Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of college scouting Dennis Hickey fielded draft-related questions from the media Wednesday.

Hickey is entering his 11th season with the Bucs and second year as the team’s director of college scouting. Prior to his promotion in 2005, Hickey spent seven years as a scout for Tampa Bay, scouting the midwestern states for the Buccaneers.

Read what Hickey had to say about the 2006 NFL Draft as it relates to the Bucs in this Q&A session, which was conducted by the local media at One Buccaneer Place and transcribed by the Bucs public relations staff.

What areas are stronger than others in this draft?
“I think it’s a deep draft in a lot of different areas. There obviously are some positions that are stronger than others. The positions that jumps out at you in terms of depth are linebackers. It’s really a deep year for them both on top and throughout. It’s a good year for tight ends, and it’s a good year for corners.”

Generally speaking, how is the depth at the cornerback position?
“Last year, there were 19 corners drafted in the first three rounds. In the past, the highest number was 12 or 13. That tells you, for one, that there were a lot of skill players that were running fast. Whenever they run really fast, they tend to get drafted fairly high. I think, this year, there were 20 players that ran in the 4.3 range at the Combine, so obviously those guys, even though they might be mid-round-type players, get elevated when they run that fast. History says that the defensive backs, especially the guys that can really run, will go early.”

Can’t you get burned that way? Just because a guy runs fast doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be a good corner.
“That’s against our philosophy. Number one, it’s all about tape to our coaches and personnel. It’s not about 40 times or measurables. It’s about how they play. Are they instinctive football players? That’s one thing that’s helped build us into the team that we are. We’ve taken a lot of guys that had measurables that the league deemed below the bar, but they’ve been good players for the league. The league has kind of changed somewhat, and a lot of our players are the reason for that.”

You’ve had a lot of success over the last couple of years in terms of building for the future on offense. Your defense is obviously getting older, and you’ve also got some young pieces on defense, but do you think you can apply that same philosophy to your defense and be successful?
“We weren’t necessarily trying to rebuild our offense. The No. 1 thing for us is we want to get the best player regardless of the position, the best player for the Bucs. That’s the reason we’ve been so successful. We haven’t tried to reach for specific needs – that’s not our philosophy at all. We grade each player on their individual merit, and we take them as a result of that grade.”

Do you have any goals in this draft? There’s been some talk that you need to replace Derrick Brooks at some point, and you need to replace Ronde Barber at some point. Do you go into this draft thinking that you’ll want to come away with guys that are truly capable of doing that?
“In this era of free agency, you can’t just look at a specific position. You have to continually be building throughout your roster. We don’t have a specific goal. We want to get the best player regardless of the position.”

You obviously won’t have a shot at this man, but what are your thoughts on [North Carolina State defensive end] Mario Williams?
“He’s a freak. He’s over 6-foot-7, he runs a 4.66, and he’s just a massive guy. He has a lot of upside – he hasn’t reached his full potential. As you saw, he had 14.5 sacks, and 12.5 of them came in his final three or four games where he completely dominated. His best football is ahead of him. He’s a rare talent.

Can you speak to the offensive line depth in this draft, and how much emphasis will you put in that particular area?
“We’ll treat it like every other position. We had our draft meetings for two weeks, and it’s been a yearlong process. For every position, we give the same amount of detail to. At each of the positions, it’s fairly equal.”

Dennis – this is your first draft as director of college scouting. Are you more anxious or excited being in this position than you have been in other drafts?
“You’re always anxious for the draft. It’s so unpredictable, and it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. For your whole year, it all comes down to two days. There’s obviously more responsibility in covering the whole country. There’s a little more anxiety. I don’t quite have the exposure to each player that I used to.”

On draft day, what are your responsibilities going to be?
“I’ll be there for information, and to help in the decision-making process. My evaluations, and our scouts’ evaluations play a key part in the draft. We’ll share our opinions on guys so that together we can build a consensus to make the right pick.”

How difficult is the offensive line position to project?
“Maybe a little more difficult. Some positions are a little bit easier. I think if you fall into the medical trap, that’s where mistakes are made. To us, if you go with a proven commodity, someone who’s done it and has been successful and has the key intangible aspects – toughness, loves football – you’re going to be successful going that way.”

Do you learn from those mistakes over the years?
“Absolutely. You’re doomed to repeat it if you don’t. You learn from guys and that’s part of the continual learning process. There are certain guys you thought were destined to be great ones and they end up not, maybe you go back and say, ‘What was he missing?’ And usually it’s those key intangibles.”

The scouts have always had a very good feel for what kind of defensive players the Bucs were looking for. Have the scouts gotten a good grasp of what kind of offensive players head coach Jon Gruden and his staff are looking for?
“I think it used to be with our defense it was unique for the league. There weren’t a lot of other teams running it so of course we knew better what fit. I think it’s not quite as specialized of an offensive system as our Tampa 2 was, although it’s become more prevalent.”

Speaking of injuries, how comfortable are you guys with [Auburn tackle] Marcus McNeil’s back situation?
“We don’t comment on medical conditions of prospects. That’s just our policy.”

What do you think of USF running back Andre Hall?
“We like Andre. I was at his personal workout. He’s a very good back. He’s had 1,000 yards at every place he’s been. He’s got quickness, he’s got great hands, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and return kicks. He’s a multi-faceted player. He’s exciting. He’s going to be a good back in the league.”

Do you wish Hall were a little taller?
“I think with running backs that’s overrated, the height. You’d rather have leverage. You don’t want a tall back. You want somebody who can carry his pads and have a nice, low center of gravity. A lot of times, that’s an advantage, to be short.”

Do you see Hall as a feature back or a third-down specialist?
“I think he’s going to be a good back, but the thing that he brings is versatility. He’s going to give you a lot of options out of the backfield.”

Do you expect the talent at the top of the league to trigger more or fewer trades?
“I think this year because of the quarterbacks and because they’re such wild cards and it’s kind of hard to get a read, I would think there would be more action at the top of the draft. It’s very unpredictable. Sometimes you think that. Sometimes you think there’s not going to be any action and there’s a lot of action. It depends on the individual teams.”

Do the Bucs feel like they have a good idea of what’s going to happen with the first 10 picks in this draft?
“Usually, yes, we have an idea for sure of the first 10 players. Where they go and what happens, sometimes a team moves up and you might not get them to the right team. But for the most part you know the top 10 players in the draft.”

Is it safe to say that the Bucs are not picking from need in any way this year?
“We want healthy competition. But, yes, [general manager] Bruce [Allen] has done a great job of getting guys back to keep that nucleus of our team. But we really never pursue a need specifically. It’s usually based on the player.”

Do the Bucs have the ability to trade up 10 or more picks if they choose?
“Yes, there’s always [that possibility]. If you want to, yes. Future picks and a combination of different things – yes, you could.”

Would you be opposed to that kind of move?
“I’m open to all scenarios. It really depends on how we rated the players, and obviously I can’t tell you that. But I’m open to that, if a guy drops who maybe you expected to go higher and who you have rated that can really impact your team.”

Does it help to have a talented roster to be willing to sacrifice picks in order to trade up in the draft?
“That’s exactly how we feel. Our coaches, as part of our meetings in there, we talk about our players and we like our players. We’ve been successful. We have 21 of 22 returning starters, so we feel good about our team. So we do have a lot of flexibility.”

Is the Bucs draft board set?
“We’re getting pretty close. There’s always internal debate and differing opinions, but it’s pretty close. We know which players we like, which players can help us. It is still a work-in-progress somewhat, but for the most part it’s little adjustments but not wholesale.”

How deep does your draft board go?
“We rate, in our meetings, about 300 players. So we go from the first pick of the draft to the last free agent.”

How deep is the quarterback pool after the top three are drafted?
“It goes pretty deep. There are differing [options] depending on what you’re looking for. It’s kind of a unique blend. There are a lot of talented, strong-armed athletes and there are a lot of solid quarterbacks, so it’s pretty deep.”

Do you think reports of [USC QB] Matt Leinart dropping to 15th or 16th in this draft are crazy?
“I wouldn’t say ‘crazy,’ but I would be surprised.”

Were you surprised when [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers dropped last year?
“It was a little surprising, but again you have to start with a team’s needs and what they’re targeting. Sometimes a guy can drop and if he’s not an issue of need, sometimes teams just pass on him. It happens.”

How much emphasis do the Bucs put on the Wonderlic test?
“Very little. The Wonderlic is just a measurement. The number-one thing that we base our evaluations on when it comes to an ability to learn football is our exposures in interviews with the players. Bringing them in here and having our coaches sit down and talk with them, that’s very important. Also, watching them on tape – do they show up there? – and also interviewing their coaches. It’s just one measurement, but we make no decisions from the Wonderlic.”

Is this a good year to be picking 23rd overall in the NFL Draft?
“Absolutely, yes. Of course, you probably say that every year, but we definitely feel there are going to be some good players who are going to help us become a better team.”

What kind of immediate impact do the Bucs need from their rookies, particularly their first-round pick?
“Well, you would like the guy to have an immediate impact, and we wouldn’t draft a guy if we didn’t feel he was going to have an impact. Whether that means starting, whether that means being a key contributor on special teams or whether that means being a key backup – that plays itself out. But we wouldn’t take a guy if we didn’t think he was going to have an impact.”

How much more difficult is it to prepare for variables at No. 23 than at pick No. 5?
“You just have to widen your scale. You have to have more players targeted for that spot, as opposed to the fifth pick. Of course, wherever you pick you always have to have a wider range just because you don’t know what’s going to happen, whether you trade down. It’s just a wider scope there.”

How does [USC RB] Reggie Bush compare to the best running backs you’ve ever seen?
“He’s right up there. He’s a unique talent in that he can do so many things. He’s so versatile and he can impact the game not just when he’s the I-back. When he’s pulled out on the slot, returning kicks, he can just take over the game in numerous different ways.”

What are your impressions of [Virginia tackle] D’Brickashaw Ferguson?
“I think D’Brickashaw’s going to be a quality left tackle in the league. He’s got great arm length, he’s got 36-inch arms. He’s very smart, he’s a technician, he’s a very consistent player. I think he’s going to be a very good player.”

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