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1. THE NEXT JIMMY WILKERSON? After hearing the comments of Bucs rookie defensive end Kyle Moore earlier this week, it sparked some curiosity of why the fourth-round pick wasn't getting more playing time. After speaking with sources, the team is happy with Moore. They feel he has a lot of natural talent, and is still getting back in the groove from his groin and knee injuries that kept him out of the Bucs first five games, and caused him to miss a lot of practice. The past two games Moore has been inactive.
Moore battles with fellow defensive end Michael Bennett, and defensive tackle Dre Moore to be the Bucs' seventh and final active defensive lineman on game day. All three are in their first or second years, but the organization has the most invested in Moore. Tampa Bay traded up in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft to get the USC product.
After speaking with sources about why Kyle Moore is not the third defensive end, they say the one player that has separated himself from the rest of the young defensive linemen is Tim Crowder. The third-year pro out of Texas was signed early this season after being released by the Denver Broncos. Defensive line coach Todd Wash sees Crowder as a young version of Jimmy Wilkerson.
"There is no question that Tim Crowder is that person," Wash said. "The things that he does has gotten himself into the three-man rotation. Bennett, we are working him into it, and he shows some splashes of being a good player for us in the future, but Tim has been a very good surprise for us. He has been like a Jimmy where we didn't know what we were going to get. You've heard rumors within the league. You've seen some tape, but he is not the same person that we saw on tape. A lot of that has to do with once a young guy realizes that this isn't college where you are guaranteed playing time. The street is a tough place. He was on the street. He decided that if someone gives me an opportunity I'm going to work my butt off, so has Michael Bennett. He is learning the package. We do see some good flashes from him.
"Obviously Kyle Moore is still coming back from the injury, but I think it has been blessing for him to realize that we are going to keep bringing players in to push him. He has a lot of talent. We are excited to see those guys right now. The presence of those guys, and how they've been on street has shown Kyle that this is a business and you have to show up and work hard every day. He's doing that, so we are excited about him making that mental transition to being a pro."
Crowder has been used mainly on run downs, because Wilkerson is the Buccaneers' best pass rusher, and Stylez G. White's strength is going after the quarterback. It is hard for Crowder to get in the pass rushing mix, but the Bucs say that in practice Crowder is showing some real potential as a pass rusher.
Against the Patriots, Tampa Bay had one of its better pass rushing performances of the season. Bennett had two hurries while Wilkerson and White combined for a sack of New England quarterback Tom Brady. The Bucs were encouraged by that performance and think the Bucs will start to take more advantage of the favorable matchups they've been getting.
Sources tell Pewter Report that the Bucs defensive line has been getting single blocked almost every snap all season. The players have not been winning their one-on-ones enough, but the team thinks the pass rush will be better in the second half of the season than it was in the first half of the year. The reason for the optimism is the fierce competition between the young defensive linemen, the consistent production out of Wilkerson, and improved play of White. The players are pushing each other to get better, and Wash said that is what made the difference for Wilkerson, who is on pace for a double-digit sack season.
"He got the opportunity to play and worked himself into being a very good player," said Wash. "Obviously he had some skills, but he worked himself to make the most of them."
2. BACKUP FULLBACK When B.J. Askew went out for the season with a neck injury he sustained in a car accident, the Bucs had to scramble to find some help at fullback. Earnest Graham moved from backup running back to the starting fullback. Tampa Bay signed fullback Chris Pressley for depth, but he is a candidate to be inactive on game days due to the numbers crunch of having 45 players dressed for action. If Graham goes down with an injury, and Pressley is inactive, the Buccaneers would need a fill-in to finish the game.
Pewter Report has learned that player would be linebacker Adam Hayward. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Hayward has the size and physicality to play fullback. He has been getting reps at fullback in practice, and is learning a base package of the offense.
"If something happens to [Graham] I'm the next one to go in," said Hayward. "I get some reps here and there. Just base stuff. Stuff we go through every week so it is similar, and I'm able to get comfortable with it. Hopefully nothing happens to [Graham]. In London he came off the field with a little limp, and I told him you better go back in (laughing). But I'm ready. If they ask me to do something I'll do it.
"I don't have to learn the whole offense. Just the plays that would be run if I had to go in and we needed a blocker. I have those concepts down. But I can always look back at the back and ask ‘I'm getting 58 right?' and he says ‘yeah.'"
Graham is tutoring Hayward at his new position, just like Graham was instructed in the past by retired fullback Mike Alstott. Graham helped establish himself in the NFL by playing multiple positions in his early years like: running back, fullback, and all special teams units. The understudy has impressed Graham, and Bucs' Mr. Versatility thinks that Hayward is good fit.
"Adam just from his natural build, and athleticism, it is real easy on him," said Graham. "It should be a smooth transition if he ever had to play. He brings the hitting ability that is for sure. He loves contact. As far as speed Adam is a bad boy. He could catch the ball out of the backfield. He'd come in and do well."
The responsibilities of a fullback are not completely unfamiliar to Hayward. The Bucs third-year linebacker is a core special teams player that blocks on kick and punt returns, so the technique to hit a block on the run is nothing new to him. Plus, he has some background in the offensive backfield.
"I feel it is very similar," said Hayward. "Being on special teams and blocking there is almost the same concept. Now I'm doing it from a three-point stance. I played running back in college at Colorado State, so that helps.
"With B.J.'s unfortunate injury outside of football in his car accident with his neck being upset, they needed somebody to go in. I'm a big-bodied dude. I can run around and play everything."
Hayward has gotten some more playing time at linebacker in recent weeks as well. The Bucs have subbed him in for Sam (strongside) linebacker Quincy Black at times. In limited duty Hayward has four tackles on defense. At different times in Tampa Bay, Hayward has played all three linebacker positions. The versatility that Hayward displays will help him to extend his career and be a valuable backup for the Buccaneers just like it did with Graham. 3. COULD THE BUCS TRANSITION TO A 3-4 DEFENSE? While many Buccaneer fans have talked about Tampa Bay returning to the Tampa 2 system on defense next season, this reporter has been wondering if the Buccaneers should switch to a 3-4 defense. The Steelers, Cowboys, and Patriots have had a lot of success running primarily a 3-4 defense this decade. This year the Broncos and Packers have had improved defenses after switching to a 3-4.
A big part of the success is having the players that are versatile enough to play that defensive system. After looking at the Buccaneers front seven, they wouldn't need a whole lot to make the change happen if they wanted to. At nose tackle the Bucs could plug in Ryan Sims. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 315-pounds but he weighs more than that. Rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller has the size (6-2, 310) and skills to play one of the end spots, and if Wilkerson is re-signed he could get back to his 6-2, 290-pound physique that he featured as a Buccaneer in 2008.
Black, Hayward, and Barrett Ruud could be 3-4 outside linebackers. They have the size and speed to play the position, but it is unclear if they have the blitzing ability to rush the passer the way 3-4 outside linebackers have to. Linebacker Geno Hayes is probably not the best fit for the 3-4, but he is a good blitzer. If he could add on some more weight it might be conceivable that he could make the transition.
Realistically what the Buccaneers don't have to make the system run is two big middle linebackers, and a standout edge-rushing linebacker. One reason why the switch is worth thinking about is a lot of the best pass rushers coming out of college these days are better fits as 3-4 outside linebackers. That is the case with players in this year's draft like TCU's Jerry Hughes, South Carolina's Eric Norwood, Michigan's Brandon Graham, and Florida's Jermaine Cunningham. All of those players have a negative in height and/or weight for what 4-3 teams are looking for. While the Bucs probably wouldn't go to a 3-4 under head coach Raheem Morris, it is definitely worth considering. 4. SPECIAL TEAMS TACKLES A statistic that is underreported by football media is special teams tackles so without further delay here are the Bucs leaders. After these seven, the rest of the special teams tackles are mainly part-time special teams players and other random players like kickers or players that are no longer suiting up.
Torrie Cox 9 (seven solo) Niko Koutouvides 9 (five solo) Brian Clark 7 (three solo) Maurice Stovall 6 (five solo) Hayward 5 (four solo) Elbert Mack 5 (two solo) Black 4 (three solo)
One interesting note, special teams captain Will Allen has only one special teams tackle this season despite having a prominent role on the coverage units. 5. WEEKEND DRAFT FOCUS This Saturday you can watch two of the projected top picks in next April's NFL Draft in the Oklahoma at Nebraska game. Sooners' defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a gap-shooting defensive tackle that disrupts offenses' plays from the snap. McCoy is similar to Oklahoma product Tommie Harris. McCoy is a prototype three technique, but might not be the best fit for defenses that don't use their defensive tackles that way. If the Bucs were to go back to the Tampa 2, McCoy would have to be a player under high consideration for their first-round pick.
Leading the Cornhuskers defense is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He is the leader right now to be the first defensive player taken in the draft. Suh has everything you are looking for in power, speed, instincts, and athleticism. The skill set that Suh has makes him a fit for any defense in the NFL.
Check out the PI Quick Hits from last Monday morning for another draft focus for this week.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com