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1. DEFENSIVE LINE BEING WATCHED CLOSELY With almost all of the attention regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being focused on the quarterback position, many positions on the Bucs are flying under the radar. One of the pleasant surprises about the team in the preseason has been the superb run defense. In its first three preseason games, Tampa Bay held its opponent to less than 100 yards rushing.
As for pass rushing, the defensive line has some mixed numbers. The backups have put up a nice sack total. Louis Holmes, Chris Bradwell, Stylez G. White, Rashad Duncan, and Kyle Moore have all recorded sacks, with the first two notching a pair each.
The starting four defensive linemen have not been as productive as the backups. That makes sense because the backups have played more, but through three preseason games the starters have played roughly an entire game. Thus far, they have totaled two sacks. The sacks came courtesy of defensive tackle Ryan Sims and defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, although there were no lost yards on Wilkerson's sack.
The Buccaneers organization is watching the defensive line closely, and has been focused on this unit since the change in the front office to general manager Mark Dominik. In last April's draft, the Bucs felt compelled to acquire quarterback Josh Freeman. Sources have told Pewter Report that if Freeman was not available they were focused on addressing the defensive line with their first pick.
Because they were able to land Freeman, Tampa Bay selected defensive linemen with its next two picks. Defensive tackle Roy Miller went in the third round, and the Buccaneers traded up to select defensive end Kyle Moore in the fourth round. Thus far, the early returns on those picks have been positive. Rave reviews have been spoken about Miller, including defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
"Coming in as a rookie defensive tackle, it's one of the hardest positions for a guy to play at a young age," Bates said this week. "Usually it takes a lot of maturity. There are guys that are 26-35 years old you're going against, that are 600 pounds (combined) sometimes on the double teams, and Roy has held his ground. It's been amazing because there's not much running game in the Big 12, so for him to come in and do what he's done, that's probably been the most surprising thing in camp."
While the Buccaneers are excited about the future prospects of Moore and Miller, they are still watching the defensive line closely. The ability to consistently rush the passer is a big question mark. Wilkerson is a free agent after the season, and there is no guarantee that he will be back with the team.
If the Bucs are drafting highly in 2010, there is a significant possibility that they will take a defensive linemen. By taking Freeman this year, the Bucs also could have a shot at the best defense player in the draft. The 2010 class projects to have a number of top quarterbacks that could get selected at the top of the draft. That would put the Bucs in position to get one of the best defenders available.
Tampa Bay loves Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who looks like a top 10 pick right now. Pairing Suh with Miller would give the Buccaneers the top young tackle tandem in the league. Both are great run defenders and both have pass rush ability. Suh recorded 7.5 sacks last season. Other defensive linemen that could be high draft picks include Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy, and Florida junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap. All of those players deserve watching to see if they can duplicate previous seasons in 2009. 2. PHILLIPS IS NOT THE ONLY ONE MOVING TO SAFETY After starting free safety Tanard Jackson was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the Bucs scrapped the experiment of Jermaine Phillips at linebacker. Phillips was moved back to safety to help fill the void left by Jackson.
With backup safeties Will Allen and Donte Nicholson nursing injuries, the Bucs have been in need of some help at the safety position on practice and game day. Phillips was not the only player to leave his position. Last week in practice, cornerback Kyle Arrington moved over to safety to get some work with that unit. Unlike Phillips, Arrington said that he is still primarily a cornerback, but the coaching staff wanted to get him some work at safety in case they need him to play there. Arrington is not a stranger to the position. He played some safety in college at Hofstra.
"I've been taking reps in practice at safety (the last few days)," said Arrington. "(Defensive backs) coach [Joe Baker] came in the other day and said that they were going to give me some safety work. It is just added value. We have a lot of corners, and this is another way I can help the team."
Arrington appears to be a last resort at safety. The Buccaneers like the progress he has made at cornerback, and considering the potential suspension of cornerback Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay could be calling on Arrington to play corner on Sundays. Entering training camp, Arrington was one of the hottest players on the team. He had a fabulous showing in the organized team activities (OTAs), and mini-camp. Arrington's speed and tenacity made him look like a natural in Bates' man bump-and-run scheme. For a lot of training camp Arrington was struggling, and looked as if he may have been an offseason wonder that couldn't translate the play when the pads came on and the lights went on in the preseason.
All that was turned around over the last two weeks. Arrington had a stellar game against the Jaguars, breaking a number of passes up, and followed that with a solid showing against Miami. Considering the potential loss of two starters to suspension, the Bucs are fortunate having the versatile Arrington being able to fill in at cornerback and free safety. Arrington's reps have come at free safety, Jackson's position. As a cornerback, he said he feels most at home at left corner, Talib's position. Right now Arrington feels good about getting his performance turned around in time for the preseason games.
"I'm a lot better right now. I feel like I'm back at OTA days," said Arrington. "I'm comfortable and making more plays. When I came into camp and in the beginning I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. As a rookie free agent last year, and on the practice squad during the season, I don't have a lot of leeway when it comes to mistakes. I put a lot of pressure on myself to start out training camp. Now I'm back out there just being myself with a chip on my shoulder." 3. MOORE UPDATE Like Arrington, Kyle Moore had a slow start to training camp after excelling during the OTAs. After his second straight quality preseason game, Moore spoke with Pewter Report about the strides he's made. During the majority of training camp, Moore seemed to be thinking too much on the field, and not playing fast. Lately, he has been playing faster and staying in the opponent's backfield.
"I feel like I've been progressing a whole lot," Moore said. "As far as my pass rush. I just have to keep working. I fell into one [against Miami]. I got one last week. That is what I want to be is consistent from one week to the next."
Moore recorded a sack against the Jaguars, and was in on a number of big plays against the Dolphins. The second half saw a number of solid plays from Moore, including getting in on a sack by Bradwell, and forcing a fumble defending the run. One thing that has made Moore's transition slower is that he is learning both defensive end and defensive tackle. Moore is Wilkerson's understudy. They both play left defensive end on running downs, and tackle on passing downs.
"(It is harder) you have to learn both positions and it can be difficult," said Moore. "I have to be ready for both. When it is time to play the run you have to be ready. I could be there in the three technique (as a defensive tackle) and they run at draw at you."
Sources told Pewter Report that Moore is starting to show the signs of what the team drafted him for, and defensive line guru Chuck Smith swears that Moore will be an excellent pro. If he maintains the production from the last two preseason games, Smith and the Bucs' belief in Moore will be validated. 4. MOORE'S REBUTTAL During training camp, Kyle Moore was Roy Miller's roommate, and the rookies struck up a friendship. In the camp diary Miller has been providing to Pewter Report subscribers, he discussed Moore a few times. Moore agreed with what Miller had to share about the rookies' tasks for the veterans in the defensive line room.
"You have to get them that chicken (before road games), and we had our rookie night and they stung us a little bit in our pockets, but it was a lot of fun," said Moore.
"In my free time at the hotel, I play some video games with Kyle. We play NCAA football. He uses his USC Trojans against my Texas Longhorns. But I always beat him down. It is getting old. We need to pick a new hobby because I'm getting tired of beating him in every game. Generally, we only get a chance to play one game."
After hearing about Miller's comments, Moore laughed a lot, and said Miller was being less than truthful.
"We only played a few times," said Moore. "No, we don't play every night. It hasn't been every night. He's was getting the best of me in the NCAA game, but we've been going back and forth lately. It is pretty even right now. He can't be talking all that trash because he can't beat me in Madden. He gives me trouble in NCAA, but I smash him in Madden."
Moore points towards his offseason training that has given Miller a leg up in their late night battles.
"He went home and played video games," said Moore. "Me, I was in Atlanta working with Chuck Smith on football, so I didn't get the practice in on the video games.
"The last game he won, he only beat me by three points. Plus, he wouldn't give me a rematch. He swears he's winning them all, but it is all talk."