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1. WHAT WENT WRONG FOR GAINES ADAMS
Ever since the Buccaneers gave up on the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft barely into his third season, the team has been rather tight lipped about why they decided to trade defensive end Gaines Adams to Chicago. One of the reasons why the team has tried to move on without much discussion of dealing Adams is because they want to avoid the criticism of their scouting department and the decision to select him.
Head coach Raheem Morris refused to answer questions regarding Adams. This reporter requested an interview with director of college scouting Dennis Hickey, but that interview was ducked on the grounds that the team won't do any draft-related interviews until after the season. Eventually, Pewter Report was able to speak with some staff that knew the Adams situation well.
Sources say the worst thing to happen to Adams was being the fourth overall pick in the draft, and the expectations that came with it. The scrutiny and pressure was hard on Adams. His inability to meet the expectations hurt his confidence and production, and ultimately led to the team giving up on him. Still, the Bucs are defensive about Adams' production. Numerous members of the Buccaneers organization have cited the rest of the 2007 draft class and how Adams has out-produced the other defensive ends taken highly.
Adams (13.5 sacks) has done more on the field than fellow '07 first-rounders: Jamaal Anderson (2.5 sacks), Adam Carriker (two sacks), Jarvis Moss (3.5), and Anthony Spencer (4.5 sacks). The second round saw a top-notch pass rusher go off the board. LaMarr Woodley was a defensive end entering the draft, but was drafted to be an outside linebacker by the Steelers. He has 17.5 sacks thus far in his career.
Many have questioned Adams' work ethic, but after being pushed on the issue sources were adamant that Adams worked hard. They said he never will be Julius Peppers, but could be a good pro. Adams worked hard but some of his hard work was misguided, as he never developed a good repertoire of moves to attack offensive tackles with. Athletically, he can do it, but was unable to make mental adjustments quickly. That was the emphasized fatal flaw of Adams in Tampa Bay.
Sources said Adams is not intelligent. While they said he is not dumb, it took him weeks to learn things. Adams needed a lot of reps. They said that safety Jermaine Phillips is similar. Phillips is a reps guy that needs to work something over and over again to learn a concept or plays. Once he'd learn it he could execute it. Adams was even more so that way, and it took him longer to learn.
They said the change in defense really set Adams back. The different terminology was tough for Adams to grasp. Sources said that Adams was a rookie all over again in 2009 under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, and they believe that things could have been different for Adams if the Tampa 2 system from 07-08 was kept in place.
Now Adams has returned to a Tampa 2 defensive system in Chicago. The Bears believed that they could get Adams to tap his potential because of a few reasons: the coaching of defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, returning to the Tampa 2, and a change in scenery. Thus far in four games Adams has not recorded a sack as a Bear, and has made little to no impact for Chicago.
Interestingly, the coaching staff was not asked for their input about trading Adams.
That is not necessarily surprising as coaches get attached to their players, and are often times hesitant to move on from a player that is struggling. On his end, Adams did not want to be traded and wanted to stay a Buc. Adams was disappointed with the deal, and wanted to be become the player that the Buccaneers had planned for when they drafted him.
While there were some definite flaws in the scouting of Adams, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik deserves applause for getting something for a player that was never going to live up to his expected level of performance. If Tampa Bay had a pass rushing dynamo, and Adams was the complimentary rusher on the other side, maybe he would have been worth keeping around. However, this reporter believes that Adams will never come close to being the next Simeon Rice like he was drafted to be. He didn't seem to have the drive to be great, and he was a finesse player.
With a high first-round pick and two second-round picks Dominik is armed with the picks to try and land a top pass rusher early, or make trades to move up in the draft to acquire some elite talent. Perhaps he can get a defensive tackle like Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh with their first pick, and trade up or stand pat and land a pass rushing specialist like TCU's Jerry Hughes, South Carolina's Eric Norwood, or add a dynamic linebacker like Florida's Brandon Spikes. Dominik didn't draft Adams, and he was able to leverage a busted draft pick into a potential building block for Tampa Bay.
2. SPIKES COULD CHANGE RUN DEFENSE
The Buccaneers have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They are dead last in run defense in the NFC, and have not been able to stop the opponents' ground attack since November of 2008. The collapse of the run defense in December 2008 has carried over into the 2009 season, and is crippling the Bucs offense by keeping them off the field and playing from behind.
Pewter Report's Jim Flynn has an interesting article focused on Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud coming out shortly. The Bucs fifth-year linebacker seems to be in a slump, and Flynn delves into what is going on with Ruud in 2009. Around Ruud, the Buccaneers linebacking corps is young and inexperienced. Quincy Black and Geno Hayes have flashed some skills at times, and have had some struggles as well. After the season Tampa Bay may need to shake up its stable of linebackers.
The massive 6-foot-3, 258-pound Spikes is the top run-stuffing linebacker in next year's draft, and is being graded out as a mid-to-late first-round prospect. Spikes is a physical defender that has no problem with holding up at the point of attack, shedding a block, and is an excellent tackler. Not only is he a great middle of the defense run defender, he is also a playmaker that is adept at rushing the passer from defensive end. Spikes has great abilities in pass coverage, and his skills to pick off passes is very unique for a linebacker of his size.
The senior from Shelby, North Carolina is the leader and fire-starter of the Gators defense. He loves to practice, and the Buccaneers would benefit greatly from his vocal, enthusiastic leadership skills. Spikes was suspended for last Saturday's game for gouging a player's eyes in the Gators victory over Georgia. While that play does not sit well with many fans of football, that kind of thing happens constantly in every game in the NFL. Just ask the opponents of Bucs center Jeff Faine and tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Watch this video to get a glimpse of Spikes' leadership skills.
Perhaps the Bucs should trade up from the second round and take Spikes. He could be the thumper in the middle of their defense, and Ruud could move to the Sam (strongside) linebacker position. That would turn the Buccaneers run defense around in a big hurry. Pewter Report will have draft prospect profile of Spikes coming out soon.
3. RED ZONE OFFENSE GOOD AND BAD
One of the biggest problems with the 2008 Buccaneers was a terrible red zone offense that settled for field goals. That red zone offense was huge culprit in some early season losses to New Orleans, Dallas, and Denver. If the Bucs had won one of those games the December collapse would not have kept Tampa Bay out of the postseason.
Head coach Raheem Morris and the new coaching staff made it a priority to reverse the results in the red zone in 2009. Dominik's trade for tight end Kellen Winslow helped address the issue. Winslow is a red zone mismatch and has rewarded Tampa Bay with five touchdown catches in eight games. Having running backs like Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams and Derrick Ward that are capable of breaking some tackles has helped as well. They are on pace to match Winslow and combine for 10 touchdowns in 2009. While the results are certainly better than the production of 2009, it is not completely favorable news with the red zone.
The good is the Bucs have the third-rated red zone offense in the NFL, 11 touchdowns in 16 possessions with two field goals. The bad news is they are tied for the least number of trips inside the red zone in the NFL with only 16 in eight games.
4. KICKER BECOMES OFFSEASON PRIORITY
It is astounding that the Buccaneers have made only three field goals halfway through the 2009 season. Tampa Bay has had trouble making field goals, and has not attempted that many. The Bucs are 3-of-9, and did not make a field goal beyond 40 yards.
Kicker Connor Barth has the opportunity to solidify the position for the rest of 2009, and earn a shot at competing for the job in 2009. At this time, kicker is a crucial need for this team going forward. Championship teams always can rely on a kicker that can make a vital field goal late in games.
There will be some veteran free agent kickers available this offseason. That list includes the Jets' Jay Feely, the Bengals' Shayne Graham, the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski, the Cardinals' Neil Rackers, and the Steelers' Jeff Reed. All of those are veteran players in their 30s. The NFL Draft does not appear to have a kicking prospect that will go before the late rounds. Michigan State's Brett Swenson and Ohio State's Aaron Pettrey are candidates to be drafted.
5. WEEKEND DRAFT FOCUS
A pass rushing defensive end that is having a breakout season is Texas Tech senior Brandon Sharpe. After playing two seasons at Fresno College, Sharpe transferred to Texas Tech. Last season he was a backup and recorded one sack in 10 games. This season he has 10.5 sacks in nine games. Sharpe had 4 sacks against Nebraska on Oct. 17. The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Sharpe gets the biggest test of his draft stock this Saturday when he goes against Oklahoma State's Russell Okung.
Okung is the top-rated offensive tackle in next year's draft class, and right now looks like a top-five pick. Okung had an excellent game against Texas, and shut down a potential first-round pass rusher in the Longhorns Sergio Kindle. This is a matchup that Okung should win, but if Sharpe has a good game against him it could validate his numbers and send his draft stock soaring.