The following is a free sample of SR’s Fab 5, which is typically a Pewter Insider premium column on PewterReport.com. Feel free to share this column with other Buccaneers fans on message boards or via e-mail.
It’s time to bring a fair and objective view on some of the most controversial topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this summer. Here's what was on my mind this week:
FAB 1. It isn’t supposed to be like this. The month is supposed to be a ho-hum, OTA and mandatory mini-camp month.
June is usually so void of interesting Bucs-related stuff that Pewter Report magazine did away with its June issue this year while scaling back from 12 issues to 10 per year (August is the other issue that was scratched as daily training camp coverage is best served on PewterReport.com).
June is supposed to be a relatively quiet month in the world of pro football, but not here in the Tampa Bay area. In fact, it’s loud and noisy.
Thirty-eight year old quarterback Jeff Garcia is whining to the press about not getting a contract done lickity split. Former starting quarterback Chris Simms is whining in the media because he’s still a Buccaneer and he doesn’t want to play for head coach Jon Gruden anymore.
WDAE 620 AM afternoon host Steve Duemig and just about the rest of the Bucs’ flagship station is ranting about the team signing tight end Jerramy Stevens after a damning article in the Seattle Times detailed alleged rape accusation from eight years ago when he was a star at the University of Washington.
Somewhere at One Buc Place, beleaguered wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who sat out 2007 due to a DUI and a four-game league suspension, is smiling because all of a sudden, none of the negative press is about him. He’s no longer the Bucs’ bad boy, and wisely, Bryant, who had a much-publicized tirade with former Dallas coach Bill Parcells, has yet to grant the first interview in Tampa.
The people that should be out either defending themselves or at least stating the team’s positions – Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen – haven’t been noisy enough and are getting damaged from a public relations standpoint in the media and on sports talk radio, especially WDAE 620 AM.
While Gruden has on occassion ripped players privately, he just doesn’t do it publicly, which is wise from his standpoint. Allen has never been known to say discouraging things about players at all and has been willing to take bullets from fans and the media since he arrived in 2004 and released fan favorite safety John Lynch and signed the ugly, three-headed monster of offensive tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie, along with running back Charlie Garner.
The problem with Allen is that he doesn’t fire back often enough and correct the record when there are inaccuracies in reporting, and that hurts the Bucs’ public image. On the rare occasions when Allen does shoot back, it is usually a cannon blast, like the one he fired last summer while correcting an erroneous proprioception report in a press conference summoned up within hours of a St. Petersburg Times story involving Simms hitting the Internet.
Don’t blame the Tampa Bay public relations staff for all the bad press the Bucs are getting in the media and on sports talk radio. The staff gets its marching orders from Allen, who does not provide a full understanding of his roster decisions to fans and dangerously leaves them open to interpretation in the media. The outlets that may have a bias against the team or certain members of it understandably run wild with a negative story. Controversy sells, right?
In the end, the negativity that has hit the local press and local sports talk radio has had an effect on Bucs fans’ feelings towards the organization. What should have been a relatively positive offseason with Tampa Bay returning to its winning ways with 9-7 record and third NFC South division title since 2002, has turned sour with the uproar generated from re-signing Stevens and the disgruntled Garcia and Simms spouting off about their respective situations at One Buccaneer Place.
As a result, I can’t imagine the waiting list for season tickets is too long these days, especially with the current negativity about the Bucs rivaling the current negativity about gas prices and the economy. Pile the economy and rising gas prices on top of rising ticket prices and the Buccaneers will be lucky if there aren’t any blackouts this year.
I have personally spoken with 26 season ticket holders this offseason about whether they have renewed or not. My latest count has 25 of those people not renewing their season tickets with only one person renewing for another term. That is what you call a disastrous random sample.
But enough about perception. Let’s talk about facts and reality. The fact is that this Buccaneers team is not in turmoil or chaos.
How many players are disgruntled? And I’m not talking about just players who want a raise – half of any roster in the NFL is full of players who want more money. I’m talking about players who have gone to the press or done something demonstratively, such as stay away from practice, in order to publicly gripe about their contracts.
The answer is three – Garcia, Simms and running back Earnest Graham, who wants a contract extension and a pay raise – out of 93 Buccaneers on the team.
That’s not even four percent. That means about 96 percent of Tampa Bay’s players wouldn’t be classified as disgruntled or in any turmoil. They are showing up to the OTAs and preparing for the season just like normal. That’s a fact.
Yes, I realize the list of former members of the Bucs organization who don’t like the way Gruden or the organization treated them includes Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Brad Johnson and Art Valero will grow when Simms is added to that list after his release. But for every disgruntled player or coach out there, I can name at least four players or a coach that loved playing for or working with Gruden.
That doesn’t mean that Gruden does not have problems with his people skills. He does. I’ve written about it on PewterReport.com and discussed it numerous times on the Buccaneer Blitz radio show with Duemig on WDAE. Gruden’s problem stems from the fact that he looks at football players as … football players … rather than people. Gruden is so focused on the game that he just doesn’t invest much time in the human side of the players from what I’ve been told.
That puts him in the same class as some rather impersonal coaches like Bill Walsh, Tom Coughlin, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, which is not bad company considering all have Super Bowl rings like Gruden does.
Yes, Gruden looks at players with “can you help me win?” mentality. That’s his job – to win football games – and that’s what he is focused on. That’s why certain players are his flavors of the month.
If you can help him win, he likes you. The minute you can’t either due to injury or performance, he’s on to someone else who can help him. Does that attitude cause friction sometimes at One Buc Place? You bet, and it’s a shame that it does, but don’t expect him to change too much.
Gruden may have some phoniness to him, but he isn’t the villain he’s portrayed to be by the haters in the media. The numbers just don’t support it.
He’s coached hundreds and hundreds of players since landing in Tampa Bay in 2002, and there are probably less than a dozen that have publicly come out and dissed him. Yes, it would have been nice to check in with Simms’ feelings from time to time, but right or wrong, that’s just not who Gruden appears to be.
Working for or playing for Gruden certainly isn’t easy, but he still has the charisma to keep the free agents rolling in each offseason. Last year, Garcia and fullback B.J. Askew couldn’t wait to play for Gruden. This year, tight ends Ben Troupe and John Gilmore were the ones who desperately wanted to play for him.
And don’t forget last December when the entire team was yelling “Gruden! Gruden! Gruden!” in the locker room in New Orleans after a come-from-behind win over the Saints. The man may have his detractors, but he also has his supporters in the locker room, too.
Even though the image of Gruden and the Bucs has taken a public relations hit this offseason – and the team has done little to defend itself – there aren’t any distractions affecting the team itself. The media and the fans might be making a big deal over the controversies surrounding Stevens, Garcia and Simms, but the players sure aren’t.
Back in 2004, Pewter Report asked former safety Dwight Smith if McCardell’s holdout was a distraction. Smith said, “He’s not here, so how could he be a distraction?”
Smith is right. Players that aren’t around – like Graham and Simms haven’t been this offseason – aren’t distractions. Out of sight, out of mind.
Garcia has piped up about his contract a couple of times, but he’s been at every OTA session and I don’t think any of his teammates are thinking about his contract situation while they are blocking for him, trying to catch his passes and trying to put pressure on him.
To the players, the Stevens situation happened eight years ago and is old news. What matters to them is that he was a good teammate, performed well on the field and stayed out of trouble last year. Team leader Derrick Brooks has also come out to publicly defend Stevens and called him a “special teammate.” Brooks' stance should carry some weight given his stature in the community.
Still, the public relations beating the team has taken this offseason could have been avoided or minimized if Allen and Gruden would have done a better job of defending or clarifying the team’s position on some of these controversies. The season ticket waiting list might be a little longer these days if that were the case.
FAB 2. Just because the Buccaneers have been free of real distractions doesn’t mean they don’t have a big one coming next week. That’s when disgruntled quarterback Chris Simms is expected to show up for the mandatory mini-camp.
I can understand why Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has decided to keep Simms on the roster for now. The team has invested millions and a third-round draft pick in him, and there is a chance that Simms could have some trade value.
But is a possible sixth- or seventh-round pick worth the headache Simms could cause next week or in training camp? Simms is a nice guy, but he has gone on record with his disdain for head coach Jon Gruden and the way that Gruden treated him during his recovery from a splenectomy. He says the relationship is damaged beyond repair.
With Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Brian Griese and Josh Johnson in the stable, I’m pretty sure Gruden doesn’t really care what Simms thinks. He’s moved on. Let’s look at some facts and you will begin to understand why Gruden was never that fond of Simms.
Simms was drafted by former Bucs general manager Rich McKay over Gruden’s objections in 2003. Gruden tried his best to coach Simms up and even gave him the starting nod over a veteran like Griese in 2004 when Brad Johnson was ineffective. Griese wound up being the more effective quarterback during a dismal 5-11 season, but Gruden still gave Simms the opportunity to start the season finale at Arizona after his separated shoulder healed, but couldn’t move the offense well enough to beat a lowly Cardinals team.
When Griese was lost for the year due to a torn ACL after a 5-1 start in 2005, Simms stepped in and went 6-5 and helped lead the Bucs to their second NFC South division title and a home playoff game. Simms supporters will point to the fact that he was a dropped touchdown pass away from a 17-17 tie in the fourth quarter. His detractors, including Gruden, would point to several batted passes in that game in addition to two costly interceptions, including one on the final drive of the game, that were big factors in the Bucs’ playoff loss.
Another fact is that Simms is simply a lousy fit for a West Coast offense. It’s real easy to say that Gruden should be able to adapt his scheme around his players, but the three-step drop is a major staple of the West Coast offense and that doesn’t play to Simms’ strengths at all.
Not to knock Simms, but a big reason why Tampa Bay started off 0-3 in 2006 was because he had one touchdown pass versus seven interceptions and the same amount of batted passes. It was pretty clear to see that the Redskins had laid the blueprint for how to beat Simms at the end of 2005 and the Ravens, Falcons and Panthers followed it in 2006.
Dating back to the 2005 season when Simms first entered the starting lineup, I remember stating on the Buccaneer Blitz radio show on WDAE that Simms was not a great fit in the West Coast offense and that I think he would have much more success in a vertical passing game similar to Mike Martz’s that incorporates more five- and seven-step drops. I still believe that to his day.
From the day he became a Buccaneer, Simms was everything Gruden wasn’t looking for in a quarterback. He was left-handed, immobile, had a slow delivery, not terribly durable and took a lot of hits in the pocket. Simms also didn’t respond well to Gruden’s abrasive sideline demeanor, taking profanity-laced diatribe as personal criticism instead of constructive coaching. Garcia, Griese and Luke McCown seemed to shrug off Gruden’s sideline antics much better than Simms was able to.
So why was Simms re-signed in December of 2006? The Glazers might have had something to do with it, as has been reported elsewhere, but general manager Bruce Allen also played a role. Despite Gruden not wanting Simms back, Allen knew that the team’s quarterback situation was dire with only Bruce Gradkowski and McCown, who was still recovering from ACL surgery, on the roster heading into the 2007 offseason.
Allen’s thinking was that at least Simms knew the offense and the team had won with him before. This was the same type of reasoning that led the Bucs to re-sign right tackle Kenyatta Walker in 2006 even though Tampa Bay really didn’t want to.
Despite not having any real precedent to go from pertaining to Simms’ expected recovery from his splenectomy, Allen signed Simms to a generous two-year deal that would pay him $5 million. After all, there were no assurances that Tampa Bay would be able to land Garcia in free agency, so bringing back Simms was a safe move even though he was still recovering from having his spleen removed.
The minute Garcia walked through the door last year, Gruden was done with Simms. I remember asking Gruden about the team not bringing the PVC pipe dummy out to training camp last summer. During the summer of 2006, it was used to try to help Simms avoid having his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage (and obviously didn’t help much).
But Gruden said, “I don’t think we’re going to be needing that anymore. We’ve moved on.”
That was code for: Garcia in, Simms out. Sure enough, Garcia, who is about four inches shorter than Simms, had fewer passes batted down in his 13 starts last year than Simms had in three starts the previous year.
I’m not taking shots at Simms. I’m merely stating facts. I think Simms is an incredibly hard worker and a heck of a nice guy who still has a chance to develop into a good quarterback one day with the right coach with the right system. I also recognize the fact that the guy gave up his spleen to try to help the Bucs beat the Panthers.
I know why Simms is spouting off to the media and I actually agree with him. Simms is a fish on the line that is desperately trying to spit the hook. Gruden didn’t treat him like a man and Simms obviously knows that his future in Tampa Bay is over. I would want out too if I was in the same situation.
Given the fact that Tampa Bay had invested quite a bit in him and views Simms as a tradable commodity, I understand why the Bucs have kept him up until this point. But Simms needs to be released – and not because it’s the right thing, or the humanitarian thing to do, or because he’s a swell guy. The guy seems intent on being a disgruntled employee at mandatory mini-camp and training camp, promising to deliver a media circus that likely includes more barbs thrown at Gruden.
Just a quick question for Simms, have you considered offering to repay some of your signing bonus to earn your freedom? It worked for cornerback Brian Kelly earlier this year and I bet Allen would let you do it. Just a thought.
Simms isn’t a distraction now, but the minute he shows up at One Buc Place this week, he will become one. Is it really worth it to keep him around for a possible sixth- or seventh-round pick? No.
If I’m Allen, I don’t want Simms’ obvious dislike for Gruden to potentially pollute the locker room. The guy has gone out of his way to talk about his contempt for Gruden in the media this week. You don’t think he’s going to do the same in the locker room next week to the rookies and new players? The Bucs don’t need that. Let him go, Bruce, or at least be wise enough to not invite him to the mandatory mini-camp.
FAB 3. While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, let’s talk a little about the Jeff Garcia situation. I still believe that Garcia and the Bucs will reach an agreement on a new contract sometime this summer. I don’t see Tampa Bay being a playoff team without Garcia under center for the majority of the starts this year.
I think Garcia should get the $1 million he missed out on during the 2007 season due to not hitting playing time incentives that weren’t reached due to a combination of injuries and the team's decision to hold him out of the final game and a half of the regular season.
But I don’t like when football players take their contract gripes to the media, and that’s what Garcia has done. I applaud him for showing up to the voluntary workouts, but I almost have more respect for running back Earnest Graham who has remained largely silent on this issue and has simply stated his case by not showing up to OTAs (even though that was a mistake that will probably put him back at third-string on the depth chart this summer).
I have to laugh when some say, “The Bucs should just pay Garcia, especially since he helped Gruden and Bruce Allen keep their jobs or at least earn contract extensions.”
Pay Garcia what? We don’t know what the Bucs have offered and what he has turned down. Likewise, we don’t know what the Garcia camp has offered and what the Bucs have turned down. Unless you know the numbers for sure, it’s pointless to say, “Just pay him!”
Let’s suppose Garcia was asking for $7 million per year, which is in the ballpark for starting quarterbacks in the NFL these days. The Bucs certainly have the cap room to do that (and that’s probably a factor in Garcia’s consternation), but is that the right argument for the Bucs to look at when talking contract with Garcia?
Statistically speaking, Garcia had a pretty good year. He made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and was second in the NFL with only four interceptions. He was seventh in the NFL in QB rating (94.6) and 12th in the league in completion percentage (63.9).
But Garcia’s 13 touchdown passes ranked only 18th in the NFL, and he sustained a mild concussion in a Week 1 contest at Seattle and a back injury that cost him three games in a Week 12 affair against Washington. His age – 38 – is a concern to the Buccaneers, especially when deciding how long his contract should be.
With Brett Favre’s retirement this offseason, Garcia is now the oldest starting QB in the NFL by three years as Kurt Warner (36) and Damon Huard (35) will likely back up Matt Leinhart in Arizona and Brodie Croyle in Kansas City, respectively. However, 35-year old Jon Kitna is still expected to start in Detroit in 2008.
The fact that Garcia is two years shy of 40 and was knocked out of two games due to injury has to worry the Bucs, especially with younger options like Brian Griese (33) and Luke McCown (26) on the roster for the immediate future.
I’m not trying to belittle anything that Garcia did in Tampa Bay last year. The Bucs were 9-7 and NFC South division winners last year largely due to the stellar play of the defense and Garcia’s leadership and decision-making on offense. At Pewter Report, we recognized Garcia was the Bucs’ MVP of the 2007 season.
My guess is that Garcia and the Bucs will come to an agreement on an incentive-laden two-year extension that includes a base salary of $5 million, which is more than double the base salary he made in 2007, and includes a signing bonus of $1 million to make up for that missed incentive money from a year ago. Considering Garcia already received a $3 million signing bonus last year and a roster bonus of $1 million this year, that seems fair to me.
One more note on Garcia’s contract situation. You do realize that fullback B.J. Askew was the first free agent-to-be to receive a contract extension, don’t you? Do you know what was so significant about that? Before the offseason workouts, Askew told Gruden that he wanted a new deal, but wasn’t going to hold out and wasn’t going to pout about it to the media. Is it any coincidence that Askew was the first player to get a new deal?
I have no doubt Garcia will get paid (as will other members of the Bucs who are slated to be free agents in 2009). His biggest gripe is that he wants the money right now. Patience seemed to serve Askew well, though, didn’t it?
FAB 4. I can certainly understand the community uproar over the re-signing of tight end Jerramy Stevens. I was disturbed to read the Seattle Times investigative report on Stevens’ criminal past just like you were. But as a reporter, it’s my nature to be somewhat skeptical.
I wish I could take everything I read in that Seattle Times piece at face value, but just months removed the Boston Herald-Spygate situation in which writer John Tomase had to apologize for an inaccurate story that sparked a scandal that declared that former Patriots videographer Matt Walsh had taped a Rams practice prior to Super Bowl XXXVI, and more than a year removed away from the Duke lacrosse case and all of the faulty reporting that went on there, it’s difficult for me to do so.
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the famous crime classic 12 Angry Men, which starred Henry Fonda and details how one man persuades the 11 other jurors to acquit the suspect on trial for murder one-by-one on the basis of reasonable doubt, and it has me naturally suspicious.
I’m not going to re-try the facts of the Stevens trial in this edition of SR’s Fab 5, but I understand all of the relevant assertions and allegations in the case and agree with most of them. I understand that the University of Washington athletes appeared to get special treatment from the prosecutors, and I understand that Stevens likely received favoritism from the courts because of his status as a gifted football player.
His past behavior revolving around the alleged rape from eight years ago is clearly disturbing, and that type of behavior cannot be condoned. But what I don’t understand is how the $300,000 settlement – that was filed four years after the alleged crime – is an admission of guilt, especially when the case never went to trial.
Should it have gone to trial? Based on what I read, it seemed like there was enough evidence to suggest that, but the prosecutor never followed through.
I’m not a judge and I’m not about to convict somebody of a crime that I know little about outside of what I read in a newspaper.
Did the writers or the editor of the Seattle Times have an agenda against Stevens or the University of Washington despite the claiming they don’t? I don’t know.
We know what was put into the Seattle Times article, but what details might have been left out to fit any sort of bias? I have no idea.
Where was Stevens’ side of the story in the report? Nowhere to be found.
I withheld judgment on the Seattle Times article until I could interview Stevens and hear what he had to say about it. When Stevens did address the media a couple of weeks ago at One Buccaneer Place, he correctly stated that most of the facts of that case were nothing new. However, I wanted to hear him try to defend himself and tell his side of the story. I was extremely disappointed with his answers, or lack thereof.
He kept brushing off the reports as old news and really didn’t offer up much to satisfy me. Had that been me and certain facts were allegedly misstated, I would have taken the time to clear it up in that setting and would have done so vehemently.
There are a couple of aspects about this whole uproar that bother me, though. There is this misconception that Stevens wrote a check for $300,000 to settle the civil suit. Where in the Seattle Times article did it state that?
In fact, the attorney’s office wrote a check on behalf of both Stevens and the Sigma Chi fraternity. We have no idea how much or little Stevens actually paid because the check came to the alleged victim through the law office. Lawyers who I have spoken with, who have no extraordinary knowledge of this case, have said that the insurance company for the fraternity could have picked up most of the legal bill.
Although I would have been more forthcoming in defense of myself if I were Stevens, I can somewhat understand his bewilderment at the press conference when he was asked about rape allegations that were reported on eight years ago and were settled prior to a civil suit five years ago.
After all, the reason why they call it a settlement is because the matter is settled. Both parties in a settlement agree to settle the case and essentially end the dispute. Stevens obviously paid some amount of money to make it go away and he wanted it gone, which explains why he was tight-lipped about the Seattle Times report.
The second misconception that has emerged from that article is that Stevens was somehow restricted from speaking about the case. In fact, that was not the case at all.
Go back and read the story in the Seattle Times. If its report is accurate, it states: “The deal also allowed Stevens to avoid questions about what happened on that June night four years before.”
It didn’t say he was not allowed to speak about, it said he was allowed to avoid questions about it pertaining to a courtroom. There’s a big difference.
Stevens’ arrest and some of the more important details of the case were reported by the Seattle media when the alleged crime was committed in 2000. You don’t think the Seattle Seahawks did a thorough investigation of this case and got Stevens to tell them his side of the story? You bet they did.
They were going to invest a first-round draft pick and millions in Stevens, but they had to hear his side of what did or did not happen first. The only question the Seahawks, the Bucs and other teams had was likely, “Do we believe him?”
Stevens had to know that an answer of “I don’t want to discuss that” would cause him to go undrafted in the first round and cost him millions. You bet he answered NFL teams’ questions about those allegations.
Was Stevens a bad guy back then? Reading that Seattle Times article certainly gives you the impression that was the case. But is Stevens a bad guy today? I don’t know.
I do know that the Bucs organization, including respected linebacker and pillar of the community, Derrick Brooks, has his back. I do know Stevens was on his best behavior last year in his first season with Tampa Bay, got engaged and now has a son.
But having a girlfriend and becoming a father certainly doesn’t make anyone a saint. It can change your life in a positive way if you let it, or it could produce no change at all.
While we are clearing up some misconceptions, Stevens is not the fourth-best tight end on the Bucs depth chart just because he was signed in late May. The fact is that the 6-foot-7 Stevens is probably a better offensive weapon than even Alex Smith at the position and he has had a good showing this month in the OTAs. That means that he’s likely going to make this team. Stevens is getting as many reps as Smith and chief blocker John Gilmore with the starting offense.
But that doesn’t erase the fact that Allen made a public relations mistake by re-signing Stevens. Doing so invited a torrent of community criticism that could have been avoided by just sticking with Smith, Gilmore and Ben Troupe at the tight end position.
Yes, the Bucs waited until virtually all of the season ticket invoices had been returned before signing Stevens. And yes, Tampa Bay tried to dodge criticism by announcing the move at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night, but that didn’t quell the uproar the following week.
Most of the media laughed off Allen’s assertion that the character on the Buccaneers is still very high instead of listening to what he had to say regarding the Stevens signing. The reason why Allen felt comfortable bringing Stevens back is because the character is so strong in Tampa Bay’s locker room.
I challenge you to find two better players with more character in the NFL than Brooks and running back Warrick Dunn, who have each won Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year honors, in addition to the Byron “Whizzer” White humanitarian award. Brooks and Dunn are two of the most respected and charitable players in pro football.
Throw in charity-minded good guys like linebackers Ryan Nece and Barrett Ruud, nose tackle Chris Hovan, quarterbacks Luke McCown, Jeff Garcia and Brian Griese, safety Jermaine Phillips, receiver Michael Clayton and kicker Matt Bryant among others, and Tampa Bay is a team full of character. To not point that out would be a grave disservice to the 80-plus individuals on the team that have never been arrested or gotten into any substantial trouble in their lives.
Right or wrong, Allen believes surrounding a few players with criminal pasts, such as Stevens and wide receiver Antonio Bryant, with the likes of Brooks, Dunn, Hovan and other Bucs can help those troubled players resurrect their careers and lives in Tampa Bay. I bet if Tony Dungy were taking on this rehabilitative practice he would be lauded for it in the community.
But that might not be good enough for some who want to focus on the allegations against Stevens from eight years ago instead of looking at what he was able to accomplish in Tampa Bay last year, and that is their right. The concerns of those in the community are valid and I share those concerns, too.
That Seattle Times article documented Stevens’ history of lying and alcohol-related arrests, and if he has another DUI or alcohol-related problem in Tampa Bay there will be hell to pay at One Buccaneer Place.
FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Here’s one little pet peeve of mine that I would like to clear up once and for all, and I can’t believe I still feel compelled to correct the record seven years later. With the anti-Jon Gruden crowd still making a feeble argument that Gruden won the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s team, which is attempting to belittle Gruden’s achievement (and this is resurfacing with all of the uproar over the re-signing of Jerramy Stevens and the treatment of Chris Simms), the 2002 Buccaneers Super Bowl team actually had 26 players that didn’t play a down for Dungy. That’s half the team. On offense, running back Michael Pittman, fullback Darian Barnes, wide receivers Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius and Reggie Barlow, offensive linemen Kerry Jenkins and Roman Oben, quarterback Rob Johnson and tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley never played a down for Dungy. Of that group, eight started at least one game on offense in 2002 and six were regular starters. That’s over half the offense right there. The defense that played under Dungy was largely intact when Gruden came to Tampa Bay with the exception of right defensive end Greg Spires, who came up huge in the Super Bowl. Shelton Quarles emerged as a Pro Bowl middle linebacker under Gruden after playing only the strongside spot prior to his arrival. It’s certainly fair to say that Tampa Bay’s defense rose to prominence under Dungy, but never achieved the league’s top ranking until 2002, the first year he was gone. It’s also fair to state that Gruden won the Super Bowl with half of Dungy’s team – just not the entire team. Of course the team the Bucs beat in the Super Bowl, the Oakland Raiders, consisted of a ton of players Gruden coached, too.
• One of the better stories at One Buccaneer Place this offseason has been the triumphant return of Dan Buenning to full health. During his rookie season in 2005, Buenning was a starter at left guard and may have been the most consistent lineman on the team. An ankle injury in camp and a torn ACL on Thanksgiving in 2006 temporarily derailed his promising career. Because his ACL injury took place so late in the ‘06 season, Buenning was not able to get back to 100 percent last year. But not only is the knee fully stable, but Buenning has been able to regain the quickness and power he displayed as a rookie. Although the team is high on rookie Jeremy Zuttah, Buenning is figuring prominently into the battle for backup center and guard roles.
• Tampa Bay’s crowded cornerback situation is beginning to settle down a bit. Ronde Barber is the obvious starter on the left side in Tampa Bay’s base defense and moves inside to the slot in nickel defense, but which players will join him in the starting lineup. Phillip Buchanon is gunning for a new contract and has all the incentive in the world to come through with a big year. So far, he’s played exceptionally well and is the leading candidate to start. The Bucs are pleased with the progress made by first-round draft pick, Aqib Talib, and he has put himself into direct competition with Buchanon for the right to start. The loser of this battle will likely be the team’s nickel corner. That leaves Eugene Wilson, Sammy Davis, Torrie Cox and Marcus Hamilton battling for the dime corner spot. Wilson gives the team versatiliy because he can also play safety, but Davis is making strides in his second season with the Bucs and is faster and more athletic. Davis is also working at the slot position behind Barber in the nickel defense to increase his versatility. Cox, who has always stuck on the roster due to his special teams prowess, may be in danger of being cut this offseason.
• The salaries of NFL coaches are generally closely held secrets. Although no one knows the exact compensation structure of Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, it is widely believed that he is making in the neighborhood of $3.5 million – $4 million. It was reported that Gruden was making $3.5 million when he was signed to a five-year deal in 2002. Following the 2003 season, it is believed that Gruden received a pay increase in addition to an extension that synched his contract to the same duration as general manager Bruce Allen. Although Gruden did get a three-year contract extension along with Allen in January, Pewter Report has learned that Gruden did not get a raise, nor did he receive a signing bonus.
• Cornerback Ronde Barber is a student of the game and may be the most cerebral player on the Bucs roster and he’s a great resource to go to when it comes to understanding the X’s and O’s of football. Last year, the Bucs mixed things up by playing a lot of Quarters coverage, which is a four-deep zone defense with some man-coverage concepts. I wanted to find out why Tampa Bay’s defensive backs weren’t getting as many interceptions as they used to when they were predominantly a Cover 2 zone team. Here’s the knowledge straight from Barber: “Monte [Kiffin] is always big on turnovers. Last year, we increased our fumble output and led the league, but our interceptions were down. In 2002, we had 31 interceptions or something. We’ve had those type of numbers before, but to be honest with you, Scott, we’re playing defense a little differently now. We’re playing a lot more Three Deep and Quarters coverages. Monte doesn’t like us to be off playing man coverage. He likes us sitting at four yards and turning and running out of there. So you are basically eliminating the deep ball. Sitting at four yards, you are eliminating that little hitch pass they throw at the line of scrimmage when you are usually off nine yards. But with guys like Carolina’s Steve Smith, teams essentially do that when they are in a bad running play and you’ve got an eighth guy in the box and you are rotating to the side of the running play. The quarterback just steps up and throws it to their best athlete, which is Smith in Carolina. You figure Steve Smith will beat a guy one-on-one 90 percent of the time, which he does. For that play specifically, we don’t play defense like we used to play it. We don’t play off man coverage when we are back-pedaling and transitioning, so we don’t have as many as chances to jump intermediate routes. You get a lot of interceptions on curls, digs and outs. But if you are bailing out of there, you are taking away that short little pass and the go route, so our interception numbers are down. I don’t know if Monte really cares to realize that or not, but that’s why we don’t have as many plays on the ball at cornerback anymore. Of course the league has gone to a lot of quick stuff – three-step drops. That’s the minutia of the game that most people don’t care to realize. They just want to look at the numbers at the end of the day. If you take away our low number of interceptions, but look at the small number of big plays we don’t give up, which are at the top of the league, there’s a balancing act there. There is a reason why the numbers are down. We just have to work on catching the ones that we get. I dropped three last year. Phillip Buchanon dropped about five last year. Put those in the mix and our numbers are at least a little more respectable.” Class dismissed.
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