With three days worth of practices in the book, the players the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are focusing on are becoming a bit clearer. The entire Buccaneers staff was at both practices on Wednesday, first running the show during the North practice in the morning and then attending the South practice in the afternoon coached by the San Francisco 49ers.
One thing that is apparently clear three days into the Senior Bowl week is that Tampa Bay is closely watching the defensive linemen on both teams. The refrain from team officials all week was that the Bucs opened the season against Baltimore giving up a 9:00 drive to start the game, and finished the season with Seattle running out the clock in the season finale with an 8:00 drive.
The Buccaneers are extremely fond of Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker, who has had a dominant week in Mobile, Ala. for the North team and has been very hard to block. Tampa Bay’s scouts interviewed him for 30 minutes on Tuesday night. He uses his hands well and plays with such tremendous power coming off the edge. Carriker has also gotten a look inside at under tackle, and despite being so tall, he does play with great leverage and pad level. The 6-foot-6, 292-pound Carriker has also been remarkably consistent and is probably the best defensive lineman on either the North or the South squad. Â
The second-best defensive lineman in Mobile is also on the North squad – Louisville’s Amobi Okoye. The Bucs really like Okoye’s maturity and production. The fact that he is only a 19-year old senior is mind-boggling.
“He’s 19 years old, what can you say?” Gruden said. “This guy is mature beyond his years, not only mentally and emotionally, but physically. This guy is hard to block. This guy has a great motor. He’s a tenacious, highly energized kid. He’s an impressive man. When you watch him play football you really don’t know that he’s 19 years old because he’s getting up after some of these 22- and 23-year old guys very, very well.”
The Bucs were hoping he would weigh in closer to 300 pounds than the 287 pounds he checked in at, but the 6-foot-2 Okoye’s 34-inch arms and 10 1/4 hand size were among the biggest at the Senior Bowl.
Speaking of long arms and big hands, Fresno State wide receiver Paul Williams continues to impress and actually has the third-longest arms at the Senior Bowl, measuring in at 35 inches, behind only Arkansas left tackle Tony Ugoh (36 inches) Florida receiver Dallas Baker (35 5/8 inches). His hand size is also the biggest of any receiver, and rivaled Okoye’s at 10 1/4.
“My greatest strength is my speed and athleticism,” Williams told PewterReport.com. “I also have really long arms. I’m about 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but I play like I’m 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 with my jumping ability and my arms. I like Roy Williams’ style of play. He’s real athletic and explosive. I pattern myself after him.”
Williams had a great showing in Houston during the East-West Shrine Game and practices last week. He said playing in that all-star helped his cause this week because he was already in top condition.
“I’m already in football shape by playing in that game, so I feel like I have the upper hand on some guys,” Williams said.
Williams was thrilled to be invited to the Senior Bowl to replace Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzjia because he would get a chance to be coached by Jon Gruden, who coaches his favorite team.
“Coach Gruden is a character, I like him,” Williams said. “He has a real passion for football and so does his staff. In the week I’ve been here, I’ve learned so much more about football than I had in college. Last week I spoke with them at the East-West Shrine Game. Playing for the Buccaneers would be a dream come true. My high school mascot was the Buccaneers, so the Bucs have always been my favorite team. I follow the Buccaneers they are definitely my favorite team.”
Williams comes across as a great kid who is intelligent, articulate and loves the game of football. After catching 43 passes for 729 yards and scoring seven touchdowns, including a 98-yarder as a junior, the blazing Bulldog disappointed as a senior due to injuries that caused him to miss five games. Williams caught just 21 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown in 2006, but keep an eye on him in the third or fourth rounds.
There have also been other defensive tackles aside from Okoye who have played well at times during the Senior Bowl practices and have caught Tampa Bay’s interest. Mississippi State’s Antonio Johnson, Ohio State’s Quinn Pittcock, Cal’s Brandon Mebane and North Carolina State’s Tank Tyler have all flashed potential as well. Mebane destroyed West Virginia center Dan Mozes, who really struggled all day with fumbled snaps as he was used to mostly shotgun snapping in college.
The Bucs are scheduled to speak with Pitcock, Mebane, who has played nose tackle all week for Gruden’s North team, and Tyler this week in Mobile.
“I could play the nose or I could play the 3-technique (under tackle) for Tampa, whatever they want me to play,” Tyler told PewterReport.com. “If Coach wants me to get up in weight to play nose or down in weight to play the 3-technique I can do it. I’ve been fluctuating anywhere between 280 and 325 pounds. My most comfortable weight is between 310-315, which is what I weigh right now.”
Tyler said that one of the players he has followed is former Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who he has tried to model his game after.
“Warren was one of the great penetrators,” Tyler said. “I’m a hard-nosed defensive tackle, too. I’m going to go straight at my guy unless my coach wants me to swim around him. I very rarely go around the guy. I usually try to clog my gap up and get penetration.”
Tampa Bay is also growing quite fond of Michigan linebacker David Harris, Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, Virginia Tech safety Aaron Rouse, Texas safety Michael Griffin, Utah safety Eric Weddle and Michigan defensive end LaMar Woodley.
Pewter Report.com spoke with former University of Miami coach Larry Coker to get some insight on Hurricanes center Brandon Merriweather. Coker thinks he could play nickel cornerback or free safety in the NFL due to his coverage skills, but may not have the size to play strong safety in the box down after down. The Bucs like Merriweather, but he’s a bit smallish at 5-foot-10, 192 pounds.
Forget about Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard being the next Mike Alstott, Bucs fans. It isn’t going to happen. Leonard has really struggled as a lead blocker because he’s actually lost weight and gotten down to 224 pounds. Leonard lacks power when blocking and running. He’s also not a great ballcarrier because he lacks the burst through the hole. If Gruden doesn’t know how to best use a ‘tweener Mike Alstott, who is much more talented than Leonard is, it’s a safe bet that Leonard won’t be a Buc. At 265 pounds, Alabama fullback Le’Ron McClain has been much more impressive at the Senior Bowl.
One receiver that has really impressed at the Senior Bowl this week is LSU's Dwayne Bowe. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Bowe has displayed solid hands and impressive route running. PewterReport.com has learned that the Buccaneers scouts have already interviewed Lowe at the Senior Bowl.
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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: [email protected]