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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. If you would like some inside information on what Josh Freeman dealt with during his three-year career at Kansas State University you’ve come to the right place. No one in the media – and perhaps no one in Tampa – has watched more K-State games than this Wildcat alum. Before becoming a reporter for Buccaneer Magazine in 1995, I wrote for a similar K-State publication called Purple Pride, which has now grown into the publication Powercat Illustrated and the website GoPowercat.com. I also worked in the K-State sports information department and still maintain several contacts at the school and in the media.
After talking to my sources over the last couple years during the Ron Prince era in Manhattan, Kan., I will attempt to paint a picture of exactly what Freeman had to overcome in Prince’s shadow and how his experiences with an egomaniacal head coach have produced a mentally tough quarterback ready for the rigors of the NFL.
Let’s start in December 2005 when I first broke the story that then little known assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris would not be succeeding Mike Tomlin as Tampa Bay’s defensive backs coach, which was a surprise, but would instead be joining Prince’s Wildcats staff in 2006 as the school’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. I had developed a good rapport with Morris and stayed in contact with him during the 2006 season. Morris wondered if I was going to come out for a game and I had targeted the Kansas State vs. Texas prime time game because the Buccaneers weren’t playing the Panthers in Carolina until Monday.
I was in the stands when Freeman led the Wildcats’ aerial assault against the No. 4-ranked Longhorns with three touchdown passes in a huge, 45-42 upset win. After the game, my wife and I went to the football complex to celebrate the big win with Morris and I got a chance to meet Freeman for the first time. He was every inch of 6-foot-6, 245 pounds as a freshman and towered over me as we shook hands. With the Wildcats bowl bound, I assumed that my alma mater was back on the upswing.
But then I received word that Morris, whose K-State defense led the Big 12 in sacks and produced two All-Big 12 first-team performers, was heading back to the Buccaneers after only one season in Manhattan and broke the story. But Morris wasn’t the only coach leaving Prince. Running backs coach Tim Horton, wide receivers coach Pat Washington and tight ends coach James Jones were also run off by Prince’s huge ego and harsh treatment, in addition to director of football administration Abby Boustead. Prince also fired Jim Kleinau, who had been the school’s equipment manager for 28 years, and fired Rod Cole, who was K-State’s strength and conditioning coach for 14 years.
After the 2007 season, offensive coordinator James Franklin, who is one of Morris’ best friends, had enough of Prince after an ugly incident at the funeral of Franklin’s mother. Prince also ran off linebackers coach Matt Wallerstadt, who had played football at K-State back in the 1980s, and defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who replaced Morris when he went back to Tampa Bay in 2007. In two years, Prince’s behavior had caused more than half of his original staff to abandon him – even Morris, who had coached with Prince at Cornell under head coach Pete Mangurian, who now coaches Tampa Bay’s offensive line – in addition to some key support staff from the football headquarters.
From the start, followers of the football program noticed how Prince became infatuated with Freeman, a highly recruited true freshman quarterback with impressive physical skills. The presence of Freeman, who was the apple of the head coach’s eye, and Prince’s constant touting of K-State’s top recruit prompted three quarterbacks to transfer with the feeling that they would never be given the chance to compete for the starting job because of Freeman’s recruiting day status.
Naturally, Freeman didn’t mind any of the attention he was getting – not that he had a big ego himself, but as a competitor he was one step closer to the starting job if the head coach was squarely in his corner, which Prince was. But in hindsight, Freeman knew he was not ready to step in and play right away. Very few true freshmen are, especially at the quarterback position. And the numbers support that.
His college debut came in the second half of the season, during a 45-0 win over Florida Atlantic when he saw mop-up duty, going 0-for-4 with one interception. Two weeks later in more mop-up duty in a 24-6 loss to Louisville, Freeman went 3-of-10 for 18 yards and was sacked twice behind a porous K-State offensive line.
With K-State trailing at Baylor, 7-3, at halftime the following week, Prince made the rash decision to yank senior starter Dylan Meir permanently despite a 3-1 record in 2006, and insert Freeman for good. Freeman was not prepared and went a dreadful 11-of-33 for 196 yards with three interceptions in an embarrassing 17-3 defeat in Waco, Tx.
Freeman led a fourth quarter comeback in his first start the next week against Oklahoma State, rushing for a 21-yard touchdown to cap off a 31-27, but suffered through two back-to-back losses against Nebraska and Missouri in which he threw two picks, no touchdowns and was sacked a total of seven times. Freeman responded with three straight wins, starting with a 31-10 triumph over Iowa State in which he was 14-of-20 for 161 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Freeman was 22-of-26 (84.6 percent) for 251 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-21 win over Colorado before beating Texas, 45-42, with a 19-of-31 (61.3 percent) 269-yard performance with three touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one interception. Despite losing at Kansas the next week and to Rutgers in the Texas Bowl, that three-game winning streak only fueled Prince’s obsession with Freeman’s career path.
In the media, Prince would never criticize or critique Freeman – even after bad performances. With Freeman entrenched as the starter heading into 2007, the front of the football media guide was a picture of Freeman’s number one jersey and the slogan for the Wildcats that year was the “Power of One.” Although Prince said that the slogan represented the team’s relationship with the 28th Infantry “Black Lions” of the First Infantry Division in nearby Fort Riley, Kan., some in the K-State media instead believed that the slogan was actually about the “Power of Freeman” and Prince’s fixation on his trophy recruit.
Because others on the team and in the fan base shared this perception, it placed an enormous amount of pressure on the sophomore quarterback. Throughout all of Prince’s coddling, Freeman either didn’t notice it or didn’t mind it and never hinted that he had a problem with Prince in the media. Why should he?
It’s the same reason why former Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway didn’t have a problem with head coach Jon Gruden until 2008. Why should he? Gruden was feeding him the ball and putting him in position to post 1,000-yard seasons for three straight years between 2005-07. Prince was doing the same thing by showcasing Freeman, but taking it to an extreme where it was actually hurting team chemistry. That put a lot of pressure on the young quarterback.
Aside from Prince starting Freeman too soon when he wasn’t prepared as a true freshman, his running off coaches came back to bite him and K-State on signing day as many recruits were turned off by the heavy turnover of the coaching staff from year to year. As a result, Freeman was not surrounded by much talent, save for wide receiver Yamon Figurs, who was a third-round pick by Baltimore after the 2006 season, and All-American wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who was a second-round pick by Green Bay.
During his three-year stint at K-State, Freeman never played with an All-Big 12 offensive lineman despite that being Prince’s forte` after grooming D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Elton Brown and Branden Albert for the NFL as Virgina’s offensive line coach. Only K-State senior guard Greg Wafford was named to the conference’s honorable mention list in 2006 and he wasn’t a Prince recruit.
The Wildcats’ running game was mediocre during Freeman’s stay with James Johnson’s 1,106-yard 2007 campaign as the only year K-State had a 1,000-yard rusher. In 2008, K-State was so desperate at the running back position that after benching their starter, who was a walk-on from a junior college, the Wildcats had to convert a wide receiver to play running back – and he didn’t even play running back in high school. That receiver, Lamark Brown, led the Wildcats with only 412 rushing yards.
The situation was so dire that Freeman, who regards himself as a pocket passer, was called on to help out in the running game and nearly led the team with 404 yards and 14 touchdowns on 107 carries. Whatever Prince asked Freeman to do, he did like a good soldier for the betterment of the team. And despite not having a stellar supporting cast around him on offense or a credible defense to complement him after Morris’ departure, Freeman never complained in the media.
Freeman was well respected by his teammates, but they did not appreciate how he was not held accountable for his poor play by Prince in the media like the defense was. And behind the scenes, Prince was known for ripping into Freeman when things went bad instead of instilling confidence in him.
After a nationally televised, 38-29 loss at Louisville on ESPN in 2008 in which Freeman completed 22-of-42 passes (52.4 percent) for 313 yards with three touchdowns to go along with two picks and one fumble, a furious Prince made his defense – and allegedly his defensive coaches – run 38 wind sprints at the stadium 2:00 a.m. upon returning to Manhattan in the middle of the night.
Prince’s behavior caused the offensive players to clash with the defensive players and there was little team chemistry for the rest of the season as a result as K-State’s defense finished 117th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools last year. To his credit, Freeman, who had three turnovers in the game, suggested to the media that the offense should have been running those wind sprints, too. And despite Prince covering for his poor play at times in the media, Freeman was always accountable for his mistakes, interceptions and losses.
To top off Prince’s strange treatment of Freeman at K-State, the Wildcats head coach would not allow anyone to talk to his star quarterback on the sidelines during games. A Buccaneers source told me that Prince forbid anyone from interacting with Freeman on the sidelines except for himself and the offensive coordinator, which was ridiculous. His teammates weren’t allowed to console him after an interception or celebrate with him after a big touchdown pass. That strict – and unnecessary – rule helped create a misconception that Freeman was aloof, a loner or lacked real leadership qualities.
Freeman was witness to, subject to and the cause of some very erratic behavior by Prince, and that ultimately played a big role in the head coach being fired midway through the 2008 season after just two and half seasons. But Freeman always appreciated Prince’s support, even though the byproduct of it harmed the team. And Freeman was okay with his former head coach standing alongside he and his family on the stage at the NFL Draft.
At first glance, one would think Prince was there at the draft supporting his prized quarterback. But given his questionable and ego-driven track record at K-State, Prince was likely there to remind the football world that he was largely responsible for Freeman’s success.
A Bucs source told me that Freeman had been through the emotional ringer with Prince and that the mental toughness that was forged in dealing with his tyrannical ways would serve him well in the NFL. The fact that Freeman had to fight through a dysfunctional situation at a losing program with a loose cannon head coach, a coaching staff that was always in flux and a roster full of average or below average talent proved to Tampa Bay that he could remain poised, focus on football and withstand the mental challenges that come with being a young quarterback with high expectations placed on him.
FAB 2. Once and for all, I would like to set the record straight about my pre-draft stance on Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman, who was Tampa Bay’s first-round pick this year. The reason I’m doing this is because there have been several posts on the PewterReport.com message boards by posters that are missing some of the facts.
I certainly admit that back in early January I did not favor the Buccaneers drafting Freeman. As he played for my alma mater, which finished a disappointing 5-7 (again!), I had my purple-colored glasses on when watching K-State. It was only when I talked to NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl and re-watched the K-State games I taped with objectivity – and not emotion – that I saw what was getting the Bucs excited and that some of his deficiencies were related to the poor talent around him.
If you recall, I did advocate that the Bucs take him in the Point-Counterpoint of the April issue. That was the most recent endorsement I gave Freeman and certainly trumps what I said about him in early January right after he declared for the draft.
My decision-making process regarding Freeman’s evaluation was not extreme. It was gradual over time. I first advocated drafting him in the February issue of Pewter Report in my End Zone column and my feelings on drafting him grew stronger as I re-watched more KSU games with a more critical eye.
If I was a K-State homer, I would have been suggesting the Bucs take Freeman all along, but that was clearly not the case. I am fully aware that Freeman is not a prospect without legitimate question marks and some of those question marks caused my enthusiasm to be dampened initially. But when a group of trusted, league-wide scouts pointed out some specific things to look for in Freeman’s game, I began looking at him in a different light.
I saw the ton of dropped passes by a sub-par receiving corps during his junior season. I saw him running for his life on every other passing down due to poor offensive line play. I saw the fact that K-State’s defense was so terrible over the last two years that Freeman knew the offense literally had to score a touchdown on every possession in order to even have a chance at winning. That’s an awful lot of pressure on a young QB’s shoulders, especially when he doesn’t have the supporting cast around him to get the job done and be competitive on a weekly basis. It’s all there on the game tape.
I came around to the Bucs’ line of thinking, which is with a better coaching staff and a better supporting cast in place, that Freeman’s upside in the NFL is quite high. He has rare physical tools and if given a chance to develop the right way in a stable environment with a supportive head coach with his head screwed on right that Freeman could become an NFL franchise quarterback for a team that desperately needs one after going through a dizzying quarterback carousel during the Jon Gruden era.
Is Freeman a bit of a reach? Yes.
Is Freeman a project? Yes.
Is Freeman a risky pick? Yes.
But after re-watching those K-State games without emotion and knowing the outcome ahead of time in January, February and March, I was able to cast aside my disappointment as an interested alumnus that Freeman didn’t get the job done every Saturday. I could see why the Buccaneers took him, especially with the comfort level that head coach Raheem Morris had with Freeman, and now that the decision has been made I support it as much as I did when I authored the Point-Counterpoint column in the April issue of Pewter Report.
FAB 3. I’ll admit it. I wasn’t particularly high on the Buccaneers’ selection of USC defensive end Kyle Moore in the fourth round. I understand that Tampa Bay was targeting a left end in the 2009 NFL Draft to line up opposite Gaines Adams and wanted one with size. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Moore fits the criteria the Bucs were looking for.
The one thing that bothered me was the fact that Tampa Bay needs to improve its pass rush and that the defensive end position over at One Buc Place consists of four guys – Adams, Jimmy Wilkerson, Stylez G. White and Louis Holmes – that have never had a double-digit sack season in the NFL. In fact, between all four players, they have collaborated on a combined 31.5 career sacks at the pro level. To put that in perspective, Regan Upshaw, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 1996, has posted 34.5 career sacks in his mediocre career as an NFL journeyman.
Compounding the issue was the fact that myself and fellow Pewter Report beat writer Charlie Campbell saw the Bucs trade up with Dallas to get Moore in the fourth round and then witnessed the Cowboys select Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams, who amassed 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including 13 in 2008. At first glance, I didn’t think this was nearly as sinful as Tampa Bay passing up Alabama pass rusher Mark Anderson to draft Julian Jenkins in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. But the fact that the Bucs think of Moore as a pass rusher when he notched only seven career sacks, including five as a senior, seemed a bit scary to this reporter.
So I enlisted the help of a friend I met at this year’s Senior Bowl, pass rushing guru Chuck Smith, who is the president of Defensive Line, Inc. Smith runs a pass-rushing school in Suwanee, Ga. for some of the NFL’s premier defensive linemen, including Albert Haynesworth, Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware, in addition to some of the top draft prospects each year. Pewter Insider subscribers may remember an SR’s Fab 5 column with Smith’s comments about Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English and Adams. If you haven’t read those two PI columns, I suggest doing so to get a full background on Smith, who is the Falcons’ all-time leading sacker, and his relationship with new Bucs defensive line coach Robert Nunn.
In questioning Smith about his stable of draft prospects after the Senior Bowl, I recall Moore being one of his students. So I followed up with Smith to get his take on what USC’s leading sacker in 2008 was all about. I suspected that Smith would hype up Moore because he’s one of his guys, but in several conversations I’ve come to learn that Smith is a straight shooter. And the fact that Smith implored me to quote the fact that he would put his professional reputation on Moore’s NFL success told me he wasn’t blowing smoke about Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick.
So here’s what Smith had to say.
“Kyle Moore is one of the sleepers in this draft, man. I’m shocked he was there in the fourth round,” Smith said. “I told Coach Nunn what an absolute steal he got with Kyle Moore. He’s a guy that reminds me a lot of (New York Giants defensive lineman) Justin Tuck, but a lot taller. He’s that type of player. He’s got quickness and he’s got that junkyard dog in him. On the pro level, he reminds me of Chris Doleman. This guy can rush and he doesn’t stay blocked very long.”
I asked Smith why would someone who was supposedly a good pass rusher recorded only five sacks last year and just seven in his career.
“His challenge at USC last year was that the coaches made Clay Matthews, Jr. – basically him and Kyle – play the same position. Clay stood up and Kyle rushed from a stance, but they both played the same position. That was the coaches’ decision and it affected Kyle’s draft status. That was the reason he was there in the fourth round –because Clay took some of his reps, in my opinion. But at the end of the day, I think the Bucs got the steal of the draft.
“I think Kyle Moore is going to be a good pass rusher and a complement to Gaines Adams down there in Tampa. I’m serious, man. Not many people realize how good this guy is. Now that the league has thrown a chip on his shoulder, I like that even better.”
Smith said that he spoke with Nunn before the draft and was solicited for his advice on Moore and other defensive line prospects. Smith said the Bucs plan to use Moore as a left defensive end on first and second down and have him be an interior pass rusher like Tuck on third-and-long situations and on other obvious passing downs.
“His weakness is against the run, but as far as working out hard, as far as focusing and being attentive, he has no weaknesses,” Smith said. “He’s stronger than people probably think he is. Most of the great NFL players have that dog in them where they don’t like to lose and they don’t like to be second fiddle. I’m really excited that he went to Tampa because I get to see him twice a year since I keep tabs on the NFC South the most with me being in Atlanta. If he rushed like he rushed last year he should be in the Bucs’ rush package. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
“He can come in right now and help them with the pass rush inside and out. He’s a Justin Tuck. He’ll develop in time as a full-time starter. I’m real excited for him.”
Smith said it won’t take much to correct Moore’s flaws in the running game at the next level.
“His weakness is against the run, but that might have to do with playing in the Pac-10,” Smith said. “USC beat everybody up, and teams had to pass the ball a lot, so they didn’t worry about the run. The technique he was taught at USC is a flawed technique. They basically jet upfield and use a rip technique to force the corner. You have to engage people with both hands and your helmet and explode through their chest – their breastplate. It’s just something I saw. He wasn’t doing it at the Senior Bowl. It was something he was taught at USC. It’s something Robert Nunn is going to work on in rookie mini-camp and OTAs. It’s also something I’ve worked with him on. A lot of college teams teach that where they squeeze with their shoulders and jet upfield. Nah, man. You’ve got to use both of your hands as violent weapons when you are engaged versus the run. He understands that. I think it was just a technique flaw at USC.
“When you watch him at the Senior Bowl against the run versus Ole Miss’ Michael Oher and some of those guys, he rocked their butts. Part of the reason Oher went late was because guys like Kyle Moore, Robert Ayers and Larry English whipped their asses. This guy can play. Kyle Moore was real close to being a first-rounder. There is not much difference between he and Robert Ayers. They are all guys that are learning. There is not a big gap between him in the fourth round and Robert Ayers in the first round.”
Once USC’s season ended with a blowout win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl, Moore began training for the Senior Bowl and the Combine with Smith. I asked Smith how Moore improved after a few weeks of his tutelage. Based on his answer, you can sense the conviction Smith has about Moore and that should ease the minds of any skeptics, like myself, or Bucs fans that may have questioned the pick.
“He improved the most on his lateral movement and explosiveness with me,” Smith said. “Pass rushing and defensive line play is all about not making false steps as a defensive lineman. When you are coming off the corner, you have to be precise. You can’t be sliding around. You have to remember that he’s 6-foot-6. Guys like that tend to play high, but he’s gotten better with his lateral movement, his explosiveness and his hands. He is starting to use his hands as violent weapons. He’s a different player that went to the Senior Bowl after he started working with me than he was at USC.
“I put my reputation and my name on that. Tampa got a guy that came out this year and can become a real pass rusher for them. I can’t wait until you write that first article touting this guy because Raheem Morris is raving about this guy. Put that in quotes and send that story to me. It’s going to happen. He’s going to do it against some of the best offensive linemen. He is ready to go as a rusher. I stake my reputation on that. He’s a hard worker. The guy worked his butt off for the Combine. He pushes himself. He lifts hard. He’s the kind of guy you win championships with. I can picture him and Gaines Adams being like prehistoric dinosaurs hunting down quarterbacks.”
We’ll find out in training camp and the preseason if Moore is as good as Smith thinks he is. But given his emphatic sentiments about the Bucs’ fourth-round pick, I’m feeling better about Tampa Bay drafting him than I did before I picked up the phone and gave Smith a call.
FAB 4. I’ve gotten some requests for my feedback on the Bucs’ 2009 NFL Draft and what grade I would give general manager Mark Dominik, head coach Raheem Morris and director of college scouting Dennis Hickey for their first effort together as Tampa Bay’s revamped front office. To tell you the truth, it’s taken me 14 years of covering this team professionally to finally realize that grading a draft the day after it’s over and before these rookies have played a down is pointless.
That’s not a cop out. I’ve just come to realize that an initial reaction by anybody – even someone like myself who covers the team professionally – can be quite flawed without seeing how these guys can perform in training camp and the preseason. I accurately predicted that 2005 second-round pick Barrett Ruud would be a stud middle linebacker, and that 2006 fifth-round pick Julian Jenkins would be a dud defensive lineman.
But I also recall absolutely raving over the Bucs’ selections of wide receiver Maurice Stovall and cornerback Alan Zemaitis is 2006, and basically panning the selection of cornerback-turned-free safety Tanard Jackson in 2007 and linebacker Geno Hayes – and being wrong on all four counts. So instead of ranting or raving about the Bucs’ 2009 class and assigning a silly letter grade, I’ll attempt to provide a more balanced approach to my analysis my telling you what I like about the pick and what I don’t like about it. And instead of dishing out a grade, I’ll just tell you if I initially favor the selection or not.
Sorry if you were hoping for a letter grade, but in a world that is becoming less and less fair, I think this is the fairest approach to take.
ROUND 1 QB Josh Freeman – Kansas State What I like about the pick: Jon Gruden was fired because there was no long-term answer at the QB position. Dominik and Morris deserve credit for being bold enough to address the need of drafting a franchise quarterback in the first round. I like the fact that Morris had a ton of insight into this selection from his own experience with Freeman in 2006 and the input of former K-State offensive coordinator James Franklin, who is a trusted friend, and Morris’ own assistant, Jay Kaiser, who was at K-State from 2006-08. Freeman has all the physical tools to succeed and Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense fits his skill set quite well.
What I don’t like about the pick: Questions about whether he has the intangibles found in winners and his record against the top teams in the Big 12, which is a conference not known for its defense, are valid. The Bucs ignored obvious needs at defensive end and cornerback in the first round. The success of the tenure of Dominik and Morris largely relies on Freeman panning out, which is an awful lot of pressure for such a young G.M. and head coach. I think that if Morris wasn’t at K-State in 2006 that the Bucs wouldn’t have drafted Freeman. I also think that trading away a sixth-round pick wasn’t necessary, although it was not a huge price to pay to move up from 19 to 17 to get Freeman.
Do I favor the pick: Yes. I advocated his selection in Pewter Report’s 2009 Bucs Draft Preview and he was PR’s Best Bet at quarterback, so I have to own it. I understand the team’s reasoning for selecting him and support it, but I can’t say with any certainty that Freeman will be a sure-fire star in the NFL.
ROUND 2 Traded for TE Kellen Winslow – Cleveland What I like about the pick: Even though the Bucs did not have a glaring need at the tight end position, they were aggressive in seeking out a real playmaker for their offense. Winslow brings fire, intensity and speed to Tampa Bay’s offense and should develop into a leader. Don’t be surprised if he leads the Bucs in receptions in 2009.
What I don’t like about the pick: While I don’t necessarily question the compensation Tampa Bay surrendered to Cleveland in the trade, I don’t support the notion that Dominik had to make Winslow the highest-paid tight end in the NFL with two years left on his contract and without playing a down for the Buccaneers. I think it sets a bad precedent for other players who have two years left on their deal. Like the Freeman pick, Dominik’s legacy in Tampa Bay will be attached to whether Winslow succeeds or fails as a Buccaneer. Acquiring these two young offensive players was a bold move for a first-time general manager that has been in his role just over 100 days.
Do I favor the pick: Yes. There wasn’t any better player than Winslow in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He will be a big security blanket for McCown in 2009 and Freeman in 2010.
ROUND 3 DT Roy Miller – Texas What I like about the pick: There were not a lot of big 300-plus-pound defensive tackles in this draft, and the Bucs got a pretty talented one. He fits Jim Bates’ scheme very well. Miller brings a tremendous work ethic, great leadership and an interesting mix of power, size and speed to the Buccaneers. While he may not have the talent to become a Pro Bowler, he is good enough to become the next Hovan in Tampa Bay.
What I don’t like about the pick: I know that defensive tackle was a need position for the Bucs, but more than cornerback? At defensive tackle the Bucs have starters in Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims as well as unproven back-ups in Greg Peterson and Dre Moore. Jim Bates’ defense is cornerback-driven, and the Bucs’ top three corners right now are Ronde Barber, Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack. After that it’s Torrie Cox, Kyle Arrington, Greg Fassit and E.J. Biggers. I asked one Bucs personnel man what would happen if Talib were injured early and lost for the 2009 campaign. He said, “We would be (screwed).”
Do I favor the pick: Kind of. I think Miller can be a good player, but the Bucs passed on Oregon State cornerback Keenan Lewis and Georgia cornerback Asher Allen to draft him. That bothers me because I liked both players more than I liked Miller, who I thought was drafted a round or two too high.
ROUND 4 DE Kyle Moore – USC What I like about the pick: Tampa Bay needed a defensive end with size and Moore has that at 6-foot-5, 272 pounds. The best thing about the drafting of Moore, in my opinion, is that the Kevin Carter era is over in Tampa Bay. I was never a big fan of Carter, who was too stiff to rush the passer and was a liability against the run in December. The arrival of Moore means the Bucs are committed to a youth movement and the 36-year old Carter can finish out his NFL career with another team.
What I don’t like about the pick: I don’t think Moore is the premier pass rusher that the Bucs think he is. His seven career sacks don’t support that, especially when former USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis had 17.5 career sacks, including 8.5 as a senior, and former USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson had 30.5 career sacks, including 10.5 as a senior. I’ve seen the Bucs blow too many mid-round picks on defensive linemen (John McLaughlin, John Stamper, Julian Jenkins and perhaps Peterson and Moore), so I question the team’s track record of evaluating and developing those D-linemen. Do I favor the pick: Not really, although I feel more comfortable about Moore after talking to Chuck Smith. What concerns me is that the Bucs not only passed on Richmond’s 6-foot-2, 266-pound defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, who ran a 4.64 and posted 20 sacks in college, but they also passed on Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams, who led the Big 12 in sacks in 2008. Vanderbilt cornerback D.J. Moore was also on the board.
ROUND 5 OT Xavier Fulton – Illinois What I like about the pick: Tampa Bay is sticking to its guns about wanting to create competition. The Bucs are high on James Lee, who was profiled in the “In The Lab” feature in the April edition of Pewter Report magazine, but wanted to add another promising prospect to either push Lee to greatness or push him off the roster. Fulton is a physical, hard-nosed competitor with great feet and an intriguing upside. He plays with a mean streak and is still learning the game.
What I don’t like about the pick: Not much, really. Perhaps the fact that Fulton is a developmental player and won’t see the field for a couple years – if at all. That might be the only downside to this pick. It will be interesting to see if Fulton, who is a project with only two years playing offensive tackle, will become a better pro than four-year starters like Andrew Gardner (Georgia Tech) and Garrett Reynolds (North Carolina), who were selected after him.
Do I favor the pick: Yes. Grabbing Fulton in the fifth round was a very good value and based on the college tape I watched of him, he has a real chance of sticking around.
ROUND 7 CB E.J. Biggers – Western Michigan What I like about the pick: At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds and blessed with 4.35 speed, I like the size-speed package that Biggers brings to Tampa Bay. He has pretty good man coverage skills, evidenced by his career 19 pass breakups and seven interceptions. Biggers is a physical tackler, which is a trait that Morris demands from his cornerbacks.
What I don’t like about the pick: I don’t like the fact that the Bucs waited until the seventh round to address the cornerback position. Of course this should help Biggers’ chances of making the team because all he has to do is beat out the likes of Cox, Arrington and Fassit.
Do I favor the pick?: Yes. It’s better late than never for a cornerback. The Bucs were really targeting Biggers, whom PewterReport.com accurately projected in the seventh round in its final online mock draft on April 24.
ROUND 7 WR Sammy Stroughter – Oregon State What I like about the pick: The selection of Stroughter is insurance in case Dexter Jackson doesn’t pan out and fails to make the team this year as a receiver, which is a real possibility. Like Jackson, Stroughter can return punts and could serve as a backup to Pro Bowler Clifton Smith. I like Stroughter’s toughness and short-area quickness. He may not have the same 4.3 speed as Jackson does on a track, but Stroughter plays faster than the Appalachian State product on grass.
What I don’t like about the pick: There’s not much to dislike about Stroughter, especially in the seventh round. I might have preferred Rutgers wide receiver Tiquan Underwood over Stroughter because he’s four inches taller and runs in the 4.3’s.
Do I favor the pick?: Yes, especially because Stroughter can actually make the team. The likes of Jackson, Paris Warren, Maurice Stovall, Kelly Campbell and Anthony Mix are certainly not locks to make the team.
FAB 5. Here are a couple things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• The Bucs were really hoping that Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson would have fallen to them in the third round. Pewter Report had him as a late first-round projection, but found out after the draft that Tampa Bay would have only taken Johnson if the Buccaneers were going to trade back in the first round. That was the plan if quarterback Josh Freeman had been selected before Tampa Bay had the chance to nab him. If the Bucs would have traded back and picked up an extra pick, then the team could have justified selecting him. If the Bucs could not trade back and Freeman was gone, the plan was to draft Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis, who was Pewter Report’s Bucs’ Best Bet at CB. Had the Bucs come up with a second-round pick on draft day to make up for the one they traded to Cleveland for tight end Kellen Winslow, there is no way Johnson would have gotten to the third round.
• As proof that the Bucs left no stone unturned regarding researching quarterback Josh Freeman, my opinion was actually sought out once more 24 hours before the draft by the same Tampa Bay front office member that interviewed me about the K-State quarterback in the parking lot of One Buccaneer Place last December. I do applaud the Bucs’ diligence, but I’m not about to think for one minute that what I said in this off-the-record conversation about Freeman had any influence over the team’s decision to draft Freeman in the first round. Yet I was flattered to even be consulted. Then again, if I was in the Bucs’ scouting department and there was a reporter that studies and researches the draft more than any other media member and has a myriad of connections to the Kansas State football program I would solicit that person’s opinion, too. It certainly wouldn’t hurt. So why didn’t I use this information in Pewter Report’s final mock draft? If you recall, I said, “If Freeman is there at 19, and I believe that he might be gone by the time the Bucs’ pick, I don’t see Tampa Bay passing on him.” I just didn’t think he would be there. I was sure that the Jets would end up taking him with the 17th overall pick.
• The reason why one of my favorite college players, Cincinnati cornerback Mike Mickens, fell to the seventh round is because of a medical red flag. Mickens tore his meniscus late in the season, which caused him to miss the last three regular season games in 2008. After playing at less than 100 percent in the Orange Bowl, Mickens had to pull out of the Senior Bowl due to inflammation of his injured knee. That also caused him to not be able to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine. I think the Cowboys got a steal in the seventh round if he can return to full health.
• The Bucs were thrilled to sign undrafted free agents Iowa center Rob Bruggeman and Tennessee defensive back DeAngelo Willingham, who played corner for two years, but may project to safety in the NFL. Bruggeman was Pewter Report’s second-day Bucs’ Best Bet at center, and Willingham was a seventh-round pick in PewterReport.com’s final online mock draft on April 24. Keep an eye on Bruggeman. The Bucs really love him even though the 6-foot-4, 293-pounder only started one season at Iowa. Bruggeman, whose Hawkeyes career was derailed by injuries, is incredibly sharp, loves the weight room and blasted plenty of holes for All-Big 10 running back Shonn Greene, who was the first pick in the third round by the New York Jets in the 2009 NFL Draft. Bruggeman has a real shot to make the team if he can unseat Sean Mahan as Jeff Faine’s backup in training camp.
• Some folks, including some in the local media, were surprised that the Bucs did not draft a linebacker this year. But linebacker was the sixth-rated team need, according to the Pewter Report 2009 Bucs Draft Preview. The reason? Tampa Bay’s depth chart is stocked with linebackers, especially after Jermaine Phillips’ position switch and the addition of Angelo Crowell this offseason. Aside from those two and stalwart middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, the team is still on former draft picks like Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Geno Hayes and is curious to see if they can become starters this year following the departure of veterans Derrick Brooks and Cato June. The last thing general manager Mark Dominik was going to do is throw another draft pick at a linebacker when he has three unknown commodities on the roster from the last two drafts.
• Yours truly was the winner of a pre-draft bet with a former Bucs front office member, who didn’t think either North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks or Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt would be drafted in the first round. They were drafted back-to-back with Nicks going to the New York Giants at 29 and Britt going to Tennessee at 30. By the way, I like pepperoni pizza and Michelob Light, Mr. Allen.
• The team’s drafting of Kansas State quarterback and Pewter Report Bucs’ Best Bet, Josh Freeman, in the first round pushed the number of players accurately forecasted to the Buccaneers by way of Bucs’ Best Bets and PR’s mock drafts to 21 over the past 14 years. That is easily the best track record of any media outlet that covers the Buccaneers and a big reason why you made the right call in deciding to subscribe to Pewter Report and become a Pewter Insider. Speaking of subscribing, thank you to the thousand or so that have decided to either subscribe to Pewter Report or extend your subscription with our recession-buster special $10 offer. As Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur said, the more subscribers we get the closer we became to launching a brand new PewterReport.com website for you all to enjoy. Now is the time to encourage your friends, family and co-workers to subscribe to Pewter Report and the Pewter Insider. If you have not extended your subscription, I implore you to take advantage of the $10 special. About 80 percent of our extensions have been for three years at $30. Considering the regular price is $39.99 for one year, getting three years for $30 is the best value we’ve ever offered. Call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe or renew today or click here.
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: email@example.com
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