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. CULLEN’S COACHING INSTANTLY IMPROVES BUCS’ PASS RUSHTampa Bay’s pass rush will be improved this year, and not necessarily by an impact of a free agent defensive end or fast edge rusher in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The improvement will come from new defensive line coach Joe Cullen.
Nothing against former pass rush coach Bryan Cox or defensive line coach Randy Melvin, who was nearly fired prior to the 2013 season and was going to be replaced by the previous regime had they remained in Tampa Bay, but Cullen is an upgrade and comes with better credentials. Legendary defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who is now the defensive coordinator in Dallas, still sets the standard in Tampa Bay, but Cullen comes with his endorsement and should be viewed as the next big thing.
Cullen served as Marinelli’s defensive line coach in Detroit from 2006-08 where he helped the likes of several Lions players post career highs in sacks, including defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (7.0 in 2007), and defensive ends Jared DeVries (6.5 in 2007), Dewayne White (6.5 in 2007 and 2008) and Cory Redding (8.0 in 2008). Not only did Cullen serve under Marinelli he learned from the master.
“Rod is the best – hands down,” Cullen said.
Not only did Marinelli provide further instruction on how to get defensive linemen to stop the run on the way to the quarterback, he showed Cullen grace and leadership in a point in his life when he needed it the most. Prior to coaching in Detroit, Cullen was fired at Ole Miss in 2005 shortly after he was hired after being charged with public intoxication. In his first season with Marinelli in Detroit, Cullen was arrested for a DUI and then later arrested for driving through a Wendy’s drive-thru undressed when he was intoxicated.
Instead of firing him during an obvious low point in his life, Marinelli counseled and mentored Cullen and got him the help he needed to sober up to become one of the best assistant coaches in the NFL.
“I think he’s an extremely talented teacher,” Marinelli said. “There’s a lot of good things about him, but how he came to this point in his life, I think that‘s special. He shows some real personal toughness and great commitment to the game of football. He understands the position, that’s something he coached for me in Detroit. After that he fought his way back in this league and he’s done a heck of a job. I think Tampa is getting a top-of-the-line coach that they should be excited about.”
While Smith would have loved the opportunity to be reunited with Marinelli, a very close friend since their days in Tampa Bay together working under Tony Dungy in the 1990s, it wasn’t meant to be. After being fired by Detroit, Marinelli was hired by Smith to coach the defensive line and to become the Bears defensive coordinator until Smith and the entire staff was let go in 2012.
When looking for a defensive line coach in Tampa Bay, Marinelli’s influence helped lead Smith to Cullen.
“Joe is very passionate and is a great teacher,” Marinelli said. “Some guys have passion without teaching, but that doesn’t mix. He’s going to really fit well for Lovie and really help that organization. I spoke highly of him over in Chicago, so he knows how much I thought of him. The type of job, especially in our system, and what demands we needed he fit real well.”
Cullen and Marinelli are cut from the same cloth in many regards due to their penchant for yelling a mix of encouragement and demands until exhaustion during practice. But one area where they appear to differ philosophically is when it comes to defensive line rotation. Marinelli was famous for demanding that his starters play nearly every down because they were the team’s best players.
“When you have great players that don’t want to come out because of pride, that’s where your front can be so special,” Marinelli said.
Cullen believes in a more robust rotation with his defensive linemen.
“Ideally, my philosophy has been to keep guys fresh and not say that four are going to play the entire game,” Cullen said. “You want to have guys rotate and be flexible and be able to play different spots and keep guys fresh so they can get after that quarterback every down.”
Last year in Cleveland, Cullen inherited lemons and was able to make lemonade out of a bunch of no-names, which truly speaks to his coaching ability. The fact that he was able to coax a combined 12.5 sacks out of the likes of defensive end Ahtyba Rubin, Armonty Bryant, Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, John Hughes, Billy Wynn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen was extraordinary. Throw in the fact that outside linebackers, which are predominately pass rushers in the Browns’ 3-4 scheme, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and rookie Barkevious Mingo, combined for 15 more sacks means that Cullen’s crew piecemealed together 27.5 sacks.
To put that in perspective, the front four in Tampa Bay, which consisted of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (nine), defensive end Adrian Clayborn (six), defensive end Will Gholston (two), nose tackle Akeem Spence (one), defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (one), defensive tackle Derek Landri (one) and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers (one) mustered only 21 quarterback captures and had more household names (McCoy, Clayborn and Bowers).
Marinelli was not surprised with Cullen getting the best out of less talented players in Cleveland.
“At the end of the day, that’s what we get paid to do,” Marinelli said. “See, that’s what we’re supposed to do. You can’t go down the aisle and just say, ‘I need another guy.’ The league has changed so much with the salary cap. You want teachers who embrace getting a man, coaching him, and making him better. That guy is a reflection of who you are as a coach, and I think he’s done a nice job of that. That’s what this is about – getting guys and developing them. All of a sudden you have a heck of a player. In Tampa it was Chartric Darby, Tyoka Jackson and Corey Smith that really made our roster. Joe’s been able to do that. Our system was about teaching, and Joe is a teacher.”
Cullen inherits some proven talent in McCoy and Clayborn, who have combined for 31.5 sacks in their young careers, but there are plenty of question marks along a defensive line that is missing a speed rusher in the mold of a Simeon Rice. Whether it is refining a veteran’s pass rush or developing those skills in an unheralded backup or an overhyped player that has underwhelmed in the past, expect Cullen to make a difference along the defensive line in his first season in Tampa Bay.
FAB 2. CULLEN HAS HIS WORK CUT OUT FOR HIM IN TAMPA BAYThe last Buccaneer to record double-digit sacks in Tampa Bay was legendary defensive end Simeon Rice. That was nine years ago in 2005 when he had 14 before a shoulder injury in 2006 cut that season short and derailed his NFL career.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a two-time Pro Bowler and an All Pro in 2013, came close to double digits with a career-high nine, and is the team’s best and most proven pass rusher. In order for new Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen to improve the team’s pass rush he has to continue to push McCoy towards greatness and develop the team’s other defensive linemen around him.
“It’s true of any defense, you’re only as strong as you are upfront, and Gerald’s a great under tackle, three-technique tackle,” Cullen said. “He plays relentlessly and I’m really excited to have the chance to coach him. He makes everyone else around him better with the things that he does by demanding the double teams. When he gets the one-on-one rush you sometimes see him get that pocket push and flushing the quarterback. With a guy like him, as an offensive coordinator or an opposing head coach they are going to say, ‘He’s a guy we’re going to have to account for on every snap.’”
In 1997, then-Bucs head coach Tony Dungy wrote defensive tackle Warren Sapp a letter in the offseason, saying that truly great pass rushers get double digit sacks. Sapp had nine sacks in 1996, his second NFL season and his first under Dungy, and then had 10.5 in 1997 after Dungy’s letter to help Tampa Bay make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
Expect a similar message from Cullen to McCoy and some raised expectations this offseason.
“You remember the expectations we had,” former Tampa Bay defensive line coach Rod Marinelli told me at the Senior Bowl. “The expectations were so high. It forces the players to elevate to meet those expectations. The roots in Tampa are so awesome. That’s what I’m so excited about for them.”
Marinelli, who served as Cullen’s mentor and head coach in Detroit from 2006-08, explains the rigors of what Cullen will have to deal with in Tampa Bay with a mixed bag of linemen that includes a star player, some up-and-comers, some undeveloped talent and some players that ultimately will be released.
“We kind of went through that this year in Dallas,” Marinelli said. “I think the adversity you go through as a coach, is nothing but great. Adversity is awesome because it really refines your skills. It’s either taking a guy off the street and making him a player, or dealing with the elite superstar and getting him better. Those are the two hardest things to do. The superstar getting better might even be harder to do. I think Joe can do both of those things. I think he’ll have an impact on McCoy and the system will be great for those guys.”
With currently only two defensive linemen that have reached at least six sacks in a season in McCoy and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Cullen has his work cut out for him in trying to generate enough pass rush for the team to not have to rely on blitzing to get to the quarterback. In the Tampa 2 scheme that head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be deploying, getting sacks and pressures from the front four is a critical facet of the scheme.
“It’s an ongoing process and we’re still evaluating the talent,” Cullen said. “You would love to get there with just the front four, and have Coach Frazier and Coach Smith say that we don’t have to blitz. That would be ideal. In any year you would like to get as much pressure as you can with just the front four. We’ll see.”
Cullen makes it clear that Tampa Bay’s defensive line can still have success without necessarily getting the quarterback on the ground, and that sacks aren’t always the best measurable to gauge the unit.
“A lot of time when you target yourself with sacks you are limiting yourself,” Cullen said. “It’s a lot more about getting the quarterback off the spot and disrupting the timing of his throws. A lot of times you will get a pressure and not get a sack and at the end of the day people say, ‘Oh you didn’t get to the quarterback.’ We had a situation this past year [in Cleveland against Cincinnati] where we held a really good quarterback [Andy Dalton] to 88 yards throwing and two picks that went for touchdowns. We didn’t get any sacks because he was getting the ball out so quick, but he only had 88 yards throwing the ball.
“In other games, we had 11 sacks over two games, so it’s all relative to what they’re doing in terms of getting the ball out quick. It’s not just sacks. It’s the pressure. Sometimes it’s keeping a guy in the pocket when he likes to get outside and run. It’s hard to say there’s a specific number you want or need when it comes to sacks because you may disrupt the game and not have the sacks.”
Cullen knows that the NFC South division is loaded with quarterbacks that can be hard to sack for different reasons. In Carolina, Cam Newton is an elusive scrambler and can extend plays with his legs. In New Orleans and Atlanta, respectively, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan are difficult to capture because of their quick release.
“It’s a heck of a division,” Cullen said. “You look at what Cam Newton’s done year in and year out. Then you go down in New Orleans with Drew Brees and over to Atlanta and what Matt Ryan has done. They’ve been staples in this league with Cam coming into his own the last couple of years. It’s a heck of a division and a real challenge for us.”
The interesting aspect of Cullen’s unit this year is that three defensive linemen are entering a contract year in 2014. McCoy is in the final year of his five-year rookie deal, while Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers are both entering the final year of their contracts. Clayborn is more of a proven commodity, but still has some question marks about his game.
Is Clayborn fast enough to play right defensive end and provide the kind of a pressure the team would want from a Rice-like player that had elite speed? Is Clayborn more effective switching to left end where he can use his high motor and physicality to beat down right tackles? Or does Clayborn’s Erb’s Palsy prevent that from happening because of the supposed weakness in his right shoulder and arm?
Those are questions Cullen will have to find the answers to in training camp, but he really likes Clayborn’s approach to football.
“He was a guy I really liked coming out of Iowa,” Cullen said. “He’s a blue-collar guy, a lunch pail guy who brings it every down. When he was a rookie he was in a 4-3 with his hand on the ground most of the time as a hard-charging, great effort guy. He had a really good year with 7.5 sacks, which is really good for a rookie in this league. Then he got hurt so he took a step back with a new scheme and not really being able to get it under his belt. Then this year it was different for him because a lot of the time he was in a two-point stance standing up. I’m excited to work with him and get back to putting his hand in the ground and him going forward all the time.”
It wasn’t just the sacks that got Cullen excited about Clayborn’s play in 2013. It was also the 19 tackles for loss, which was a career-high for the third-year player. Those 19 tackles for loss matched the same number of TFLs that Michael Bennett got in 2012 during his final season in Tampa Bay.
“He was very disruptive with six sacks and a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage,” Cullen said. “Our goal is to get that offense off track. We don’t want them in second-and-4. We want them in second-and-12 and third-and-13 so we can pin our ears back. We’re still ongoing in our progress, but there are a lot of great things to like about Adrian.”
Bowers has been an enigma since coming to Tampa Bay in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Once considered to be the top draft prospect that year before an offseason knee surgery dropped his stock to the second round, Bowers has never developed into a starting-caliber defensive end and has been a major disappointment.
One of the reasons why the Bucs didn’t re-sign Bennett in free agency was to give Bowers the chance to start and develop with more of an opportunity. But despite being given the starting job in the offseason, Bowers never rose to the occasion and showed up to training camp in less than optimal shape. His play was so bad that a lesser talented player, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, beat him out for the starting job. Then rookie defensive end Will Gholston leapfrogged Bowers during the season to earn more playing time down the stretch.
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Gholston was always in incredible shape and recorded 31 tackles, three tackles for loss, three passes defensed and two sacks, while Te’o-Nesheim had 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Bowers had a disappointing seven tackles and one sack in 2013.
“I really liked Da’Quan coming out of Clemson and obviously he had the injury [in 2011],” Cullen said. “He’s had a couple of other injuries. I’m excited to work with him. I haven’t been here with anything that’s gone on, but he’s a big, strong, powerful guy. I’m excited to work with him.
“Not that they’re similar guys, but [Jacksonville defensive end] Jeremy Mincey was cut four times and out of the league in 2009. When I got to Jacksonville we gave him the opportunity and he had five sacks in the last eight games and then the next year he had 8.5 and he’s continued to do well. Everybody’s different, and Da’Quan’s still a young guy.”
The fact that Bowers and Clayborn are in the last year of their deals may work to their disadvantage as a player like Gholston, who has a tremendous amount of upside, is here for the next three years provided he continues to develop and play well. The team may view Gholston as more of a long-term investment from a time, energy and money standpoint and decide to draft or sign players this offseason that will essentially replace Bowers and Clayborn.
“I knew Will coming out of Michigan State and he looks great,” Cullen said. “He did some good things last year. He made a lot of plays with his motor. He has great effort.”
Of the other defensive linemen, Te’o-Nesheim and Gary Gibson are unrestricted free agents and are not expected to be re-signed after a sub-par season in 2013. Nose tackle Akeem Spence was a starter last year as a rookie and has some potential, but the scouting department views him as a two-down run defender with limited pass rush ability.
The likes of defensive ends Steven Means, Scott Solomon and Marvin Booker, and defensive tackles Matthew Masifilo, David Hunter and Everett Dawkins will likely be battling for reserve spots. With only four bona fide players in McCoy, Clayborn, Gholston and Spence, there isn’t a lot of proven, playmaking firepower for Cullen to work with.
Expect the Buccaneers to be active in free agency and the draft to acquire more explosive defensive linemen that have high motors and use their hands well this offseason. Those are the kind of defensive linemen that Cullen prefers. Otherwise the team will have to rely on Cullen working his magic and conjuring up some miraculous pass rush with his teaching, just as he did last year in Cleveland.
FAB 3. MURPHY MAY BE A GOOD PASS-RUSHING OPTION FOR BUCS IN SECOND ROUNDWith Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers entering the final year of their rookie contracts, the Bucs may approach the defensive end position one of two ways. The team may go light at the position this year in free agency and the draft and see exactly what Tampa Bay defensive line coach Joe Cullen has to work with and develop.
Or the Bucs could watch the tape and see a mixed bag of production from Clayborn and minimal production from Bowers and know that they might be moving on after the 2014 season, at least in the case of Bowers, and acquire several players to challenge for their roster spots immediately. There’s a chance the Bucs could be in the market for a pass rusher in the first round with the seventh overall pick, and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and UCLA’s Anthony Barr have been mentioned as possibilities in several mock drafts.
But if Tampa Bay elects to go in a different direction in the first round with an offensive tackle, such as Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews or Auburn’s Greg Robinson, or Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins or even a quarterback, the second round could be the optimal spot for selecting a defensive end to help the team’s pass rush.
Murphy is the fifth-rated defensive end on NFL Network Mike Mayock’s list and on NFLDraftScout.com’s. South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, Missouri’s Kony Ealy, Auburn’s Dee Ford and Oregon State’s Scott Crichton rank higher, as do outside linebackers like Mack and Barr, who would play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
What Murphy has going for him and why he could be a great fit with the Buccaneers is his high motor, his explosiveness and his skillful hands – all traits that Cullen likes in defensive linemen.
“My go-to pass rush move is probably just speed and working my hands off the edge,” Murphy said. “Between really good character on and off the field and having that athletic ability you have a pretty dynamic player in me. Adding a little hard work and toughness to that and I think you’re getting a pretty solid deal.”
The 6-foot-6, 252-pound Murphy played outside linebacker in a 3-4 and has the frame to add 10-15 pounds of bulk and muscle, which he will need to do to play the run and anchor against offensive tackles in the NFL.
“I’m getting looks as a 3-4 outside linebacker and as a 4-3 defensive end,” Murphy said. “It depends a little bit on what teams run and what their needs are. If I were a 4-3 defensive end, just based on what they ask you to do, putting on a little weight would probably be beneficial. As far as what’s best for me, I’m a very dynamic player in that sense. I fit each scheme. At Stanford we’re known as a 3-4 defense, but we run a little bit of both, so I’m comfortable in each scheme and excited to see what happens.
“When Chase Thomas was at Stanford, my first two years I played off the left side in those 4-3 situations. This year I played off the right side. As a junior, I had 10 sacks off the left side and as a senior 15 sacks off the right side, so I think I can do pretty well at both.”
Murphy led the nation in sacks last year with 15 and had 23.5 tackles for loss, in addition to 62 tackles. He also broke up six passes, recorded two forced fumbles and had a pick-six. That earned Murphy All-American and first-team All-Pac 12 accolades, but somehow he didn’t get the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, which went to Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton for the second year in a row.
“Trent Murphy got robbed,” Stanford defensive end Josh Mauro said. “You can write it down and put it in all caps. It absolutely blows my mind that the player that leads the nation in sacks and is third in the nation in tackles for loss and plays on the number one defense in the conference on the conference-winning team and he doesn’t win it. We beat Arizona State twice – handedly. Trent got robbed. My teammate got robbed and it’s an absolute travesty. It’s tragic.”
When asked about it at the Senior Bowl, Murphy didn’t seem to upset about getting snubbed for the award in favor of Sutton, who put on too much weight and underperformed as a senior.
“I definitely love playing with a chip on my shoulder, being at Stanford especially,” Murphy said. “That’s kind of who we are as our team’s personality. We play loose, focused, and with a chip on our shoulder. It doesn’t really affect me or bother me too much. There are so many great players out there – especially in the Pac-12 – that deserves that award. For me to not get that, I’m not too disappointed with it. I think a cooler stat is leading the country in sacks. That’s the greatest award I could have asked for in my senior season. My family is proud of that. It’s pretty cool.”
Murphy is actually one of the most prolific pass rushers in the nation over the past three seasons, notching 36 sacks, 11 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and also picking off two passes near the line of scrimmage and returning them for touchdowns in his Stanford career. Playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and also defensive end in a 4-3 defense, Murphy also recorded 160 tackles and 42.5 tackles for loss in his Cardinal career. Two of Murphy’s sacks came against Jeff Tedford’s California teams in 2011 and 2012.
Murphy’s athleticism, which some teams may question, will be on display at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. The Stanford star underwhelmed a bit at the Senior Bowl due to transitioning to a 4-3 defensive end, but he certainly has the athletic ability to do so with the proper coaching.
“That’s kind of a stereotype for Stanford players,” Mauro said. “They say we’re smart try-hard guys, but that’s kind of an insult to our athleticism. That’s fine. That’s the point of the Combine and pro days – to disprove any negative criticism towards you. You can turn on the tape and see guys that are a little more than smart, hard-working guys making plays all over the field. There are some real athletic players on that tape.”
Murphy says that he will likely turn some heads at the Combine and during his pro day.
“I was trained very well by Shannon Turley, our strength coach at Stanford,” Murphy said. “We’re all about functional movement. I’m not sure too many 6-foot-6-inch guys can touch their toes and do a pistol squat all the way to ground on a single leg. I think being able to bend like that and being so long gives me some extra tools in my pocket to pass rush with.”
In addition to Murphy’s frame, he is blessed with huge, 10 3/4-inch hands, which were the biggest at the Senior Bowl.
“I was pretty stoked to have the biggest hands here,” Murphy laughed in Mobile, Ala. “It’s just below having the most sacks in the country for me.”
When Murphy gets his hands on an offensive lineman he usually has a good chance to shed and pursue the ballcarrier. And when he gets to the ballcarrier, those big hands help him get that quarterback or running back on the ground.
“Trent is one of the nastiest football players I’ve ever played with,” Mauro said. “He’s got some of the strongest hands I’ve ever felt. When you shake his hand you feel it. When he puts those on people and he puts them to work.
“He has an opportunity to play multiple positions as well at the next level. I think he can stand up as a 3-4 linebacker or be a 4-3 defensive end. He’s got great length and a great motor. His strength and his athleticism really help him get to the edge. He’s one of the best players I’ve played with.”
Murphy would be a great pupil for Cullen to work with and has the versatility to be either a left or a right defensive end for Tampa Bay with the right development. In fact, the team already had an extensive interview with him at the Senior Bowl.
“I have interviewed with the Buccaneers,” Murphy said. “They have a unique setup in one of their hotel rooms, as opposed to other teams. I had a pretty good interview with those guys. They ask you everything. Most guys are interviewing you in the hotel lobby, but they kind of have their own deal in their room with a couple of cameras and a table to put that pressure on guys to see how they react to it. But it went real well and I was happy with it.”
FAB 4. INTERESTING DRAFT COMMENTS FROM LICHT AND SMITHTampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith both addressed the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday and two things stood out. The first was Licht’s excitement when talking about Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who would be a pass-rushing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme like Tampa Bay’s and could be the team’s first-round pick with the seventh overall selection.
Licht said he was a “productive, explosive, fast-twitch pass rusher.” That’s exactly the kind of defensive end the Bucs are looking for this offseason. Licht also addressed the topic of Mack having the versatility to be able to convert from being a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end.
“He does,” Licht said. “I think he’s one of those unique players that could fit either scheme. He’s a pretty interesting guy.”
“He’s a player that has speed along with power, and not just one or the other. And when you have a good combination of both, you know, you’re a pretty good player.”
Licht said he didn’t have any concerns about Mack coming from the MAC conference because he’s been productive against teams like Ohio State where he recorded 2.5 of his 10.5 sacks in 2013, in addition to recording nine tackles and a pick-six.
“Now, good players are coming out of all divisions and all levels, so I guess, in the back of your mind, you’re saying you’d like to see him go against top competition, but really, you can tell on tape that he’s a good football player,” Licht said.
The other interesting comments pertained to the quarterback position where Smith spent Thursday strategically talking out of both sides of his mouth. Throwing around enough praise towards incumbent starter Mike Glennon, while opening the door for the Bucs potentially taking a quarterback with the seventh overall pick if the right player is there.
“As you look at an NFL quarterback and what you expect from them, Mike Glennon can make every throw you ask an NFL quarterback to make,” said Smith. “Mike isn’t the most mobile guy in the pocket, so we will always be working to improve on some of those. He’s a willing guy – for a rookie to come in and have success in the league, you have to like that part of it. He has a lot to learn, like most rookies do. As a rookie player to come in and see improvement and know that you can win with them, you play good football throughout. That’s what we like right now. We’re not a finished product by any means, but it’s a starting spot.”
Speaking of starting, Licht was quick to deny the fact that the team was anointing Glennon as the starter heading into 2014.
“Well, there’s a lot of positions on our team that I’m sure Lovie would agree with that we don’t want to anoint as the starter,” Licht said. “We want competition for Mike. When you evaluate him off last year, we had injuries at receiver, we had injuries at running back, we had an offensive line that didn’t play as well as they would’ve liked. I mean, we were 4-12 last year, so, you know, you throw in the fact he was a backup going into the season, getting thrown out there in the fire, there’s a lot you still have to evaluate – you don’t get a real fair picture of him just off the tape. So, it’ll be exciting to get him through the offseason, and he’ll get every chance to be the starter.”
With some competition, of course. While Smith stressed he would like to ideally have a veteran quarterback in the mix to compete for the starting job, and that may ultimately negate any plans of the team acquiring another quarterback from the draft, Licht said he’s not opposed to stockpiling young passers.
“I think you can’t have too many good quarterbacks, and I’ve been fortunate to be at the Patriots where we took Tom Brady sixth round and worked in Arizona with Kurt Warner, and I wasn’t with the team, with the Rams when they signed him as an undrafted free agent, or eventually got him, he’s originally an undrafted free agent, but I can see you can get quarterbacks at all different levels of the draft,” Licht said.
Smith and Licht are smart enough to know that they should be creating some smoke around the seventh overall pick in the draft, and suggesting that the team take a quarterback does just that. At this stage, chances appear to be far better that the Bucs would take Mack over a quarterback in the first round, but a lot will depend on what they see from Glennon in the team’s first mini-camp in April.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Granted the two are very close friends, but when Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli heaps a bunch of praise on new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith it’s genuine. Marinelli is a man of integrity and not lip service, so when I asked him about Smith at the Senior Bowl, his gushing was rooted in truth.
“Oh it was so much fun coaching with him,” Marinelli said. “I think … no, I know … that he is the best head football coach in the NFL. There’s no question about that because of his plan and his vision. He wants teachers and he’s clear on that. And he let’s them do their job. I think he’s got a special way about him on defense. He is as good as anybody maybe in the last 50 years at taking the ball away. His nine years in Chicago were off the charts.”
“He’s got a special way with the players. People say he’s a players’ coach, and I don’t know what that is. I think we always talked about being real men. Just acting like real men. He’s always about developing the person, and when these guys grow as men it’s special. He has a real clean look in his mind of how he wants his offense to look. I know he does. To have the force to be able to run the ball with speed and then when you have that idea on defense about speed, it carries through to your special teams. Then you’re really fast on special teams. I think that all fits together and will work.”
• I talked to Marinelli about the misnomer that the Tampa 2 defensive concept was a Cover 2 defense and he agreed that people have the wrong idea about the scheme. It’s actually a Cover 2 shell that allows the defense to disguise what it really wants to do, whether it is a zone blitz, playing Cover 3, playing Cover 1 or even quarters (Cover 4).
“I believe that it is correct, but also what it is – and Tony Dungy describes it the best – it’s not really what you do, it’s how you do it,” Marinelli said. “It’s a whole system based on doing things exactly right and not doing too much, so you can have your players play fast and quick – all the things that you want your players to do. It starts in that [Cover 2] shell, you’re right, and now you do different things with it. Tampa 2 is about getting guys that play really fast, being good tacklers, being zone breakers, getting takeaways – all of those things is what it’s really about at the end of the day.”
• I’m guessing this is the year where the Buccaneers will be playing in the Hall of Fame Game and having a fifth preseason game. Tampa Bay hasn’t done that since the Bucs beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-6, on August 1, 1998. The reasons are plentiful.
Not only does the greatest player in franchise history, linebacker Derrick Brooks, get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Buccaneers have a new head coach in Lovie Smith and the new regime could use an extra preseason game to evaluate the roster he, general manager Jason Licht and the coaching staff are inheriting. Throw in the fact that the Bucs have an updated look with new helmets and a logo and the first official NFL game of the 2014 season would be the perfect opportunity for Tampa Bay to get some much needed national exposure.
While I like the new logo, I didn’t think the previous red flag and skull logo was bad and needed the updating. I’m just glad that the Buccaneers kept pewter as a major color in the team’s helmet and uniforms for the sake of my company, PewterReport.com.
• And finally, Thursday’s shocking and detailed report in the Tampa Bay Times about Mike Williams’ partying ways really offer some insight into the thinking of former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik, who were contemplating cutting the wide receiver if he didn’t get his partying lifestyle under control. On January 30, PewterReport.com first reported how Williams was late or missed team meetings and rehab sessions, drawing fines around $200,000, and that the team was very concerned about how his partying was interfering with his career.
The Times’ report further validates our initial reporting, and Williams’ behavior has clearly gotten the attention of the team, as Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht both commented on him at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Well, he has to prove that he shouldn’t make headlines off the field, so let’s start with that,” Licht said.
“We watched all of the players, so I have had the chance to evaluate what Mike has done in the league, not just last year,” Smith said. “We’re disappointed in some of the off-the-field issues that have come up. We just won’t put up with it. It’s as simple as that. Coming in new, you have to kind of set your program up on how you’re going to do things and that takes a while to get that done. Just him as a football player, he was like the rest of the team: saw some good things that he did, but there are things that we need to improve upon also.”
Since Smith and Licht took over, there has been PewterReport.com’s report, a report on Bay News 9 about Williams’ misdemeanor charges regarding trespassing and property damage and now the Times’ report about his excessive partying. Undoubtedly it’s not making a good first impression with the new Bucs’ brass.
For those that suggest that Williams absolutely won’t be cut due to a salary cap hit in excess of $6 million, you could be wrong. Teams take cap hits all the time for various reasons, including injury, age and behavior. And what no one has mentioned is that the Bucs could release him after June 1 and only take a $1.2 million cap hit this year, which is very affordable, and put off the rest of his guaranteed money, $5.2 million in base salary, until next year when the cap will undoubtedly rise a bit more and the team will be in better position to absorb the dead cap money.
I’m not saying that Williams is going to get cut, but the June 1 mechanism in the Collective Bargaining Agreement could allow the team to do so without having to take a $6.4 million cap hit this year, which would be more prohibitive. Keep in mind that Smith wants to lay down the law in terms of character this year, and Williams has clearly aggravated him right off the bat. The fact that Williams is not overly fast, and that both Smith and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford put a premium on speed doesn’t necessarily bode well for him, either.
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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