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1. BUCS HAVE TRIED TO PUNISH TALIB
Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization and many Bucs fans were not surprised that cornerback Aqib Talib was arrested early Thursday morning. Talib was charged with battery and resisting arrest. According to the police report and interviews, the second-year pro punched a cab driver in the back of the head while he was driving 70 miles per hour on the highway.
Since coming on the landscape for Tampa Bay fans, they have heard about the off-the-field problems that have followed Talib. In college at Kansas, Talib had some off-the-field run-ins, and tested positive for drug usage on multiple times. Shortly after being drafted by the Bucs, Talib got in a fight at the NFL's Rookie Symposium with fellow Bucs draftee Cory Boyd. In his rookie season, Talib performed well on the field, but off the field he was fined by the team for various conduct issues. Then-defensive backs coach Raheem Morris called Talib "the wild child."
After becoming the head coach in Tampa Bay, Morris brought in a new defensive scheme that is cornerback driven. One of the reasons for going to that defense was the team having a potential lock down cornerback in Talib. Just months on the job as head coach, Morris saw evidence that Talib did not learn from his fight with Boyd.
In May, Talib got in an argument with left tackle Donald Penn during an organized team activity, and swung his helmet at Penn. Cornerback Torrie Cox was hit with the helmet and sustained a cut on his head. At the time Morris put the team through a conditioning workout as punishment.
"We all have trouble controlling our emotions," Morris said the day after the altercation. "Any time you play this violent of a game you're going to have some controlling your emotions issues. I have my own issues. That's where the coach steps in and helps them. He has to grow from it and learn. Each individual action you take you have to take something from it and learn. That's what I think he's doing, and that's what we're developing.
"You saw him grow. Last year was an off the field incident. This year was an on the field incident. If he grows as much as he did from the off-the-field incident then I'm going to love it. We're all going to love it."
Obviously, Morris misjudged Talib's growth, or the cornerback fooled his head coach. Not even three months after his on-the-field incident, Talib has another off-the-field incident.
Sources have told Pewter Report that Morris and general manager Mark Dominik tried to discipline Talib after the helmet swinging incident with some harsh punishment, but to no avail.
"They've already tried to do something and got shot down last time. We'll see how they do this time," said the source.
From speaking with the source, Pewter Report believes that Morris and Dominik intended to suspend Talib, but the NFL Players Union was able to argue for Talib and prevent a suspension. This time the Bucs organization could be able to make a suspension stick. After the latest incident, Morris and Dominik are eliciting the help of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There are rumors that Talib is facing a four-game suspension, but we've had no one confirm that as fact at this point. Last year, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith received a two-game suspension for hitting a teammate, and that type of punishment could be what Talib receives.
Another interesting aspect of Talib's arrest was that he was coming from a team party. Talib was reportedly drunk, and the Bucs held their annual Rookie Night the hours leading up to Talib's arrest.
It is a critical time for Dominik and Morris if they are going to have a successful tenure running the Tampa Bay Buccaneers They have to make a statement to the team that behavior like Talib's will not be tolerated. Talib's incident comes days after safety Tanard Jackson was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The perception from many fans and outsiders is that the Bucs are an organization in disarray. Morris and Dominik have to make an example out of Talib, and try to gain control over their players and the perception of the team.
2. THIRD RECEIVER
Let's recap, in training camp the Buccaneers wide receiver position has received a lot of attention. First, Michael Clayton missed time with a hamstring injury. Kelly Campbell, Dexter Jackson, and Joel Filani joined him with injuries of their own, and franchise player Antonio Bryant is out for the preseason after having minor knee surgery. The Bucs have signed Mario Urrutia and Marcus Maxwell to give the team enough receivers to run a practice.
During all the upheaval of who was able to practice at the position, Tampa Bay fans have been wondering who is winning the third wide receiver job. The main participants for that spot are third-year pro Brian Clark, fourth-year veteran Maurice Stovall, and rookie Sammie Stroughter. The Bucs coaching staff has been tight-lipped about which one of those players is taking the lead for the spot, but from watching practice the prediction here is that Clark is in the lead.
After the first preseason game head coach Raheem Morris expressed some disappointment in Stovall not making some catches on passes that were thrown his direction, especially jump balls that are designed to take advantage of Stovall's 6-foot-5, 229-pound frame. Stovall also ran the wrong route on the first play of the preseason opener. Quarterback Luke McCown threw the pass to where Stovall was supposed to go and sources have told Pewter Report that if Stovall had executed the proper route it could have been a big play for him and McCown. As a third receiver, Stovall yields a size mismatch. Assistant receivers coach Tim Berbenich discussed Stovall not coming down with that jump ball and the year he foresees Stovall having.
"He missed that one, but I've seen Mo make that catch hundreds of times," Berbenich said. "More often than not he makes that play. I think this will be a big year from Mo. We're asking a lot of him. He's playing all three positions. Plus, he'll play some special teams. I think Mo will produce a lot for us. This could be a big year for him and he knows it."
Clark had a solid game with two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown. He made a nice catch on the touchdown reception from Byron Leftwich on a pass that was thrown behind him. Early in the game Clark had a fumble overruled by the officials who said his leg was down before the ball came out. Clark is a very consistent and steady performer. His game reminds this reporter of former Buccaneer Ike Hilliard. What Clark does not provide is a huge mismatch in terms of size, or game-breaking speed.
Stroughter had a good debut leading the team with three catches for 42 yards including a 20-yard reception in the preseason opener against the Titans. The shifty receiver (5-9, 189) has been a pleasant surprise since being drafted by Tampa Bay. Stroughter brings more playmaking potential than either Stovall or Clark, and he is also short on experience. The Oregon State product has dropped more passes in training camp, but he generally he has reliable hands.
"Sammie is a very mature kid," Berbenich said. "He is a good route runner, he's a good player. We are really excited about him. He's one of our slot guys, but he can play the outside positions and does so just as much. He can play all three positions and he's doing a really good job of it, too. We've thrown a lot at him and he's handled it."
Stroughter, Clark, and Stovall have never produced quality receiving seasons at the NFL level. Some have not had the opportunity, but at the end of the day the Buccaneers have no proven depth at wide receiver. With the starting receivers missing time in the preseason the three competitors have received plenty of reps and have become more versatile backups. If the starters miss time in the regular season and one of the backups breaks out, the Bucs won't have an issue of getting them all on the field together, according to Berbenich. Last season, head coach Jon Gruden said Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant played the same position, thus it was hard for the team to get them on the field at the same time. This year that shouldn't be the case with any receiver on the team.
"The thing we have had with Mike and [Antonio Bryant] being out in camp it has put a lot of pressure on the younger guys to learn all the positions," said Berbenich. "Right now Mo is playing the X, the Z, Brian is playing X, and Z, so whenever a spot opens the best player is going to play. I don't see that being an issue. They are all learning and they don't have choice. Sometimes we've only had four or five guys practicing and we need a receiver and there is only one guy available so he has had to learn how to run that play. It has been good for them to learn all the different spots, so that won't be an issue."
While Clark, Stovall, and Stroughter have been the primary competitors to be the third receiver, all three should make the team. All three are valuable contributors on special teams. The Bucs may or may not keep a sixth receiver on the 53-man roster. If they do the player that has earned it the most is Urrutia. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Urrutia has impressed the coaching staff as well.
"Mario has been great. He is a smart kid, he's big and athletic," said Berbenich. "He's catching the ball well. The first day I was out in the huddle with him, but that is really all it took. It only took him one day when he went in the book. He is playing a couple of different positions, both X and Z. He's done a real good job since he's been here. When he got here we were asking the same thing, because he has really been impressive."
3. MOORE IMPROVEMENT
One player that is light years ahead of where he was a year ago is defensive tackle Dre Moore. The 2008 fourth-round pick out of Maryland was cut from the team at the end of the preseason last year, and spent the 2008 season on the practice squad. Moore struggled with conditioning in 2008, and also seemed to be overwhelmed by professional football.
"With Dre, you can really see a sense of urgency," said defensive line coach Todd Wash. "From where he is at from a year ago to now, he realizes there is a lot of pressure on him to start to play considering where we drafted him at. It is good to see him make some strides."
In the offseason, Moore looked improved, and a big part of that was shedding some extra pounds and getting acclimated to playing in Tampa Bay. In training camp, Moore was an impressive player, and maybe the most improved Buccaneer. Moore is a good fit in the new defense run by Jim Bates. The defensive tackles have the responsibility of taking on offensive linemen to keep them off the linebackers, and pushing into the backfield on rushing the passer. That type of game is right in sync with Moore's strengths.
Moore excels at bull rushing and using his strength to push his way into the offensive backfield. In training camp, Moore had success busting up run plays, and getting some pass rush through his bull rushes. In the first preseason game Moore put his improvement on display. On Stylez G. White's sack, Moore pressured the quarterback out of the pocket and White cleaned up the play.
"I think I did pretty well," said Moore. "I've been waiting a better part of a year for a second chance at a first impression. I didn't want to let the chance get away from me."
Moore's bull rush was effective at winning him a lot of one-on-ones with the offensive linemen during training camp.
"I try to establish the bull rush, and once you can get that established it opens up the chance to be more athletic and do some more athletic things," said Moore. "Work more half a man, but you have to attack and establish the bull rush. It gets them thinking, and makes them aware that you can do it. It also puts you in a good position if they try and hit you with a run, you are in good position to defend it.
"I think the big difference is a just a year of experience. Going against our ones every day last year on the practice squad, and an offseason working with Kurt [Schultz] makes a huge difference."
With defensive tackle Greg Peterson out with a knee injury on injured reserve, Moore seems to be in good shape to make the final 53-man roster. Defensive tackles Rashad Duncan and Chris Bradwell have not been nearly as impressive as Moore.
"They haven't made the final cuts yet, we aren't down to the 53," said Moore. "I'm definitely taking the approach that I have to keep working. I remember how I felt last year getting that phone call, and I just don't want to get it again. I take the approach of if it is a good play or a bad play, just get over it, and move on to the next one."
Moore has performed well with rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller on the second team, and in practice the combination of Moore and Miller did not look like much of a drop off from starters Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims.
"I think Roy definitely compliments this defense. He is a very compact and explosive guy," said Moore. "He's very stout at the point of attack, and I think I kind of bring the same thing. I think we compliment each other, and we push each other to bring out the best and I think that is pushing Sims, and Hovan. We want to make sure there is no drop off when we are in there.
"It is a pride thing. We want to be considered among the top young tackles and we want to prove ourselves. We don't want people to key in on Hovan and Sims, we want to contribute also, and bring something different to the table."
4. STYLEZ G. WHITE STEPPING UP TO THE TABLE
White had a great game against the Tennessee Titans, and has worked his way back up the depth chart after an offseason recovering from a shoulder injury and motorcycle accident. White is back on the first-team pass rushing unit, and is rushing from defensive tackle and defensive end. There was pressure on White entering training camp to keep his roster spot after falling from eight sacks in 2007 to five sacks in 2008. White knew he had to be ready to compete in training camp.
"I've only lost inches – not pounds," White said. "I'm still around 280-285, I'm just a little slimmer and stronger than what I was last year. I'm getting thin. I'm trying to get my speed on. They say speed kills."
White's interception against the Titans was a high for him, and he believes that his adjusted shape made all the difference.
"The pick was pretty damn cool," White said. "I was like, ‘Did I catch the ball? Yes, I did.' That's proof that I've lost some inches. If I had last year's belly the ball might have rolled off and I wouldn't have gotten the pick. But this year, it just stayed right there [on my flat stomach]."
Morris said he still wants to see more from White, but acknowledges the production that White yields on game days.
"He probably told you that because when we walked off the field I said, ‘Hey Stylez, I like you again,'" Morris said. "I just have to teach him how to practice. He just does not understand that you have to practice. He's Allen Iverson. You've got to get him to the game. You have to prepare him and you have to practice him like you play in a game. I need to see some of that stuff (from Tennessee) on the practice field so I can talk good about you to our local media, so they can talk good about you and the people can love you. Shoot, you've got me all offseason talking about all the negative things you've done. Then we get to the game and you show up like that and make me look bad. Obviously, he's a gamer, but you can't let him be a gamer when you are a coach. You've got to make him do it in practice. I'm going to keep my foot on him and keep him in the dog house."