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Here are four things that may interest Bucs fans prior to the team's organized team activities scheduled for mid-May.
Aqib Talib Starting?
After a solid performance in the rookie mini-camp, first-round pick Aqib Talib looks to definitely be in play for the starting left cornerback position. Many people assumed that Talib would start as the nickel (third) or dime (fourth) cornerback. Looking back at the 2007 season there were a few plays that Phillip Buchanon allowed touchdowns on due to a lack of size and ball skills. Opposing teams seem to have been targeting Buchanon in the red zone. With that, and the Buccaneers emphasizing more turnovers in 2008, Talib's ballhawking ability and size may be too intriguing for the coaching staff to pass up.
At the same time, don't be surprised if Talib has a slow learning curve. The longtime tandem of Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber both struggled early in their careers with the Buccaneers. In fact Barber was almost cut as a rookie. In his rookie season Barber was inactive for all but one game. Talib's competition is two veterans, Buchanon and former New England Patriot Eugene Wilson. Their edge in experience will be a challenge for Talib to overcome. If he proves ready the Buccaneers will start him. Last year Tanard Jackson earned the position and produced an excellent season.
Perhaps the most likely scenario could see Talib starting out in the nickel cornerback position, and then becoming the starter later in the season. That was the progression for last year's first-round pick, Gaines Adams. However, Adams didn't start producing big plays and production for the Bucs until they started to play him more. Even if Talib is the third corner you can expect to see him on the field a lot. Last year the Buccaneers played 42 percent of their defensive plays in the nickel defense. Left cornerback should be one of the most interesting position battles in training camp.
Alex Smith In 2008
Alex Smith needs to pick it up in 2008. Recently Pewter Report disclosed that according to sources the Buccaneers have had discussions about acquiring New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey. The interest in the Pro Bowl tight end could indicate that the Bucs are looking for more production out of their starting tight end. Smith had the lowest number of receptions in his career last year. In 2007, he caught 32 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns. That is very disappointing when you consider it came while playing with a Pro Bowl quarterback in Jeff Garcia.
Smith has developed into a well-rounded tight end. He is a good blocker and has some nice receiving ability. However, last season his backup Jerramy Stevens had more touchdowns (four) in the last month on of the season then Smith totaled all year. Smith's contract runs through the 2009 season, and if he wants a lucrative extension in Tampa Bay it would be in his best interests to have a big 2009 season.
Luke McCown's Toughness and YPA
Two more notes on Buccaneers quarterback Luke McCown. Earlier this week McCown was the topic of the Cover 2 debate.
The first item concerns McCown and taking sacks. While McCown definitely needs to work on getting the ball out faster and avoiding more sacks, he has shown the ability to take a hit. In his 27 career sacks McCown has not incurred an injury from them. McCown has had one significant injury that caused him to miss time in his career. That was a torn ACL during a practice session in the 2006 offseason.
The second item comes courtesy of Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur. In the Cover 2, McCown's statistics in his first 10 games where compared to the first 10 games in the careers of Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
MacArthur found that McCown leads both Favre and Manning in yards per attempt. Yards per attempt, YPA, can help compensate for the differences in offensive systems and playing on better or worse teams (bad teams have to throw more, and more downfield due to playing from behind).
McCown leads the YPA with 6.8. Favre and Manning follow with 6.3 and 6.1 respectively. Thus, McCown was making more of his attempts then Favre and Manning.
Sapp Sounds Off On Gruden, More
Since his departure from Tampa Bay, it has been suggested by some that Buccaneer great Warren Sapp dislikes Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden. Some attribute those feelings as one of the reasons why he left the Buccaneers for the Oakland Raiders. Sapp went on the record about his feelings towards Gruden recently.
On May 2, Sapp went on the Dan Patrick Show. He said some interesting things about his career. Patrick started off the interview by asking Sapp if there was any chance he would come back next year.
"You know what it could be Tony Dungy with the Colts, and they just need a third down rusher, and I would have to tell Tony, 'I'm sorry,' and I love him to death," said Sapp. "More than anything [Jon] Gruden, Mike Tomlin, [Rod] Marinelli, Lovie Smith, Herm Edwards, and all the coaches that I've been in a room with discussing how I break down offenses left and right. I would have to tell them, "Thank you, but no thank you.'"
Sapp got feisty when Patrick brought up the drug rumors that caused his drop to the Buccaneers in the 1995 NFL Draft.
"Are you serious? You're really going to do that story, that disservice this morning," said Sapp when Patrick brought it up. "It wasn't about marijuana it was about cocaine, a lie about cocaine. You missed the USA Today article this weekend from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday? Seven million subscribers and you're not one.
"Oh yeah it was lie, and the NFL made the first statement in their 76-year history of the NFL that I hadn't flunked for cocaine. Then after they begged me to take my family to New York they brought the cocaine back out at 11:30 with Chris Mortensen on your network ESPN, so please let's not do that disservice because it was your network, that was the bible of sports, that told a lie to America, and Mortensen is standing there and said, 'What do you expect the kid to say?
"Oh no you got me on the phone I'll definitely tell it to you so you don't have second-hand information. It was my life," Sapp said as Patrick stumbled over his reasons for bringing up the topic.
"There were no whispers it was a lie. Let's not even say that. Let's not even say whispers or rumors it was a flat blank lie. That I tested positive for cocaine when I never touched cocaine in my life," said Sapp.
Patrick then asked Sapp how tough was it and how do you fight a report like that.
"How tough was it? How tough was it? You can't [fight it] because Chris Mortensen and the bible of sports, ESPN, is standing there and says ‘What do you expect the kid to say?' My sources say this.'"
"You tell me. You tell me," said Sapp when Patrick asked where the rumors came from. "You all sit behind the rumors and the whispers. I got the NFL with the shield that says he did not.
"You have a 21-year-old kid that's being asked to come to the draft. I go to the draft with my family. You tell me where it is. You tell me where the information is coming from, because the information that I put out, was that I took all the tests to the T's, and the teams had [the results]. Mortensen stands up on TV, on inside the huddle, when you all first started those reports back in  we're talking 13 or 14 years ago.
"You're chasing the chains, because the first positive report came out, and then my arms are too short. I wasn't big enough to dominate in the game. It was a bunch of things said about me. I dispelled all those and then you get to the eve of the draft and your guy on your station is standing there and says what he says and calls me a liar and you ask me where the information comes from. Please help me.
"The way I rationalize it 14 years later is that they needed to justify why the best player in college football wasn't the first pick.
"They talked about this thing for first 10 years of my career. If it wasn't for Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn I'd be the poster child for falling in the draft."
Patrick asked Sapp if he ever confronted Mortensen about the false report.
"We just had a minor little one-two conversation over at the Pro Bowl when I first got over there. That was the first time I got to lay eyes on him," said Sapp. "I asked not to be called a liar again or it would be something different then the first time.
"Just trust me you wouldn't want a confrontation with me after you tried my manhood over something that was that personal to me, so leave that alone. I've been called a liar for 14 years."
The show then took a break where Patrick apparently talked to Sapp off the air to appease the situation. Patrick and Sapp went on to discuss Al Davis and the Raiders. They also discussed Adam "Pacman" Jones and the best way to get traded in the NFL. Then Patrick asked Sapp what was his biggest regret about his career.
"Didn't finish it in Tampa, and I didn't get 100 (sacks)," said Sapp. "I didn't get 100, I didn't finish it in Tampa, and I didn't catch Lee Roy [Selmon]."
Selmon is Tampa Bay's all-time leader in sacks with 78.5. As a Buccaneer Sapp totaled 77 sacks.
"I missed Lee Roy by 1.5 (sacks) and I missed 100 by 2.5 (sacks), and I missed Tampa by four, years."
Patrick followed up by asking Sapp why he did not finish his career in Tampa.
"Monte Kiffin made a decision that he picked [Anthony] McFarland, and Rod Marinelli picked McFarland, and Gruden asked them if they were sure, and they said, 'Yeah.' They signed him."
Patrick asked, "Do you like Gruden?"
"Love him," said Sapp.
"If he called you right now?" asked Patrick implying a comeback.
"No. Thank you, but no thank you," said Sapp
The Buccaneers may have wanted to improve team chemistry and the looker room environment by letting Sapp leave in free agency. Sapp was 31 and McFarland was 26 when the Buccaneers chose to extend McFarland. If the decision of McFarland over Sapp was made based on predicted production, the Buccaneers were dead wrong.
In his four seasons in Oakland, Sapp had 19.5 sacks with 171 tackles in 58 games. Sapp missed six games in 2005 with an injury. Sapp played out of position at defensive end in the 3-4 scheme in his first year in Oakland. When Sapp was moved back to his natural defensive tackle position in a 4-3 system, his production went back up.
Over the same four seasons, McFarland played in 39 games totaling 79 tackles and 7.5 sacks. McFarland missed all of last season with a knee injury, and missed games in 2004 and 2005. After five games into the 2006 season the Buccaneers traded McFarland to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round pick. He is currently unsigned and is attempting to play in the NFL in 2008.
The Bucs made a decision to not offer Sapp a contract when he became a free agent in 2004. Five years later, Sapp apparently holds no ill will towards Gruden and the Bucs.
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