SR’s Fab 5 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 SCHIANO’S COMPLEX SCHEME HINDERED THE PRODUCTION OF TAMPA BAY’S DEFENSE AT TIMESDid you ever wonder why Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell was wide open for a 16-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone in Carolina’s 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 13?
Were you amazed that after a year or two’s worth of playing in Greg Schiano’s defense that Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills could be running wide open down the middle of the field for a 76-yard touchdown in New Orleans’ 42-17 drubbing of the Buccaneers in the 2013 season finale?
The best way to sum up Schiano’s defense last year, which was tweaked from the 2012 version, was that when it was on – as it was in games against New York, Atlanta and Buffalo – it was on. And when it was off – as it was against New England, Philadelphia and the season finale at New Orleans – it was off.
While Tampa Bay’s 16th-ranked defense took a step backwards in run defense last year from first to 18th, it made a quantum leap forward in pass defense from 32nd to 16th, especially with the addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, free safety Dashon Goldson and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks.
Schiano’s scheme was rather complex as it featured a 4-3 base, a healthy dose of nickel defense, which featured five defensive backs, as well as two dime packages, which featured three safeties and three cornerbacks. One package was called “Dime” and it had four down linemen and linebacker Lavonte David, and the other dime package was called “30” and it featured a nose tackle, two defensive ends and two linebackers. PewterReport.com gained a greater understanding of the defense and it’s complexities in the month of December talking to the players.
Schiano’s defense was a combination of the Tampa 2, which features a four-man front playing single gap and zone coverage behind the front, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 defense, which would be where his dime defensive elements originated from.
“It’s part 3-4 and part 4-3,” said Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward. “It’s complicated. It’s more complicated than people think.”
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn struggled with the scheme for the first few games of the 2012 season, which was Schiano’s first in Tampa Bay, before being placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL in a Week 3 loss at Dallas. Schiano made some modifications to the scheme for the 2013 season, simplifying Clayborn’s role. Instead of having to play two different techniques as a left defensive end, Clayborn only had to play one technique as the team’s weakside defensive end.
While that meant he had to move from left to right defensive end depending on where the tight end lined up, Clayborn had to think less and could play with more reckless abandon. While that new adjustment worked, evidenced by Clayborn’s 64 tackles, a career-high 19 tackles for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles, there were other elements to the defense that were in desperate need of fixing after the season and contributed to too many big plays given up during the 2013 campaign.
“It’s a lot of details,” Clayborn said of the defense shortly before Schiano was fired. “On certain plays and formations you have to do certain things. Once we get another year and get all the details and learn why we’re doing it, it can only get better. I believe in this defense, and once everybody learns everything about it we’ll be really good. When we’re on, we’re on. But we get beat when guys don’t shift to where we are supposed to be and we give up 50-yard pass plays. It can be pretty complicated.
“I think we’ve shown a lot of signs that we can shut a lot of people out. In some games it just wasn’t there, but I think if guys come back with a positive attitude and we can focus on every aspect of the defense and getting the fine details down we can be really good. We have a complicated defense, but once everybody gets it all down we can be pretty damn good.”
How many times did we hear Schiano talk about communication breakdowns in pass coverage leading to touchdowns last year? Too many times to count. Communication – or lack thereof – was a big issue in 2013 from the beginning of the season to the end of the year in New Orleans where quarterback Drew Brees lit Tampa Bay up for five touchdowns.
“If you’re not on and communicating well, you’ve seen what can happen,” Hayward said. “Our defense can get bombed on. But then when we do well and all of us are on the same page, we lock down in coverage, get sacks and create turnovers. We get tackle for losses and interceptions.”
The Buccaneers accumulated 17 sacks and 15 takeaways (11 interceptions, four fumble recoveries) against the Jets, Falcons (at Raymond James Stadium), Lions and Bills, but did not record a sack or a takeaway against the Saints in the season finale.
“We were stopping their run and they were only getting one or two yards per carry, but then they would hit a bomb on us because we had a breakdown in communication and guys were out of position,” Hayward said. “Our defense has to fit just right or it won’t work. We have the guys here. We just need a little more time together to get it down. We need to understand when to let guys like Gerald [McCoy] and A.C. go, and when it to fit it up in the system. That’s the biggest thing – finding that happy medium.”
While Schiano made some offseason adjustments to help Clayborn, such as allowing him to rush from a two-point stance, he made some midseason adjustments to help free up McCoy’s pass rush. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had two sacks during the first half of the season, but had seven of his nine sacks over the final eight games of the 2013 campaign.
“The few things that I did think, I said in-season,” McCoy said when talking about some of the defensive adjustments he requested. “They changed a lot of stuff, which is why I was able to be successful the second half of the season.
“But I think that there were times that we didn’t make enough adjustments in games.”
Had Schiano stayed on to coach the Bucs in 2014, McCoy – and others – were prepared to talk to Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan about simplifying the communication aspect of the defense.
“There were too many times when guys were trying to make plays instead of doing what we were told to do,” McCoy said. “I do think there was too much thinking involved on both sides of the ball. I think the game needs to be simplified for us. We have so much talent on the team that we don’t have to have a whole bunch of schemes, a whole bunch of different things. You can just give them some simple stuff – some simple checks and let them play. Let the talent take over. And I think we didn’t do that a lot of the time.”
The reason why there were so many communication breakdowns was that all players assigned to drop into coverage, sometimes as many as seven defenders, had to all receive the same defensive check from David or free safety Dashon Goldson. That leaves a lot of room for error.
“All the big plays were simple communication breakdowns,” Hayward said. “Our defense is very complex and you can’t have that. Once you have a communication breakdown it’s an automatic guarantee that something bad is going to happen because guys are on two separate pages. That’s it. When we’re all on the same page and we’re communicating we shut things down. When one side doesn’t get the check or the call – and it’s a lot of communicating because it’s from one cornerback all the way to the other, all the way through the entire defensive line and making sure the safeties get the call. You saw what happened in the Saints game. Drew Brees hits us with a 74-yard bomb for a touchdown because one guy didn’t get the right check.”
While Goldson was lauded by the coaching staff as being an excellent communicator in the secondary in terms of recognizing the offensive formation and making the right check, there were times when he would see something and call out a San Francisco check from spending six years in the 49ers defense, which no one on the Buccaneers knew.
“Dashon made some of those calls, unfortunately, but he’s also a great player,” Hayward said. “It’s tough because he has to make a call in a split second and it’s loud and his mind is processing it. It has to be quicker because sometimes you would look for the call and all of a sudden the ball would be snapped. When we get those little things fixed, we’ll be a great defense.
“I think another year would allow us to get better together, and keep in mind that we had Dashon and Revis come in and they were new,” Hayward said. “It took the rest of us last year to learn the defense, so you could imagine that they would be better next year. But I also think it has to be simplified against up-tempo offenses. It was hard for us to go against up-tempo teams. The Saints, the Eagles, the Patriots – those teams gave us problems. They would up-tempo us and quick-snap us and we couldn’t get our checks and calls all the way across the field. We would get burned.”
Just hours before Schiano was to be fired, players like Clayborn, who was initially slow to come around to Schiano’s defense, McCoy and Hayward were cleaning out their lockers and saying they were looking forward to going to the defensive coaches in the offseason and requesting a simpler communication system. Schiano likely would have complied and found a way to simplify the calls and checks during the 2014 offseason, but that was not meant to be as he was relieved of his duties.
“They definitely have been willing to work with us, and that’s the thing – finding that happy medium between coaches and players,” Hayward said. “We need to find what works for them and what works for us and trying to make it simple. That’s what we, as players, have told the coaches. Going into next year that’s what we need to do – simplify communication. Some of the best defenses out there don’t have that many defenses. They just play a few defenses, but play it really well. That’s what we need to get to. We have too much talent here.”
For those of you wanting to know why Schiano’s defense was getting bombed on in New Orleans and why there were some unforgiveable breakdowns in coverage even in the final weeks of the season, there you have it. The good news for the Buccaneers defenders is that Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme that defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be deploying is much more basic with less defensive checks, so Tampa Bay’s communication breakdowns may be a thing of the past.
FAB 2. SMITH KNOWS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NICKEL CORNERBACK IN THE TAMPA 2Now on to Buccaneers’ new defense where head coach Lovie Smith saw the importance of the nickel cornerback from the origin of the Tampa 2 when he was Tony Dungy’s linebackers coach from 1996-2000. Ronde Barber was the team’s starting right cornerback in base defense, but would move inside to the nickel cornerback role and cover the slot receiver when the team went to nickel defense.
Barber carved out a legendary career in Tampa Bay with 1,172 tackles, 200 pass deflections, a franchise-record 47 interceptions, 28 sacks and 12 defensive touchdowns. As a five-time Pro Bowler and the player with the most consecutive starts by an NFL cornerback (215) and the most sacks by an NFL cornerback, Barber also became the only player in league history to record at least 45 interceptions and 25 sacks.
Smith also coached the second-best nickel cornerback of all-time in Aeneas Williams in St. Louis when he became the Rams defensive coordinator in 2001. Williams was a nickel cornerback in Arizona from 1991-2000 and was switched to free safety in St. Louis after being acquired in a trade. During his 14-year career, Williams made eight Pro Bowls and finished with 795 tackles, 55 interceptions and 12 defensive touchdowns.
Blitzing from the nickel cornerback position in Arizona during Week 3 of the 1999 season, Williams hit San Francisco’s Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young from the blindside and knocked him unconscious. That hit gave Young a season-ending concussion and ultimately ended the quarterback’s career.
The nickel cornerback position is so important and specialized in the Tampa 2 defense that Smith made sure it had its own position coach in Larry Marmie. Interestingly, Marmie coached Smith at Tulsa back in the 1970s, and succeeded him as the Rams defensive coordinator in 2004 after Smith left to become the head coach in Chicago. Marmie applauds Smith’s commitment to have a position coach just for nickel backs.
“I absolutely think it shows foresight on Lovie’s part,” Marmie said. “When [Bucs safeties coach] Mikal Smith was a quality control coach Lovie saw value in him spending time with the nickels. Mikal coached the nickels in Chicago and I think that evolved from a quality control position to spending some time on the field with those guys. The corners had their thing to do, but what were you going to do with the nickels during that time? It became a position that Lovie identified as a real need.”
Mikal Smith, Lovie’s eldest son who coached with him in Chicago before coming to Tampa Bay this offseason to serve on his staff again, recalls being the Bears’ first nickel cornerback coach.
“At one point in time the defensive coordinator [Bob Babich] in Chicago coached nickels,” Smith said. “Then Coach Smith coached the nickels. Then I was able to get it away from him because it was his baby. He puts a lot of stock into that position. You’re in the heat of the battle as a nickel. You’re to the passing strength and you’re asked to a do a lot over there. The fact that we have one coach is a real good thing – the position needs it’s own attention.
“There’s so much passing going on right now with three wide receivers that the nickel is the starter. He’s out there the majority of the time – more so than the third linebacker. Because of the things you ask him to do as a nickel corner and there’s a whole lot of field that you need a different mindset. He’s blitzing a lot more and he’s playing the run a lot more. It does take more time to coach that. It’s the same skill set to a degree, but in terms of what you are getting to see and your concentration you want a position coach for that.”
Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier praised Marmie, who has spent the majority of his coaching career working with defensive backs, during his initial press conference in Tampa Bay a few weeks ago.
“Larry has a wealth of experience in our league, and has been a coordinator before,” Frazier said. “He’s coached the secondary before, so now he’ll be able to focus on that one position, which in our league, it’s become a starting position. The third corner is on the field a lot.’’
Marmie agrees with Frazier’s analysis.
“Spreading the field is the name of the game today,” Marmie said. “Not a lot of people line up in two backs anymore. Passing has become 70 percent of the game these days.”
Finding a nickel cornerback could be problematic for the Buccaneers. Veteran Michael Adams, who stands just 5-foot-8, and weighs 181 pounds, served in that role at the beginning of the season prior to ending up on injured reserve. Then Leonard Johnson took over, but outside of a crucial pick-six at Detroit, he didn’t make many standout plays and struggled covering slot receivers at times. Neither player appears to have the star power that the position commands.
“The biggest difference is that a smaller guy can play inside,” Marmie said. “Usually, your taller, lankier guys have a little bit of trouble with maybe quickness and short-range movements. You get more of the intermediate routes and I think that the difference is the skill set that shows up in the routes a whole lot differently with crossing routes and you’re tied in to the big picture of passing receivers off and zone coverages. Obviously, you’ve got some man-to-man stuff, too.
Marmie and Tampa Bay cornerbacks coach Gil Byrd are finalizing the evaluation of their players to find some nickel back candidates to work with.
“We are in the process of doing it and we’ve evaluated all the corners,” Marmie said. “It wasn’t just Gil and I splitting up the corners, we each did a full report on all of them and our objective is to find the best way to evaluate the nickels. It’s really a special position. You’re looking for quickness, short-range change of direction and the instincts to play the position. You are looking at a position where there is more involvement in underneath routes. Third down situations become critical.
“Lovie has talked about creating the position because the nickel corner would get lost in the shuffle sometimes. The corners would get coached by the cornerbacks coach, and the safeties would get coached by the safeties coach. It ended up being an unusual position and you end up playing 60-70 percent of nickel defense or dime or whatever. It’s a critical position and we don’t want to overlook it.”
At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks is likely too tall and lanky to play inside. The Bucs have a Pro Bowl cornerback in Darrelle Revis, who might be best-suited to play outside where he has become an All-Pro and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in the past. Yet the 5-foot-11, 198-pound Revis has the unique skill set and athleticism to follow the likes of Barber and Williams, who is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and play inside if Marmie, Byrd, Frazier and Smith want to go that route. Revis recorded his first career sack on a corner blitz last year in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs may try to make a run in free agency at playmaking cornerback Charles Tillman, who played for Smith in Chicago. Tillman, an 11-year veteran with 36 career interceptions and an astounding 42 forced fumbles. In a division with 6-foot-4 receiver Marques Colston in New Orleans and 6-foot-5 receiver Julio Jones in Atlanta, having another 6-foot-2, 198-pound cornerback to pair with Banks on the outside might be wise.
Although Tillman said he would retire as a Chicago Bear, that might mean that he will test free agency and sign one last contract with another team before ceremoniously ending his career in Chicago as former Bucs strong safety John Lynch did in 2008 after a four-year stint in Denver. Marmie would like to see a few more tall corners in Tampa Bay to play on the outside.
“It’s become a big man’s game,” Marmie said. “Calvin Johnson – the Lions have big receivers, the Bears have them, the Vikings have them. But the smaller guys usually end up being your slot receivers that use quickness. Therefore you need to match up with those guys. It’s a unique situation. Tillman was a big corner in Chicago, but Tim Jennings was not a real big guy. They come in all sizes, but usually the nickel is a smaller guy.”
Jennings stands just 5-foot-8 and weighs 185 pounds, whereas Barber was slightly bigger at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. Williams had Revis’ size at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, which could prompt the Bucs to move Revis Island inside if they can’t find a dynamic nickel corner in the draft or in free agency. Marmie, Smith and the Buccaneers are definitely on the lookout for that critical position in the Tampa 2.
“Two of the better nickels are Ronde Barber and Aeneas Williams, who have a chance to go into the Hall of Fame,” Marmie said. “When it was third down they moved inside. We want to make a model of what we want our nickel to look like and certainly a good place to start is Ronde Barber. He’s one of the standard-setters at the nickel cornerback position for sure.”
FAB 3. HOW TEDFORD WILL USE THE TIGHT END POSITION IS A MYSTERY FOR NOW IN TAMPA BAYPerhaps no position was impacted more in Tampa Bay due to injury than at tight end. While the running back position suffered its share of injuries with Michael Smith, Jeff Demps, Doug Martin and rookie Mike James all ending up on injured reserve, Martin, James, Brian Leonard and newcomer Bobby Rainey combined for 1,465 yards rushing with six touchdowns.
The tight end position was completely different. The oft-injured Luke Stocker, who was slated to be the starter, missed the entire 2013 season while on injured reserve from a preseason hip injury. Free agent import Tom Crabtree missed the first four games of the season due to a high ankle sprain before seeing action in the next seven contests where he caught four passes for 21 yards and a touchdown before being placed on injured reserve with a torn biceps.
Veteran Nate Byham, whose primary role is that of a blocker, caught three passes for 38 yards in the first four games of the season before being placed on injured reserve with calf and knee injuries. That left rookie Tim Wright, a former wide receiver at Rutgers who signed as an undrafted free agent, as the last man standing at the tight end position.
The unheralded Wright earned a roster spot with solid play in the preseason, and earned the starting tight end role by default. To his credit, the rookie made the most of his opportunity and caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns.
Because of those injuries, new Bucs tight ends coach Jon Embree doesn’t have a lot of tape to review his players with, which makes the evaluation process a bit tricky.
“A lot of them didn’t play a lot,” Embree said. “I think they all flashed at different times with what their skills are on this level. Where they fit in all this depends on how Jeff Tedford wants to use the tight ends and the different skill sets that they have and what we want to do. The greatest thing about this position is that it continues to evolve. Some guys play standing up in the college level, and you get them and try to do different things with them with their hand on the ground and where there comfort level is. Because of that you have three or four guys do what back in the old days one guy would do.
“When I evaluate guys I just want to get an idea of what their skill set is because you don’t know what they were coached to do and asked to do in a system. You don’t want to say they can or can’t do something just based upon what you see on tape. I just want to get an idea of what kind of skill set they have and when we get them in here in April, work with them and see if they can do what we ask them to do. I’ve seen plenty of guys that you watch on tape and are ho-hum on actually flourish in a different system. It’s important that you don’t put them behind the eight ball right off the bat so to speak based off a few game tapes.”
That might bode well for a player like Stocker, who had fallen out of favor with the previous Bucs regime because he missed so many games due to injuries. Stocker is entering a contract year in 2014. Byham will be an unrestricted free agent in March. But neither is viewed as a starting-caliber tight end in the NFL, which could prompt the Bucs to address the position in free agency or the draft where a plethora of talented veterans and rookies will be available.
The Saints are expected to franchise Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, but Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta, Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew, Buffalo’s Scott Chandler and Arizona’s Jeff King could be available in free agency among a host of others. In the draft, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins could all carry first-round grades, while Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, Georgia’s Arthur Lynch, Colorado State’s Crockett Gilmore and Fresno State’s Marcel Jenkins are good mid-round prospects.
“Every coach in here wants more guys,” Embree said. “That’s like asking a kid at Christmas, how many toys do you want? They want everything. They want aisle six at Toys R’ Us.
“The tight end is a unique position from the standpoint that very rarely you are going to have a guy that can do it all. You are going to need several guys to make that position. Generally most teams will carry three or four, and each guy is going to have a different skill set. After sitting down with Jeff and understanding what he wants from his tight ends in his offense will help determine the direction that we need to go and what we need to do.”
And therein lies the big question. What is the role of the tight end in Tedford’s offense? That has yet to be determined, according to Ben Steele, Tampa Bay’s offensive quality control coach. Steele, a former reserve tight end in the NFL, spent two years with Tedford at the University of California as an offensive assistant.
“I think a lot of that is to be determined as far as what direction they want to go with the tight end,” Steele said. “You kind of gear your offense around the personnel that you have. We’re just getting our staff assembled and I know that Coach Embree just got here, so we’re going through that process to see what we have.
“As far as how we used them before, we used them a lot and we used them in different sets with one or two tight ends. Coach Tedford puts guys in the best position to make them successful. He’s coached a lot of great players, and arguably some great running backs and quarterbacks. I think that’s a tribute to his versatility and being able to do different stuff. It will be exciting to see how things come together for next fall for sure.”
In Tedford’s early days at Cal he crafted a power running game that featured the likes of J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen and other talented rushers. The tight ends were pivotal in the offense due to their blocking and receiving off play-action passes. Towards the end of Tedford’s career with the Golden Bears he incorporated some elements of the spread offense that featured the wide receiver position more.
If Tampa Bay doesn’t significantly upgrade the talent at the tight end position, the Bucs’ passing game could feature a more of a spread scheme with far greater number of throws to the receivers than the tight ends. Regardless of which tight ends the Bucs ultimately have on their final roster, they will likely be in good hands with Embree.
Embree, a former tight end at the University of Colorado where he served as the school’s head coach from 2011-12, coached the likes of Christian Fauria, Matt Lepsis and Daniel Graham with the Buffaloes, and Marcedes Lewis while coaching at UCLA. From there he went on to the NFL to coach Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City from 2006-08, Chris Cooley in Washington in 2010 and Jordan Cameron, who was the second-highest producing tight end in the NFL last year in Cleveland.
Needless to say with his roots at the position, Embree sees the value of the tight end in the NFL.
“The better offenses in this league have good tight ends,” Embree said. “Your tight end needs to be somebody that provides comfort – kind of like a security blanket – for the quarterback. It’s someone who is big on third downs and big in the red zone – at least that they are a big enough threat that they demand attention and maybe open up other people. If you can’t be a factor in the red zone and on third down with your tight end, it’s going to be hard to have success unless you are really dynamic on the edges [with wide receivers] and have a guy that’s throwing the ball that’s really dynamic and is a difference-maker. When you look at some of the better teams in this league they all have tight ends that make a difference in those situations.”
Is Wright just scratching the surface of what he can do as a Buccaneers tight end? Or is he already nearing his ceiling? Is Wright a starting-caliber tight end? Those are the questions that Embree needs to find answers to with more tape evaluation and an on-field look during Tampa Bay’s pre-draft mini-camp.
One thing is for sure. Wright already has been nearly as productive as a receiving tight end during his rookie season than veterans like Crabtree, Stocker and Byham have during their combined careers as they have totaled 61 catches for 663 and seven touchdowns.
“I see a guy that runs pretty well,” Embree said of Wright. “He runs faster when he knows for sure what he’s doing. I thought he did a decent job catching the football and working zone and man with different routes. I see some potential there, definitely. It’s just a matter of where he is in making that transformation to tight end from another position and the different nuances. Seeing where he is with that and seeing where he is with his weight will tell us how good can become.”
FAB 4. A FINAL THOUGHT ON THE WILLIAMS STORYI take no pleasure in reporting outside the lines-type of stories, such as the Mike Williams piece I authored on Thursday. It was not a hit piece as some may have perceived it to be, and we are definitely not hating on Williams, who I’ve enjoyed covering since his arrival in Tampa Bay in 2010. After much deliberation PewterReport.com decided to run the story for several reasons.
The first of which is to bring to light the fact that NFL clubs do monitor the players’ social media accounts to keep tabs on the team’s financial investments. That’s newsworthy. When Williams missed or was late to meetings and rehab appointments that he was ultimately fined for – rightly or wrongly – the team drew some conclusions that his blossoming rap career and partying ways, as illustrated for all to see on his own Instagram account, might be contributing to his delinquency. That’s not my conclusion, nor PewterReport.com’s conclusion. That was the conclusion of the Bucs’ brass towards the end of last year, and that’s newsworthy.
Secondly, if Williams made that kind of negative impression on the previous Bucs’ regime, the possibility exists that he could make a similar bad impression on the new regime if he didn’t attend rehab sessions, so hopefully this article could help the talented wide receiver and serve as a positive wake-up call. Williams took to his Instagram account on Thursday to state that he had been to every session over the past two weeks, which is great news for him, the team and Bucs fans.
And finally, there are some other newsworthy elements to the story, such as Dominik structuring Williams’ contract in a way that would allow the team to evaluate his performance in 2013 and possibly part ways with him in 2014 without much of a salary cap repercussion. The contract was structured that way for a reason. There were some concerns about Williams’ maturity and how he might handle a big contract.
There is also the fact that wide receiver is already a position of need in Tampa Bay with free agency and the draft just months away. With Vincent Jackson and Williams on board, the Bucs need a playmaker with speed to play the third receiver role. But if Williams fell out of favor with the team this offseason, receiver would become an even bigger need, and possibly prompt the team to look at drafting Clemson’s Sammy Watkins or USC’s Marqise Lee in the first round.
There have been some that have tried to defuse the story based upon what Williams’ agent, Hadley Englehard, had communicated to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune on Thursday. Unfortunately, Englehard was not reached when contacted by PewterReport.com prior to this story, but did make himself available to Cummings. Yet Englehard actually didn’t refute our report, as some may have suggested. He simply said he was unaware of any fines aside from uniform violations. Just because he wasn’t aware of the fines doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. I’ve put another call into Englehard, but have yet to hear back from him, and will gladly correct the story if there are any inaccuracies in my reporting.
For the record, Williams didn’t refute the story, either. He simply stated he had been to all of the rehab sessions for the past two weeks.
When multiple sources told us Williams’ fines were above $200,000, we were told that it was a combination of being late to meetings or missed meetings, in addition to missing and being late for rehab sessions. Those sources did not necessarily say that Williams missed those meetings while on injured reserve, and that they could have been from earlier in the season as Williams wasn’t placed on IR until October 28. As stated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players on injured reserve cannot be subjected to fines for team meetings.
Also, there were reports suggesting that Williams has guaranteed money in 2014 and 2015, which would result in an unpalatable salary cap hit that would dissuade the Bucs from cutting him. However, ESPN’s Pat Yaskinskas reported on Thursday when referencing PewterReport.com’s story that “Cutting him would have virtually no salary-cap implications. It would be very easy to part ways with Williams if things don’t change.”
Here’s hoping that Williams is primarily focused on football, has perfect attendance at One Buccaneer Place during the offseason and 2014 campaign, and that his Cave Man Gang rap career is a successful secondary hobby for the gifted receiver and doesn’t serve as a distraction.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• PewterReport.com’s initial 2014 Bucs 7-Round Mock Draft was a bit controversial with Fresno State quarterback David Carr as the projection for the team in the first round. While Carr upped his stock at the Senior Bowl, and there is an intriguing tie-in with his family’s history with Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford from his days coaching David Carr at Fresno State, I don’t think Carr necessarily elevated himself into the top 10 in Mobile, Ala. However, Carr might be an option for the Bucs if they can manage to trade down in the first round to pick up additional draft picks, and view quarterback as a primary need.
Whether Tampa Bay drafts a quarterback in the first round or not likely won’t be decided until the Bucs get an on-field look at Mike Glennon in the pre-draft mini-camp, which will probably occur in April. If Tedford and head coach Lovie Smith like what they see from a physical and mechanical standpoint from Glennon, they will likely draft a quarterback outside of the first round or perhaps not even draft one and go with a veteran into training camp along with Jordan Rodgers.
While Glennon isn’t the most mobile passer, the Bucs may look to add a more athletic veteran quarterback to serve as a contrast and give the team a different kind of option. When discussing athletic quarterbacks during his initial press conference in Tampa Bay in early January, Smith was quick to mention Philadelphia’s Michael Vick.
“You need a guy who’s mobile enough to buy time and throw the ball or just to take off and run from time to time,” Smith said. “That is something, but you look at the league right now, there are quarterbacks who are leading their team who aren’t as mobile as others. Michael Vick was on the sideline where the starting quarterback, Nick Foles, was different.”
Vick is slated for free agency and likely won’t re-sign with Philadelphia, as Nick Foles is the established starter now. Vick and David Carr, who has spent the last couple of seasons backing up Eli Manning in New York, could be veteran options that the Bucs might consider in free agency. Due to his experience, Vick would be seen as a challenger for the starting role, although he’s not the most accurate QB with a lifetime completion percentage of 56.2 percent. He might not be an ideal fit in Tedford’s quarterback-driven offense for that reason.
Vick has also had a penchant for getting injured. He has only finished the season starting all 16 games once in his 12-year career, and that was in 2006, which was Vick’s last season in Atlanta.
Because of his familiarity with Tedford, Carr could be a good fit as a veteran backup if the Bucs were committed to Glennon as the team’s starter in 2014.
• Like most teams, the Buccaneers won’t know whom they will select in the first round until a week or two prior to the draft when Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht will lead the team in conducting mock drafts and put together its final board in the war room with the college area scouts. As a result, the initial impression that players make at the Bucs’ pre-draft mini-camp will have an impact in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Because Tampa Bay has a new head coach in Lovie Smith, the Bucs have the advantage of an extra mini-camp to evaluate the team’s personnel. That’s a necessity for new coaching staffs, according to tight ends coach Jon Embree.
“It’s critical,” Embree said. “It’s important that you have that because then you can go into the draft and it may change what you need. It may change the priority of what you are trying to get. You may say, ‘A guard in the first round’ and then go through mini-camp and say, ‘Shoot. We can wait until the sixth round to get one.’ Those things all go into the importance of that first mini-camp.”
• New Bucs special teams coach Kevin O’Dea provided an update on the health of kicker Connor Barth, who missed the 2013 season after tearing his Achilles tendon while playing in a charity basketball game prior to training camp. Barth is a career 84.2 percent kicker, and connected on a personal-best and franchise-record 92.9 percent of his kicks in 2011 before making a career-high 28 field goals out of 33 (84.8 percent) in 2012.
“I’ve talked to him and he said he’s started to do some things and he feels pretty good,” O’Dea said. “The Achilles is coming around and he’s not afraid to plant on it, and he’s not afraid to push off on it. How much he’s actually done of that I don’t know. All he said casually was that he was starting to do some kicking and he was starting to get into it.
“The biggest thing is his attitude. He said he would be ready to go the second I got my hands on him. I’m looking forward to getting going. That’s what I wanted to hear from him. He seems like a neat guy and I’m looking forward to working with him. His track record in the past has been really good. Once you have that, you want it back. He’s a professional and I’m looking forward to getting started.”
• The Buccaneers are putting a big priority on finding an impact return specialist this offseason. As PewterReport.com first mentioned in early January in its Bear Raid: Smith May Pluck Several Free Agents From Chicago story, new Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith may target Chicago’s Devin Hester, who is widely believed to be the greatest return specialist in NFL history not named Deion Sanders.
“It’s not just about averaging nine yards per punt return and getting the ball out to the 25 on kickoffs,” new Bucs special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea said. “It’s about making impact plays. That’s what we’re looking for. Whether that guy is here right now – we’re not sure – we’re going to find him. He may be here right now, and the good Lord willing he is, but if he’s not we’ll look elsewhere. But we will make sure we have in place a game-changer.
“We want someone that can electrify the crowd so that when the offense takes the field they are already juiced up. If you can get that type of guy – and I’ve worked with guys in the past like Devin Hester, Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster – he can be a difference-maker and bring something special to the football team.”
Not only is Hester a viable option for Tampa Bay in free agency, so is McCluster, a Largo, Fla. native who had two punt returns for touchdowns while averaging 11.8 yards for O’Dea last year in Kansas City. Eric Page returned punts and kicks for the Bucs last year, averaging 10.9 yards per punt return with a long of 52 yards, and 24.9 yards per kick return, with a long of 44 yards.
• And finally, congratulations to Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis for not only being named to a Pro Bowl coming back from a torn ACL in New York last year, but for winning the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year. Now that Revis is 100 percent, it will be exciting to see how he performs in the Tampa 2 defense that allowed the likes of cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Donnie Abraham to each amass at least 31 career interceptions in red and pewter.
And good luck to legendary linebacker Derrick Brooks, whom I believe is the greatest Buccaneer of all-time, former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy and strong safety John Lynch in their efforts to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame tomorrow. Brooks should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer due to setting the standard for an outside linebacker in the Tampa 2 defense from a tackling and coverage standpoint. His statistical virtuosity speaks for itself.
Dungy has the chance to get in from a historical perspective as the first African-American head coach inducted into the Hall of Fame. Dungy was the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl as his Indianapolis Colts defeated Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears in 2006. Not only did Dungy turn around Tampa Bay, he propelled the Colts to their first Super Bowl championship in Indianapolis. Dungy’s best argument may be that he had only one losing season, which came in 1996 – his first season as the Bucs head coach.
Lynch might be a long shot to make it because it’s difficult for the Hall of Fame voters to elect two people from the same team in the same year. If two former Bucs are going to make it, the general consensus that I’ve heard is that it will likely be Brooks and Dungy. Lynch may have to wait a year or two to get in, but I feel he’s put together a Hall of Fame career as an enforcer-type safety in the Tampa 2 system.
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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