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Before getting into details about the first day of Senior Bowl practices, there was some discussion about the Bucs’ interest in trading for Washington wide receiver Rod Gardner or Buffalo running back Travis Henry. As it turns out, there isn’t much interest in acquiring Gardner, primarily because of his pricey contract and the fact that he hasn’t shown the ability to match his price tag thus far in the NFL. The salary-cap conscience Bucs appear ready to solve most of their roster issues through the draft this year.
As for Henry, as I pointed out in a previous Pewter Insider story, he is a fumbler and the team views that as a more serious problem than Michael Pittman’s situation from a year ago. With several talented running backs in this year’s draft, the Bucs will likely pass on Henry as Buffalo’s asking price – a second- or a third-rounder, is simply too much.
There were plenty of NFL scouts and coaches on hand to watch the Senior Bowl’s South squad practice on Monday afternoon. Among them was Houston’s Dom Capers, Carolina’s Jon Fox and Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy, who went over and warmly greeted Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin and linebackers coach Joe Barry.
Dungy also stopped by to say hi to the Pewter Reporters and we had the chance to congratulate him on a great season with the Colts and personally pass along our condolences regarding his father’s passing during the fall.
The three captains for the South squad at today’s practice were LSU defensive end Marcus Spears, Louisville middle linebacker Robert McCune and North Carolina center Jason Brown. McCune, who is expected to be a third- or fourth-round draft pick, is the most physically impressive football player at this year’s Senior Bowl.
He was this year’s version of Greg Jones, a former Florida State running back who wowed NFL scouts at the 2004 Senior Bowl with his bulging muscles and sculpted physique. McCune is just a shade under 6-foot, and weighs in at a chiseled 245 pounds. Imagine a more slightly muscle-bound Michael Pittman playing linebacker and that’s McCune.
The 25-year old McCune spent several years in the U.S. Military, serving time in both Kuwait and Korea in the Armed Forces. He is very coachable and mature, and took to linebackers coach Joe Barry’s instruction on the field. While McCune is very fast, running a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash, he needs work on his flexibility as well as his hands. He dropped a couple of passes in practice that should have been interceptions. McCune looks a little stiff in the hips while dropping into coverage.
Alabama linebacker Cornelius Wortham showed tremendous agility and good hands in drills and earned Barry’s praise on several occasions. I always love watching Barry’s drills because I always learn something new about the game of football. Barry was teaching his talented group that the landmark for a linebacker’s facemask is the ballcarrier’s far armpit. That way, the ‘backer tackles through the player and gets a full, clean wrap-up. It’s little keys like that that make Barry a special coach. He doesn’t let the fundamentals slip.
Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley also had a good day of practice, catching every interception thrown his way and showing good his rotation and agility. I’ve liked Boley for some time now and he did not disappoint in practice.
Speaking of linebackers, we’re hearing some whispers that the Bucs are eager to see Lofa Tatupu at the NFL Scouting Combine next month. Tatupu, who played middle linebacker at USC, is a junior and is not at the Senior Bowl.
Georgia Tech strong safety James Butler looks bigger than his listed size of 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He is very well put together.
Auburn’s defensive backs duo of cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Junior Rosegreen both had good showings and drew praise from Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin. Rogers, this year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner, and Rosegreen are pretty polished football players who have been well coached in the college ranks.
Pearl River Community College wide receiver Larry Brackens, who is an early entry to the NFL Draft, was on hand with his agent at Monday’s practice. Brackens’ agent said he planned to speak to Bucs scouts on Monday night. The athletic Brackens is 6-foot-5, weighs about 220 pounds and runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash.
Jon Gruden spent his time working with the quarterbacks – Auburn’s Jason Campbell, Georgia’s David Greene and Miami’s Brock Berlin. Campbell and Greene had good showings today while Berlin struggled a bit. This is the most relaxed I’ve ever seen Gruden on the football field. Hardly any yelling. He also dumbed-down his playbook and cutback on the terminology to help the South squaders grasp the basics of his offense this week.
The Bucs were very disappointed that Auburn running back Ronnie Brown opted not to attend the Senior Bowl. The same could be said of Virginia guard Elton Brown, whose name was even on the South roster, but decided to back out at the last minute. Ronnie Brown could be the first or second running back taken in the draft, while Elton Brown figures to be the first guard selected. Both Browns are first-round draft picks.
Speaking of Browns, Georgia wide receiver Reggie Brown had a great day catching the ball and displaying his athleticism. He has a real suddeness about his game.
Brown’s Georgia teammate, Freddie Gibson, showed remarkable consistency catching the ball today. Gibson is known for lapses in concentration and dropping passes, but made a real nice catch and run in traffic today. At 6-foot-4, 193 pounds, he is the biggest true wide receiver on the South squad.
Of course, former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones is transitioning from quarterback to receiver and checks in at 6-foot-6, 237 pounds. He’s huge, but athletic. While Jones doesn’t have great acceleration or suddeness, he is very fast and showed remarkable ease in catching the football. Bucs assistant coach Kyle Shanahan has been diligently working with Jones on his route running and his hands ever since he arrived in Mobile about 24 hours ago.
UAB wide receiver Roddy White spent a great deal of time talking with Bucs receivers coach Richard Mann today, but not all of it was good. White was called for an offensive pass interference penalty during practice and also ran some sloppy routes, but Mann sure seemed interested in helping him get those issues corrected.
I spent a great deal of time watching the offensive and defensive linemen today, as did a lot of the Bucs scouts. On defense, USC defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson made great first impressions. Either one could play either nose tackle or under tackle, although Patterson is better suited to play nose. The one knock on these players is that they both have skinny legs, which hurts their ability to anchor in against the run. However, they play with such quickness and explosiveness that the play was often getting blown up in the backfield.
Another defensive tackle who was impressive was Alabama’s Anthony Bryant. The 6-foot-3, 336-pound Bryant carried his weight well and showed good short-area quickness while playing nose tackle. He anchored well against the run and played with good pad level. Tampa Bay defensive line coach Monte Kiffin spent a lot of time working with him and appeared to be intrigued by this big man. He doesn’t fit the Bucs’ mold in terms of size and quickness, but with team’s running up the middle against Tampa Bay more than Kiffin would like, perhaps Bryant is quick enough. I’ll say this about Bryant, he had the largest calves I have ever seen and played with great power.
The standouts along the offensive line were Florida State left tackle Ray Willis, who was a late replacement for Elton Brown, Fresno State guard Logan Mankins and Alabama left tackle Wesley Britt. All through showed toughness, tenacity and technique that drew raves from new Bucs offensive line coach Aaron Kromer.
Ole Miss kicker Jonathan Nichols, who is a former pupil of Bucs tight ends coach Ron Middleton who coached special teams for the Rebels in 2003 when he won the Lou Groza Award, was perfect on his attempts in practice. However, Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, who is kicking for the North squad, is creating quite a buzz at the Senior Bowl. The Bucs are very interested in Nugent and appear to be contemplating drafting him in the third round. The problem is, he may not be there as the New York Jets, Minnesota and Tennessee may take him at the end of the second round.
There was also some buzz that Kansas State running back Darren Sproles was dazzling scouts at the North practice, which was taking place at a different location at the same time as the South practice. For the South, Auburn’s Carnell “Cadillac” Williams showed his speed and slippery moves for Gruden and Co., and West Virginia’s Kay-Jay Harris, a Tampa native, also had a good practice session.
There were some Senior Bowl rumors that when Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson gets released that he may wind up in Oakland backing up Kerry Collins. The connection there is head coach Norv Turner, who coached Johnson in his 1999 Pro Bowl season with Washington.
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