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1. SCHEMING FOR SACKS: WELL-PLACED FAITH OR HUBRIS?
The pressure is on defensive coordinator Jim Bates. The pressure is on defensive end Gaines Adams. The pressure is on defensive ends coach Todd Wash. The pressure is on defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn. Of course the pressure is on head coach Raheem Morris, and general manager Mark Dominik. Given their actions on draft day and in free agency all of those people are under the gun for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks in 2009.
Over the past three seasons the pass rush has been a weakness of the Bucs defense. To address the issue former general manager Bruce Allen selected Adams with the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Last year the Buccaneers defensive ends started out the season well. Adams and fellow end Greg White (now Stylez G. White) looked to be on pace to have double-digit sack seasons. As the season progressed Adams and White fell silent in the sack department. For awhile they were still getting some pressure, but the lack of push from the defensive tackles allowed room for the quarterbacks to step up in the pocket and deliver passes downfield.
The second half of the season was extremely quiet for Adams and White. Adams finished with 6.5 sacks and White produced five. The most consistent pass rusher from the beginning of the year to the end of the season was defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson. He applied pressure rushing as a defensive tackle and end.
The pass rush was a glaring weakness of the Bucs defense, and it was exploited thoroughly in the second half of the season. The Week 16 game against the Chargers was a case in point. Philip Rivers had all day to throw, and the Bucs secondary couldn't cover the Charger receivers for the amount of time that Rivers had to let them get open.
In free agency Tampa Bay did little to change the defensive line. The Bucs re-signed defensive tackle Ryan Sims and allowed tackle Jovan Haye to leave. In last weekend's draft they selected defensive tackle Roy Miller and defensive end Kyle Moore. Miller had 5.5 sacks last season, and Moore had five. Neither player was a dominant pass rusher in college. Typically those types of players get drafted early, and Miller and Moore were mid-round picks. Both are expected to compete and receive playing time next season, but to believe that either is going to produce sack totals as rookies greater than the sack totals they had as seniors in college is wishful thinking. Many Bucs fans are wondering why the team did not acquire a proven pass rusher this offseason.
The reason why the Buccaneers did not target and acquire a pass rusher is because they believe that Bates' defensive scheme will take their existing players and turn them into consistent pass rushers, and produce good sack totals. There is no doubt that Bates has had some pass rushers produce excellent numbers.
"It all depends," said Bates in February. "If we're really good we'll rush four. If we can rush four and defend with seven that's the way we'll go. If we need to bring five or six, or all out blitz we will have it in place. If you were to ask any defensive coordinator which they'd rather be, you'd rather be a four-man rush and get after them. We do play tight match coverage, so the quarterback holds the ball. We've had tremendous success and proven a lot of sacks as far as with our four-man rush. Jason Taylor had 2.5 sacks, and he went in there and had 14.5 and 17. Trace Armstrong went from single digits to 16.5 in his only Pro Bowl year. Adewale Ogunleye came in and had 16.5. Aaron Kampman went from single digits to 16.5. We've had a lot of success. Now, they have to have ability. If they don't have ability we can coach into the hours and not get it done. If they have it, the quarterback is going to hold that ball a little longer with some of the things we do, and that's all it takes."
If the Buccaneers defensive linemen play like they did last season then Bates will have to be dialing up a lot of blitzes. The Bucs are banking on Bates working that magic with Adams.
"He does have that ability," Bates said of Adams. "I'm looking forward to working with him. You never know until you get into the season in terms of what different things we'll do with Gaines Adams to hopefully help him. Experience helps in this league, especially in the defensive line play. It takes a while for some of them to grasp the game and get some different ways of rushing and not just being a speed guy. Sometimes guys are speed rushers in college and they get in this league and that doesn't work because the ball comes out too quickly. You have to have what we call some different pitches. If you only have a fastball you better look out because they're going to hit some home runs against you, so you have to have some change-ups, too."
Adams has yet to prove that he does have the ability of Taylor, Armstrong, Oguleye, and Kampman. While all those players excelled for Bates, it is not as if those players' production was tied to him. Since Bates left Green Bay Kampman has had seasons of 12 and 9.5 sacks. Taylor was successful before and after Bates. Prior to Bates joining the Dolphins Taylor had a nine-sack season in his second pro season in 1998. After Bates left, Taylor had seasons of 12, 13.5, and 11 sacks for Miami while also being the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2006. Armstrong had seasons with sack totals of 10, 11.5, 12, and 10.5 before he played for Bates in Miami. The year before Bates arrived Armstrong had 7.5 sacks. Ogunleye arrived in the NFL when Bates landed in Miami. Bates had success turning him into a pass rusher, and Ogunleye has had a 10 and nine sack season playing in the Chicago Bears' Tampa 2 scheme away from Bates.
No one can deny that those players produced well in Bates' system, but all those players have had success in other defensive systems and for other defensive coordinators because they are talented football players. The question is do the Bucs have talented football players that make a similar jump? The organization thoroughly believes that Adams does have that talent.
"Gaines is about ready to reach his plateau," Morris said after a mini-camp practice. "He started off his first eight games of the season fast, exciting, explosive – scoring touchdowns. We were all excited about him. He didn't finish so fast – just like the rest of our team. Gaines is a part of that team and a part of finishing strong that we talked about in our first press conference."
If Adams does start to produce the way the team believes he will under Bates, he will see even more double-teams than he did last year. In 2008, Adams did not show the ability to beat double teams, whether it was a chip from a running back or a double from a tight end, either one neutralized Adams. In order for him to be the pass rusher he will have to have the ability to beat double teams. No other player on the Buccaneers defensive line is likely to see a double team, so that indicates the lack of concern other teams have for them as pass rushers.
Many Bucs fans have the legitimate worry that if Adams can't beat a double team, or does not have the talent to make the jump that the other players did, the Bucs don't have anybody else that can produce more than moderate sack totals. Since the team did not acquire a proven pass rusher from the college or pro ranks, they do not have a lot of depth. What would happen to the team if Adams breaks his leg in the third preseason game?
There is a tone around One Buc Place that Bates' system can turn nothing into something for the Bucs pass rush. Hopefully for Bucs fans that faith will be proven true, if not that hubris will be a huge detriment in 2009. The pressure is sure on Bates, his line coaches, and Adams to produce big in 2009. If they don't Dominik and Morris will be fairly criticized for not bringing in talent to upgrade the pass rush.
2. THE BEST KEEP ADDING PASS RUSHERS
Two of the best pass rushing teams are the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Dallas led the NFL in sacks with 59, and the Giants were sixth with 42. Tampa Bay was tied for 20th with 29 sacks.
The reason why the Cowboys and Giants have great pass rushes is because they keep investing picks in players that are proven pass rushers. Over the years the Cowboys have kept adding pass rushers to help veteran Greg Ellis. Most recently they have drafted DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, and this year added Victor Strong-Butler (12 sacks last season) and Brandon Williams (13 sacks last season). Interestingly the Bucs traded up with the Cowboys in the fourth round to take Moore (five sacks last season), and with the Bucs pick the Cowboys took Williams.
This year the Giants took Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim (11 sacks last season) in the second round. Sintim will be paired with Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwianuka, and Osi Umenyiora. The Giants drafted the last three while having Michael Strahan on the roster.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has the simple and logical belief that players that produce big sack totals in college are the most likely to produce sizeable sack totals in the NFL. He does not believe that players that struggle to rush the passer in college will turn into big-time quarterback sackers at the professional level. Again it seems simple and obvious, and Tampa Bay seems to be hoping to buck that trend with Moore. Selecting him in the fourth round was the largest effort Tampa Bay has made to bring in an end to play with Adams.
3. BUCS NOT INTERESTED IN JARVIS MOSS
After speaking with sources inside the Tampa Bay organization, the Buccaneers are not interested in trading for Denver Broncos defensive end Jarvis Moss. The Bucs prefer to play Wilkerson, White, and Moore at end opposite Adams.
Moss was the 17th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of the University of Florida. Bates was part of the Denver staff that used a first-round pick on Moss to help upgrade the Broncos pass rush. In two seasons Moss has had a number of injuries. He has played in just 18 games, and started only one. In that time he has 3.5 sacks. The Broncos have switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme that is not a fit for Moss' skill set. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end is a true 4-3 defensive end. Moss, 24, left Florida after his junior season.
Pewter Report also spoke with league sources about if Moss was truly available. They said that he was not being actively shopped, and just had some informal calls and discussions regarding dealing the former Gators standout. Sources also said that no teams are interested in trading for Moss due to the guaranteed money he has coming up in his contract. The price to get Moss is believed to be very low, possibly a late second-day draft pick.
Perhaps Bates told Dominik that Moss is not worth trading for, but with the Bucs flush in salary cap room the contract issue should not have a big effect. Moss' contract is in the same ballpark as cornerback's Aqib Talib, and that is not a big deal. In fact Talib is making much more in base salary. Moss' base salary for next season is $660,000, and Talib's is $1,181,250. Unless Bates completely trashes Moss as a player and teammate, it seems like he would be worth giving a fresh start back in Florida.
4. POST-DRAFT QUICK THOUGHTS
a. From the Bucs' perspective, I don't like the matchup of Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry pass rushing against Arron Sears or Davin Joseph. I'd double him with Jeff Faine. That leaves defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux to get a one-on-one, and he hurt Tampa Bay last year.
b. The Panthers traded next year's first-round draft pick to get Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. Sources have told this reporter that they'll get that pick back this year or next year when they trade Julius Peppers.
c. I think Saints' first-round pick, Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, was one of the most overrated players in the draft. He will be a better pro if he is played at free safety. If he starts this season or is the nickel back I try and get Antonio Bryant matched up on him and feed him the ball to exploit the rookie.
d. Prior to any injuries and the preseason depth chart battles, defensive tackle Roy Miller looks like the rookie that will have the biggest impact on the field next year for Tampa Bay.
e. Outside of Gaines Adams when was the last time the Buccaneers drafted a player that was a consistent pass rusher in college?
f. The answer is Dewayne White in 2003.