SR’s Fab 5 appears every Friday on PewterReport.com and is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. You’re general manager Mark Dominik or head coach Greg Schiano and you want competition for Josh Freeman. We’re not talking about another Dan Orlovsky. We’re talking about someone better than Orlovsky. We’re talking about a legitimate challenger for Freeman that has the ability to start and win games in the NFL.
That player is a lot harder to find than you or the Buccaneers might think. Pewter Report’s Mark Cook listed some of the quarterbacks that are scheduled to be free agents in March and some that might become available later in the spring after the 2013 NFL Draft. Did any of those names outside of Joe Flacco, who won’t be leaving Baltimore anytime soon, excite you?
Bucs fans – and even the team – can play fantasy football and wish the right quarterback onto the roster, but free agency is always a two-way street. The real question that needs to be asked is what quarterback would want to come to Tampa Bay to challenge Freeman?
Think about it.
Freeman has been the Buccaneers’ starting quarterback for the past four years.
He was the team’s first-round pick in 2009.
Tampa Bay will have over $36 million invested in the Kansas State product by the time his contract expires after the 2013 season.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder has the support of the Buccaneers locker room and has already established a rapport with Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and the rest of Tampa Bay’s receivers.
Freeman just became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in a season during the 2012 campaign, as well as Tampa Bay’s career touchdown passer.
Does that seem like an ideal situation for any quarterback to come in and claim a starting job? Would you be enticed by that if you were a free agent QB?
Getting legitimate competition for Freeman is going to be tough – real tough. The reality is that it probably isn’t going to happen in 2013, which is a make-it-or-break-it year for Freeman in regards to whether or not he will be the franchise quarterback going forward.
Free agency won’t offer up the ideal candidate to come in and compete, and it’s doubtful the Bucs could trade for a starting-caliber quarterback. Forget the likes of Michael Vick or Kirk Cousins. Vick would not be a good fit and the Redskins aren’t parting ways with Cousins now that Robert Griffin III is going to be sidelined for at least eight months after reconstructive knee surgery.
Freeman’s competition will likely come in the form of a draft pick, but this year’s quarterback class is weak, especially with Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Body returning to school for their senior seasons. To date, only one underclassmen quarterback has entered the 2013 NFL Draft, and that’s Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, an average prospect that is projected to be a second-round pick.
Armed with its own seven draft picks, in addition to New England’s fourth-round pick from the Aqib Talib trade, the Bucs have to address the cornerback position at least once in the first three rounds. Will it want to spend a premium pick on a quarterback with pressing needs in the defensive backfield, in addition to finding a pass rusher and another offensive tackle and a tight end?
It’s doubtful the Bucs will want to spend anything more than a fourth-rounder on a quarterback for another reason other than more pressing needs on defense. There’s a chance that Freeman could be offended if the team were to invest a second- or third-round pick on another signal caller.
History shows that a quarterback drafted that high – if talented – eventually usurps the incumbent starter. That happened in Tampa Bay in 1999 when the team drafted Shaun King in the second round. Trent Dilfer, a first-round pick in 1993, was history a year later.
This year, Collin Kaepernick, a second-round pick in 2011, has unseated Alex Smith, a former first-rounder, in division-winning San Francisco. And rookie Russell Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012, has put Matt Flynn, Seattle’s high-priced free agent acquisition, on the bench while leading the Seahawks into the playoffs.
If Freeman excels in 2013 and earns a new contract extension, the last thing he would want is to be constantly looking over his shoulder at a highly-drafted quarterback. That could hamper contract talks. For that reason, as well as the fact that Tampa Bay has more pressing needs on defense, the Bucs would be wise not to draft a QB prior to the fourth round.
The problem is that quarterbacks usually rise in the first half of the draft and fall in the second half of the draft. There aren’t many quality mid-round quarterbacks available right now.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley are projected to be first-rounders, and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson will likely end up there with a good offseason of testing.
Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, Bray and North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon seem destined for the second round. Look for Nassib to wind up in Buffalo where he will be targeted by former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone, who was just hired as the Bills head coach. Miami (Ohio)’s Zac Dysert, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel are likely third-round picks.
When the Bucs should start looking at quarterbacks, in the fourth round, the pickings get slim. Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron is intriguing, and Arizona’s Matt Scott will be available. Southern Utah’s Brad Sorensen figures to be a fifth-round pick.
After that, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers, Baylor’s Nick Florence, Kansas State’s Collin Klein, Penn State’ Matt McGloin, Texas Tech’s Seth Doege and Duke’s Sean Renfree are likely destined to be seventh-round picks – and all have issues with size, mechanics or arm strength. Klein is a poor man’s Tim Tebow and will probably have to switch positions and play tight end or wide receiver.
The backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team when the starter is struggling or not playing at a Pro Bowl level, so finding Freeman’s backup in the draft will be tricky. Getting a player in the middle-to-late rounds that has the ability to legitimately push Freeman to greatness or push him to the bench will prove to be much easier said than done.
FAB 2. Sources tell Pewter Report that one of the reasons why the Bucs felt compelled to let defensive backs coach Ron Cooper out of his contract to accept the same position at USF was that he was simply overrated as a coach. Cooper received a lot of credit for the on-field success of star LSU players, such as cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, in addition to Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu and safety Eric Reid, who has the potential to be a first-round safety in this year’s draft.
But in reality, those players possessed top-shelf athleticism and were going to be stars regardless of who was coaching them. That’s not to belittle Cooper or take away from his part in their success, but it appears as if he didn’t play as big of a role in developing those players as once thought and that he’s not the defensive backs guru Tampa Bay envisioned when it hired him last winter.
Cooper wasn’t a very effective communicator and that hurt his teaching ability. He didn’t have a dominant personality capable of leading men that is often a trait seen in coaches, especially at the NFL level.
The guess here is that Cooper’s departure aids in Ronde Barber’s possible return to the Buccaneers for another season, too. Barber has had several great defensive backs coaches in his illustrious career in Tampa Bay, including Herman Edwards, Mike Tomlin, Raheem Morris and Jimmy Lake. Is it safe to say that Cooper didn’t measure up? Probably.
Look for Jeff Hafley, who came with Greg Schiano from Rutgers and serves as Tampa Bay’s assistant secondary coach, to get a shot at replacing Cooper as the team’s defensive backs coach. Hafley, who would coach the safeties while Cooper taught the cornerbacks in practice, would likely get a ringing endorsement from Barber as the two have formed a good working relationship.
FAB 3. Although defensive backs coach Ron Cooper was let out of his contract – which essentially meant he was fired – to take the same position at the University of South Florida in Tampa, chances are that Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan won’t be going anywhere.
Sources tell Pewter Report that the team’s league-worst pass defense, which surrendered 4,758 yards – an average of 297.4 yards per game – was a product of three things.
First, it was the inexperience at the cornerback position outside of Aqib Talib, who only played in four games before being suspended for three contests prior to being traded to New England, and Eric Wright, who missed six games due to a four-game suspension and two games due to injuries. E.J. Biggers was the only experienced cornerback on the team down the stretch, but the Bucs played rookie Leonard Johnson and unheralded players Danny Gorrer, Anthony Gaitor and LeQuan Lewis an awful lot over the second half of the season.
The Bucs obviously weren’t thrilled with Cooper’s coaching job otherwise they wouldn’t have let him go. Tampa Bay had a first-round pick invested in safety Mark Barron and could be drafting a cornerback in the first round in 2013. It’s critical that those big investments be coached up right and developed for the future success of the franchise, which is why Cooper was let go.
Second, it was the team’s admitted lack of talent at the cornerback position. Biggers and Gaitor were seventh-round picks. Johnson, Gorrer and Lewis entered the league as undrafted free agents. None of those players showed the talent and physical ability to start in the NFL, and an upgrade is definitely needed this offseason.
Finally, third on the list was play-calling in the team’s eyes – at least at first glance. Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and the front office and coaching staff are going through an intense evaluation process right now, but it appears as if Sheridan, who had admitted to running Schiano’s defense, is going to get a pass for this season. The 2012 season was the first time Schiano and Sheridan worked together and it took some time for each to learn about one another’s methods and ways.
Keep in mind that Tampa Bay’s defense might have played its best game of the season by doing perhaps its least amount of blitzing and playing more Cover 2 zone than in any other game in 2012. That might be helping Sheridan’s cause. Then again, Atlanta, the league’s best team in the NFL, was held under 300 yards of offense and to just 17 points with the likes of Johnson, Gorrer and Gaitor playing cornerback. That might punch a hole in the “inexperience” and “lack of talent” argument.
Regardless of whether Sheridan stays or goes, the Bucs need to upgrade the talent at cornerback and needs to stay away from the overabundance of senseless blitzing that leaves its cornerbacks on an island far too much. Tampa Bay’s effective use of Cover 2 and the success the team had with it in Atlanta should be carried over into the 2013 season – likely with Sheridan at the helm of the defense.
FAB 4. While Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik deserves some praise for Tampa Bay’s impressive 2012 draft class, which is headlined by strong safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David, and landing highly sought-after free agents in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks, it is his ability to pluck contributing players from opposing team’s practice squads that is just as impressive.
With general manager Bruce Allen’s blessing, Dominik signed Donald Penn from Minnesota’s practice squad in 2006 and took he over as the team’s starting left tackle in 2007 en route to making the Pro Bowl four years later. Dominik also stole wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe from the Bengals practice squad and he wound up leading the Bucs in touchdown catches with six in 2011.
Dominik’s latest stolen player that has worked out well for Tampa Bay is defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who was pilfered from Philadelphia’s practice squad in 2011 after being drafted in the third round by the Eagles in 2010. Te’o-Nesheim was a two-time captain at the University of Washington where he set the school record for sacks with 30, in addition to recording 50.5 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Te’o-Nesheim had a good training camp and preseason with the Buccaneers and wound up beating out former Rutgers star defensive end George Johnson for the role of third defensive end on the depth chart. When starting right defensive end Adrian Clayborn suddenly was lost for the season with a knee injury during Week 3, Te’o-Nesheim, who had just entered his third NFL season, was pressed into a starting role whether he was ready or not.
“Te’o was dropped into a role and told, ‘You’ve got to do it. Our first-round pick is done, so you’ve got to step in and do it,’” said Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “We couldn’t have asked for a better guy as far as being focused on his job and doing what he had to do. It was great to see him play as well as he did.”
Te’o-Nesheim recorded his first NFL sack as a rookie against Dallas playing sparingly for Philadelphia in 2010, and finished third in Tampa Bay in sacks behind Michael Bennett (nine) and McCoy (five) with a career-high four, including one against his former team in the Bucs’ 23-21 loss to the Eagles. He finished with 40 tackles, which was one behind Bennett for the most among defensive linemen, and eight tackles for loss, which was third best among linemen behind Bennett (18) and McCoy (nine) and eight QB hits, which was third on the team behind McCoy (15) and Bennett (13).
“Te’o played real good this season,” Bennett said. “He did a great job. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens and how it’s going to unfold when A.C. gets back and how they deal with all that and how he fits in. Te’o is a great player and he does exactly what the coaches asked him to do.”
Bennett, who led the team with nine sacks in 2012 and is an unrestricted free agent, is talking about how Te’o-Nesheim is slated to become a restricted free agent in 2013. Dominik will have three options when it comes to Te’o-Nesheim. He can tender him a contract that comes with first-round draft compensation, he can tender him a contract that comes with second-round draft compensation, or he can offer Te’o-Nesheim the lowest tender that comes with original round draft compensation, which would be a third-round pick.
Given how much Te’o-Nesheim developed in 2012 and coupled with the fact that the Bucs definitely need a better pass rush and that Clayborn is still recovering from knee surgery, the Bucs can’t afford to lose the 6-foot-3, 263-pound, high-motor player. But that doesn’t rule out Tampa Bay drafting a defensive end to throw in the mix for competition, either – even if Bennett and Te’o-Nesheim are both re-signed.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Which victory was the sweetest for Tampa Bay in 2012? Was it the Bucs’ 38-10 blowout win over the Chiefs, or was it the thrilling 27-21 overtime victory in Carolina? Which loss stung the most? Was it getting shut out in New Orleans, 41-0? Or was it the heartbreaking 23-21 defeat on the last play of the game against Philadelphia?
“Every loss – all nine of them stung,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “We didn’t want them and we definitely didn’t go into a game expecting them. Coach Schiano told us the other day that the hardest thing to do in professional sports is to win a professional football game. Everything we went through this offseason and all the stuff we went through and the turmoil – we definitely expected more than seven, but to get the wins we got was amazing. All the losses stung and every win was amazing.”
• It’s interesting how some Buccaneers fans don’t care how the team finishes once they are disqualified from the playoffs. There is a segment of fans that actually believes each victory after missing out on the postseason is worthless as all it does is cost Tampa Bay a higher draft pick. While rooting against the team isn’t ideal, those fans are actually right – although I don’t condone that line of fandom.
The more losses a team has the higher the draft pick. Tampa Bay finished with a 7-9 record in addition to four other teams, and will pick 13th overall in the first round. Had the Bucs lost at Atlanta in Week 17, Tampa Bay would be picking ninth overall.
It will be interesting to see which players are selected between picks 9-12 and which player the Bucs wind up with at number 13 in the first round when the NFL Draft rolls around on April 25.
• The Buccaneers are going to give free safety Ronde Barber some time to figure out whether or not he wants to return for a 17th NFL season. Barber, who will turn 38 in April, signed a one-year deal to play free safety, a new position, in 2012. Once again, he led the team in interceptions (four) and was a Pro Bowl alternate at free safety.
Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett is among the hordes of players in the locker room who want to see Barber, the lone active player from the Super Bowl XXXVII team, return for one more year.
“They should pay him $10 million for one year,” said Bennett, who is also headed for free agency. “I definitely think it would be great for Ronde to come back. He’s our leader and he does so many great things. The fact that he’s playing at that level at his age is crazy. And he’s playing a new position. But that’s Ronde. His knowledge far exceeds his body.
“I would be happy to have Ronde back. I didn’t see any slip off in his game at all. Ronde is one of the best players in the league.”
• Count on former Arizona quarterbacks coach John McNulty joining Tampa Bay’s staff as either the quarterbacks coach or the wide receivers coach. The Bucs lost wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck to Western Michigan University where he became the school’s head coach in December. Tampa Bay also lost quarterbacks coach Ron Turner this offseason to Florida International University where he became the Panthers head coach.
McNulty has spent the last four seasons with the Cardinals coaching the QBs (2012) and receivers (2009-11) after spending the five previous seasons at Rutgers where he worked under head coach Greg Schiano. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2006-08 and was the Scarlet Knights wide receivers coach from 2004-05. McNulty also has NFL experience having worked with Jacksonville (1998-2002) and Dallas (2003).
• And finally, one of Pewter Report’s newest partners, Courtside Grille Tampa, will be hosting a special Pewter Report Get2gether on Sunday, February 17 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. that will feature appearances by yours truly, Scott Reynolds, editor-in-chief Mark Cook, director of business operations Kim Roper and other Pewter Report staff members, in addition to some very special guests. We’ll have more on the first official Pewter Report Get2gether of 2013 in the coming weeks, but save the date. You won’t want to miss this one.
And you won’t want to miss out on watching the Super Bowl at Courtside Grille Tampa, which is hosting a Super Bowl party and taking reservations for the big game on Sunday, February 3. There are three attractive, value-rich packages for you to choose from. Just $25 reserves one seat, and includes all-you-can-drink soft drinks and an all-you-can-eat menu during the game. It also comes with three complimentary raffle tickets for prizes, including a 50-inch HDTV flat screen television at halftime. You must be present to win the raffle drawings.
The second package is $50 per person and reserves one seat with an all-you-can-eat menu during the game and all-you-can-drink wells, domestic drafts and house wine during the game, excluding bottles of wine. This comes with five complimentary raffle tickets.
The third package is $100 per person and reserves one seat with an all-you-can-eat menu during the game an open bar, excluding bottles of wine. This comes with 10 complimentary raffle tickets.
Courtside Grille Tampa is under new management and is an amazing place with superior restaurant quality food and dozens of big screen and projector screens to watch the Super Bowl. Courtside Grille Tampa is located at 13234 Race Track Road. Call (813) 818-7433 to reserve your seats for Super Bowl Sunday and tell them Pewter Report sent you.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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