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. WATSON SHINING IN A CONTRACT YEARSome players, such as former Buccaneers starting quarterback Josh Freeman, have a hard time playing in a contract year, evidenced by Freeman’s poor start to the 2013 season, his benching and his ultimate removal from Tampa Bay.
Others, such as Bucs strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson, are thriving while playing in a contract year. Not only did Watson beat out veteran free agent Jonathan Casillas for the right to replace Quincy Black as the starting strongside linebacker, he’s made an instant impact for the Buccaneers.
Through the first four games of the season in his first extended opportunity to start, Watson has recorded 11 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. His sack came against New York in Week 1, and his interception came in Week 2 against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. In Week 4, Watson recorded six tackles, which was one short of tying his career high, in addition to two tackles for loss.
Making plays is nothing new for the chiseled, athletic, 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker. At Florida State, the athletic Watson picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and notched 12 sacks, including seven as a senior in 2009 before the Bucs selected him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft.
In 2011 as a starting Buck pass rusher in Raheem Morris’ 3-3-5 defense, Watson recorded 23 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, which he returned for a touchdown against Dallas.
“I just want to try to make the most of my playing time,” Watson said. “I’m not looking at all of those plays, but Lord knows I’ve been wanting to make those plays – the sacks, the interception. Yet the one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t dwell on the past. You have to look forward. I just want to continue to prove to the coaches and prove to the team, and prove to everybody that I’m here for a reason. A lot of people thought I was just a ‘show-type’ guy. I’ve got all the athletic ability and the muscles, but I wasn’t doing anything with them. I want to show people that I’m much more than that. I’m a ballplayer, too.”
Watson is certainly a ballplayer and he’s following a familiar path to stardom that several Bucs have followed in the past. Former Tampa Bay strongside linebackers, such as Jeff Gooch, Shelton Quarles, Al Singleton and Quincy Black have risen up the ranks at One Buccaneer Place through great play on special teams to earn a starting spot on defense. Quarles is the most successful of the bunch, going from being a special teams standout in 1997 and ’98 to a starting strongside linebacker in 1999.
While Singleton and Black never reached the star status that Quarles, a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion in 2002, did, the 25-year old Watson has that potential due to his size, speed and athleticism.
“I’ve never really been compared to Shelton Quarles before or have even been talked about like that before,” Watson said of Quarles, who is now Tampa Bay’s pro personnel honcho. “I certainly respect him and he’s shown me the utmost respect, too. I’ve thought about [the comparison] before, and maybe he has, too. I know he respects my ability, and I know I damn sure respect his with all that he has done with the Buccaneers. I want to do what he did and then some, to be honest with you. I’m just taking it one day at a time, though, and not get too comfortable.”
Watson was a special teams demon last year, blocking two punts and recovering two fumbles to earn NFC Special Teams Player of the Month last November and Bucs Special Teams MVP honors from PewterReport.com last year. While he has yet to make a splash play on special teams thus far in 2013, Watson continues to lobby new special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt for opportunities. But they have been hard to come by because Watson has become a marked man based on his special teams playmaking ability last year.
“They are watching me close this year,” Watson said. “They are showing me a lot of respect, but it’s frustrating. I’ve had guys from opposing teams and friends I’ve played with tell me they are coming after me, and designing blocking schemes around blocking me. It messes up my whole game plan on special teams. There’s a respect factor there, but I still have to find ways to make plays.”
If Watson continues to make plays there will be a huge market for his services in free agency in the offseason. Watson passes the eyeball test with NFL scouts and general managers. With a very athletic frame and a strong desire to hit the weight room, Watson looks the part of an NFL linebacker. He’s also personable and charismatic, and is a great locker room guy who is always helping team morale by lightening the mood.
With more and more teams playing 3-4 defenses and needing linebackers that can blitz and cover, Watson could have plenty of suitors. The Bucs want to keep Watson, but play a lot of nickel and dime defense where he comes off the field. Could the Bucs afford to keep a high-priced linebacker that only plays in base defense?
Would Watson want to stay in Tampa Bay and only play about 50 percent of the plays, or would he want to go play for a 3-4 team where he would play closer to 100 percent of the snaps? Watson has a lot to consider, but isn’t spending too much time worrying about what the future holds. “My approach is to play each game like it’s the next game – that’s it,” Watson said. “I’m not even thinking about my contract. I’m not worried about it, because when guys worry about it so much they pressure themselves too much. I’m just playing. I’m finally starting and I’m working my butt off and I’m trying to make the most of it. Everything else will fall into place.
“Even when I do play, in the back of my mind I’m not just playing for Tampa Bay, I’m making a film for myself, too. Tampa may want me back, or they might not. You never know. The worst-case scenario is the Bucs not wanting me back, and then I’ve got to make sure I have [good film for the rest of the league]. It’s all a business, but I’m still going to have fun with it. I’m going to be Dekoda. I’m going to be that goofy guy that is going to be out there making plays.”
The more plays Watson makes the more interest he’ll draw in free agency and the more money he’ll make as an unrestricted free agent in 2014.
FAB 2. DEMPS ALREADY EARNING A LOT OF RESPECT IN TAMPABuccaneers running back Jeff Demps made an exciting NFL debut in Tampa Bay in Week 4’s 13-10 loss to Arizona. On his first touch, Demps, an Olympic silver medal sprinter, took an end around 14 yards for a first down. Demps also recorded an 8-yard catch, in addition to returning three kickoffs 69 yards (23 avg.).
In his first game as a Buccaneer and his first live NFL action in over a year, Demps picked up 91 yards of total yardage against the Cardinals. That’s the type of impact Tampa Bay was hoping to get when general manager Mark Dominik acquired him and a sixth-round draft pick in a trade with New England that shipped former starting running back LeGarrette Blount to the Patriots during the 2013 NFL Draft.
Demps was excused from all of the Buccaneers offseason workouts and training camp due to the fact that he was running and competing for the U.S. track team, but head coach Greg Schiano was pleased to have him join the team after the first week of the 2013 NFL season.
“He is a very fast athlete,” Schiano said the day Demps arrived at One Buccaneer Place. “I’m excited to have him here, though. He’ll walk into the National Football League probably as the fastest player in this league. That’s always nice to have on your team.”
After his first practice with the Buccaneers on September 10, Schiano marveled at Demps’ world-class speed.
“Fast,” Schiano said. “He made one run today, he reversed field and he outran the whole secondary, the whole team really. You can see he’s rusty. He hasn’t played football in a while. He looked excited, [he has] fresh legs.”
One Bucs defender whom Demps eluded that day, and even in college when his Florida State Seminoles played Demps and the Florida Gators, was strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson.
“That’s my guy,” Watson said. “I respect that guy ever since he was at Florida and I was at Florida State. I couldn’t say it publicly then, but I have always respected that guy. When I found out he was coming here I was ecstatic.
“It’s kind of funny – when he first got here he walked right by me because I didn’t recognize him. I forgot what he looked like because every time I went up against him he was a blur. Then I recognized him and I welcomed. I told him I was proud of what he was doing outside of football with his track career. I’m pulling for him. He’s a great addition to our team and I’m excited to have him here.”
Although he’s 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Watson is widely regarded as one of Tampa Bay’s fastest players. But even Watson admits that he can’t hang with Demps.
“When he first got here guys were telling me, ‘Now we’ve got somebody here that’s faster than you,’” Watson said. “I said, ‘C’mon, please.’ Then I heard it was Demps and my pride went down the drain. That dude is fast. I’m glad he’s on our side. He’s the fastest player on the team. Am I now the second fastest? I don’t know. I know that I’m in the top 5, though.”
Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan is still devising ways to make the best use of Demps’ speed. This week, Sullivan wouldn’t rule out Demps playing some slot receiver, as the team is still looking for a replacement for Kevin Ogletree, the former No. 3 wide receiver, who was cut after the Arizona game due to poor performance.
“I’m starting to get more reps,” Demps said. “I’m just doing what the coaches are asking me to do. I feel comfortable with what I’m doing right now. They aren’t throwing too much on my plate and the coaches are doing a good job of managing it.”
While Demps doesn’t mind playing some wide receiver, he has made his preference known.
“I’m playing running back and also at receiver sometimes,” Demps said. “A little bit of everything. At the end of the day though, I’m a running back, but I’ll do whatever they need me to do.”
With Bucs running back Doug Martin already having 100 carries and on pace for 400 this season, which would come close to breaking Larry Johnson’s NFL record of 416, Tampa Bay could use another back like Demps to help ease Martin’s workload.
FAB 3. BUCS WERE SMART TO BRING BACK UNDERWOOD – AGAINI chastised Bucs general manager Mark Dominik for cutting wide receiver Tiquan Underwood prior to the start of the 2012 season. Underwood led the Bucs with nine catches for 158 yards and a 17.6-yard average last preseason, but was released in favor of Preston Parker, who had a disappointing preseason.
Dominik came to his senses a few weeks into the regular season, and did what he should have done in early September after training camp – cut Parker and insert Underwood, who was re-signed, as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver. Underwood went on to catch a career-high 28 catches for 425 yards and two touchdowns.
But during the offseason, the Bucs added Kevin Ogletree at the urging of new wide receivers coach John Garrett, who coached him in Dallas and at the University of Virginia. Ogletree, who was signed to a two-year, $2.6-million contract, posted 32 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns for the Cowboys last season, but was notorious for disappearing in games for long stretches.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Ogletree continued that trend with the Buccaneers, along with dropping catchable passes. In shades of a year ago, the Bucs cut Ogletree, who had just eight catches for 70 yards and one touchdown despite being targeted by Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon 21 times in the first four games of the season, and re-signed Underwood.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity once again,” Underwood said. “They made the decision at the beginning of the season, and to be honest with you when it happened I was at peace with the decision because I had done everything I could. I played hurt. I played special teams. I laid it all out there.
“But to come back and have the opportunity to play in the NFL again in Tampa where I know the offense, the offensive coordinator and the quarterback makes me very familiar with what’s going on here. I know the playbook. I’m looking forward to getting back in the groove and playing on Sunday. It will be my first game action of the year. It feels like it’s Week 1 for me.”
The Bucs need Underwood – or somebody – to step up as the No. 3 wide receiver, and have even used running back Jeff Demps in the slot at times. But Underwood has a distinct advantage over Demps and fellow receiver Chris Owusu. He’s got a year’s worth of starting experience and he spent the entire offseason and training camp catches passes from quarterback Mike Glennon.
Because Underwood and Glennon were on the Bucs’ second string, the former Rutgers wide receiver has more chemistry with the rookie QB than veteran wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams do.
“It’s kind of worked in my favor because I’ve caught more balls this year during OTAs, training camp and the preseason from Mike than I have from Josh,” Underwood said. “I’ve been in the huddle with Mike a bunch of times, so we’ve worked with each other. Your job as a receiver is to get open and catch the ball. If I do that, I’m sure he’ll find me on Sunday. We’re going to help him out. We know he’s young, and he’s coming along, but he’s doing a great job taking command of the offense and he’s learning these plays.
“They haven’t told me anything, but whatever they need from me I’ll do it. If they want me to play special teams or wide receiver, I’m open to doing it. I just want to help this team win.”
Dominik shouldn’t have kept Ogletree over Underwood to begin with, but at least he corrected his mistake by bringing Underwood back – for the second time.
FAB 4. THE WRIGHT STUFF AT TIGHT ENDWhen the Buccaneers signed former Rutgers wide receiver Tim Wright as an undrafted free agent in the offseason he was considered to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Making Wright’s chances of making the team even more difficult was the fact that he was asked to make a position switch to tight end as soon as he arrived in Tampa Bay.
But Wright impressed the Bucs in training camp and the preseason where he caught two passes for 20 yards and made enough of an impression to beat out Danny Noble, who made the team last year and had received some offseason praise from quarterback Josh Freeman.
“It’s definitely been an honor to be on the team, and to make a position switch,” Wright said. “To have to learn all of the ins and outs of a new position and being at a little physical disadvantage at the beginning by being a smaller guy in the trenches you just have to overcome that with heart and effort.
“I’ve got great coaches around me and great teammates that pick me up and get me up to speed on that aspect. They are letting me go out there and do some of the things I am familiar with as a receiver and help the team by any means.”
So what did his former head coach at Rutgers, Greg Schiano, and tight ends coach Brian Angelichio see in Wright to think he could successfully make the switch to tight end?
“My body frame and the weight I am able to put on, and my heart because I did a lot of blocking in college,” Wright said. “I’m familiar with what it takes to hold somebody off and be in front of somebody and pestering them the whole time until the running back clears you. Having that type of ability, a passion for the game and a love for the sport it was an easy decision for Coach when he was evaluating me.”
As a junior at Rutgers, Wright caught 11 passes for 147 yards (13.4 avg.) and two touchdowns. As a senior, Wright had 39 receptions for 449 yards (11.5 avg.) and two scores.
Through the first four regular season games of the 2013 season Wright has held his own, and is fifth on the team with six catches for 47 yards. Against Arizona before the bye week, Wright had a career-high five catches for 41 yards (8.2 avg.).
While Wright found his stride against the Cardinals, he struggled blocking against the Saints in Week 2 and as a receiver against the Patriots in Week 3 where he dropped a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone.
“It happens as a receiver, but that’s not going to happen again,” Wright said about his dropped TD. “It was the angle of my route and the way the ball that was thrown. I had to track it over my back and try to make the catch, but I didn’t. Like I said, that won’t happen again.
“The Saints played me real tough. They have some big guys at the end position with high motors. Those guys are around 280 pounds on the edge and they’re tough to move. My quickness, my feet and my technique help me when I go against bigger guys. That’s the main thing. It doesn’t take a running back too long to get through the hole, so if you use your quickness and technique it can make up for a lack of size. Those are the things that help me out with me being at a weight disadvantage.”
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Wright needed to bulk up during the offseason, which he did. However he is still out-sized by 40-60 pounds by NFL defensive ends.
“I’m to about 235,” Wright said. “I want to get up to the 240-pound range. I think that would be optimal for me with what I do as a player and what I bring to the team. If I got too big, I would be like every other tight end and lose some of my speed. If I’m too skinny I won’t be effective.”
Wright impressed the Buccaneers so much that he saw time in training camp and the preseason with the starters running tight end middle screens.
“My turning point was the Dolphins preseason game,” Wright said. “That’s when I knew I could play tight end in this league. I was asked to step in for some third down stuff with the starters. I was in a few packages and I played quite a bit with the starters. That was my turning point.”
Prior to his rookie season, the only time in Wright’s life that he played tight end was when he was in elementary school.
“Tight end was my first position in Pop Warner when I was seven years old, so I guess I have that to lean on,” Wright laughed. “Then I played tight end for about eight snaps in college, but that’s it. This is totally different now playing it full-time.”
Not only is Wright playing tight end full time now, he’s playing virtually every down on offense due to season-ending injuries to starter Luke Stocker and backup Nate Byham. With Tom Crabtree missing the first four games of the regular season due to an ankle sprain, Wright has been the mainstay at the tight end position for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs think so highly of his skill set that they are only carrying two tight ends on the active roster right now – Wright and Crabtree. While Wright has benefited from the injuries to others by getting more playing time, he is losing good mentors to injured reserve.
“It’s been unfortunate for those guys, but through OTAs, through camp and the first four weeks of the season they have done a great job of getting me up to speed with the ins and outs of playing the position,” Wright said. “I’ve definitely bought into that and have been like a sponge. I feel like with those guys going down it’s my turn to step up and take what I’ve been learning and apply it towards my game.”
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Buccaneers cornerback Danny Gorrer is progressing nicely from his surgically repaired groin and will return to the team next week. During the preseason, Gorrer was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. He is eligible to practice next Wednesday and then return to the active roster in two weeks.
With cornerback Johnthan Banks believed to be the third Buccaneer player to test positive for MRSA, the Bucs are excited to have Gorrer’s return on the horizon, along with that of veteran cornerback Michael Adams, who had minor knee surgery after Week 1.
• Tampa Bay’s MRSA infections at One Buccaneer Place and the complications associated with this problem could play a role in general manager Mark Dominik’s ouster at the end of the 2013 season if the Bucs can’t turn their season around and win. I hope Dominik survives because he’s done a lot of great things in terms of personnel acquisition over the last couple of years, but if the Glazers are really upset about the MRSA infection at One Buccaneer Place and the negative media coverage as a result of it, Dominik could be the fall guy.
• Is there a reason for optimism in Tampa Bay after the bye week? Yes. Every team the Bucs have played this year has a winning record. Both Arizona and the New York Jets have 3-2 records, while New England is 4-1 and New Orleans is 5-0. The combined record of those teams is 15-5.
The next three opponents Tampa Bay will face all have losing records, including Philadelphia (2-3), Atlanta (1-4) and Carolina (1-3). Those teams have a combined record of 4-10. If the Bucs are going to make a stand and try to salvage their season, the upcoming three-game schedule presents the best opportunity to do so.
• Tampa Bay defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim seems to enjoy playing against Philadelphia. Does he see this as a revenge game for last year’s 23-21 defeat at the hands of then-rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who is expected to replace injured starter Michael Vick this Sunday? For Te’o-Nesheim the revenge factor is much more than what happened last year at Raymond James Stadium.
“Payback for what? Drafting me and then cutting me?” Te’o-Nesheim said. “I try to treat every game the same. It’s going to be nice to see some of my old teammates.”
Te’o-Nesheim was Philadelphia’s third-round draft pick out of Washington in 2011 and was picked up by Tampa Bay a year ago when he was released. While playing for the Huskies, Te’o-Nesheim and Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster beat Foles in college while he was playing for Arizona. In fact, Foster’s fourth-quarter pick-six of Foles clinched Washington’s victory.
“We played him in college and Mason made a big play,” Te’o-Nesheim said. “He’s a good quarterback and we’re going to have to really prepare for him. He can throw it and he run around better than you think. Guys have come in with renewed energy [from the bye week] and we’re getting healthy.”
The Bucs are preparing for both Foles and Vick because Vick actually practiced this week. Chip Kelly’s up-tempo Eagles offense is complicated enough. Now the Bucs have to practice for two different quarterbacks. It’s a good thing Tampa Bay had the extra time from the bye week to prepare.
• And one last football note about the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay tight end Tim Wright not only has the excitement of playing a lot on offense during his rookie season going for him right now.
“I just got engaged last Wednesday, so these are definitely good times,” Wright said.
As someone who recently got remarried on May 17, I offer my congratulations, Tim. And remember, a happy wife is a happy life.
• One final PewterReport.com-related item. Who likes beer? Okay, now that I have many of you excited, I want to invite you to the Biertoberfest celebration in Plant City to kick off the Two Henrys Brewing Company. The great folks and family at Keel and Curley Winery have started a craft beer company called Two Henrys, which is named after two famous Floridians, Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, who joined forces a century ago to build railroads all across the state.
Biertoberfest takes place at the Keel and Curley Winery, which is home to Two Henrys Brewing Company, on Saturday, October 19. Come sample six new beers that will make their debut to the public at Biertoberfest, which is located at 5210 W. Thonotosassa Road in Plant City, from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Keel and Curley wine and Two Henrys beer will be available for tasting and purchasing, and food vendors and home brewery vendors will be on hand at Biertoberfest, which will feature a Cornhole Tournament with cash prizes ($500 for first place, $200 for second place, and $50 for third place), and live music and entertainment from Charlie O. and the Houserockers from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and from Soul Circus Cowboys from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. To register for the cornhole tournament click here.
My wife, Ashley, and I are huge fans of Keel and Curley wines, and if Two Henrys craft beer is as flavorful as the company’s wine it will undoubtedly be a success. I’ll be out at Biertoberfest next Saturday and hope to see you. For more information, call (813) 752-9100 or click here.
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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