INJURY BUG BITING THE NORTH SQUAD Tampa Bay finished the 2006 season with 10 players on its injured reserve list. Needless to say, those injuries contributed to the Bucs’ disappointing 4-12 season.
Unfortunately for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, the Senior Bowl’s North team already has its own list of casualties.
In addition to Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (knee) and wide receiver Jeff Samardja, and Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas opting not to play in the Senior Bowl after being expected to be part of the North squad, several players have suffered injuries.
Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley has a hamstring injury, and Rutgers tight end Clark Harris and Northern Illinois wide receiver Garrett Wolfe both left the Senior Bowl due to their respective injuries.
“That’s the story of my season, really,” said Gruden. “Wherever we go it seems our players get hurt. We lost a good back in Garrett Wolfe. We were looking forward to seeing him return kicks and do some other things. They did get us a good replacement today. We lost a tight end, my good friend Clark from Rutgers to a toe injury. Nothing serious or severe. We have replenished our roster and we are at full strength as we speak.”
Gruden and the North team have added Kansas State running back Thomas Clayton and Delaware tight end Ben Patrick to their roster.
GRUDEN STILL HIGH ON THOMAS, QUINN Despite the fact that neither Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn nor Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas are participating at the Senior Bowl practices, both players made the trip to Mobile, Ala. in an effort to meet NFL scouts, coaches and personnel members.
The Bucs actually had the opportunity to meet with both players, and they can only hope they’ll be in a position to draft one or both of them in April.
“I’m very excited,” said Gruden. “I had a chance to meet Brady Quinn when I first arrived here. I know we’ll have the opportunity to meet him again in the coming weeks. Joe Thomas was in the building last night, and members of our staff met with him. We were hoping to coach those guys here, and we understand their situations. We respect why they’re not playing, but those are two dynamic prospects in this year’s draft.”
SHOW ME THE MONEY For the first time in several years, Tampa Bay is actually under the league-mandated salary cap headed into the offseason.
The Bucs are currently $24 million under the NFL-mandated cap number of $109 million. That’s refreshing to a team that has had to spend the last several Senior Bowls approaching agents about restructuring some of their clients’ contracts in an effort to help the Bucs free up cap room in order to get under the salary cap.
Not only are the Bucs aware of their favorable cap situation, the agents that are in Mobile, Ala. know about it, too.
“We don’t have a little more, we have a lot more cap room,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “I’ve got agents coming up to see me now. I used to go see the agents and they’d run for cover, and tell me to find them in July. Now I’ve got guys handing me their lists of available players. It’s exciting, but it’s also no guarantee, either. You have to be able to target the right guys and then go get them. That’s something we desperately need to do.”
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING SPECIAL One need the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to address, whether it is in the draft or free agency, is on special teams.
While Tampa Bay’s coverage units were solid throughout the 2006 regular season, its return game struggled, averaging just 18.4 yards per kickoff return and 6.5 yards per punt return.
The Bucs ranked 19th overall in the NFL with an average starting field position of the 26.3-yard line.
To make matters even worse, the Bucs have returned over 1,800 kickoffs without ever having returned one for a touchdown during a regular season or playoff game since 1976.
If the return specialist the Bucs are looking for isn’t in Mobile, Ala. this week, the team certainly sounds like it’s determined to find a remedy to what has become a serious problem in Tampa Bay.
“Yeah, we are,” Gruden said. “Our coverage was very good, but our return game has to be better. Our defense has to be better, too. We have to get some three-and-out stops, and get some turnovers. Obviously better defensive play and a better return game will help us move the ball offensively. That’s a big part of winning games is where your drives begin. We have a long way to go offensively, but field position is key.”
The Bucs might have found a solid candidate for the kickoff and punt return duties in Tampa Bay when they signed former Hawaii standout Chad Owens to a contract earlier this month. However, Gruden suggested the Bucs would like to avoid dedicating one roster spot to a special teams contributor unless they could solidify both the punt and kickoff return games.
“You don’t really want to have a roster spot dedicated to a punter, kicker, holder, long snapper, a kickoff return specialist and a punt return specialist,” said Gruden. “You want to find a guy like [Chicago CB Devin] Hester. He’s a really scary return guy.”
COLMER’S FUTURE UP IN THE AIR Buccaneers offensive tackle Chris Colmer’s future in the National Football League is still uncertain.
The 2005 third-round pick out of North Carolina State is battling Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, which is the same nerve condition that sidelined him for his junior season in college.
According to head coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs are still in the process of evaluating Colmer’s condition, which returned during the 2006 offseason and caused him to miss the entire season.
“We don’t know right now,” said Gruden. “Medically, we have to continue to keep an eye on his physical state. Right now, that’s in question.”
SHOTGUN READY TO MAKE ITS DEBUT? After resisting it for years, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is very much open to the idea of implementing the shotgun formation in Tampa Bay in 2007.
However, Gruden said on Tuesday night that the shotgun would not make its debut in his offense at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
“We’re not going to do it in this game,” said Gruden. “We’re going to try and stay under center and get these guys good at the quarterback/center exchange. We’re trying to worry about rhythm. Once the dust settles and we see where we are as an offensive team from a personnel standpoint, we’ll certainly look at entertaining the shotgun.”
ON GUARD Speaking of injury updates, Bucs guard Dan Buenning is on the mend, according to head coach Jon Gruden.
Buenning suffered an ankle sprain in preseason and an ACL tear in the Thanksgiving Day game vs. Dallas, which ended his sophomore campaign.
The Bucs were relying on Buenning, who started all 17 games as a rookie in 2005, to build upon that impressive season. Instead, Buenning had an injury-plagued sophomore season, and Gruden made it clear that Buenning was sorely missed while the running game stalled and the passing game struggled.
“Dan and I had a long talk,” Gruden said. “It was very disappointing for him last year. He got hurt in the last preseason game. He wasn’t ready to go physically for the first few weeks. When he got back he wasn’t the Dan Buenning he was back in the ’05 season. Shame on Dan Buenning. We need the 300-pound man with some thump in the hole. He’s got some versatility as a puller, and he’s a guy we’re counting on to be a big part of our future. He and Davin Joseph are going to be our guards, and I’ll be upset if they’re not.”
PLAYERS IMPRESSING? When asked which players had caught his eye on the Senior Bowl so far, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden almost stopped short of mentioning any players by name, but not before he mentioned Nebraska defensive end Nick Carriker specifically.
“I like Carriker from Nebraska,” said Gruden. “He is a big, physical defensive end that’s impressed us here. He’s also capable of playing the three technique as well. He’s really stood out in my mind. There have been a number of guys flash, but I don’t want to make any publish statements about who I like.”
BUCS ALLOCATE 5 PLAYERS TO NFL EUROPE The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently allocated five players to NFL Europe.
The Bucs’ five NFLEL players – quarterback Bruce Eugene, wide receivers Kyle Smith and Jovon Bouknight, center/guard Jonathan Clinkscale and cornerback Carlos Hendricks – originally entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.
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