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REUNITED? Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli, a second-round pick with the team in 2007, played collegiately at Oregon State, and two of his former teammates are on Tampa Bay's radar heading into this weekend's draft.
With Tampa Bay lacking depth behind projected starting cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, the Bucs are in the market for a cornerback in this draft and could take one as high as the first round.
However, if Tampa Bay passes on a cornerback in the first round, it will address the position on the second day of the draft. That's where Piscitelli's former Oregon State teammates – cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes – are projected to go this weekend.
Piscitelli is entering his third season in the NFL, but he's made a point to keep in touch with Lewis and Hughes over the past few years.
"I actually saw both of them right before the combine," Piscitelli said. "They were training in Orlando. They came down to Tampa one night to hang out. I tried to help them out with any questions. They are both hungry and working hard. They are both good players that can definitely play at this level. I wish them the best. They had a few questions, and I answered them to the best of my knowledge."
Both players are on Tampa Bay's radar, and rightfully so.
Lewis, who likely would be selected ahead of Hughes, has rare size and athleticism for a cornerback. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Lewis started 45 games at Oregon State, notching six interceptions and 29 passes defensed.
"I agree that he should be ranked higher than he is being projected," Piscitelli said of Lewis. "He is definitely a big, physical corner. He is fast. He is not blazer, but he plays faster than he runs the 40. He definitely is a great prospect in my opinion. If he can get to the right scheme, Keenan is definitely a man-to-man corner in my opinion. He has ball skills and he'll develop into a good corner in the NFL."
Lewis and Hughes (5-11, 182), who had three interceptions in college, are both aggressive, physical cornerbacks, which Piscitelli believes makes them good fits for new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' scheme, which requires the cornerbacks to play bump-and-run coverage.
"Absolutely. I think our new scheme now is very similar to the scheme I played at Oregon State," Piscitelli said. "It puts the corners on an island in man-to-man technique. That is what they played all four years, so I think they definitely fit in the man scheme. They are definitely bump-and-run corners, and keeping them at that would be their strength."
Of course, there's a reason why Lewis and Hughes are projected to be second-day draft picks instead of first-day selections. While they both run in the 4.4 range, Lewis needs to improve his hands (he dropped too many picks in college) and Hughes must improve his footwork. Lewis' 40-yard dash time of 4.47 might have prevented him from being a first-day draft pick.
The Buccaneers front office is doing its best to keep its draft plans behind closed doors, but has the team tipped its hand by inquiring about Lewis and/or Hughes through Piscitelli?
"Yeah, they've talked to me about them, but not directly. We'll talk here and there if I see someone around the building," said Piscitelli. "No one has sat me down and talked to me about it, but in passing they've asked some questions and it was real informal. Those guys are real professional and they are both great guys. Keenan lived next to me in the same apartment complex, and he was one of the young guys I tried to help out in college. He was a good kid."
From what PewterReport.com has been able to tell, neither Lewis nor Hughes had pre-draft visits with the Buccaneers, but Piscitelli cautioned not to read too much into that.
That interview was conducted by several members of the local media, including Pewter Report, and to say there was no substance in Hickey's answers would be an understatement.
Hickey has been getting absolutely killed by Bucs fans, who felt they were robbed of the time they'll never get back after reading the questions and Hickey's generic answers.
Pewter Report has been critical of Tampa Bay's front office, Hickey included, for less-than-stellar drafting over the past few years. It needs to improve if the rebuilding Bucs are going to become a dominant team again.
However, there is something fans need to understand about Hickey's answers to the media's questions earlier this week. As tough as the fans might be on him right not, you can be sure the wrath of general manager Mark Dominik would be even worse had Hickey been more forthcoming in his answers just days before the 2009 NFL Draft takes place.
Hickey made himself available to the media, but it was obvious he didn't want to be there. It was awkward watching him be so careful with his answers. I caught myself looking around the media room at One Buc Place a few times during Hickey's answers to see if Dominik might have a sniper rifle pointed at Hickey's head just in case too much information was being shared.
In all seriousness, I understand why Hickey kept repeating rehearsed answers and providing as little information as possible. The Bucs, under no circumstances, want to tip their hand to other teams, who spend countless hours scouring the Internet looking at team's comments regarding the draft to read through the smoke and form an educated opinion on where the Bucs might go in the draft at 19 overall.
If I were the Bucs I wouldn't bother making Hickey available to the media just before the draft next year. It really doesn't do anybody any good, although some tough questions that needed to be asked regarding Tampa Bay's previous drafts were placed on the table for Hickey to answer. Judging from Bucs fans' reactions, Hickey's answers didn't sit well with them. While I can understand some of their frustration, try to put yourself in the shoes of Hickey and the Bucs this time of year before you send the lynch mob to One Buc Place.
Put it this way, better for Hickey and the Bucs to waste the media's time, and your time, in that Q&A session than to tip their hand regarding which players/positions they might be targeting in the draft.
WHY DID GRUDEN-ALLEN DRAFTS NOT PAN OUT? HERE'S A HINT! There are a lot of reasons why the Bucs' drafts under Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen have not lived up to expectations.
Injuries have derailed some players, including running back Cadillac Williams, while others simply didn't pan out.
It's important to note that Tampa Bay has landed a few elite players like linebacker Barrett Ruud and safety Tanard Jackson. In addition, Gruden and Allen left the Bucs with perhaps the team's most talented offensive line in franchise history.
But there was some flawed logic in Tampa Bay's blown draft picks, which at this point has become too many to count off the top of your head.
Well, Gruden, who recently acknowledged that the Bucs might have reached when they selected wide receiver Dexter Jackson in the second round last year, shared some perspective in NFL Network's Mock Draft.
When the Bucs were on the clock at 19, Gruden made the selection for Tampa Bay, taking Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins. He also provided analysis to support his pick.
"My opinion? OK. We need some defensive linemen," Gruden said on the NFL Network/NFL.com. "My problem is that I just don't see anyone who plays defensive tackle that I get fired up about here at No. 19. We need a defensive back, too. I'm going to look at Vontae Davis. I liked his workout, but didn't like his tapes. I'm going with the Ohio State kid. I love this kid. Just wish he ran a little faster. I'll take Malcolm Jenkins, and I'll find something for him to do."
I don't know about you, but the last part of what Gruden said stood out to me, and for the wrong reasons.
"I'll take Malcolm Jenkins, and I'll find something for him to do."
I'm not director of college scouting or general manager, but I do know teams that select players in the first round without even knowing why or what you're going to do with them specifically fail to hit on that pick more often than not.
Not only do you have to know what you plan to do with that player, but you must also be fairly confident that the player is going to pan out and overcome any weaknesses in his game. Teams that draft successfully draft on production, not potential, especially in the first round.
One can only wonder if this type of philosophy was used in the War Room when the Bucs selected Dexter Jackson in the second round, tackle Chris Colmer and linebacker Marquis Cooper in the third round, defensive tackle Dre Moore and cornerback Alan Zemaitis in the fourth round, among too many other blown draft selections in recent years. The good news is the Bucs drafts have a chance to get better, starting this weekend.
MORE PLAYERS EMERGE ON TAMPA BAY'S DRAFT RADAR Pewter Report has already relayed some player visits to Bucs fans over the past month, but we recently obtained a list through a league source that documents some of the players the Bucs are apparently interested in drafting.
The source cautioned that this list may not be 100 percent accurate, but apparently it's pretty close, so we thought we'd share it with you in an effort to give you a better idea who Tampa Bay might be targeting this weekend in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Personal Workouts (Bucs Visited College Campus) DT Ron Brace – Boston College LB Maurice Crum – Notre Dame QB Josh Freeman – Kansas State WR Percy Harvin – Florida WR Darius Heyward-Bey – Maryland OT Cornelius Lewis – Tennessee State WR Taurus Johnson – USF
Visits (Bucs Paid For Player To Visit One Buc Place) DL Chris Baker – Hampton LB Jonathan Casillas – Wisconsin LB Maurice Crum – Notre Dame DT Tez Doolittle – Auburn QB Josh Freeman – Kansas State DT Sammie Lee Hill – Stillman DE Michael Johnson – Georgia Tech DT B.J. Raji – Boston College DT Terrance Knighton – Temple DE Henry Melton – Texas LB Brian Toal – Boston College DB DeAngelo Willingham – Tennessee
FOLLOW THE DRAFT THROUGH PEWTERREPORT.COM If you're reading this column you've already discovered PewterReport.com, which is great. We hope you and your friends recently took advantage of the $10 subscription special. If you haven't, it's not too late to do it!
Consider this a quick reminder to check back with PewterReport.com early and often throughout the weekend, as we will be covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2009 NFL Draft better than anyone.
Not only can you read our draft coverage, but Bucs fans can also interact with each other during the draft on our message boards and in our chat room. Please use the chat room titled draftdaychat.
And if you want some pre-draft analysis and wish to interact with some Bucs fans as the draft takes place, be sure to stop by Champps at International Plaza for the third annual Pewter Report Drafty Day Party, sponsored by Budweiser. The Draft Party will begin at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and will feature a Q&A session with Pewter Report, Bucs trivia questions and more. And don't forget your lap top computers – Champps has wireless Internet!