit.
“I think I’m just as good with my hands – hitting folks and picking off passes,” Wilcox said. “I can do well in run support, but I can also drop back and use my wide receiver skills to go up at the highest point and get the ball and create turnovers. The transition to defense has been helped by my background on offense. I played against some good players this year like the Old Dominion quarterback. He’s one of the best players I’ve seen and played against.”
Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke broke Steve McNair’s college single-season passing yardage record with over 5,000 yards in 2012. One of Wilcox’s two interceptions came against him in Georgia Southern’s 49-35 playoff victory. Wilcox also had an interception in the South’s first practice on Monday at the Senior Bowl, which immediately caught the eyes of NFL scouts, including those in Tampa Bay.
“I think I’m more of a free safety at the next level due to my ball skills and my athletic ability,” Wilcox said. “I love Mark Barron and Ahmad Black. Barron is one of my favorite players. I would love to play next to him. I love his style of play. He can get in the box like a linebacker and he can drop off and play like a safety. I love watching Barron play. Black is a great, scrappy little kid. I love him, too. I would love to get down there and play with those guys.”
And the chance to learn from and get to play with Bucs legend Ronde Barber, who would start training camp as the team’s starting free safety should he return for a 17th NFL season, would mean the world to Wilcox.
“Ronde can still play, can’t he?” Wilcox said. “That guy is great. He can still play at a high level in the NFL. He’s a household name in the NFL and hopefully he’ll be in the Hall of Fame soon. I heard he’s came in to the NFL as undersized player that wasn’t real fast, but he has amazing instincts and he knows the game. He has a drive and a passion for the game and it shows. He’s a role model for me for sure.”
Wilcox has seen the influx of college coaches coming into the NFL, including the likes of Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and Tampa Bay’s own Schiano, and admires the recent track record of success. That’s something he wants to be a part of in Tampa Bay.
“It’s an interesting trend and it just goes to show you that there is better coaching in college football today,” Wilcox said. “I’ve learned a lot since I got here to the Senior Bowl from these NFL coaches. I want to get better learning the game so I can be a great player like Mark Barron and Ronde Barber. I hope I end up in Tampa.”FAB 4.
Another safety prospect that has caught the Buccaneers’ eye is a player whose takeaway ability rivals that of Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. In 2012, Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas was the nation’s leading interceptor and top turnover machine with eight picks and four forced fumbles.
“I attribute all of my interceptions to film study and preparation,” Thomas said. “I go in the film room to get an edge. You have to have an edge when you get on the field. Not that your ability won’t get you that far, but you need an edge and being able to anticipate plays off film study and knowing what teams like to do will give you that extra step that allows plays to be made.”
Thomas finished his Bulldogs career with 13 interceptions that he returned 214 yards, scoring four touchdowns. Three of those scores came during his senior year, including a stunning three-interception, two-touchdown effort against Colorado.
“DBs don’t get into the end zone very often, so when you have the chance you have to make them count,” Thomas said. “When I touch the ball I want to score and then get right back out there on defense and score again.”
Fresno State beat Colorado, 69-14, thanks in part to Thomas’ superb play. He also fared well against Oregon in the Bulldogs’ 42-25 loss to the Ducks, registering nine tackes, forcing one of his four fumbles on the year, and also notching one of his four sacks in 2012. It’s plays like those that ultimately led Thomas to the Senior Bowl where he got the chance to prove he can play against upper echelon talent.
“It’s been a fun week to be out here on a level playing field with all of the BCS schools,” Thomas said. “That can get some of the criticism off my back about playing in a lesser conference. It’s been real competitive and I’ve been having fun out here and doing my best.
“I have proven I can play both safety positions. I like being back there picking off passes, but I also like being involved in the plays down in the box. Sometimes free safety can get a little boring playing 20 yards back and playing centerfield. I like to be down there close to the line of scrimmage.”
The Bucs like big defensive players and at 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, Thomas has good size. More importantly, Schiano loves players that produce takeaways. What remains to be seen is whether or not Tampa Bay would invest a second round pick in a safety like Thomas given the fact that Ronde Barber may return for another season and Ahmad Black and Keith Tandy are also on the depth chart, and the team has more pressing needs at cornerback.
“I met with the Buccaneers and it was intense,” Thomas said. “They recorded the interview and everything. I sat back and answered the questions and hopefully they liked what I had to say. They liked me being around the ball and getting to the ball and creating turnovers. It was cool.”FAB 5.
Here are a few things to hold you over until next week’s edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• A few weeks ago, I noted how impressive Rutgers tight end D.C. Jefferson was at the East-West Shrine practices. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, Jefferson is an impressive looking athlete that is a very underrated blocker. I have Jefferson going to the Bucs in the sixth round in Pewter Report’s initial mock draft. His former Scarlet Knights teammate, linebacker Khaseem Greene, is also a big fan of Jefferson’s.
“D.C. Jefferson is a sleeper in this draft,” Greene said. “We had some monsters at wide receiver on offense, so it was hard for a tight end like him to get the ball and put up 40 catches in a season. It just didn’t happen, but to his credit, he never let that get him down. He blocks so well though, and when he gets on people he has his way. That’s clear to see on film. He really manhandles guys. He’s a guy that puts the team ahead of himself. He was a former quarterback. He came in as a highly touted guy and was moved to tight end. I’m glad he had a good showing at the East-West Shrine Game. I’m really proud of him and what he’s capable of.”
• Aside from Washington’s Desmond Trufant, the other stud cornerback at the Senior Bowl was San Diego State’s Leon McFadden. While he missed the actual Senior Bowl game due to an injury, McFadden was dominant in practice early in the week despite being undersized at just under 5-foot-10, 193 pounds. He had eight career interceptions for the Aztecs, and his 39 career pass breakups was tied for the most in school history. Prior to leaving Mobile, Ala. due to his injury, McFadden met with Tampa Bay, which is on the hunt for talented cornerbacks.
“It was a very positive meeting and I got to meet with them during the speed dating thing at night,” McFadden said. “They are all good guys. I met with the general manager and it went well. It was basically just about my background at San Diego State. The head coach was there along with the scouts. It was really great.”
• The Bucs also interviewed a couple offensive linemen in Mobile, Ala. in San Jose State right tackle David Quessenberry and Kent State left tackle Brian Winters.
“It went really well,” Quessenberry said. “They liked my intelligence, my versatility and my quickness. All of those things come into play on the Buccaneers offense. I met with a lot of scouts and we had a good long talk.”
“The scouting director really liked me and he was impressed with how I play,” Winters said. “He likes how physical I am. Obviously, the Bucs have great guards [with Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph], but he definitely sees me as an interior guy and thinks I could help out.”
• Bucs linebackers coach Bob Fraser has taken a different role with the team in 2013, being promoted to assistant defensive coordinator where he will work with Bill Sheridan. Rutgers’ former defensive coordinator Robb Smith, who replaced Fraser in 2012, comes to Tampa Bay to fill in as the team’s linebackers coach. Fraser, who helped call defensive plays for Greg Schiano at Rutgers, quickly earned the respect of the Bucs linebackers and stresses leadership from his room.
“The one thing I learned from Coach Fraser, which I already knew, but he stresses, is to be a leader,” Bucs linebacker Najee Goode said. “Coach Schiano came into our room in training camp and said that defense wins championships and that the linebackers are the leaders of the defense. The Mike is the leader of the linebackers. Coach Fraser has always stressed that to me. In order to be a starter you have to beat the man to be the man. You never set for being ordinary. You always have to get better.”
• A reminder to our Pewter Insiders about the first official Pewter Report Get2gether this offseason, which will take place on Sunday, February 17 at Courtside Grille Tampa at 13234 Race Track Road
from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. This event will be capped at 150 Bucs fans comprised of only
Pewter Insider subscribers, who may bring one guest. Pewter Insider
subscribers must RSVP on the Pewter Insider message board by clicking here
availability will be limited to a first-come, first-served basis.
This Pewter Report Get2gether event – like all four this year at Courtside Grille Tampa – will be catered with free appetizers, soft drinks and tea, courtesy of Pewter Report and Courtside Grille. Drink specials will also be provided to Pewter Insider subscribers, in addition to food specials for those Bucs fans that want to purchase beer, wine or mixed drinks, and prefer to purchase eat lunch or dinner at Courtside Grille Tampa rather than just feast on appetizers.
This Pewter Report Get2gether will also feature an appearance and autograph session with Buccaneers free safety Ahmad Black, in addition to a question-and-answer session with Black and Pewter Reporters Mark Cook and yours truly. As always, there will be plenty of inside information from the PR staff dished out at the Pewter Report Get2gether, and there will be also be some cool giveaways.
So Pewter Insiders need to save the date of Sunday, February 17 and be sure to quickly sign up on the Pewter Insider message board on Monday when we post the RSVP thread. If you are interested in becoming a Pewter Insider subscriber for just $10 per year, call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827)
or click here.
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