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With training camp kicking off this week, here is a touchdown's worth of inside information and analysis to help hold you over until the action starts.
1. Which young linebackers have been impressive this offseason?
One position group that should have some of the most vigorous competition in Tampa Bay is backup linebacker. There are many players competing, and of course the Buccaneers have a lot of speed and athleticism. Eventually, the day will come that Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks, 35, will have to retire. With that in mind, the Buccaneers have two Will (weakside) linebackers that they are grooming slowly, and both players are thought highly of by the organization. They are their sixth-round draft picks from the last two drafts, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes.
In speaking to sources, the Bucs have a very tough decision to make, but it is possible that both Hayward and Hayes will make the team. Some have thought that with the drafting of Hayes, Hayward would be hard pressed to win a roster spot. Sources have told Pewter Report that Hayward has had a strong offseason and has made strides in his second year in the system. Hayward has impressed the team with his speed and intelligence. While he is not guaranteed a roster spot, Hayward enters camp as player in the middle of the competition, and not a player that is on the bubble.
Hayes also has impressed the staff at One Buc Place. With his speed and athleticism, he figures to standout in shorts and a helmet. The test for him will be matching up with the physical nature of professional football. Sources have said that Hayes has proven to be a quick study, and has picked up the system faster than most. Entering training camp, Hayes is in a good position to make the team after his impressive offseason, which could make a veteran like Ryan Nece a player that is on the bubble heading into camp.
2. What has Derrick Brooks focused on for this upcoming season?
Staying with the linebackers, Brooks is said to be looking strong. Despite being a 10-time Pro Bowler, the future Hall of Famer focuses each offseason on an aspect of his game that he is looking to improve on. Last year, Brooks was working on getting off blocks. This year he has been seeking to get faster in and out of his breaks. After over a decade of professional football, it will be tough for him to maintain the speed that made Brooks the prototype of the Tampa 2 Will linebacker. If Brooks slows down in '08, it won't be due to a lack of effort. The wily veteran has been working hard as ever this offseason has insisted on getting a good number of reps in the OTAs.
3. Why do the defensive coaches love Jon Gruden?
Other teams around the NFL will have their scout teams and offenses practice the opposition's plays to give the team some reps against what they will be seeing on game days. However, the Bucs rarely have to do that because of how diverse head coach Jon Gruden's offense is.
Gruden's offense has plays in it that show formations from all the offenses that they will see over the season. The Bucs can give their defense a taste of smash-mouth football with their double tight end "U" formation, and give the defense a spread-out look of multiple wide receivers and a pass-catching back. Of course, the Bucs also have a variety of shifts from the base personnel of two wide receivers, a tight end, a halfback, and fullback.
With the complexity and diversity that is contained in Gruden's offense, the defensive coaches love how going against his offense in practice prepares the defense for just about everything that they are going to face over the course of the season. Other teams that have offenses that are not as intricate have to incorporate new, foreign plays in order to prepare their defenses.
While Gruden trusts defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and the staff to make the tough decisions for their unit, Gruden's offense plays a big part in the defense's success on Sunday, and the Bucs defensive coaches and players would be the first ones to tell you that.
4. Gaines Adams has One Buc Place excited
Remember a year ago during the offseason workouts, the preseason games, and into the regular season when there were fans and sports radio hosts saying that rookie defensive end Gaines Adams was a bust? Nobody at One Buc Place was saying that, and that view seems suspect at best considering Adams was a rookie.
This year, Adams has One Buc Place raving. The second-year defensive end has had a big offseason. He has reformed his diet and has transformed his body by turning some extra weight into muscle. Many fans have heard about this over the course of the offseason, but what has not been heard is that Adams has matured and learned how to be a professional.
Adams, who notched six sacks as a rookie and added another quarterback takedown in Tampa Bay's playoff loss to the N.Y. Giants, has grown out of some bad habits and is focused on doing what is needed for him to excel at the NFL level.
Tampa Bay made a major investment in Adams when it selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. His strong finish to this rookie campaign and his strong offseason should propel him to start fast in 2008. The game has slowed down for Adams and he looks as if he is playing faster. The entire organization is excited about seeing what he will do this season.
5. Sears, Joseph talented bargains
When Tampa Bay's starting guard tandem of Davin Joseph and Arron Sears was selected in the draft, some fans bemoaned their selection and felt that the draft picks could've been better spent on skill position players. However, looking at the NFL landscape and the Bucs' division, it is clear that having two young talented guards was an astute move by the organization.
The price for free agent guards has become obscene over the past few years. The list of guards who have received $6-8 million per year contracts is getting longer. Here are a few of those guards: Minnesota's Steve Hutchinson, New York Jet Alan Faneca, Dallas' Leonard Davis, Buffalo's Derrick Dockery, and Cleveland's Eric Steinbach.
It is not a stretch to think that in the next year or two Sears and Joseph could be in the same class as the Pro Bowlers above. The difference is that Sears and Joseph have moderate sized contracts that do not have a big impact on the Bucs salary cap. The drafting of Sears and Joseph were good moves considering that Tampa Bay could have two Pro Bowl guards for a portion of what other Pro Bowl guards are making. Even better, the Bucs will have the salary cap room to re-sign both players when that time comes.
6. Dexter Jackson's best route
In watching some game tape, it becomes evident that rookie wide receiver Dexter Jackson's best route is the slant. Joey Galloway's best route is the slant as well. And the slant is the staple route of Gruden's West Coast offense. Leading up to the draft, the Buccaneers did not overlook Jackson's natural inclination to the most important route in their offense.
The other route that Jackson looks strong on is the stop-and-go. His instant acceleration allows him to get separation. Once Jackson has separation he keeps it. He isn't a player to get caught from behind. Some players break away when they hit their top speed, but then cannot maintain running at that pace and are susceptible to being caught from behind. Jackson has the ability to maintain his top speed, and thus, is very hard to catch .
EXTRA POINT: PASS RUSH IS NOT THERE YET.
While Adams has the team excited, one big concern entering training camp is the pass rush. Pewter Report has shared its concerns about Tampa Bay's pass rush this offseason, and we've learned that some in the Bucs organization share it.
Last year, the team changed up their coverage schemes, and went away from their traditional Tampa 2 in favor of cover 4, or quarters, on a regular basis. This changes the landmarks for the cornerbacks and puts them in a position to cover the routes that the Tampa 2 is weaker at defending. The other advantage to quarters, is that it allowed for the defensive backs to shadow the pass receivers and give the defensive line more time to get a pass rush. Essentially quarters can lead to more coverage sacks.
With a defensive line that was largely new last season, the Bucs were able to lean on the talent and depth in their secondary. They might have to do the same thing this year as the team is concerned about the amount of pass rush that is being generated by the defensive line.
The Buccaneers increased their sack total last season from their total in 2006. This year, they will need to do the same to make good on their goal of getting to the Super Bowl. The New York Giants proved last season that having a great pass rush can take away elite passing attacks, just as the Buccaneers did to the number one offense in the league back in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2008 training camp? Want to find out who is starring in training camp and who is underperforming, and who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft next year? Find out by subscribing to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clicking here.
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