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1. THIS IS BATES' PICK After talking with sources there is an impression that this writer has about the Bucs first-round pick in the draft. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates is going to have an influential voice in the Bucs' first-round pick. The first round candidates that play on his side of the ball have been spending a lot of time with him when they come into town, rather than spending a lot of time with their potential position coach.
Last year cornerback Aqib Talib came in for a visit and met with then general manager Bruce Allen, head coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. Talib was with Morris the most during the visit. This year Bates is spending time screening top defensive prospects with Morris and general manager Mark Dominik.
In free agency the Bucs did very little to upgrade their defense. They retained safety-turned linebacker Jermaine Phillips and defensive tackle Ryan Sims. Four starters were either cut or not re-signed. They were linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, and defensive end Kevin Carter. Tampa Bay signed linebacker Angelo Crowell, but that is it. The Bucs tried but were unable to sign free agent linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.
The Buccaneers believed the strength of free agency was on offense and focused their free agent spending there. Quarterback Byron Leftwich, running back Derrick Ward, and tight end Kellen Winslow were all brought in and given significant contracts. The Bucs also re-signed quarterback Luke McCown, tight end Jerramy Stevens and wide receiver Michael Clayton. With free agency focused on offense, the defense is likely to be the focus on draft day.
Sources have told Pewter Report that the Bucs owners, the Glazers, love to draft defense. According to internal research done by the organization, first-round picks on the defensive side of the ball have a higher success rate in the NFL, and the Glazers believe that you build a good team through good drafting.
Over their time as owners their best Buccaneer teams were led by a great defenses that were built through the draft. Tampa Bay selected a few All-Pro and Pro Bowl defenders. That list includes great players like: Warren Sapp, Brooks, Ronde Barber, Donnie Abraham, John Lynch, and Brian Kelly. They also got good value out of other defensive draft picks in: Dwight Smith, Dexter Jackson, and Phillips.
In trying to figure out what the Bucs are going to do on draft day you have to try and put pieces of the puzzle together. Let's look at the clues that we have gotten. The Glazers like to draft defense. The Bucs need to upgrade their defense and have not done it in free agency. A new defensive coordinator is going to want tools to make his scheme work. Your new head coach came from the defensive side of the ball. The team needs are most pressing on the defensive side of the ball. Sources have repeatedly told Pewter Report that the Bucs have been looking to acquire a pass rusher with their first pick since the end of last season. The Bucs have shown heavy interest in the following first-round defensive linemen: Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson, Northern Illinois' Larry English and Mississippi's Peria Jerry.
Bates has also said that his pass defense is cornerback driven. Thus, you can't rule out the Buccaneers using their first-round pick on Illinois' Vontae Davis, Utah's Sean Smith, or Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith.
My gut feeling tells me the Bucs will be listening to Bates on draft day, and giving him a player that he can plug into his defense. Sources have said not to rule out a wide receiver, so that is something to keep in mind. 2. COULD BROWN FALL TO THE BUCS? As the draft gets closer the rumor mill is running overdrive, and it is hard to tell what is smoke and what is accurate information. One player who should be of interest to Bucs fans that is being discussed behind the scenes is Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. Recently ProFootballTalk.com had a report that Brown was moving up draft charts, especially for 3-4 defenses. On the flip side, there have also been rumors that Brown could fall in the draft in the second half of the first round.
The early-entry junior has been projected to go in the top 15 picks of the draft since early January, and is considered to be good fit as a pass rusher in a 3-4 defensive scheme or a 4-3 defense. Brown has fabulous first-step quickness that makes him a challenge to block. His motor and work ethic are not in question.
In his college career Brown was a consistent producer the past two seasons. Brown was third in the nation in sacks last season with 13.5. He also had 21.5 tackles for a loss, 36 tackles, and four forced fumbles. In his collegiate career he totaled 23 sacks, 46.5 tackles for a loss, and five forced fumbles. Brown played the nine-technique in college, and that gave him the responsibility to fire off the ball, beat his blocker, and take up residence in the opponent's backfield. That is why Brown had high totals in tackles for a loss and sacks, but not a lot of tackles. Brown did not play a lot of containment, and he did not drop into coverage often.
Despite that dynamite production, some have been questioning Browns ability to hold up at the pro level because he is slightly undersized at 6-foot-2, 256 pounds. As a comparison, Brown is smaller than defensive ends Johnson (6-7, 266) and Brian Orakpo (6-3, 263). He is bigger than Aaron Maybin (6-4, 250), and the same size as English (6-2, 255). All of these players are potential first-round picks.
There is talk that Brown could slide in the draft and be available for the Buccaneers at the 19th pick in the first round. That would be surprising, but last year it was surprising that Talib fell to Tampa Bay at the 20th overall selection. One league source told Pewter Report that he could definitely see Brown being available to the Bucs at 19. Others view him as a top 10 pick that will certainly be long gone by the time the Buccaneers are on the clock.
Brown would be very good value for Tampa Bay at the 19th pick, just like Talib was last year at number 20. Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes talked about his former teammate Brown with Pewter Report throughout last season. He said that Brown is a great teammate and hard worker. Hayes would love to be reunited with Brown if the Buccaneers are fortunate enough to have him fall to them. 3. JOHNSON'S CONSISTENCY Pewter Report has covered Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson extensively throughout the lead-up to the NFL Draft. We have pointed out and discussed the criticism that he talks plays off, and has an inconsistent motor. We have also questioned Johnson about that, and given him the forum to respond to criticism and assuage doubts. We have also pointed out the strengths that he has as a football player. His athletic ability, big-play potential, and his production in his senior season and career have been written about.
The last part that deserves some examination is the consistency he displayed during his senior season. While he has been critiqued for having an inconsistent motor, Johnson deserves credit for consistently putting together good games as a senior. He was not the type of player to have a three-sack game and then not be heard from for two or three games.
Over his senior season he recorded his nine sacks in seven games. Those sacks came against Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Gardner-Webb (1.5 sacks), Clemson, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina, Georgia, and LSU (two sacks). Five of his nine sacks went for 10 or more yards lost for the offense including sacks of 16, 15, and 14 yards lost.
Johnson made other impact plays in games that he did not record a sack as well. In the second game of the season against Boston College, Johnson displayed fantastic leaping ability by deflecting a pass downfield that was intercepted. Against Miami Johnson did not bring down the quarterback, but he did intercept a pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
While Johnson has some well-discussed negatives, he produced big plays in the majority of his games as a senior.
4. HICKEY WENT TO GEORGIA Bucs director of college scouting Dennis Hickey made the trip to Georgia's pro day to get an up close look at some of the Bulldog prospects. Generally area scouts attend pro-days, if the director of scouting, head coach, or general manger attend a pro-day it is a pretty safe assumption that there are players participating that the team is high on and likely to be on the short list for an early draft pick.
The Georgia draft eligible players include quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, cornerback Asher Allen, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin, and middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Stafford and Moreno are projected to go in the first round and are not candidates for Tampa Bay.
Sources have told Pewter Report that the Bucs have shown no interest in Massaquoi. Last year the Buccaneers expressed a lot of interest in wide receiver Dexter Jackson before the draft.
That leaves Irvin, Ellerbe, and Allen. Irvin is an undersized defensive tackle that is probably going to be drafted in the middle of the second day. He is not a good fit for what Bates is looking for in defensive tackles. The same area of the draft is likely to be Ellerbe's landing spot. He is an undersized middle linebacker (6-1, 236) that can play on the outside as well. The Bucs are not known to be interested in Ellerbe, who also has some character concerns. Allen is the player that this reporter believes that Hickey was there to see.
Allen (5-9, 194) is an undersized, fast corner that is also a return specialist. He played man coverage exclusively at Georgia, so he would be a good fit for the Bucs' man-to-man coverage scheme. Allen had only three career interceptions, but also played with a broken hand in his final season. He is projected to be a third-round pick, which is prime territory for the Bucs to land a cornerback. 5. BUCS INTERESTED IN WAKE FOREST LB Another player that the Buccaneers are interested in is Wake Forest linebacker Stanley Arnoux. The four-year starter played in the shadow of teammate Aaron Curry, but was very productive. He has great speed, and is one of the fastest linebackers in the draft. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds. Arnoux is also a good tackler, and hits with authority. Being from Wake Forest, it is no surprise that Arnoux is a smart player. He is likely to be selected in the middle of the second day as well. In college he was a middle linebacker, but will probably have to move to the outside in the pros due to his size (6-0, 232).
6. TRADE DOWN AND STILL GET A PASS RUSHER Lastly, a number of league sources have told this reporter that they think the Bucs could trade down in the first round and still land either Johnson or English. Those sources think both players will be there in the mid-20s of the first round. That could be the dream scenario situation for Tampa Bay. Trading down there would net them a second-round pick or a third-round pick, so they could address wide receiver and cornerback with players that could challenge to see significant playing time as rookies.