Copyright 2009

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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. Jay Cutler is a Chicago Bear. Whew! Glad that soap opera is over and didn’t linger until draft day.

Two first-round picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton was a very steep price to pay for Chicago in return for Cutler and a fifth-rounder. If Cutler somehow doesn’t live up to his promise in Chicago, it will set the Bears franchise back and ultimately cost general manager Jerry Angelo his job. Maybe Lovie Smith’s job, too.

You might have noticed that Pewter Report barely mentioned Jay Cutler over the past month. Outside of the normal reporting that was done when a three-way trade involving New England, Tampa Bay and Denver didn’t come to pass on the first day of free agency, I believe Charlie Campbell discussed the possibility of Cutler becoming a Buc once in a PI Quick Hits and that’s about it.

While the Tampa Bay area newspaper writers were giving out endless speculation in multiple articles and columns over the past few weeks debating the merits of trading for Cutler, how much it could cost and how much the Bucs should spend to acquire him, Pewter Report was relatively silent on the issue. Some of the visitors and members would ask us questions about what we were hearing on the message boards or in the chat rooms, and I’ve received a ton of e-mails and private messages on the subject, but we held fast to what we knew – which was not much of anything, really.

None of our team or league sources were suggesting the Bucs would be big players for Cutler this time around, and it turns out they weren’t. After missing out on Cutler the first time, the Bucs lost their best chance at acquiring the franchise-type quarterback. When most of the league didn’t know that Cutler was on the trading block, that presented Tampa Bay with a much better opportunity to land him because they didn’t have a ton of ammunition to give up in a trade.

The Bucs really only felt comfortable dealing their first- and third-round picks, which were offered to the Patriots in exchange for franchised quarterback Matt Cassell, who would be shipped to Denver for Cutler. But after the Patriots sent Cassel and defensive end Mike Vrabel to Kansas City, that deal was nixed as the Bucs were too late in catching wind of Cutler being available if the Broncos could land Cassel. That deal was done before the Bucs even entered the conversation.

After that attempted trade fell through, Pewter Report believed that the Bucs never had the ammo to give Denver in a trade because they didn’t have enough talented, trade-worthy players on their roster and Tampa Bay had shipped its second-round pick in 2009 to Cleveland for tight end Kellen Winslow. Washington, Cleveland, the New York Jets, Detroit – and ultimately Chicago – had more compensation ammo at their disposal in not just draft picks, but also talented quarterbacks that could be sent to Denver, which was desperately needing another QB to team with Chris Simms to make up for Cutler’s departure.

Washington could have sent Jason Campbell to Denver. Cleveland could have sent either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson to the Broncos. New York had a quarterback it could have sent west in Kellen Clemmons. Chicago eagerly parted ways with Orton, an average starter, in my opinion.

Tampa Bay had no quarterback to send in this deal, and couldn’t have done a trade with another team for a QB to package with picks to ship to Denver because it would have cost the Bucs more than two first-round picks and a third-round pick in the end to get that extra signal caller to use as trade bait. McDaniels wanted a young quarterback with legitimate starting experience who could grow with the team. That ruled out Brian Griese, who turned 34 in March, and Luke McCown, who only has seven NFL starts on his resume`.

Meanwhile, Orton has 33 career starts under his belt, and league sources tell that Denver head coach Josh McDaniels’ ego is so large that he believes he can turn any quarterback into a superstar. Even Orton and Chris Simms. Don’t believe me? Watch the Broncos pass on a first-round quarterback this year despite having the 12th and 18th overall picks. That’s right. Either Orton or Simms will be Denver’s opening day starter in 2009, and the bet here is on Orton.

McDaniels thinks his offensive system can turn just about any smart player into a quarterback like Tom Brady, a former sixth-round pick, or Cassel, a seventh-round. There have been some reports that suggest McDaniels questioned Cutler’s intelligence and approach to the game, and that may have been the reason to want to exchange Cutler for Cassel through Tampa Bay on the first day of free agency.

As Pewter Report expected all along, the Bucs just didn’t have the compensation to get Cutler, but it was more centered around the quarterback than the draft picks. All of this “Bucs are front-runners” talk ended up being nonsense. Notice how none of that hype actually started in Tampa on or by the local newspaper beat writers? Instead, this banter started nationally on ESPN, and on Yahoo! Sports by writers that were doing more “connect the dots” speculation instead of gathering facts. I’m not knocking those national media-types necessarily because the facts were kind of hard to come by (remember, Dominik used to work for Bruce Allen, who always kept things close to the vest).

In hindsight, I wish Pewter Report would have come out and reported that the Bucs should not have been viewed as front-runners for Cutler, based on what we were hearing (or not hearing in this case). That might have prevented some of the Cutler-mania that errupted and falsely raised fan expectations.

But then again, Dominik has a stealth quality about him, hiring coordinators Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates, re-signing quarterback Luke McCown before free agency, almost pulling off a trade for Cutler on the first day of free agency and swinging a deal for Winslow without the media, including Pewter Report, knowing about it ahead of time. The last thing we wanted to do was definitively say the Bucs were not going to get Cutler … and then somehow Dominik manages to pull it off. That wouldn’t have looked too good for ol’ Pewter Report’s scorecard.

Sure, the Bucs have traded away multiple first-rounders before in 2000 for wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, and for head coach Jon Gruden in 2002, along with a pair of second-round picks and $8 million in cash. Those trades paid off for the Bucs as both Johnson and Gruden were key elements of the team’s first and only Super Bowl championship in ’02. The reason why the Glazers made those trades is because they were a player or two and a good offensive coordinator away from the Super Bowl. That’s not the case today.

With apologies to Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris, I’m reluctant to say that the Bucs are even a playoff contender right now because of all of the change this franchise has undergone from the front office to the coaching ranks to the roster this offseason. Although a glance back to the Falcons’ out-of-nowhere success last year tells me I should give the team the benefit of the doubt until it proves me wrong in the win column during the 2009 season.

But my point is that now was not the right time to surrender three premium picks for a quarterback – even a supposed franchise quarterback like Cutler. This is a Buccaneers team that needs much more than a quarterback in order to compete for championships, and with Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense, which will revolves heavily around the running game, I think the Bucs would be over-paying for a position that will not be asked to do as much as it has over the last six years in Tampa Bay.

Now if Jags’ offense was going to be a pass-first offense like Jon Gruden’s was or Sean Payton’s is in New Orleans, the Bucs should have done whatever it took to land Cutler. But I see Luke McCown being able to be to manage this football team, turn and handoff the ball to Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward, execute the rollouts and bootlegs flawlessly and being able to hit a plethora of targets downfield for big plays. Simply put, this new offense will be similar to what Mike Shula ran in Tampa Bay when Trent Dilfer was the quarterback.

Now the mention of Shula or Dilfer might elicit groans from Bucs fans that remember the milquetoast, run-first offense in Tampa Bay from yesteryear. But I’ll remind you that for some of Dilfer’s shortcomings, he did not have as nearly a talented offensive line to work behind and didn’t have the same type of weapons that McCown will have at his disposal.

From the glimpses we’ve seen in mini-camp, which should be taken with a grain of salt, the constant barrage of slants, hooks, dump-offs and dinks that have been so plentiful over the Gruden years are leaving the Bucs offense. We saw more vertical routes in one practice on Thursday than I can recall seeing in an entire Gruden mini-camp.

Perhaps Jags was merely wanting to see the strengths and limitations of both McCown and Johnson in person to see how well they threw those type of passes. Or perhaps it’s a sign of things to come in this new offense and these type of pass plays will be called with greater regularity than we have seen during the Gruden era.

I’ve always been a big believer that passes turn into touchdowns much more often when the receiver is facing the end zone – not the quarterback. In other words, curls, hooks, drag routes might pick up first downs, but rarely do those plays turn into touchdowns. Go routes, fades, post and flag routes are more likely to produce touchdowns on a given throw.

I know this goes against conventional wisdom given the mantra that every team has, which is to find a franchise quarterback, but something about Cutler didn’t sit well with me at all. The guy is talented, no doubt. But Jeff George was one of the best passers the NFL has ever seen, too, but the guy was incredibly selfish and wasn’t a leader.

From much of the research I did on him I didn’t like Cutler’s attitude at all. He doesn’t come across as a team-first guy and for a guy that likes to (trash) talk so much, Culter is a terrible communicator, not trying to mend the fences with McDaniels or the guy signing his paychecks, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. When you don’t take your employer’s phone calls, that’s the ultimate sign of disrespect. And did you see any of Cutler’s Broncos teammates rally to his side publicly? No. That should tell you something about his leadership ability.

My line of thinking is along the lines of The Tampa Tribune’s Joe Henderson and Newsday’s Bob Glauber, who penned excellent columns on the concerns about Cutler, not to mention how practicing and playing in the heat and humidity in Florida might take a toll on Cutler and affect his playing due to his type-one diabetes. Can you imagine Cutler playing in the home opener at Raymond James Stadium and then going into insulin shock in the fourth quarter due to low blood sugar levels and dehydration, missing the end of the game and the Bucs losing? It’s not a far-fetched conclusion if you watched Cutler’s play really struggle with the heat at the Pro Bowl this past February.

Yes, the Bucs still need a franchise quarterback, and Dominik and Morris are anxious to see if McCown or Johnson has what it takes to reach that level. We’ll see if one of them rises to the occasion or if the 2009 season will be a lost cause marred by poor quarterback play and the search for a franchise QB will linger into the 2010 NFL Draft.

But a big part of me is ready for that journey and glad that it does not include Cutler due to his attitude, his diabetes not mixing with the Florida climate, the level of compensation a re-building team like the Bucs would have had to surrender and the type of offense Tampa Bay plans to run this year not relying so heavily on the play of the quarterback.

FAB 2. Luke McCown, the early front-runner for the Bucs’ starting quarterback position this year, scored some major points this week during Tampa Bay’s first mini-camp. And it wasn’t due to the touchdown passes he threw while carving up Jim Bates’ defense with timing and precision during Thursday’s practice.

The first step in being a starting quarterback is acting like a starting quarterback. That means being a confident leader. Pewter Report observed McCown doing just that and he got kudos from his teammates and head coach Raheem Morris for handling the starting reps and all of the Jay Cutler trade talk like a professional by brushing it off and just focusing on the task at hand.

“If he’s worried about that then he’s not ready to be the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s the first thing I can tell you,” Morris said. “If he’s not just worried about what’s being installed, what he’s doing the next play, what he’s doing the next snap, how he has the prepare his body to get ready to practice again, then he has his own issues that he has to deal with. I’m proud of how he’s handled it. I’m proud of how the whole team has handled it, to be honest with you.”

Quarterbacks have to win games to fully earn the respect of their teammates, and that’s something McCown won’t have the chance to do until September, provided he wins the starting job. But the way he conducted himself this week and in the month of March when all of the Cutler trade talk started showed his teammates a lot in that he didn’t flinch.

When Jeff Garcia arrived in Tampa Bay, his comments about Jake Plummer immediately gained the attention and respect of his teammates. I loved Garcia’s answer during the OTAs in 2007 when asked what he would think of Plummer if he came out of retirement and reported to One Buc Place. Garcia told the St. Petersburg Times: “That’s fine. If he wants to come, he can come and sit on the bench with the others.”

Garcia’s play in the OTAs backed up his talk and he was quickly anointed as the team’s starter before training camp. Because the leader of the team is typically the quarterback, his words can be almost as powerful as his actions, and 2008 rolled around and everything changed for Garcia.

Garcia spent the whole 2008 offseason publicly whining about his contract (which I can’t stand from any professional athlete – talk privately with the general manager, not openly with the media) and then after some strong Brett Favre-to-Tampa Bay rumors took hold during training camp last year, he told the media after practice one day that he was a “dead man walking.”

Garcia’s calf injury wasn’t the only thing that caused his play to go in the tank at the start of the 2008 season. Garcia psyched himself out by letting all of the contract stuff and the Favre talk get to him. He said that if his contract situation wasn’t resolved and lingered on, it could have an effect on his game, and it did. Bucs coach Jon Gruden even mentioned how Garcia lost some of the edge he had in 2007.

I really lost a lot of respect for Garcia last year before the season even started due to his comments, and then when his play became as bad as the words that were coming out of his mouth, and I started to hear a lot of negative reports on his play from my insiders at One Buc Place, I had nothing good to say or write about the guy. I heard through plenty of people at One Buc Place last year that Pewter Report wasn’t exactly on Garcia’s Christmas card list, either. Hey, the last thing I or any member of the media wants to do is get on the wrong side of the starting quarterback, but I’ve got to call like it like I see it, right?

One of the things that infuriated me about Garcia was the fact that he never accepted responsibility for any of the losses he contributed to or the interceptions he threw in his post-game press conferences. If you asked him about an interception he threw he would use the term, “we.” If he was talking about a touchdown pass he threw he would say, “I.”

I’m entering my 15th year covering the Buccaneers and I can tell you that Trent Dilfer, Casey Weldon, Eric Zeier, Shaun King, Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson, Chris Simms, Brian Griese, Bruce Gradkowski and Luke McCown were more accountable for their play than Garcia was. In fact, I remember the days when Dilfer, Johnson and Simms would say that the loss was on them. They would take losses very personally in the press conference and say that they cost the team a chance to win.

I never heard that from Garcia. Not once.

But I have heard it from McCown, and the players appreciate that even when it is not necessarily the case. What’s the old adage? The quarterback gets too much of the credit for wins and too much of the blame for losses? Well Garcia never blamed his play that I can remember. He would always say “we have to get better” rather than “I have to play better.” I think Garcia was respected by his peers because of his competitiveness over the past two years rather than his leadership.

Fans may focus on the fact that McCown had a very good mini-camp from a throwing standpoint, but don’t overlook the leadership qualities that are emerging. All eyes at One Buccaneer Place are on him to see if he has what it takes to not just be a starting quarterback, but also to be a leader. His poise about the Cutler situation is a step in the right direction.

The tricky part for McCown, should he be named the starting quarterback, will be to not beat himself up too much over the losses he incurs. I’ve witnessed Dilfer and Simms put too much of the pressure of losing on their shoulders to the point where it affected their play the next week. McCown needs to hold himself accountable for leadership reasons, but his focus has to be on what he is going to do right the next week – not about what went wrong the previous week.

And after seeing the lack of leadership and maturity from Cutler in handling his hurt feelings by Denver head coach Josh McDaniels, I think McCown’s reaction to the Cutler talk actually trumps Cutler’s own handling of the situation. Of course all of this talk of leadership and class won’t mean squat if McCown can’t master the playbook and lead his team to wins, and he won’t have the chance to even do that for several more months. But at least McCown didn’t stumble over the first hurdle. He cleared it.

FAB 3. If you read our five Inside Bucs Mini-Camp stories this week on, I’ll try not to be redundant in pointing out some things that stood out to me during the three-day practice session. Only the first 30 minutes were open to the media on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, but nearly the entire afternoon practices were open on those days, and the whole practice on Thursday morning was open, so Pewter Report got a pretty decent look at the team. Here are some of my observations:

• I was impressed with new defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Linebackers coach Joe Barry, defensive backs coach Joe Baker and defensive line coaches Todd Wash and Robert Dunn were rather quiet during the team sessions, which is not unexpected given this was their first camp together. They don’t want to overstep their bounds and would rather Bates take the vocal lead since he’s the coordinator. And take the lead he did. Bates was very upbeat and positive, and got more vocal as the days rolled on. He is a very good communicator and definitely gets his point across. On Thursday when the defense was absolutely getting riddled in the 7-on-7 drills and in the team session, Bates quickly sensed something was wrong and implored his defense to come around. Ultimately, they didn’t. It was just the offense’s day – not the defense’s. It happens sometimes, but Bates was quick to get on his new players and set a high standard for the level of play from the get-go. The defense deserved a tongue-lashing and it got it. I liked it.

• The Bucs definitely have the talent and athleticism along the offensive line to deploy the stretch run plays that are a staple of the zone-blocking schemes new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski runs. Those that are concerned about Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph fitting in this new scheme for some reason should put those fears to rest. Joseph looked fine during this mini-camp. Normally, you can’t evaluate offensive line play in the offseason because there are no pads and no contact. But we all know Joseph is extremely physical when the pads are on, so what I was looking for was the lateral quickness and movement and I didn’t see any issues there that alarmed me. One of the players that stood out to me the most was Jeremy Zuttah, particularly at center. With Sean Mahan limited due to offseason surgery and Jeff Faine sidelined on Wednesday and Thursday with a sore back from lifting weights, Zuttah got a lot of work at center during the three-day minicamp. When going through the individual position drills, Zuttah clearly is the fastest and most athletic offensive lineman on the team. And that athleticism is on display in team drills when he quickly snaps the ball and takes those initial steps in the zone-blocking scheme on stretch plays. He gets into position lightning fast. Jagodzinski marveled at Zuttah’s ability, saying: “If you have a guy that can play all three (positions), I think you are talking about a luxury to have. That’s a good thing because usually you suit up seven – maybe eight. If you suit up seven and he can play all three positions. That’s a good thing. He’s a very versatile guy. He’s playing some center for us. But he’s more of a guard. Faine is going to be the center here. If you listen to Faine talk out there, he’s smart. He’s smart. That’s a good thing. You don’t want that center not being a smart guy.” Don’t be surprised if Zuttah really puts the pressure on Joseph or Arron Sears for playing time this year. I expect him to really come on during training camp.

• Staying with the offensive line theme, I got my first look at offensive tackle James Lee, who is a real sleeper on the team. Lee was acquired off waivers last September after he didn’t make the Cleveland Browns team as an undrafted free agent. The reason it was my first look at him is because the media is not allowed to watch practice during the regular season and I can see why they are high on Lee. Like he did with finding Donald Penn a couple years ago on Minnesota’s practice squad, Mark Dominik might have found another gem in Lee, who was a guard at South Carolina State but is making the transition to tackle due to his quick feet and athleticism. Obviously, I’ve haven’t seen Lee in pads yet, but the book report on him is that he has quite a punch. He too looked like he was a perfect fit for the zone-blocking scheme. Lee, who is was first written about in an SR’s Fab 5 last year and two weeks when Pewter Report got some inside scoop before mini-camp from center Jeff Faine, is profiled in the “In the Lab” feature in April’s Pewter Report Bucs Draft Preview. Apparently we’ve been right about all the buzz he’s been getting because he received all the starting reps at left tackle in Penn’s absence during the mini-camp. If you haven’t had a chance to read the “In The Lab” features on the young, behind-the-scenes Bucs, you can do so in the Pewter Report magazine PDFs on by clicking the Magazine Download link under the Pewter Insider section on the main tab on the front page. (We profiled quarterback Josh Johnson in January, cornerback Elbert Mack in February, defensive tackle Dre Moore in March and Lee in April. And to give you a head’s up about the Post-Draft Issue, we’ll be featuring defensive tackle Greg Peterson in May.)

• One thing that this team has missed ever since the departure of defensive tackle Warren Sapp back in 2004 was a fire-starter at practice. Sapp absolutely loved to practice and his energy would ignite the team on a daily basis, even in the grinding months of November and December when monotony sets in to practice and bodies are sore from a season’s worth of pounding. Second-year cornerback Aqib Talib is the team’s current fire-starter at practice like Sapp was and has a non-stop motor mouth like Sapp had. Talib is one of the friendliest and most liked players on the team and loves practice. I could see him developing into Raheem Morris’ lieutenant, or go-to guy, much like Sapp was to Jon Gruden. When a message needed to be delivered to the team and Gruden wanted it to come from the peer ranks, he would tell Sapp, who would tell it to the team and make sure it was received. It’s early, but you can see Talib and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud becoming leaders on this defense. Here’s one more thing about Talib. He was seen holding court in the locker room on Wednesday with about six young Buccaneers gathered around his locker, including his best friend and fellow corner, Elbert Mack, and quarterback Josh Johnson. All of those players were second-year players and it really reminded me of how much this team has changed, and exactly how young it is. This team definitely has the feel of Tony Dungy’s first team in 1996 where the first year wasn’t too grand because of a lot of coaching and roster changeover, but you could tell that something special was not too far away.

• The two running backs who really benefited from Earnest Graham’s absence were newcomer Derrick Ward and second-year back Clifton Smith, who received the lion’s share of carries during the mini-camp. A family issue kept Graham away from mini-camp, but he generally works out on his own and stays away from the team’s OTA days. I have criticized Graham for this approach in the past as I think it has been a contributing reason for his third-string status for years and him not making a better impression on former head coach Jon Gruden, who got a three-month opportunity to view and grow fond of other running backs before Graham showed up to the mandatory mini-camps in mid-June. After a breakout 2007 season, Graham stayed away from the offseason program in a low-profile contract dispute and ultimately got the contract extension he was looking for. Now that Graham got paid, he needs to show up or risk losing his starting job to Ward and risk losing carries to Smith. New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is installing a new offense with a new zone-blocking scheme. While the Bucs ran some stretch plays in years past, there are plenty of new wrinkles in this offense and Graham needs to get the plays down and get familiar with the timing of the offensive line in this new scheme. Jags is pretty high on Graham from all of the interviews he’s done, but he doesn’t know him, Ward or Smith. It’s safe to say that Ward and Smith are making a better impression on Jags and running backs coach Steve Logan, who is close friends with Jagodzinski from their coaching history at both East Carolina and Boston College, than Graham is.

FAB 4. One final observation from mini-camp involved the size of the roster, which was noticeably lighter this offseason with just 66 players on the team, and only about 60 players usually participating in a given practice due to injuries and absence. With all of the mysterious signs this offseason Pewter Report has pointed out that may be alluding to a team cash-flow problem, it was curious not to see a full 80-man roster (or even more) like the team has had in the offseason since former general manager Bruce Allen’s arrival in 2004.

Former head coach Jon Gruden favored that approach as he would fill the roster full of street free agents prior to the draft and not rely on signing undrafted free agents in late April to fill out the roster. The advantage, as Gruden saw it, was being able to evaluate more players in March and April during some early OTAs. Some of these street free agents wound up on the practice squad and had an advantage heading into training camp because of the extra months worth of on-field work learning the playbook.

Following the Bucs’ cash-flow woes conspiracy, one could surmise that the team would not want the extra expense of housing these players in hotels for a couple extra months, offering up per diems and meals at the team complex. The extra salaries don’t amount to much because all salaries are paid out in 16 game checks during the season, but meals and hotel stays for an extra 14-18 players for several months add up quickly.

When asked about the lighter roster being cash-flow related, general manager Mark Dominik said that expenses have nothing to do with it, and I believe him. Dominik not only learned under Allen, but he also learned under former G.M. Rich McKay, who preferred signing about a dozen undrafted free agents after the draft in addition to the draft class.

That’s the approach Dominik is taking, especially this year in what he deems to be a pretty rich draft. The Bucs have had more hits with undrafted free agents over the years with the likes of former left tackle Anthony Davis, former outside linebacker Ryan Nece, and last year’s duo of cornerback Elbert Mack and Pro Bowl return man Clifton Smith than they have had by signing NFL castoff street free agents in March.

Dominik has made sure all of the team’s OTAs don’t start until after the draft in mid-May so all of the team’s rookies – drafted or undrafted – should get the maximum amount of practice time prior to the mandatory mini-camp in June and training camp in July. Gruden typically held some OTA sessions in April leading up to the draft.

FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:

• One comment I found interesting from new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was about the Bucs’ counter running game in the zone blocking scheme. “When we run (quarterback) keeps and nakeds and all that, that’s our counter run game. That’s what it ends up becoming,” Jagodzinski said. Now the Bucs will have some counter runs for the halfbacks with the strongside guard pulling to the backside to serve as a lead blocker, but most of the counters during the mini-camp practice consisted of Luke McCown or Josh Johnson running some naked bootlegs and either scrambling to the far sideline for yardage or throwing to an open tight end or receiver. Because the zone-blocking scheme can be such a powerful juggernaut to stop with run with precision and execution, the linebackers and safeties can be so concerned about maintaining gap integrity in the run game that a tight end often springs free to the backside of the play on a drag route or a crossing route and that’s what Jerramy Stevens did with regularity, hauling in quick lasers from McCown and Johnson.

• Tampa Bay had several targeted draft prospects in for a visit during the week. Pewter Report was able to exclusively identify the following players who watched the mini-camp practices: Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace, Stillman College defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, Temple defensive tackle Terrence Knighton, Memphis defensive tackle Chris Baker, Tennessee cornerback DeAngelo Willingham, Ole Miss wide receiver Mike Wallace, Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher, Ole Miss linebacker Ashlee Palmer, Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams, Boston College linebacker Brian Toal and Houston offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The Bucs have already had some visits with other players and are expecting to meet in the coming days with Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson and Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English. Keep an eye on Raji. Our good friend, Tony Pauline, broke the story on and on his site that Raji had tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February. The Bucs have been eyeing Raji and Brace since the fall and will certainly get the low down on both players from offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and running backs coach Steve Logan, who spent the last two years as the head coach and offensive coordinator at Boston College, respectively. The Bucs have a pressing need for a defensive tackle and if Raji slips close to pick 19, they could make a move up to get him. Keep an eye on this. He’s a top 10-caliber player in this year’s draft.

• Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and wide receiver Maurice Stovall will all be unrestricted free agents next year – provided there is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. This is an important stipulation for Tampa Bay fans to understand, especially as it pertains to Penn, who was tendered a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this year, but is apparently holding out of the offseason program in order to land a long-term deal. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik should be in no rush to lock these players up to long-term deals right now because chances are there will not be a new CBA in place by the start of the next offseason due to the standoff on several monetary issues between new NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith and the NFL owners, who are represented by Commissioner Roger Goodell. That means certain rules will take place from the current CBA for the 2010 season, the primary one being no salary cap ceiling and no salary cap floor. The secondary rule that bears following, especially for the likes of Penn, Ruud, Trueblood and Stovall is that they will not be unrestricted free agents in 2010. The rules for 2010 under the current CBA state that any player that has not accrued six years in the league remains the property of their club. What that means is that those four Buccaneers will be entering their fifth year in the NFL in 2010 and will instead be considered restricted free agents in both ’10 and ’11. The NFL has tender amounts in place for those players that would certainly be below market value for starters like Penn, Trueblood and Ruud, and they would be stuck accepting two one-year deals for the 2010 and ’11 seasons unless another team made a play for them in restricted free agency, the club chose not to tender them or Dominik reached multi-year extensions with those players. Of all of the Bucs that would like to see a deal reached between the NFL and the NFLPA on a new CBA that would roll back some of these radical rules and reinstate the salary cap for the 2010 season, consider Penn, Ruud, Trueblood and Stovall the most interested.

• Speaking of Barrett Ruud, consider this your invitation to the Barrett Ruud – Pewter Report Charity Golf Tournament presented by Tampa Bay Radiation Onocology. The tourney, which will benefit the American Heart Association, will take place on Monday, May 18 at the prestigious Lake Jovita Golf Course and Country Club in southern Pasco County, just a short drive from Tampa. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. and there will be a shotgun start at noon. Long-time Pewter Report subscribers know that Pewter Report has partnered up with Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan for charity golf tournaments over the past two years, raising a total of just over $43,000. When Ruud, who has participated in our last two events, wanted to get involved with a charity tournament he partnered with Pewter Report and we are excited to have his involvement. “Pewter Report has done a great job covering the Bucs in the four years that I’ve been with the team and I’ve always gotten along with all of their staff members really well, so when they approached me with this opportunity, it was really a no- brainer,” Ruud said. “I’ve always had a great time at Pewter Report’s previous tournaments, the tournaments were always very well run and they had a bunch of great people involved. I can’t wait to get out and play golf with teamates, coaches, magazine subscribers, and other Bucs fans. It will be a great day. Lake Jovita is a heck of a golf course. It’s one of my favorites in the bay area and a perfect place for this tournament.” Ruud will be in charge of bringing a bunch of his Buccaneer teammates and coaches out to golf with the paying foursomes. As always, Pewter Report cannot promise which players and how many will show up for the event. Last year we had over two dozen and this year we’re aiming for more as we already have 24 foursomes registered for the tournament sign up in the first month. We only have room for about 24 more foresomes as Lake Jovita has a north and a south golf course that will both be in use. We already have verbal commitments from general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris to play in the tournament. The price of the golf tournament remains a very affordable $150 and includes a free lunch provided by Beef O’Brady’s, a free steak dinner provided by Texas Cattle Company for the third straight year, free beer provided by Miller through J.J. Taylor Distributors, as well as free All Sport, Dr. Pepper and Snapple products furnished by those respective companies. At the end of the tournament there will the conclusion of a silent auction of autographed sports memorabilia, a live auction, raffle prizes awarded and tourney winner awards to present during dinner. To have your business sponsor a hole for charity or to sign-up your foursome, call (813) 805-8774 or click here.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for 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:
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