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Here are a couple of things that caught my attention this week.
FAB 1. Be sure to get a good look at rookie quarterback Josh Johnson during training camp and the preseason. That will be the last time you’ll see him until 2009, Bucs fans. Only a rash of injuries to multiple quarterbacks would prompt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to activate Johnson on Sundays and give him his first real taste of NFL action.
Johnson, the team’s fifth-round pick this year, is going to redshirt during the 2008 season. The Bucs have no need to consider playing him when they have three quarterbacks on the team that have NFL starts under their belts and have won at least one game under head coach Jon Gruden in Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese and Luke McCown.
If the Bucs were considering waiving Johnson and trying to sneak him on their practice squad, they shouldn’t play him at all in the preseason. Should he see action in the preseason – and he likely will receive a good deal of snaps in the fourth quarter of games – he’ll probably use his 4.4 speed to run around, make a lot of big plays and look pretty darned good. Once that happens, there’s virtually no way he would clear waivers and wind up on Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Not in the current quarterback-starved NFL.
After not having adequate veteran depth during the 2006 season, the Bucs turned to rookie Bruce Gradkowski after starter Chris Simms went down with a ruptured spleen and was lost for the season. Veteran Tim Rattay was an option, but he had an awful preseason and was clearly beaten out for the backup job by Gradkowski. Tampa Bay struggled mightily during the 2006 season, winning just three games with the rookie QB at the helm and claiming victory in just four games total that year.
That season nearly cost head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen their jobs in Tampa and both men have made sure that the quarterback position will never be that frail again. And they won’t put a rookie quarterback in position to be able to start games again, either. That means that Johnson won’t factor into the equation to compete for even the third-string quarterback job until 2009.
However, it doesn’t mean that Johnson will be ignored for a year. During the OTAs and mini-camp, whenever the veteran quarterbacks were getting the reps, Gruden would handle the quarterback coaching duties while Johnson and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson would jog to a vacant practice field and work on specifics such as drops, mechanics, rollouts or throwing specific routes. Olson has spent a great deal of one-on-one time with Johnson that Gradkowski was never afforded in 2006.
These individual practice periods with Olson are a clear indication that the Bucs are committed to Johnson developing the right way for the long term, as well as a sign that Tampa Bay will likely commit to keeping four quarterbacks on its active roster this year.
“It’s a great opportunity for Josh to come in and learn from our veteran quarterbacks this year,” Olson said. “We were excited about him when we got him, and are just as excited about him after seeing his development this offseason.”
Although Johnson had a highly successful career at the University of San Diego, throwing for 113 touchdowns and just 15 interceptions while compiling a record of 30-4 as a starter, he is still raw in some areas due to the lower level of competition he has faced in college. Weighing just 201 pounds (if that can be believed), he needs to add about 15-20 pounds of bulk and muscle to withstand the punishment he will absorb in the NFL.
Bucs fans that have seen Internet clips of Johnson or watched him at the East-West Shrine Game this past January may have noticed two unique traits he brings to the quarterback position. He holds the ball extremely high above his shoulder and near his head while he drops back like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, where most quarterbacks have the ball between their chest and shoulders, and the fact that Johnson sets up to throw extremely quickly due to his quick feet. Olson addressed both of those characteristics with Pewter Report during the offseason.
“He does carry the ball high, but that’s not an issue,” Olson said. “We can go on and on and talk quarterback mechanics and fundamentals, but everyone is a little bit different. You can go through the league and look at the quarterbacks who carry the ball high. I want him to be comfortable and I want the ball to get out quickly and accurately. As long as he is doing that and making the right reads there is not going to be a whole lot of reason to do a lot of changing.
“Carrying the ball high does get it out quicker, there is no doubt about that. That is part of the issue of guys that drop the ball down around their waist. They have a big, looping delivery and the ball gets out late. Some folks debate that by not dropping the ball down and rotating the shoulder that it will be more difficult for him to throw the deep ball and that is something we’ll have to continue to monitor. There are arguments for and against carrying the ball high. But after practicing with him, I’m happy with where he is.”
With regards to Johnson setting up quickly, Olson said it wasn’t a problem unless he sets up too quickly to throw. The West Coast offense is a rhythm- based system that requires the proper timing between a quarterback and a receiver.
“He’s got a very quick set-up,” Olson said. “We can elongate his drop a little bit. Sometimes the issues with the real fast, athletic quarterbacks is the fact that the timing of the passing game doesn’t work out because they setting up and ready to throw faster than some of the slower-footed quarterbacks. It’s all about the timing in terms of our route structure. We’ll watch film and see if it’s an issue and if he is getting into his launch point too fast or if we need to elongate his steps so it times out. He has great feet, so we love his footwork.”
Be prepared to see Johnson’s fancy footwork this August, but don’t blink. You probably won’t see him again until August 2009. For more on Johnson's footwork and high release, check out this video report from Pewter Report's friends at FootballGuys.com.
FAB 2. We’ve done some thorough investigating of the alleged fight that occurred between Buccaneers draft picks Talib Aqib and Cory Boyd at the NFL Rookie Symposium more than a week ago. ProFootballTalk.com reported the so-called incident.
We have spoken to members of the Buccaneers who suggest this story is a “non-story.” They dismiss it as nothing more than an argument “if it did happen.”
Eyewitness accounts that Pewter Report has heard back up the fact that there was some yelling between Boyd and Talib at the NFL Rookie Symposium, but that it was broken up before it escalated any further. Since the draft, Talib and Boyd have been best buddies, but apparently on that day Talib had been giving Boyd a hard time over something. If our sources are to be believed, Boyd actually started the fight by taking exception to something Talib said and got up in his face.
According to our sources, Talib can act arrogant, immature and be mouthy at times. Remember, he did leave Kansas after his junior season and just turned 22.
From our league sources – not Bucs sources – Talib enters the league with a bad reputation. According to one source, he’s not necessarily a troublemaker, but he’s always surrounded by trouble.
We’ve heard that he allegedly lied to some NFL teams leading up to the draft and they actually removed him from their draft board. Yet, every source that we spoke with said that he was clearly the best cornerback in the draft.
We also heard that Talib’s usage of marijuana might not necessarily be in the past, but that should be classified as an unsubstantiated rumor at this point. Pewter Report has not spoken with Talib and ultimately cannot confirm those rumors.
Warren Sapp entered the NFL in 1995 with a bad reputation regarding marijuana usage – and the rumors of cocaine usage that caused him to fall to Tampa Bay in the first round – when he was coming out of Miami, and went on to have a very successful pro football career.
However, if half of the things Pewter Report heard this past week from a myriad of sources about Talib are true, the Bucs really rolled the dice on this guy’s character. Perhaps Jon Gruden was too quick by saying that Talib would be the future “face of the franchise.” Then again, maybe Talib will pan out like Sapp did. That’s what the Bucs are hoping for.
Regardless of whether there were not any fisticuffs during the squabble with Boyd, it doesn’t look good for Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick to be involved in anything negative at the NFL Rookie Symposium, which tries to impart upon the 2009 rookie class how to stay out of trouble and be mature and responsible.
I’m not just worried about Talib’s transition from college to the NFL this year. I’m worried about his behavior a couple of years from now when Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and perhaps respected defensive backs coach Raheem Morris will be gone. Who will assume a leadership role and be around to keep Talib in check, assuming that he needs to be kept in check? That’s what worries me.
I think the Bucs have some real high character guys on the roster – guys like Brooks, Barber, Warrick Dunn, Chris Hovan and Kevin Carter. But all of those respected guys are in their 30s and likely won’t be in pewter and red in 2010.
Then who will police the locker room? Who will make sure that the Bucs’ business-like approach continues? I can’t see the soft-spoken likes of Barrett Ruud or Gaines Adams taking a hard-line approach with players the way Brooks and Hovan can do. Maybe they will. Maybe others will emerge as leaders in the vein of Brooks, Barber and Hardy Nickerson – players who didn’t mind being outspoken with teammates and wanted to make sure players weren’t getting out of line.
It will be interesting to see if Talib stays on the straight and narrow path during his time in Tampa Bay. I’m sure the Bucs debated the character concerns of selecting him, but in the end, determined that surrounding Talib with the leadership of Morris, Brooks, Barber and Hovan, could put him into a good environment and straighten him out. We’ll see how long that lasts and how much of an impression they make on Talib before they are gone.
According to NFL sources, Pewter Report has also heard that Boyd has his share of character issues, too. He was suspended for the entire 2005 season at South Carolina for an undisclosed reason before returning for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. His suspension and character concerns are probably a reason why Boyd fell to the seventh round. He has also missed the entire offseason after injuring his knee during the rookie mini-camp.
Boyd became famous on You Tube for his reference of gansta rapper Juelz Santana’s lyrics, “I’m back liked cooked crack” on live TV during ESPN’s coverage of a South Carolina game. The Gamecocks’ faithful and Bucs fans must be so proud.
Perhaps the Bucs would be better off by not having Talib and Boyd – two players with character concerns – hang out together. That means parting ways with Boyd and hoping that Talib could be surrounded and influenced by better people. One thing is certain, Talib and Boyd won’t be rooming together at training camp. If the Bucs allow that, they’re stupid.
FAB 3. The media has talked about the contract status of quite a few Buccaneers who are set to become free agents in 2009, including quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Luke McCown, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, wide receiver Michael Clayton, safety Jermaine Phillips and under tackle Jovan Haye. Earnest Graham’s contract status was certainly covered by the media until he got a new contract extension.
But one player who has not gotten much publicity regarding a contract extension is reserve defensive tackle Ryan Sims. Sims, who is scheduled to earn $900,000 in base salary in 2008, will likely need a good training camp and preseason to ensure that he not only makes the roster this year, but that he will be in the team’s plans for 2009 as well.
The Bucs traded for Sims, a former first-round draft pick by Kansas City, just after the 2007 draft and extended his contract for one year that will pay him $900,000 this year. After spending training camp, the preseason and the first eight weeks of the season getting acclimated to the Tampa Bay climate and the Tampa 2 system, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle beat out rookie Greg Peterson for a spot on the game day roster and made the most of his limited playing time.
“I feel great in my second year in Tampa Bay,” Sims said. “The first eight games I didn’t get to play a lot because I didn’t know what I was doing. There is a lot more freedom in the defense if you know what you are doing. I just wanted to finish strong. I did finish strong in the last eight games and I made some plays.”
Playing about 30 percent of the snaps on defense over those final eight games, Sims recorded 23 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a team-high four tackles for loss. To put those numbers in perspective, Haye and nose tackle Chris Hovan played in more than double the amount of snaps that Sims did and did not post any tackles for loss and only Haye forced a fumble. Not only did Hovan not force a fumble, he only recorded 1.5 sacks in 2008 despite starting all 16 games. Of course, Haye and Hovan combined for 192 tackles, and Haye had more splash plays with six sacks and four fumble recoveries.
Hovan enters camp as the entrenched starter at nose tackle, but Sims has a chance to push him for playing time, especially with rookie Dre` Moore starting off as an under tackle while backing up Haye and having Peterson move to defensive end in 2008.
Because Sims is a big-bodied defensive tackle like himself, Moore has been reaching out a bit to him for some mentoring. Sims doesn’t mind helping the young rookie out, but says there are plenty of role models to look up to in Tampa Bay.
“He’s a little young, but he should be a good player in this league,” Sims said of Moore. “You don’t just have to look at guys who play defensive tackle. He can look at anybody who plays defense on this team. We’re all trying to take him under our wing. He’s still young and has a ways to go. He’s going to be a good football player if he keeps his head straight.”
Aside from Moore, Sims likes what he sees every day in practice from Tampa Bay’s youthful and powerful offensive line.
“Oh, man. We have a great, young interior line,” Sims said. “They are going to be really good. They’re very physical and smart. The longer they play, the better they’re going to get. They’re tough and strong. I would say Davin Joseph is probably the strongest because Arron Sears had to take a few weeks off in the offseason. But I’m stronger than both of them!”
Sims has also been impressed with new Bucs center Jeff Faine.
“He brings the tempo,” Sims said. “He brings a real nice tempo. There are a lot of young guys on that line and he’s a great leader. They can learn from him. He’s not too old. A lot of the younger guys shy away from the older guys. He’s been there. He’s been injured. He’s watched. He’s started. He’s got a lot of different aspects as to what is going on and how to help the team on the field and in the locker room.”
Entering his seventh year in the league, the 28-year old Sims is anxious to see what he can do with another offseason in the books and the experience drawn from playing in eight games in 2008. With a strong season, he could earn a lucrative contract extension and become the latest former first-round pick that has gone from bust to boom in Tampa, joining the company of Hovan and Buchanon.
“They have structure here,” Sims said. “It’s the same defense every day and every game, and it’s a great defense. This is the first time I’ve been on a great defense since college. They raise the bar here. You have to step up or go home.”
FAB 4. While Ryan Sims is trying to secure his roster spot for the 2008 season and earn more playing time, the player he is competing with, nose tackle Chris Hovan, returns for his fourth season as a starter in Tampa Bay. The 30-year old Hovan is coming off a season in which he tallied a career-high 95 tackles in helping the Bucs defense improve its ranking from 12th in 2006 to second overall in 2007.
My how things have changed since Hovan’s arrival in 2005 when he was a first-round castoff from Minnesota, signing a one-year deal for league minimum. In 2005, Hovan was the new kid on the block with veteran defensive ends Greg Spires and Simeon Rice as the leaders in the defensive line room. Just four years later, Hovan has become the veteran leader with the longest tenure in Tampa Bay among the defensive linemen.
“If you go back to 2005, I’m the last guy in the room since then,” Hovan said. “I’ve been here and become a better football player and a better man by playing for the Buccaneers. If players look up to me, they’ll see my performance on the field, how I work in the meeting room and how I work in the community off the field. There is a certain standard that has to be set here in Tampa Bay for defensive linemen. The bar was set by Lee Roy Selmon then followed by Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice. The list goes on and on. Our goal is to raise everybody to that bar. This has to be the strength of the defense. It always starts up front. That’s the standard. If the team wants to put it on my shoulder, then put it on my shoulder and let’s be one of the best defensive lines in the league.”
Although 34-year old Kevin Carter has a few more years in the NFL than Hovan does, it is Hovan who leads the drills and sets the tempo in practice. When new defensive line coach Todd Wash was a first-year assistant to Larry Coyer last year, he noticed that Hovan was a lead-by-example kind of player. He is a perfect soldier for the coaches, and a perfect leader among the players.
“Chris’ leadership has been invaluable,” Wash said. “He makes my job easier by setting such a good example for everyone to follow.”
Wash, who is 6-foot-3 and has the physique of an NFL lineman, looks like he could play alongside Hovan. He’s a demanding, hands-on coach that Hovan and Co. have responded to in a positive way thus far this offseason.
“Coach Wash is very excited about his opportunity,” Hovan said. “He was in the room last year and did a great job for us last year as [Coyer’s] assistant and now he gets the chance to lead this defensive line. He’s making the most of his opportunity. He’s a young guy from the college ranks with a great passion for this game. He’s in here at all hours of the night during the season. I’m glad that he got this opportunity. We’re going to play hard for him.”
With a tenacious style about him, in addition to a shaved head, Wash and Hovan are like kindred spirits.
“He’s got the haircut for the game, that’s for sure,” Hovan said of Wash. “It’s hard for new coaches to come in and be accepted, but the reason why so many guys want to play hard for him is because he shows great passion on the field. You see the amount of hard work he puts in. As a player, you excel to be the best, and when you see your coach trying to excel and be the best and put you in the best position to win, it gets you excited.”
What Wash and Hovan have been working on has been getting more pressure on the quarterback. Hovan was known as a pass-rushing defensive tackle coming out of Boston College where he recorded 20.5 sacks. He recorded 17 sacks in his first six years in the NFL with the Vikings, but that mostly came from playing the three-technique at the under tackle position. While Hovan has been piling up the stops by fighting through double teams as the Bucs’ nose tackle, getting to the quarterback has proven to be more difficult. In three years, Hovan has only recorded a paltry 3.5 sacks.
“My goal is to break the 100-tackle mark, but I know my numbers are down in the sack department,” Hovan said. “I have to get my numbers up. I need to get more pressure on the quarterback through single teams or double teams – it doesn’t matter. I have to get off those blocks and we need to get more pressure up the middle. We got great pressure off the edge last year with Gaines, Kevin and Greg and it’s going to keep coming from there. But myself, Jovan, Dre` and Ryan need to get that pocket collapsed up the middle so the quarterback has no lanes to throw from. I’m going to really try to tackle that this season. I’ve been working on my moves this offseason and I’ve got to get more sacks.”
FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 – after a word from our sponsor.
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• I agree with Pewter Report’s Charlie Campbell, who was the first Bucs’ beat writer to discuss the possibility of Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre landing in Tampa Bay this week in his Campbell’s Cover 2 column. It appears Favre will return to the NFL and Tampa Bay appears the likeliest destination for him. There are some key things to consider aside from the obvious fact that Jon Gruden loves veteran quarterbacks and has relationship with him dating back to 1992. In ’92, Gruden was an assistant coach under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay and was the person who picked up Favre from the airport after the Packers acquired him in a trade from Atlanta. Gruden went on to coach him and Green Bay’s wide receivers for a couple of years. In addition to the history between Gruden and Favre, the fact that the Bucs have not yet signed Garcia to a contract extension is noteworthy. Would Tampa Bay really prefer Garcia to Favre? I couldn’t imagine that would be the case knowing Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen and their preference for NFL legends (see Tim Brown). If Favre becomes a Buccaneer, I think Garcia would be a goner. I can’t see Garcia staying in Tampa Bay as Favre’s backup, and I can’t see Favre coming to Tampa Bay unless he is the starter. Garcia would likely be livid, but the Bucs would use the contract impasse as the reason for letting him go. I think one of the key issues of any interest in Favre from Tampa Bay’s standpoint is the fact that Favre is under the contract for only two more years. Garcia may want a contract extension longer than two years. Considering the fact that the 38-year old Favre is coming off a better season than the 38-year old Garcia, landing the future first-ballot Hall of Famer would be considered an upgrade. And yes, Favre could learn Gruden’s playbook in six weeks and be proficient in enough of it to win on opening day while continuing to master the offense as the season went on. As Campbell pointed out, aside from Joe Montana and Steve Young, Favre is one of the best West Coast offense quarterbacks of all time. The Packers don’t want Favre, yet they don’t want him to land with NFC North rivals Minnesota or Chicago. They won't release him, which means the Bucs would likely have to trade for him. If Favre does come out of retirement, I think there is a pretty good chance that he lands with the Buccaneers.
• Bucs quarterbacks coach Greg Olson was in charge of splitting the reps between Luke McCown and Brian Griese this offseason as both battle for the right to become the backup quarterback behind current starter Jeff Garcia. Neither player has a real edge heading into camp. Griese has the starting experience that McCown lacks, but McCown has better physical tools and a bigger upside than Griese does. Although the Bucs won’t say so publicly, the hope is that McCown can assert himself as the backup this year because that would make the Bucs feel more comfortable about locking him up for the long-term as the starting quarterback of the future. “We have high expectations for Luke,” Olson said. “He’s been in the league long enough at this point that we expect him to be a lot better than he was last year. Obviously, he has shown some progress and he got better last year, but we expect that curve to be a little higher this year. We expect that he’ll be in the mix and we want him to be in the mix with Brian Griese for that number two spot. We’ve been very pleased with him so far.”
• Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has done a very good job of turning over what once was an old Tampa Bay roster and having the team undergo a youth movement. However, there are a handful of players that are 30 years old or older – 14 to be exact. But according to defensive tackle Ryan Sims, the older guys, such as Garcia, wide receiver Joey Galloway and others, are still very good players. “The one thing about this organization – the thirty-something guys still have got it,” Sims said. “Kevin Carter, Ike Hilliard, Joey and Jeff. Those guys have been in the league a while but are playing at a high, high level. Then to see Warrick Dunn come back, it didn’t surprise me a bit. He’s still a great player even though he’s . He was a great player last year, but they just had a tough season in Atlanta.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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: firstname.lastname@example.org