Copyright 2007

Word out of the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. is the New York Jets are interested in possibly hiring Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant head coach/running backs coach Art Valero to fill one of their two coaching vacancies on the offensive side of the ball.

Valero, who is under contract with the Buccaneers, would have to be given permission by general manager Bruce Allen to interview with the Jets before the two sides could speak. It is believed that the Jets are interested in hiring Valero to be their offensive line coach.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden hired Valero in 2002 as the team’s tight ends coach. One season later, Valero switched to the running backs coach after the team hired Ron Middleton. Last season, Valero was given the title of assistant head coach.

Allen is a firm believer in having coaches honor their contracts and has denied several coaches the opportunity to interview for other jobs in the past. That list includes Valero, former Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, senior assistant/offensive line Aaron Kromer and special teams coach Richard Bisaccia.

However, Allen views each request as a separate situation, and exceptions have been made. For instance, two weeks ago, Allen allowed Bucs tight ends coach/special teams assistant Ron Middleton out of his contract to take a job with Alabama since his ailing wife was scheduled to undergo tests and receive some much-needed medical treatment at an Alabama-based hospital.

It is not yet clear whether the Jets have officially requested permission to interview Valero. What is also unclear is whether the Bucs would grant the Jets permission to speak with Valero about the job opportunity in New York. Stay tuned.

On Monday, Pewter Report reported that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had interviewed Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Wisconsin Joe Thomas, neither of whom are participating at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

On Tuesday, Pewter Report learned that the Buccaneers had interviewed the following players: Penn State tackle Levi Brown, Bennett, Florida State running back Lorenzo Booker, LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, Texas defensive back Aaron Ross, Rutgers running back Brian Leonard and Utah defensive back Eric Weddle.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and his staff took the practice field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium for the morning practice on Tuesday.

Although the skies over Mobile Ala. remained cloudy and temperatures remained in the high 40s, the North team was able to conduct a rain-free practice today.

For the second straight day, Gruden had his eye on Rutgers running back Brian Leonard, who has been playing fullback for the North team. According to several Bucs personnel members, Leonard must accept and embrace that role if he hopes to find his niche in the NFL.

The 6-foot-1, 238-pound Leonard will also need to add about 10 pounds of bulk to become a dominant run blocker. He’s already displayed solid hands out of the backfield as well as a willingness to lay somebody out in the running game. Leonard showed impressive hustle during special teams drills by being one of the first players down the field to cover kickoffs.

To touch on another player that was mentioned in the Pewter Insider Senior Bowl article on Monday, Notre Dame wide receiver Rhema McKnight is an interesting prospect that has caught some scouts’ attention at the Senior Bowl. One of the more interesting things about McKnight is the fact that he’s regarded as a player/coach because of his ability to learn quickly and then teach others around him. McKnight (6-1, 212) showed this ability during Monday and Tuesday’s practices, especially when the receivers were attempting to get lined up properly.

Although they have Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham under contract for 2007, the Bucs are eyeing a running back and could use one of their picks to take one in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Two running backs that have impressed at the Senior Bowl thus far are Florida State’s Lorenzo Booker and Penn State’s Tony Hunt. During the North team’s practice, Hunt (6-1, 210), who is more of an upright runner, showed the ability to hit holes hard and make some defenders miss.

For the second straight day, Michigan linebacker David Harris impressed. He was solid in pass coverage and really did a nice job of defending the run on Tuesday morning.

Notre Dame defensive end Victor Abiamiri (6-4, 268) did a lot to stand out in practice Tuesday. He has good size and power, and was playing primarily on the left side. He was surprisingly quick off he ball and displayed good pass rush ability, which is something the Bucs are looking for this offseason.

Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko needs a lot of work. His mechanics and technique are off, and the lefty’s delivery is too slow. The quarterback play hasn’t been good at the Senior Bowl, but Palko’s play has really stood out for the wrong reasons. Of the three signal callers on the North squad, Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith appears to be the most polished.

The weather conditions for the South team’s practice on Tuesday afternoon were almost identical to that of the North team’s workout, except temperatures were in the low 50s.

One thing that really stands out at the South team’s practices is the tempo, which has been taken to a much higher level by the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff compared to when they were coaching in Mobile last year.

Florida defensive end Ray McDonald (6-3, 276) had an impressive practice Tuesday. He got off the ball quickly and penetrated the backfield on several occasions. While he has impressive strength and speed, and versatility as he’s been playing along the entire defensive line, McDonald needs to show more consistency as his performance on Monday wasn’t as good as it was on Tuesday.

Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis (6-2, 230) really stood out during the afternoon practice. He picked off UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer during a 7-on-7 drill, and he was later involved in another interception.

Florida State linebacker Buster Davis is an interesting player, especially when you consider whether the Bucs would be interested in him. Davis, who is an extremely hard hitter and plays with a high motor, is fast at 244 pounds, but his 5-foot-10 frame makes him a bit too big and short to fit the mold of a prototype Bucs linebacker.

One player that continues to shine for the South squad is Mississippi State defensive tackle Antonio Johnson. This draft is not considered strong in terms of defensive tackles, but Johnson (6-3, 303) is proving to be a player the Bucs and many other NFL teams will take a hard look at in April. He’s extremely quick off the ball and is proving to be quite a disruptive player from the three technique spot.

On the offensive side of the ball, USC offensive lineman Ryan Kalil had a good practice Tuesday. Kalil (6-3, 285) is an intriguing center prospect. He probably needs to add more size, but Kalil shows the ability to get off the ball and move a pile, and he’s quite athletic, too. Although they have John Wade under contract and could re-sign Sean Mahan with the idea of moving him to center, Kalil could be a player the Bucs target in April.

Running back Lorenzo Booker showed great awareness and some playmaking ability during the afternoon workout. He fumbled a pitch from Florida quarterback Chris Leak during one particular drill, but he did not panic. Instead, Booker simply scooped up the loose ball and gained three yards on a play where he should have been stuffed for a 5-yard loss. Later in the practice, Booker (5-10, 191) hit a hole hard off the right side and made a nice juke move for a solid gain during 11-on-11 drills.

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