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. According to Mike Williams’ agent, Hadley Englehard, the Buccaneers are in contract talks with the wide receiver about a contract extension. Williams, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2010, has clearly outperformed his rookie contract, catching 193 passes for 2,731 yards and 23 touchdowns in his three years in Tampa Bay. That’s an average of 64 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns per season.
After a breakout rookie season in which he caught 65 passes for 964 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns in 2010, Williams slumped the following year, hauling in 65 passes once again, but for 771 yards and only three scores. Last year, Williams bounced back, catching 63 passes for a career-high 996 yards and a team-leading nine TDs.
It is unknown what Englehard and Williams will be asking for in terms of a price tag, and exactly how much Bucs general manager Mark Dominik will be willing to pay. While Williams had a nice rebound year in 2012, it was done as the team’s number two receiver playing opposite Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson, who often drew the opponents’ top cornerback and more double teams.
With Jackson and Williams under contract for 2013, wide receiver may not appear to be a position of need for the Buccaneers. Yet the same thing could have been said about the cornerback position heading into last year with starters Aqib Talib and Eric Wright and E.J. Biggers as the nickel corner. Wright would miss time due to a four-game suspension and injuries, and Talib missed three games due to a suspension before being traded to New England. As a result, the cornerback position was decimated and Tampa Bay’s pass defense wound up ranking dead last in the NFL.
With Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman heading into the final year of his rookie deal and the team faced with the big decision of what to do with its franchise QB heading into 2014, Dominik has to make sure Freeman has enough weapons to succeed with in 2013. Should Jackson go down with an injury or if Williams were to hold out, it would negatively impact the Bucs offense and Freeman’s performance in a huge contract year. The Bucs have to properly evaluate Freeman and having Jackson and Williams on the field together again in 2013 is of utmost importance.
However, Dominik isn’t going to overpay for Williams, who is regarded as a number two receiver by the organization, and unless he and Englehard can reach an agreement this offseason, Williams may have to play out the final year of his deal and test free agency in 2014. Or if he wants to really press Dominik hard for an extension, Williams could decide to hold out.
To safeguard the team from a possible holdout, or an injury to either Williams or Jackson, the Buccaneers are doing their due diligence in evaluating wide receivers in the 2013 NFL Draft because Dominik doesn’t want the receiver position this year to end up like the cornerback position last year. Behind Jackson and Williams is Tiquan Underwood, who caught a career-high 28 passes for 425 yards and two touchdowns, and the oft-injured Arrelious Benn, a former second-round pick that has fallen down the depth chart and has yet to prove that he can be a reliably productive starter.
Losing Jackson or Williams and having to insert Underwood or Benn into the starting lineup would hinder Tampa Bay’s suddenly potent offense, especially because of the lack of depth and experience at the position with untested players like David Douglas and Chris Owusu.
The uncertainty with Williams’ contract situation and the possibility of losing him in addition to Benn and Underwood, who are also both in contract years, puts Tampa Bay’s receiver situation in peril in 2014 when Jackson will be 31 years old. That’s why the Bucs’ brass had an in-depth interview with Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams at the Senior Bowl.
Williams, a potential second-round pick, was one of the most productive receivers in the nation in 2012, catching 97 passes for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound playmaker finished his Bears career with 202 catches for 3,334 yards and 27 scores.
The Bucs typically interview most of the Senior Bowl participants, but Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano aren’t always in on every interview – just the ones the team deems important. Apparently Williams’ interview was important as he had an audience with all of Tampa Bay’s decision-makers.
“It was kind of a nervous thing, but once I got past it then I felt like it was a family-type feeling,” Williams said. “I met with the G.M. the head coach and the scouts. They like that I make plays and smart decisions out on the football field.”
Williams also had four straight games with two touchdown catches beginning with Sam Houston State and continuing through Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia and culminating against TCU. Williams had a monster game against the Mountaineers in Baylor’s epic 70-63 loss, catching 17 passes for 314 yards and a pair of scores.
Williams, who was limited to one catch for nine yards in the Senior Bowl but performed well in practice, is a player with similar skills as Tampa Bay’s Williams. Although he’s about 15 pounds lighter, he is a tick faster, evidenced by the amount of big plays and big games he has produced at Baylor. He had 13 career games of 100 yards receiving or more, and seven receptions of 50 yards or more, including four of 70 yards or more.
The Baylor star isn’t the only receiver that could help Tampa Bay in 2013. The Bucs are also interested in 6-foot, 202-pound Louisiana Tech wide receiver Quinton Patton, who is a potential second-round pick. Marshall’s Aaron Dobson and West Virginia dynamo Tavon Austin are also second-round options, while Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin is a potential third-rounder, and Kansas State’s Chris Harper could be enticing in the fourth round. Mississippi State’s crafty Chad Bumphis would be a good late-round option as a slot receiver for Tampa Bay.
“There are going to be some players at wide receiver,” said Bucs director of college scouting Eric Stokes, who likes this wide receiver class.
With three receivers – Williams, Benn and Underwood – entering contract years and oft-injured Sammie Stroughter potentially leaving this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, do not be surprised if Tampa Bay drafts a wide receiver earlier than some might suspect.
FAB 2. One of the stars of the 2013 Senior Bowl for the North was Nevada safety Duke Williams, who was tied for second in the game with six tackles. Like wide receiver, safety is another under-the-radar position the Buccaneers are honing in this offseason.
Despite drafting strong safety Mark Barron in the first round last year and having Ahmad Black, a second-year player that received extensive playing time in 2012, and rookie Keith Tandy on the roster, the Bucs want to increase the talent and competition at the safety position. Ronde Barber, a 16-year veteran who was the team’s starting free safety last year, is an unrestricted free agent and is still deciding whether he wants to play one more season at age 38.
So the Bucs paid plenty of attention to the safeties, such as Williams, in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl.
“It went well and we talked a lot of football in the meeting, and we talked about me as a person,” Williams said. “I met with the scouts and the G.M. They asked me what kind of defenses I ran in college and what I am familiar with in college.”
The hard-hitting Williams totaled 292 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 18 pass breakups, five forced fumbles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries as a three-year starter at Nevada. The Bucs, who play a lot of nickel and dime coverages on defense, like Willi
“I’ve played safety my whole life, but there have been some times where I’ve had to come in and play some cornerback,” Williams said. “It’s not too unfamiliar to me.”
“With me you are going to get a complete safety that can also play cornerback and line up on slot receivers. I play the run game well, and I fly to the football and create turnovers. The Bucs liked my physical play. They have Mark Barron there, but I could play right next to him.”
Although Nevada doesn’t typically play tough teams within its conference, Williams fared well against the best receiver in the nation, Cal’s Keenan Allen, holding him to six catches for 67 yards.
“Keenan Allen and the tight end from Fresno State (Mercel Jensen) were some of the toughest guys I faced this year,” Williams said. “I did really well against those guys, so I feel that experience would help me at the next level – hopefully in Tampa Bay.”
The Bucs also talked to Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas and Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox extensively in Mobile, Ala. and those players will be profiled in next week’s SR’s Fab 5.
FAB 3. As new Buccaneers director of college scouting Eric Stokes continues to work on his first draft in Tampa Bay after spending the past 12 years working for the Seahawks organization, I had the chance to ask him what he thought about the Buccaneers’ 2012 draft, which is off to a tremendous start given the early success of Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David and strong safety Mark Barron.
Stokes, a former safety at Nebraska, knows a lot about the safety position and played an integral role in drafting Seattle’s talented tandem of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
“I loved the players the Bucs drafted, especially early,” Stokes said. “I did Doug Martin personally, but Mark Barron was a guy that we were going to try to trade up for in Seattle even though we have Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, who are Pro Bowlers. Mark Barron is that type of player.
“When you went through the draft he was clearly the best football player in the draft. It didn’t mean that he was the best athlete or the most talented, but he was hands down the best football player in the draft. I have true convictions about that. He was so solid [last year] and he will continue to grow. He’s too solid of a player.”
With the departure of starting strong safety Sean Jones in free agency and the release of starting free safety Tanard Jackson in the offseason, the safety spot was clearly the weakest position on Tampa Bay’s roster heading into the 2012 season. Although the team also appeared to have a need at cornerback entering the 2012 NFL Draft (and that need would later be amplified during the season with suspensions of Eric Wright and Aqib Talib, who was eventually traded), Bucs general manager Mark Dominik stuck with his draft board and drafted Barron with the seventh overall pick instead of LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
Dominik and the Bucs scouts felt Claiborne was too soft against the run and not a good tackler, and new head coach Greg Schiano wanted physical cornerbacks that could hit and tackle as well as cover. As it turns out, Barron started all 16 games at strong safety and finished fourth on the team with 89 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, and has a high upside.
One of the reasons the Bucs bypassed selecting Claiborne or any other cornerback in the 2012 draft was because of the depth at the position this year. There will be three cornerbacks taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft – Alabama’s Dee Milliner, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks – and the Bucs believe the depth at cornerback goes at least three rounds in terms of players that could develop into starters.
Stokes was impressed with the foresight that Dominik and director of player personnel Dennis Hickey had when it came to knowing the probable strengths and weaknesses of the 2013 draft and using that information to help guide the team through the 2012 draft.
“That’s what I like about Mark,” Stokes said. “He takes the best player available. Morris Claiborne might be a little bit more talented, but he wasn’t the best football player. That’s why I think the Mark Barron pick was so awesome for Tampa. I go back to the forward-thinking approach [that Dominik has].
“I was amazed at how much work was thrown at me out of the gate for prepping down the road [for the 2013 draft.] I like that because that has opened my mind up. Let’s take a look peek at what’s ahead. It doesn’t mean that I am not here in the moment, but I think the Bucs do an awesome job of doing that. That’s a great way to attack the draft and build a team. You always have to be thinking ahead in this business.”
Aside from getting a sure-fire stud in Barron, Stokes also loved the Bucs’ next two picks when doing those player evaluations for the Seahawks last year.
“Doug was a guy that every time you saw him he was getting bigger and he was getting stronger and he was getting faster,” Stokes said. “He was getting more impressive. He was coming off a real nice junior year and he was nicked a little bit going into his senior year. As you got into the bowls and the workouts and saw that the character of the kid was top shelf. You couldn’t find a better person.
“Lavonte David was a guy we loved in Seattle and were targeting. I love him – and not just because he’s a Cornhusker. It was a terrific job on Tampa Bay’s part to find these football players with the makeup that you want. They are all leaders, mature and competitive. They all have the intangibles that you look for.”
FAB 4. National signing day for college football takes place next Wednesday on February 6, and one of the more interesting recruiting stories I’ve heard came from Buccaneers strong safety Mark Barron.
Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2012 became an All-American at Alabama and the seventh overall selection in last year’s NFL Draft by mastering the strong safety position in college. But he never played the position in high school and that’s one of the more fascinating reasons why he wanted to become a member of the Crimson Tide.
“I didn’t play safety growing up,” Barron said. “I played quarterback, running back, wide receiver – mostly offense all the way through to my senior year. During my senior year I played some safety as a backup, but I was starting at linebacker. I was the number one linebacker in the nation, according to Scout.com. During my senior year I had 1,000 yards rushing, 100 tackles and a handful of picks.
“I chose to play the safety position coming out of high school. Different schools wanted me to play different positions, so the deal for me was picking what position I wanted to play. That led me to my school. Auburn wanted me to play running back. Alabama wanted me to play safety. Florida wanted me to play running back or receiver. I forgot what LSU said, but they wanted me on offense. So I picked what position I wanted to play, which was safety, and that told me which school I was going to.”
Barron, who hails from Mobile, Ala., went to St. Paul’s Episcopal School and was a five-star prospect in 2008 as the number one weakside linebacker, ranked by Scout.com. Rivals.com had Barron ranked as the fifth-best player in the state of Alabama and the 55th best player in the country.
Blessed with a big, 6-foot-2 frame that would allow him to carry more than the 213 pounds he currently weighs, Barron always liked the safety position even though he played closer to the line of scrimmage in high school as a linebacker.
“I mostly watched John Lynch. I was a big John Lynch fan growing up,” Barron said of Tampa Bay’s legendary safety. “I would also watch Brian Dawkins and Bob Sanders back when I was in middle school.
“I just wanted to be around that e
nvironment at Alabama, and that was the position I wanted to play. It all matched up.”
Barron broke up 22 passes, picked off 12 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown, posted five sacks and forced one fumble in 52 career games at Alabama. During his sophomore campaign, Barron had a breakout season, recording an SEC-leading seven interceptions to go along with 74 tackles.
“It didn’t really surprise me when it was happening during the season,” Barron said of his tremendous success at age 19. “After my sophomore year I sat down and looked at it and it kind of surprised me then.”
Barron finished his college career with five interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles over the next two seasons to boost his stock into the top 10 of the 2012 NFL Draft. During his rookie season in Tampa Bay, Barron started all 16 games and finished the season with 89 tackles, four tackles for loss, 10 passes defensed, an interception and a forced fumble.
While he fell short of his goal of making the Pro Bowl and winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Barron did make the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie Team along with Bucs teammates running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David. He also accomplished another goal with the chance to meet his idol, who happens to be part of the Buccaneers preseason television network.
“I met John Lynch, but it was only briefly,” Barron said. “I met him briefly in the preseason in the hallway when he was here. We just passed by each other. It was cool, but it was quick. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to sit down and talk to him at some point in time and talk about playing safety.”
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 next Friday:
• Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik told the media this offseason that the cornerback position was three rounds deep in terms of talent. So when I interviewed new director of college scouting Eric Stokes, I asked him if he shared the same opinion of the position that the Bucs desperately need to address in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“There will be players there – we’ll see,” Stokes said. “You never know where players will come from. We took [cornerback] Richard Sherman in the fifth round in Seattle. The cornerback position may be deeper than three rounds, who knows? There might be a surprise guy, a diamond in the rough like I’ve talked about. You can never quite tell until you lay it all out. I’ve been in some drafts where there are a lot of big names, but the talent isn’t there. There have been other times where there are three or four special guys and that’s all you really have to choose from.”
• One small school star that made a big impact and a name for himself at the Senior Bowl was Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford. He took the opening kickoff back 88 yards to set up the South’s first touchdown. Then the 5-foot-10, 186-pound corner, who solidified his second-round grade in Mobile, Ala., recorded five tackles and broke up one pass on defense.
“I have a lot to prove coming from a small school like Southeastern I have a chip on my shoulder,” Alford said. “My main priority was to show the scouts that I could compete and I belong out here. Just because I’m from a small school doesn’t mean I don’t belong with these guys.”
“There’s no doubt I can come in and play right away as a rookie,” Alford said. “I have a lot of confidence that I can come in and help any team that needs a cornerback. The sky is the limit for me as long as I keep God first.”
Alford, who met with Bucs scouts in Mobile, Ala. is a great athlete and recorded 137 tackles, six tackles for loss, 20 pass breakups, 10 interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and returned nine punts for 104 yards and a score, in addition to returning four kickoffs for 61 yards for Southeastern Louisiana. “I can do punt return, kickoff return, I can play inside in the nickel and outside at cornerback,” Alford said. “I have a lot to prove to the scouts, G.M.’s and coaches and that’s my motivation each day I wake up.”
• With the NFL scouting combine just weeks away in Indianapolis, teams will begin to focus on 40-yard dash times and how great players’ physiques are in spandex shorts and shirts. But new Buccaneers director of college scouting Eric Stokes is a firm believer in relying on game tape when evaluating a player and not putting much weight in how high a player can jump and how fast his shuttle times are at the combine and pro days.
“The workouts are used when you have to divide players – when two guys are so even on the surface that you have to grade one higher than the other,” Stokes said. “What separates them? Maybe it’s the workout if it’s that close, but usually the tape will take you where you need to go when you evaluate a player.”
• We have had a great initial response from Pewter Insider subscribers for our first official Pewter Report Get2gether of 2013, which will take place on Sunday, February 17 at Courtside Grille Tampa at 13234 Race Track Road from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. This event, which is publicized on PewterReport.com, will be capped at 150 Bucs fans comprised of only Pewter Insider subscribers, who may bring one guest. Pewter Insider subscribers must RSVP on the Pewter Insider message board and availability will be limited to a first-come, first-served basis.
This Pewter Report Get2gether event – like all four this year – will be catered with free appetizers, soft drinks and tea, courtesy of Pewter Report and Courtside Grille. Drink specials will also be provided to Pewter Insider subscribers, in addition to food specials for those Bucs fans that want to purchase beer, wine or mixed drinks, and prefer to purchase eat lunch or dinner at Courtside Grille Tampa rather than just feast on appetizers.
This Pewter Report Get2gether will also feature an appearance and autograph session with Buccaneers free safety Ahmad Black, in addition to a question-and-answer session with Black and Pewter Reporters Mark Cook and yours truly. As always, there will be plenty of inside information from the PR staff dished out at the Pewter Report Get2gether, and there will be also be some cool giveaways.
So Pewter Insiders need to save the date of Sunday, February 17 and be sure to quickly sign up on the Pewter Insider message board on Monday when we post the RSVP thread. If you are interested in becoming a Pewter Insider subscriber for just $10 per year, call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) 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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