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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. All eyes are on defensive end Gaines Adams as he enters his third season in pewter and red. The fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft has not yet become the sackmaster that the team and its fans have craved since the Simeon Rice heydays from 2000-06. But as Bucs general manager Mark Dominik contends, he has been far from the bust that some have already tagged him with.
Dominik says that new defensive system that coordinator Jim Bates has installed will further feature Adams’ pass rushing skills by angling him out wider and putting him in more of a straight line with the quarterback. In his first two years, Adams struggled turning the corner against tackles and would often overrun the quarterback by getting too far upfield. Adams’ new alignment angle is supposed to prevent that from happening.
“I have a lot of faith in Jim Bates’ system,” Dominik told Pewter Report in its July Training Camp Issue. “If you go back and look at Gaines Adams – and I’m not going to make a huge case for him – to me, Gaines has taken quite a beating in the media, but he led all rookies in the NFL with sacks. Over two years, the only guy in his draft class that has had more sacks than Gaines has been Lamarr Woodley, who had 15.5. Gaines has 12.5. Last year, no rookie had more than six sacks, which is what Gaines had his first year. So over the last two years, Gaines has been one of the most prolific young sackers in the NFL, and some want to classify him as this horrendous bust for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We don’t see it that way. We are looking at Gaines and thinking that with a little more step, this guy can go down as one of the better sackers in the game. If you go back and look at how he’s doing against the norm and against the curve, he’s doing a good job. Does that mean we’re complacent with what he’s done? No. Do we think that Bates’ system can help us utilize his traits, which are speed and athleticism? Yes, because of the way we line him up and the way we are going to use him.”
I agree with Dominik that Adams is far from a bust. Eric Curry, the sixth overall pick in the 1993 draft was a bust. After notching five sacks as a rookie, Curry only recorded a total of eight over his first two seasons and finished his disappointing, seven-year NFL career with only 12.5 career sacks. That’s what Adams has over two seasons.
So Adams won’t become another Curry. But will he be another Marcus Jones or Regan Upshaw, or will Adams become a Lee Roy Selmon. Upshaw and Jones were both first-round picks in 1996 and Upshaw’s career got off to a faster start as he started at right end as a rookie. In his first two years, Upshaw tallied 11.5 sacks, which is one fewer than what Adams has turned in.
But Upshaw, who was the 12th overall pick in 1996, only went on to post 34.5 sacks in his career, including a career-high 7.5 in ’97, while playing for five different teams. Upshaw was supposed to be the next Selmon, but instead he turned into a journeyman.
Jones had one sack as a rookie where he floundered as a defensive tackle. He later replaced Upshaw at right end in 2000 and produced a career-high 13 sacks that season. Jones was foolishly rewarded with a lucrative contract extension after he recorded a franchise-record four sacks against Detroit in a 28-14 loss, but followed up that big season with three sacks in 2001, which was his last as a Buccaneer. Jones only notched 24 career QB captures.
To this day, Selmon, the team’s initial first-round pick and the first overall selection in 1976, remains the Buccaneers’ all-time leading sacker with 78.5. He had 18 sacks in his first two seasons, including 13 in his second year. It should be noted that there were only 14-game seasons back in 1976-77. Adams certainly has a long way to go before he can be in Selmon’s class.
In fact, Adams has a long way to go to avoid being labeled a mediocre pass rusher like Upshaw and Jones before him. In studying some of the NFL’s current and legendary sack artists, I found that the player’s sack output over the first two years usually determines whether that defensive lineman will become an elite pass rusher, a mediocre pass rusher or a bust.
First, let’s look at the NFL legends by taking out defensive tackles and players like Kevin Greene, Derrick Thomas and Rickey Jackson, who played mostly outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and focusing on just defensive ends. The first number indicates the sack total over the first two years of his career. The number in parentheses indicates the first time that player recorded double-digit sacks and how many that got in that particular season. The third number is the total number of sacks that defensive end recorded over his NFL career. The players that are bolded did not record double digit sacks in either of their first two NFL seasons.
DE Bruce Smith – 21.5 sacks (15 sacks in year 2) 200 career sacks
DE Reggie White 21 sacks (13 in year 1) 198 career sacks
DE Chris Doleman – 3.5 (11 in year 3) 150.5 career sacks
DE Michael Strahan – 5.5 sacks (14 sacks in year 5) 141.5 career sacks
DE Richard Dent – 20.5 sacks (17.5 sacks in year 2) 137.5 career sacks
DE Leslie O’Neal – 16.5 (12.5 in year 1) 132 career sacks
DE Simeon Rice – 17.5 sacks (12.5 sacks in year 1) 122 career sacks
DE Clyde Simmons 8 sacks (15.5 in year 4) 121 career sacks
DE Jason Taylor – 14 sacks (14.5 in year 4) 120 career sacks
DE Sean Jones – 9.5 sacks (15.5 in year 3) 113 career sacks
DE Greg Townsend – 17.5 sacks (10.5 in year 1) 109 career sacks
DE Trace Armstrong – 15 sacks (10 in year 2) 106 career sacks
DE Neil Smith – 9 sacks (14.5 sacks in year 5) 104.5 career sacks
DE Kevin Carter – 15.5 sacks (12 in year 4) 104 career sacks
Of the 14 defensive ends that have produced at least 100 NFL sacks, half of them had already recorded at least one double-digit sack season within their first two years in the NFL. But the good news for Adams, who has yet to produce more than 6.5 sacks in a single season, is that half of the legendary sackers were late bloomers – although it should be noted that although they didn’t technically meet the criteria of notching double-digit sacks in either of their first two years, Carter posted 9.5 sacks in year two and Neil Smith had 9.5 sacks in year three. So Carter and Smith weren’t as late of bloomers upon first glance.
The number of players who reached double digit sacks early in their careers drops from seven to five if you include those who had done so by their third NFL season, which means that 57 percent of the league’s greatest sackers had at least 10 sacks by the end of their third pro year.
Now let’s take a more current view of the NFL landscape and look at the top 10 leading sackers among defensive ends from the 2008 season. The first number in parentheses is the sack total from ’08, followed by the sack total over the first two years. The second number in parentheses is the year in which double-digit sacks were achieved. The players that are bolded did not record double digit sacks in either of their first two NFL seasons.
DE John Abraham – (16.5 sacks in ‘08) 17.5 sacks (13 in year 2)
DE Jared Allen – (14.5 sacks in ‘08) – 18 in first two years (11 in year 2)
DE Julius Peppers – (14.5 sacks in ‘08) – 19 in first two years (12 in year 1)
DE Justin Tuck – (12 sacks in ‘08) – 1 sack (10 sacks in year 3)
DE Mario Williams – (12 sacks in ‘08) – 18.5 sacks (14 sacks in year 2)
DE Robert Mathis – (11.5 sacks in ‘08) – 13.5 sacks (10.5 sacks in year 2)
DE Dwight Freeney – (10.5 sacks in ‘08) – 24 sacks (13 sacks in year 1)
DE Darren Howard – (10 sacks in ‘08) 14 sacks (11 sacks in year 4)
DE Aaron Kampman – (9.5 sacks in ‘08) 2.5 sacks (15.5 sacks in year 5)
DE Trent Cole – (9 sacks in ‘08) – 13 sacks (12.5 sacks in year 3)
Out of this group of 10, only four current defensive ends failed to register double-digit sacks within their first two years. That number drops to two (Howard and Kampman) when you factor in the players that have recorded double-digit sacks by the time they finish their third season. That means 80 percent of the league’s top 10 pass rushing defensive ends had at least 10 sacks by their third year.
Based on this group of numbers, former first-round picks like Abraham, Peppers, Williams and Freeney have lived up to their draft billing and have been regular elite-level sack artists. Unless Adams blows up in his third season and reaches double-digit sacks in 2009, his career may be relegated to the likes of Upshaw’s, although Howard and Kampman have been quite productive despite not being among the elite sackers.
This theory is shared by former Bucs nose tackle and Pewter Report contributing columnist Brad Culpepper.
“I hate to just look strictly at numbers, but usually a guy that has double-digit sacks has at least 20 opportunities to get sacks,” Culpepper said. “Rarely does a guy that gets 10 sacks only have 10 opportunities to get sacks. The best players are the ones who are able to get in there and disrupt everything and still end up with double-digit sacks because they can finish and they are that good.
“Quite frankly, this is a do-or-die year for (Adams) that will likely chart his course for how he’s going to be as a professional football player. It’s not like he’s going to be playing over a tight end all the time as a run stopper. He’s the pass rusher on this team, and barring injury, he’s going to be put in position to make it happen. The only way they are not going to be disappointed with him not getting double-digit sacks is if he turns it on over the last eight games – even if he starts out slow. Otherwise, it is a make-or-break year for him.”
While Dominik is sold on Bates’ system unleashing Adams’ full potential, I remain somewhat skeptical along with Culpepper.
“It’s not necessarily Coach Bates’ techniques. I don’t think he creates the pass rushers,” Culpepper said. “If you look at the players that have had success in his system, you’re talking about Aaron Kampman, Jason Taylor, Trace Armstrong and Adewale Ogunleye. Those are all excellent pass rushers in their own right. Bates put them in a position to be successful, but he didn’t make them pass rushers. Bates didn’t have a rip technique or a swim technique that automatically made them pass rushers. They were already good pass rushers. What he did do is put them in a position to go one-on-one and beat the offensive lineman. I don’t think the scheme made those guys good. I think they were already good and the scheme made them better.”
It’s hard to argue Culpepper’s point. I think Adams has the speed and the athletic tools to be a dangerous pass rusher, but what I question is his drive and motivation to be the best. That’s what separated Selmon and Rice from Upshaw, Jones and Curry. That starts with work ethic, and former head coach Jon Gruden sounded the alarm bells early at Adams’ initial press conference in April 2007 when he said he wanted Adams to “lead the league in effort.” You don’t need to say that about hard workers.
Then there was the offseason revelation that Adams somehow avoided the squat rack up until this spring. That may explain why he’s been more of a finesse pass rusher and not an overly physical pass rusher during his first two years.
If Adams becomes a more physical edge rusher this year and shows the increased maturity that should come with a player entering his third NFL season, there is still a chance that he could become an elite pass rusher in the NFL. But the statistics generally state that if Adams doesn’t reach double digits in his third season, he will likely never emerge as an elite pass rusher.
FAB 2. One of the most well received aspects of my SR’s Fab 5 columns this offseason were my interviews with Atlanta’s all-time leading sacker, Chuck Smith, who is the owner of Defensive Line, Inc., which is a pass-rushing camp for high school, college and pro athletes. Smith, who operates out of Atlanta and has a close eye on the NFC South teams, including the Buccaneers, offered his critique of Tampa Bay defensive end Gaines Adams and his services to the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft.
As promised, I delivered Smith’s number to Adams this offseason and he seemed excited about the prospect of possibly working with Smith during the summer. I don’t know whether that happened or not during July. If Adams went to summer school at Defensive Line, Inc., he would have received a copy of Smith’s patented 10 Pass Rush Commandments.
Although my relatively uneventful pass-rushing days ended at Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, Kan. nearly 20 years ago, Smith gave me a copy of his 10 Pass Rush Commandments to share with Pewter Report subscribers – without having to go through tackling dummies to get it. He also went into detail about the Commandments with me, adding some general commentary and some more specific analysis on Adams.
COMMANDMENT 1. Be aware of how the protection (slide, fan, zone, and max) and the elements (rain, snow, wind, bad footing) affect our pass rush.
“People don’t realize that certain rushes don’t work on certain surfaces, nor should they try them.”
COMMANDMENT 2. Never line up in the same position during obvious pass rushing downs. This will keep the OL from getting in a comfort zone.
“Sometimes, guys stagnate themselves by lining up in the same position every down. If you are a pitcher, you’ve got to throw some off-speed pitches at some point. Otherwise, if you keep throwing fastballs down the middle the great hitters are going to knock it out of the park. Atlanta has absolutely awesome offensive tackles. Sam Baker is going to be a Pro Bowler for a long-time. There are going to be some good wars between he and Gaines Adams. Gaines needs to give him a different look and mix it up more often so it makes his job tougher.”
COMMANDMENT 3. Power step: To generate the ultimate explosion off the ball. Push off with two legs instead of one. Getting off the ball puts pressure on the OL.
“If I’m a left defensive, I’m a big proponent of putting the outside hand down. Some guys in the NFL don’t like that. But most great pass rushing moves come from having your outside hand down. When you push off with two legs – even if you miss the snap count – fire with two legs, not one. Your legs should always be firing and generating more power and explosion. If I’m the left end, my left leg is out and I am creating spacing and it protects me if the tackle tries to hook me. I can power through it.”
COMMANDMENT 4. Don’t be handicapped: Learn to use every stance. A defensive lineman who can only play on one side or only able to get in one stance handicaps himself and the defense. Many different pass rush moves can be disguised by keeping the OL off balance by just giving a different stance. We need to be able to adjust if were forced or asked to move around on the DL.
“Players have to learn how to play with either hand down. What if Gaines breaks his right hand? What is he going to do? It kills him. Playing on both sides and learning to play with either hand down keeps people off balance.”
COMMANDMENT 5. Use your hands/arms as weapons: Our hands/arms are our greatest asset. We use them as violent weapons. Our hands should never be still.
“When you use your hands and develop moves, and you have balance. Guys that have no moves have no balance and get knocked down easily. Guys that rush with robot arms get knocked down a bunch. Have you ever noticed guys with great balance – like surfers – are constantly moving their hands and arms? That gives you balance. Plus, you don’t go to war without your weapons. You don’t win wars with bodies. You win wars with weapons. A pass rusher’s hands should never be still. When your hands get still, your feet get still.”
COMMANDMENT 6. Confidence/consistency: Pass rushers have to believe in the moves/weapons. Developing consistency at what we do. Thou shall never get impatient and do rushes that aren’t in our repertoire. Sacks come in bunches. Sometimes they don’t come. We need to be consistent and confident during the good and the bad.
“If Simeon Rice would have let his team out in Arizona affect his pass rush, he would have never been one of the greatest rushers of our generation. You never saw Simeon do a spin move. You never saw Warren Sapp do one in his older years. Warren was different in his third year than he was during his 10th year. Don’t do things you haven’t worked on or developed in games. You aren’t seeing Peyton Manning tucking the ball and running because he’s not a running quarterback. You have to be consistent. I had five sacks on Willie Roaf in one game and people were saying, ‘Chuck is rolling.’ Man, after that I didn’t have a sack in five games, but I didn’t change what I was doing.”
COMMANDMENT 7. Power circle/vision: How do you get sacks if you never look at the OL during the rush? Great rushers have great vision! Rule: beat the offensive lineman fast by looking at his torso (power circle). OL are taught to stay square and balanced in pass protection. They focus on our chest and breastplate (power circle). When we’re pass rushing, focus on his power circle. Everything we need to win is in his power circle (arms, shoulders, hands, wrist, and loose jersey). Looking at his pass protection set will help us then and during adjustments. You can’t get to the QB until we beat the OL.
“This one is maybe the most important one. It takes vision. How do we get sacks if you never look at offensive linemen during the rush. What Gaines does every play as soon as the ball is snapped is he looks in the backfield. Rushers have to have great vision. You’ve got to look at an offensive lineman’s torso. Offensive linemen are taught to stay square and focus on our breastplate. When we’re rushing as defensive linemen, we have to focus on his power circle – his arms, his shoulders, his wrists and his jersey – and deal with that first. The first thing I tell my guys is to look at an offensive lineman’s jersey. You can’t get to the quarterback until you get through the offensive lineman. I tell my defensive linemen to stop letting the equipment man dress you. Your shoulder pads aren’t supposed to be real big. A lot of these young guys have shoulder pads that are way too gigantic. You want your shoulder pads to go down when your arm goes down. You shouldn’t be choking because of your pads every time you are in a stance. You also shouldn’t get a jersey that’s too tight. You don’t want one that’s too loose, but if you give an offensive lineman something to grab on to, you’ll draw a holding penalty or two per game. Look at Derrick Thomas. Look at Michael Strahan. Look at James Harrison. Look at Osi Umenyiora. They all had thin shoulder pads and could move real well. The first thing I did with Albert Haynesworth was to tell him that his shoulder pads were too big. He looked like that damn Hawk and Animal from the Road Warriors because his shoulder pads were gigantic. The equipment manager hasn’t played in the NFL before. Don’t let him dress you. You’ve got to dress for success. I learned that from years of playing with Deon Sanders.”
COMMANDMENT 8. Learn to run stunts effectively: One of our biggest assets is the element of surprise (STUNTS)! Two-, three- and four-man stunts help not only the individual, but the entire defense. Picks, grabs, dummy calls, stemming can all exploit an unsuspecting offense. We have to be unselfish when running games. Pass rushing success as a D-lineman is a give and take. We all have to do our part for the stunts to work.
“The night before the Super Bowl I spent the night talking with Osi Umenyiora talking to him about TE stunts and how to truly get to Tom Brady. I can teach guys four-man stunts where you don’t ever have to blitz, but you have to use picks. One of our biggest assets is the element of surprise with two-man or four-man stunts help the entire defense. We have to be unselfish when running games and stunts. It’s give and take and we all have to do our part to make stunts work. Warren Sapp was a master at running games, but the best tandem was Charles Haley and Leon Lett in Dallas. The Bucs were great, too. Warren would get in a wide four-technique where he was almost over the tackle. Simeon would rush up field almost five yards and guess what? The tackle would stay with Simeon and Warren would kick his ass. Pow! Then you had a two-on-one with the guard. It’s rare that you just whip a guy on a stunt, but what happens is that guys get greedy. They see a little something open up and they break off the team stunt and try to steal a sack. But how many times have you seen a stunt break down, the quarterback escapes and then you lose the game? It happens.”
COMMANDMENT 9. Set up rushes/use techniques: We have to set up rushes to sometimes have success on others (ex. You can never win an inside move until we have at least tested the outside). (ex. A bull rush is a counter move – not every down weapon. Get the OL feet moving and that will help you have success when using the bull rush). Never stand at the line of scrimmage and try to block passes. Blocking a pass is a reaction, not an action.
“We have to set up rushes based on the success of others. You can never win an inside move until you’ve at least tested an outside move. A bull rush is a counter move, not an every down weapon. You have to get the offensive lineman’s feet moving and that will help you have success when using the bull rush. Never stand at the line of scrimmage and try to block passes. Blocking a pass is a reaction, not an action.”
COMMANDMENT 10. It’s third and long – time to hunt! We become hunters on third downs, and our attitude changes. This is our trophy, a quarterback. We live for 3rd downs. We want to try and hurt the QB, because that will change the dynamics of the game. And give us a competitive and psychological advantage!
“It’s third and long – it’s time to hunt. That’s the mantra for a defensive lineman. You’ve got to say that in the huddle. The entire defensive line has to know that it’s their down. Our attitude has to change on third down. You can’t be tired on third down. I was never tired on third down. That was my down. It’s the money down. It’s like Peyton in the red zone. Third down is our down to get trophies. We live for third downs and we try to hunt QBs because that will change the dynamics of the game and give us a distinct psychological advantage. I’m not going to lie to you. Buddy Ryan was famous for saying, ‘If you cut the head off a snake, the snake will die.’ People are all worried about getting fines. Let’s be honest. Teams that beat the hell out of opposing quarterbacks usually win. It’s not rocket science. It’s okay for me to say that it’s okay to beat the hell out of quarterbacks. It’s okay for guys to know that. If you get fined, you get fined. You’re not trying to hurt guys, you are just trying to finish them for the day. You’re not trying to take out there knees or anything like that. You’re just trying to get as many hits on them as possible until they can’t get up any more during that game. When Michael Vick was knocked out a few years ago with a broken leg, the Falcons had no chance that year. The team even let down. If you knock out Matt Ryan, the Falcons probably aren’t going to win that game. Now you have an opportunity to beat Atlanta with D.J. Shockley in there at quarterback. Give me the backup any day.”
Great stuff once again from Chuck Smith. I can’t wait to run into him again at the Senior Bowl next January.
FAB 3. One of the biggest complaints with Jon Gruden’s offense outside of the team’s Super Bowl run in 2002 is that it was not explosive enough and sometimes downright too conservative in nature. Fans can point back to the Bucs’ 16-13 loss last year in which Tampa Bay settled for too many field goals and was not aggressive enough in its quest to score touchdowns.
It would be fair to say that Gruden’s offense was often explosive when neccessary, such was the case after falling behind by double digits in come-from-behind victories at Chicago (27-24 OT), Kansas City (30-27 OT) and at Detroit (38-20). In its nine wins last year, Tampa Bay only had four victories that were by more than 10 points (versus Atlanta, versus Carolina, at Kansas City and at Detroit).
But too often inside the red zone, the Bucs receivers were not called on to score touchdowns. Out of the 10 red zone TDs last year, half the touchdowns were scored by receivers, while the other half were scored by tight ends.
2-yard TD WR Ike Hilliard at New Orleans
5-yard TD TE John Gilmore vs. Atlanta
4-yard TD WR Ike Hilliard at Chicago
1-yard TD TE Jerramy Stevens at Chicago
9-yard TD TE Alex Smith Smith vs. Green Bay
7-yard TD WR Ike Hillard at Denver
2-yard TD TE Alex Smith vs. Carolina
3-yard TD TE Alex Smith at Kansas City
15-yard TD WR Antonio Bryant at Carolina
20-yard TD WR Antonio Bryant at Atlanta
Under new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, the receivers are expected to play a more integral role in the red zone, and that was quite evident in the organized team activities (OTAs) and mini-camps this offseason. While tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jerramy Stevens were getting their fair share of opportunities in the red zone and the end zone, so were receivers Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Brian Clark – all of whom are 6-foot-2 or taller.
Over and over again, Jagodzinski was calling fades and jump balls into the end zone to allow his big targets to take advantage of the size mismatch against the team’s smaller cornerbacks and safeties.
Bucs quarterback Luke McCown favors the more aggressive throws that are in Jagodzinski’s playbook this year and getting the receivers more involved in the end zone.
“I think that’s the nature of the game with one-on-one matchups – to see if my guy is better than your guy,” McCown said. “I think we’ve got the guys from receivers to tight ends to do that. Kellen is great at it. Jerramy Stevens has made a name for himself doing that. We have great receivers that can do that, too. Most of our receivers are at least 6-foot-2, 190 pounds or better.
“The passing game has really opened up inside the red zone. The receivers are more involved and we’re throwing more into the end zone with fades and go routes. It obviously depends on the coverage because you are not going to force issues down there. You want to at least get the three points, but when you get the right match-up, you have to give your guy a chance to catch the ball and make a play for you. That’s where you can be a little more fine with your throw. If you give a chance like that to a guy like Maurice Stovall, who is 6-foot-5 and can jump over people, or a Kellen Winslow, who has strong, physical hands that can snatch the ball – that’s what it’s all about. That’s where big plays are made. Two years ago, the Giants won a Super Bowl doing that with Plaxico Burress and even David Tyree. When they cross the 20-yard line, (the Giants) are putting it up in the end zone in a one-on-one situation. If they don’t put it up, it means there is a safety out of the box and you are going to run it in. That’s going to put pressure on defenses for sure.”
There are more risks with the throwing the ball into the end zone when teams are inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. A turnover by the opponent down there could rob the team of an easy field goal attempt and a chance for at least three points. Gruden caught grief for that approach, which was deemed too conservative. But that less risky approach also made him the franchise’s all-time winningest coach and led to three winning campaigns over the last four years.
With Jagodzinski calling the plays, expect the Bucs offense to take more risks in the passing game.
“It’s being emphasized more now to take chances,” McCown said. “You have to put players into position to make plays and when they are in position you have to let them do it. When you look at what Larry Fitzgerald did in the playoffs for Arizona, he was jumping over three guys at times to make plays. That’s all he did. He was unbelievable at timing his jumps. I think you are going to see that throughout the league more – teams finding one-on-one matchups and not worrying about hitting a guy in stride. If he jumps up and catches the ball 40 yards down the field, it’s a 40-yard gain. It doesn’t mean it was a bad throw or a bad play. It’s actually a great play.”
McCown said that quarterbacks coach Greg Olson has been working on the Bucs’ vertical passing with a new approach.
“One of the things Ollie is emphasizing is if a guy is wide open and we are so focused on hitting him in stride that we miss him by a fingertip, you just missed a huge play,” McCown said. “You have to give a guy a chance to catch the ball. If you don’t, you won’t be making any plays.”
Look for more jump balls and more chances taken in Tampa Bay’s offense – downfield and in the end zone. And that’s not a bad thing.
FAB 4. The Bucs love long snapper Andrew Economos. So much so that the team signed him to a five-year contract extension last year. Economos’ play is approaching Pro Bowl levels and he is actually one of the most valuable players on the team because of his flawless snapping.
But should an injury strike during a game, which player would the Bucs turn to fill Economos’ role on an emergency basis?
Would you believe defensive tackle Ryan Sims?
Tampa Bay’s 6-foot-4, 315-pound behemoth was seen snapping during some of the OTAs while Economos was out. So what type of credentials does Sims possess?
“I started long snapping in high school,” Sims said. “Believe it or not, I was a quarterback back then – a lot lighter, obviously. All quarterbacks had to learn how to snap. I just learned how to do it.
“I didn’t do any snapping in college or even in Kansas City. There was just one day out here where Derrick Brooks was the backup snapper and he was talking a bunch of junk about how well he could snap. I told him I would have to show him how to snap. Boom. Now I’m the backup snapper. I know (tight end) John Gilmore can do it, too, but he’s third string! Now if they want someone to go down and actually cover … well, they’ll have to use him instead!”
Unbeknownst to Sims, an impressed special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia was watching the big man fire lasers between his legs and awarded him the distinction of being Economos’ backup.
“Ryan has done it before and I’m not sure if he’s glad or sad that he actually let us know he can long snap,” Bisaccia said. “He’s worked at it in practice, and (tight end) John Gilmore has as well. You always need a contingency plan.”
Practice is one thing, but actually doing it in a game is another. When asked if Sims was ready to play on fourth down for the Buccaneers, he said, “We would have to put an addendum in my contract. If I make one snap, that’s an extra $250,000 because then I’m considered a two-way player!
“Seriously, I wouldn’t mind doing it in an emergency capacity for one game. I actually snapped two or three times in a live game back in high school. Come to think of it, I was also the backup punter. Man, I got special teams in my blood!”
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• How many wins would it take for new Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris’ rookie season to be considered successful? It depends on what the criteria is, of course. For those setting the bar high, it’s making the playoffs. For those setting the bar low, it could be simply winning five games. Why only five victories, you ask? Getting five wins in 2009 would move Morris ahead of both Leeman Bennett (4-28) and Richard Williamson (4-16) in terms of overall wins and make him the Bucs’ sixth-most winningest coach in franchise history.
• Bucs quarterback Luke McCown, who is not only the cover guy for Pewter Report’s Training Camp Issue, but the perceived leader at his position heading into camp, had this to say about his confidence level regarding beating out veteran Byron Leftwich this August: “When you go up to a boxer at a boxing match and say, ‘Do you think you can beat this guy?’ he’s not going to tell you ‘No’ or he’s not going to tell you that it will be a split decision. You have to have confidence when you go into a competition. If you don’t, in my mind, you are just preparing for second place. That’s the way that I’ve always approached any competition.”
• I expect equal performances from both Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich on a day-to-day basis during training camp. I don’t expect either quarterback to pull away for the starting quarterback job until the third preseason game at the earliest. Make no mistake. The depth chart at quarterback will come down to those four preseason games. All the first two weeks of August will do is determine how much playing time the QBs will get and who will get dibs in each of the quarters of the preseason games. That’s what I’ve been told by multiple Bucs sources. I also don’t think that rookie Josh Freeman can vie for the starting job in training camp, but I do think he can sneak up the depth chart and enter the 2009 season as the backup QB with a strong showing in the preseason. If McCown wins the starting job, I would not be surprised if Freeman is the backup with second-year quarterback Josh Johnson kept as the third-string signal caller over Leftwich.
• There has been a lot of talk about the Bucs adding a veteran receiver to the roster this offseason. Names like Plaxico Burress and Marvin Harrison have been dropped by the media this offseason, and Bucs head coach Raheem Morris has even publicly discussed Burress when asked by reporters. Now Joe Horn’s name is being bantered about in the media. The only way Horn, Harrison or Ike Hilliard gets signed is if there is a training camp injury at the wide receiver position. The reason? Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik does not want to be perceived as a hypocrite for cutting 36-year old receiver Joey Galloway in February and then signing an aging player like Horn, who is 37. The chorus from fans will undoubtedly be, “If you are going to sign a veteran receiver, why didn’t you keep Galloway in the first place?” If Dominik does sign an aging receiver before camp, not only will the Galloway argument come into effect, but there will be cries for the G.M. to re-sign fan favorite linebacker Derrick Brooks, too. Even if Harrison or Horn are signed in camp due to a wide receiver getting injured, there will still be calls for Brooks to be re-signed, although Dominik will state that signing a player in his mid-30’s was only due to injury. The real quandry for Dominik is if this scenario goes down and then an injury strikes at linebacker and Brooks is still out on the street. Then the public pressure for Brooks’ return would kick into overdrive. Regardless of how steep the pressure is, I just don’t see anyway Dominik re-signs Brooks, who should retire, in my opinion.
• With the start of training camp just days away, former Tampa Bay nose tackle Brad Culpepper recalls the days of heading over to the University of Tampa for camp under both head coaches Sam Wyche and Tony Dungy during his Buccaneers tenure: “You always dread camp. You are sequestered and it’s hot. When you are a lineman in the NFL, practice is difficult. There is a lot of pressure, especially with a taskmaster like our defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli. But having said that, I kind of liked the idea of getting away from everyone and being isolated because it’s football 100 percent of the time with little distractions from family or business. You eat, sleep and drink football all day long. I remember bonding with my teammates and going over to (defensive tackle Warren) Sapp and (linebacker Derrick) Brooks’ room after dinner and watching the Olympics or some other sports event. We would talk smack about different guys and how they practiced that day. Football had permeated our lives, so there was a constant conversation. Ultimately, it brought us closer together, and after several years of going to camp together we would all think on the same page without having to verbally discuss anything. (Strong safety) John Lynch was my roommate for most of the years, but (running back) Errict Rhett was my roommate my first year in Tampa. Believe it or not, Rhett was quite the chess player. Who would have figured him for an idiot savant? We would play chess all night and he would beat me more often than not. I would also laugh at Lynch because he would have all these different stretching machines. I told him he was wasting his time and that it wouldn’t add anything to his game. Well, I played nine years in the league and he played 16, so I guess he got the last laugh, right? We used to go to the Rathskeller bar at the University of Tampa and break curfew. One year we snuck out and came back late and had to jump a fence. John was so paranoid that he was going to get in trouble that we pretended he got in trouble the next morning just to mess with him. Lynch was easily the butt of most of our jokes. It was miserable getting breakfast at 6:30 a.m., getting taped and then hitting the field for an 8:00 a.m. morning practice. After that, you watch a little film, have lunch and then hit the field again. Then you have dinner and watch more film until 8:30 p.m. then it’s off to bed. It’s all football, all the time at camp – and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
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• Not only are our subscriptions growing, but so have the number of followers Pewter Report has on Twitter. At the start of the summer we were barely at 400. Now we’ve doubled that during the notoriously dead non-football season and will be over 800 by the start of Bucs training camp next week. If you haven’t signed up for our Twitter page, what are you waiting for? Did you know that you can set your cell phone or mobile device up to receive FREE Twitter updates from us and breaking news alerts from Pewter Report’s Twitter page via text messages (standard text rates may apply depending on your cell phone plan)? Click here for details. All you need to do is set up a Twitter account, which is easy, fast and FREE, and then sign up to follow Pewter Report on Twitter by clicking here. In addition to breaking news alerts, you will also know when a story has been posted on PewterReport.com so you can quickly check it out.
• Just a quick note to let you know that there will not be another SR’s Fab 5 until after training camp. The reason is that most of the inside scoop that I come by will be put into our daily Camp Insider reports on PewterReport.com. If I have the time, I may do a quick, college football-oriented SR’s Fab 5 letting all of the draftniks out there know which 2010 draft prospects I will be following this fall.