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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. Let’s see, the Buccaneers are 0-7, the healthiest they’ve been all season and are starting a rookie quarterback in the team’s next game, and they are only practicing twice this week for a total of two and half hours?

Are you kidding me?

Why in the world isn’t Tampa Bay practicing at least three times this week? Why are the winless Buccaneers getting a four-day weekend, staying away from One Buccaneer Place from Friday, October 30 through Monday, November 2?

I’ve heard of head coaches giving their players an extra day off as a reward for a good record heading into the bye week, or if the team has been beset with a plethora of major injuries. But what have the Bucs done to deserve a four-day weekend?

Don’t you think that Josh Freeman, the team’s first-round draft pick, could use more practice time, rather than less? Whoever designed this practice schedule – general manager Mark Dominik or head coach Raheem Morris – needs to come under some serious scrutiny.

I support the Bucs’ decision to start Freeman now – even though he’s not ready. At 0-7, you might as well start prepping him for 2010 – but give him as much prep time as you can.

If I’m Morris, I’m making sure my franchise quarterback gets plenty of reps over the two weeks between the New England game and the Green Bay game. Freeman could use every snap he could get from center Jeff Faine, and every rep he could get with the team’s wide receivers, especially Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, both of whom he has rarely thrown the ball to since he was drafted last April.

Couldn’t the rest of the Buccaneers use some more practice time, too? It’s not as if Tampa Bay’s running game is clicking on all cylinders. It’s not as if the Bucs’ pass rush is mowing down quarterbacks. It’s not as if Tampa Bay’s tackling has been sharp all season.

I thought Morris and Dominik were supposed to make the Bucs a tougher team this year. Things got off to a good start, beginning with plenty of padded practices during training camp. But why ease up on a young, healthy team during the bye week, especially in the middle of a very important quarterback switch?

It’s not like this team couldn’t use the extra practice time given the Bucs’ youth and inexperience, and the mistakes that continue to pop up on Sundays that have caused Tampa Bay to go winless this season. On Wednesday, I asked Morris directly if he shouldn’t have this team practicing more during the bye week, given out the reasons I outlined.

“No, we set the schedule up a while ago,” Morris said. “You make the decision long before you go into the bye week with what you are going to do – whether you are 0-7 or 7-0. That really didn’t matter. What we did today was the preparation and the fundamental core beliefs with these guys. We got a chance to get Josh implemented to be a starter and get done what he needed to get done. We’ll come back and get two weeks of practice here. We had one day yesterday of preparation and we’ll come back the following week and get done what we need to get done.”

Morris’ failure to adjust the bye week practice schedule mirrors Tampa Bay’s failed second half adjustments this year. This team can’t make any adjustments it seems other than changing offensive coordinators, starting quarterbacks and kickers. No wonder the Bucs have been outscored 54-7 in the third quarter.

To make matters worse, the Bucs had an hour-and-a-half practice Wednesday inexplicably shortened to just an hour and five minutes. And it wasn’t even a real practice. It was a glorified version of 7-on-7s as most of the offensive and defensive linemen were missing.

“It was mostly all 7-on-7s today,” Morris said. “We had a little bit of individual period and have some 1-on-1 fundamental stuff. We got our fundamental core beliefs in and we got some of our passing things done. Hopefully we’ll come out tomorrow and get half a practice in and get out of here.”

Shouldn’t Freeman get as many reps against a live pass rush (which doesn’t exist in 7-on-7 drills) before facing the Packers?

I’m baffled, Bucs fans.

I was one of the first to go on record with my displeasure about how the Bucs have bungled the handling of their quarterbacks this year. Just think about all of the starting reps that were wasted on deciding whether Byron Leftwich or Luke McCown was the best guy to start against Dallas while Freeman was underdeveloped in training camp and Josh Johnson was a mere afterthought in August.

What good did all those reps do? Leftwich got three starts and is now done as a Buccaneers starter, while McCown was traded to Jacksonville. The Bucs overestimated the talent of the team and were overconfident in the ability of Leftwich to secure some early season wins.

Not one media outlet predicted the Bucs to finish at .500 or better this year. That should have been a clear indication to not just limit the team’s youth movement to the defensive side of the ball, but to go ahead and plan to play both Johnson and Freeman in 2009.

In hindsight, Tampa Bay should have just let McCown, Johnson and Freeman duke it out in training camp and stayed away from Leftwich. That would have ensured that Johnson and Freeman would have gotten many more reps in training camp and the preseason, and both young quarterbacks would have been more prepared for their first NFL starts, which have come much earlier than the team envisioned.

Unfortunately, the Bucs’ quarterback debacle has continued into the bye week. The only way this turns out right is if Freeman shows some signs of progress down the stretch and leads the team to a win or two over the remaining nine games. Given the number of dropped passes, the lack of a consistent running game and little support from a shaky defense, that might be asking too much of Freeman.

This guy needs as many practices as he can get. This young, 0-7, football team needs as many practices as it can get.

FAB 2. Josh Freeman is your new starting quarterback, Bucs fans. Will you give him time to develop and support him, or are you going to help destroy the guy with endless criticism on Internet message boards, countless calls on sports talk radio and boos at Raymond James Stadium on the remaining four home games this year?

Your level of support could help the 21-year old Freeman. You can help take off some pressure by giving him time to develop. Freeman is a nice, aw-shucks Midwesterner from Grandview, Mo., which is a suburb of Kansas City. He’s a likable guy. He’s going to need some patience from his teammates, his coaches, his owners and yes, the Buccaneers fan base. Will you give it to him?

Or you can play a role in causing more pressure on the team’s first-round pick. You can make it to where Freeman won’t want to be seen in public for fear of being heckled. That’s how the likes of Trent Dilfer and Chris Simms felt at times during their early years as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, and it didn’t help their development.

Of course you have the right to boo Freeman when he takes needless sacks and throws pick-sixes. You also have the right to beat your chest on message boards and sports talk radio shows and brag about how you knew he was going to be a bust from the moment he was drafted.

But ask yourself this: is that going to help Freeman or the Buccaneers franchise this year or in the future?

I have always believed that players are rookies until they have had the chance to start 16 regular season games in the NFL. Maybe that happens in a player’s rookie season. Maybe it happens over two, three or four seasons.

It’s taken Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson six seasons to finally show he’s a capable of being a legit starter. In his first six NFL starts in Kansas City, Wilkerson posted 1.5 sacks. In his first seven starts in Tampa Bay, he’s recorded six sacks and two forced fumbles.

I’m going to give Freeman 16 starts to prove to me that he is capable of being a franchise quarterback for Tampa Bay. Over those 16 games, I’ll criticize his lowlights and praise his highlights, but I’m not going to pass judgment on him as a starting quarterback until that 16th game. With all of the millions invested in him, in addition to the 17th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, I think it’s wise to exercise a great deal of patience with Freeman’s development.

Some of you have wanted the Bucs to draft a franchise-type quarterback in the first round for years. Freeman may not be the guy you thought of at the time or wished for, but ultimately, you got what you wanted.

It should be in your best interest to hope that Freeman succeeds in Tampa Bay. If he doesn’t it just sets back the Bucs’ rebuilding project 2-3 more years, which means Tampa Bay may not produce a winning season until 2012 or 2013 at the earliest.

My advice is to go into the Freeman era with low expectations. Understand that Freeman left Kansas State after his junior season and there was plenty of NFL Draft pundits that said he was probably the least NFL-ready of the QB trio that included Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Freeman.

It’s going to take Freeman a while before he becomes a competent, legitimate NFL quarterback. There are going to be some downright ugly games within his first 16 starts, and one of those might be on November 8 against Green Bay.

Sanchez, who has started every game in his rookie season for the New York Jets, threw three picks and no touchdowns in a 24-10 loss at New Orleans, and single-handedly lost the 16-13 overtime game to Buffalo by completing 34.5 percent of his passes and throwing five picks and no touchdowns.

Freeman will have days like these, too. Expect them. They will happen.

As a Kansas State alum, I’ve seen Freeman play more than any other Bucs beat writer or media member. Based on what I saw from him in college, I think he has the chance to turn into a good NFL quarterback, and possibly a very good one because of his elite physical tools. A lot will depend on the talent level of the supporting cast around him, in addition to the support level he gets from the Buccaneers fan base and the Tampa Bay community in his first year as a starter. That will play a big role in Freeman’s development.

FAB 3. I didn’t have the chance to address Raheem Morris’ October 19th press conference in my last SR’s Fab 5 column, but I think it’s worth revisiting. It was easily Morris’ worst press conference over the last couple months and may have offered some insight as to why the Bucs are winless.

In this press conference, he demonstrated to me that he doesn’t have a firm grasp of the facts regarding his team. After his opening statement, Morris was asked about the team’s woes in the third quarter, with the Bucs “being outscored big in that quarter,” according to the reporter.

Morris’ answer stunned me, considering the fact that the Bucs had been outscored in the third quarter 47-7 after the first six games of the season. It’s as if Morris didn’t know about the team’s lopsided scoring in the third quarter.

“Yeah, I don’t know if we have been outscored, but yeah I could just go back and look, but I know we have had some, we had two interceptions coming out of the tunnel which you can’t have, those are always going to hurt you and especially given great field position like we have been. Usually you think you get the ball in and come up at half, you go down, you score, you get a drive, you change the field position. You have a lot of opportunities to do some things but we haven’t and I don’t think it has anything to do with. It’s at first they were just two bad decisions by both by the same guy both by Josh [Johnson] at that point but no real explanation to what’s going on there just made a bad decision, a bad throw. Maybe Mike [Clayton] could have cut out the route for him a little bit more. Maybe he could have read that a little bit better, read that differently but just two opportunities, two of the same. The one in Washington I said was a great play by DeAngelo [Hall] and yesterday that decision just had not been great for us and when you start off like that usually that’s going to generate the short field for the defense and you’re going to get outscored there on a turnover.”


Instead of answering the reporter’s question about the team’s third quarter woes all season, Morris just focused on the third quarter of the Carolina game. I would hope that Morris would know that the third quarter has been the team’s worst quarter all year, but given his answer I’m not so sure he does.

The fact that he didn’t address the season-long problems with the third quarter gives me less confidence in the fact that he knows how to fix it.

In the same press conference, Morris was also asked why the team’s players on offense weren’t playing better, despite the fact that they were veterans. He mistakenly said that Donald Penn was the team’s oldest offensive lineman. Penn is 26, while center Jeff Faine is 28 and backup center Sean Mahan, who was still on the team at the time of this particular press conference, is 29.

Additionally, he wasn’t quite clear on how long some of his starting offensive linemen have been Buccaneers.

“They’re actually pretty young too,” Morris said. “We consider them veterans because they have been here the past two years, but Davin Joseph has been in the league four years, three years? [Jeremy] Trueblood, the same thing. Jeremy Zuttah is in his second year or third year – something like that? They are all young players as well. Donald Penn may be the oldest, not sure, probably. Faine? Okay, Faine is the oldest and that’s our leader and he just got back yesterday. It was his first game back. They did execute. They executed pretty well. We have the running going. We have Cadillac to his average 6.2 yards a carry or something like that.”

Morris might have had a “senior moment” at the ripe old age of 33 and simply forgotten that Penn is in his fourth year in the NFL while Mahan and Faine are in their seventh seasons. But this is his football team. One would think that Morris, who has been described as a players’ coach, would know the players inside and out.

Also, since when has Cadillac Williams averaged 6.2 yards per carry? Maybe after Week 1 when he rushed for Dallas 97 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry heading into the Buffalo game. That was five weeks ago, but Williams was averaging 4.3 yards per carry when Morris made that statement.

To not be in command of the most obvious facts makes Morris come across as sloppy to the media and the fans. If Morris is this way in his press conferences, is he the same way in his team meetings when he and his assistants are presenting the game plans?

Jon Gruden had his press conference faults, never missing the opportunity to say that he wouldn’t use injuries as an excuse – right before mentioning how injuries were crippling the team – but he was generally in command of the facts, especially on offense. After all, Gruden was the playcaller and architect of the playbook, so he should have every offensive stat down pat.

However, just because Morris is neither the team’s offensive or defensive coordinator doesn’t mean he shouldn’t know the stat sheets and roster inside out. In fact, he should know them like the back of his hand because he doesn’t have the responsibility of installing a game plan like both Jim Bates and Greg Olson do. As the walk-around head coach, these are the things Morris should have time to analyze and commit to memory.

Morris should know the strengths and weaknesses of his team like the names of the members of his family, especially something as damning as the team’s dismal third quarter scoring.

Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur opined in the October digital issue of PR that the Bucs were simply sloppy in the first half of the season and his analysis was spot on. Usually the team is a reflection of its coaching staff.

It’s clear that Morris is sloppy in some areas of his coaching and that needs to be cleaned up. He needs to become more detail-oriented. If that happens, perhaps Morris’ team will follow his lead in that regard.

FAB 4. I don’t want to take Raheem Morris to task too much in this SR’s Fab 5 column, so I’ll point out something positive. His team is playing hard. The Bucs may lack talent and they may be making some sloppy mistakes at times, but you can’t question the team’s effort level.

You can question Tampa Bay’s execution, but not the effort. Morris said as much, referring to the team’s heart in Sunday’s 35-7 loss to New England after Wednesday’s practice.

“We went out there and played a very good team in the Patriots,” Morris said. “You saw those guys go out and you saw them compete. You see how hard they are playing. I see these guys really go out there and play hard. You can’t really go on tape and say they are lazy or lackadaisical. They don’t have any of that. You have hard play. You’ve got consistent plays. You just have plays where you have to take away from each game that will make it a different game. They played the Patriots as hard as they could play them in that first half. Unfortunately, we threw that pick for six. The defense gave up 14 points – really seven points because the other one was a turnover from the 30-yard line. So they gave up seven in the first half against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. That’s not bad for your defense. Now of course you want to go out and make those plays from the 30-yard line and keep them out of the end zone period, but that’s not going to happen against a team like that.”

Morris went on to praise some of the team’s improving players, especially on Tampa Bay’s 27th-ranked defense.

“You’ve seen Elbert Mack come back and bounce back and play a couple pretty good games here,” Morris said. “We’ve got to have him have some more. We’ve seen Sabby [Piscitelli] get better in his games. You’ve seen Tanard come back to the football team and create instant splash plays. You see Aqib Talib get better. You might have seen the front four play their best game of the season. I don’t know that they got the sacks – we only had one sack – but the pressure on Tom Brady and the constant harassment, and playing the run about as best as I’ve seen it. It was the highest effort I have seen from those guys.”

I agree with Morris and wrote about this in Sunday’s Pewter Report Roundtable. For as little talent the Bucs have up front along the defensive line, I thought it was their best collective effort. Tampa Bay holds New England under 100 yards rushing if not for a 20-yard fourth quarter scramble by backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, which was the longest running play allowed by the Bucs on Sunday.

Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson had a career-high nine tackles and half a sack. Stylez G. White, who is known to be somewhat disinterested against the run, had five tackles, including a tackle for a loss and half a sack. Backup defensive ends Tim Crowder and Michael Bennett combined for three tackles.

Backup defensive tackle Roy Miller had five tackles, while starting defensive tackles Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan had four tackles and one tackle, respectively. That’s a combined 29 tackles from the defensive line, which isn’t bad at all considering how this season has gone.

If you look hard enough, there was some considerable improvement from the Carolina game in certain areas. This team is making some progress. Some players are getting better. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough for a young Bucs team to claim victory yet.

This first year head coach has made his share of mistakes this year. There’s no doubt about that. But he’s still got this team fired up to play each Sunday and I haven’t seen this team quit in the fourth quarter yet. They fight as hard as their talent will allow them to, and that’s a positive on Morris’ report card in my eyes.

It would be interesting to see how effective Morris could be as a head coach if he had a more talented team to work with.

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

• It’s been 11 years since the Buccaneers have not had at least a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard season in the same season, but it appears as if Tampa Bay’s offense will accomplish that dubious distinction once again in 2009. In 1999, fullback Mike Alstott had 949 yards rushing on 242 carries, while Jacquez Green led the Bucs with 791 yards receiving on 56 catches. In 2002, the Bucs barely had a 1,000-yard receiver with Keyshawn Johnson having 1,088 yards receiving while both Michael Pittman and Alstott each failed to rush for 1,000 yards. The same thing occurred in 2006 as Cadillac Williams only rushed for 798 yards, while Joey Galloway managed to get 1,056 yards receiving. In 2007, Galloway had 1,014 yards receiving, while Earnest Graham finished with 898 yards on the ground. The Bucs haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Williams’ 1,178 yards in 2005, but the team has had a 1,000-yard receiver ever since 2001. But this season, Williams is on pace to produce only 697 yards on the ground, and the closest the Bucs will have to a 1,000-yard receiver figures to be tight end Kellen Winslow, who is on pace for 674 yards receiving. When was the last time the Bucs didn’t have their leading receiver and a running back tandem eclipse even 700 yards apiece? That happened in 1996 when Errict Rhett rushed for 539 yards and Alstott had 557 yards on 65 catches.

• It was really important for Tampa Bay to notch at least one win during the first half of the season before the bye week. That didn’t happen, and as a result, the Bucs are left to second guess their coaches, teammates and themselves for an extra week because they have yet to taste success in 2009. In talking with Pewter Report columnist and former Bucs nose tackle Brad Culpepper, he recalled how vital it was to get the team’s first win in Tony Dungy’s first year, which came after the bye week because players were beginning to lose faith. “In 1996, we went 0-5 and then we beat our division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, right after the bye to get our first win under Tony. Anytime you go into the bye without a win you’ve essentially got two weeks of negative reinforcement because nothing has worked well enough. Doubt starts to creep in. When we beat Minnesota, we found out that what we were doing worked well enough to at least win one game. As we’ve seen with our media here in Tampa, they pile on. And when they pile on you, it’s devastating as a player. You can’t escape it. It’s on every radio station, television, newspapers and now websites. It’s almost like a ray of hope when you get that first win. Thinking back, I remember that I’d much rather practice in an open week with a positive – even with just one win. At least you have something to build on that is positive that can give you confidence because all of a sudden doubt really can creep in, especially with young players. If you go into the open week with doubt, you’ve got to practice hard but in the back of your mind you are thinking, ‘Are we wasting our time with something that doesn’t work?’ The win over Minnesota after the bye gave us the opportunity to think, ‘Okay, whatever Tony is doing – we’re about to turn it around. We beat Minnesota, who is a division rival.’ We had the validation that whatever we were doing was going to work because it had already produced a win on one Sunday. This year’s team isn’t there yet.”

• A lot has been made of the recent Wall Street Journal report that highlighted the Bucs’ salary cap manipulation over the last couple years. That should come as nothing new to Pewter Report subscribers as we have documented this practice during the Bruce Allen era. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal stated: “A person familiar with the finances of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers says that last season, the team signed two free-agents, running back Noah Herron and defensive end Patrick Chukwurah, for contracts that totalled $25 million. Under the rules of the salary cap, the Buccaneers were charged that full amount for the players. But to actually earn that money, each player had to, among other things, block six punts apiece—an exceedingly difficult prospect. In the end, neither player ended up taking a single snap. Mr. Herron was paid $157,000 and Mr. Chukwurah $71,000, although the team’s salary-cap number reflected the full value of their contracts. Tampa Bay, which ranked among the lowest teams in spending last season, has lost all six of its games. Tampa Bay and NFL officials declined to comment.” The one thing this article doesn’t point out is the fact that Tampa Bay was “way over the minimum threshold last year before those incentives were used,” according to a Pewter Report source. The WSJ article implies that the Bucs were using those contracts to avoid the league spending minimums. The reality of it was that the Bucs were looking to increase their 2009 salary cap room by doing so.

• If I’m Bucs head coach Raheem Morris, I’m inserting rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller in the starting lineup over Chris Hovan. With less snaps, Miller leads all defensive tackles with 30 tackles this year, one tackle for loss and one sack. Of his 30 tackles, 18 are solo stops. Hovan has just 21 tackles, including nine solo stops, but does not have any tackles for loss or sacks. I’m also starting Sammie Stroughter over Michael Clayton. Stroughter has 16 catches for 214 yards, while Clayton has just 11 catches for 154 yards. Since his four-catch, 97-yard effort against Dallas on opening day, Clayton has just seven catches for 57 yards over the past six games. It’s all about production and Hovan and Clayton aren’t producing as much as the rookies are.

• Dating back to his Kansas State days, Josh Freeman’s best routes that he throws are the slants, such as the 13-yarder he completed to Brian Clark against New England, and the intermediate, 20-yard pass off play-action. Those types of passes are what got him drafted in the first round. If I’m Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson, I am sprinkling in a heavy dose of those two routes in the Green Bay game plan.

• One last thing on Josh Freeman. Many Bucs fans scoffed when Tampa Bay spent its first-round pick on the K-State quarterback, especially with what was supposed to be an outstanding QB class in the 2010 NFL Draft. Well take a look at next year’s supposedly great QB class. Sam Bradford has injured his AC joint in his throwing shoulder twice this year and is now having season-ending surgery. Chances are that he won’t be able to throw until next April – just weeks before the draft. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy doesn’t have a big frame and has gotten knocked around in his Longhorns career. After throwing 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions last year, McCoy has thrown 14 touchdowns and eight picks this year and his play has not been nearly as good as it was a year ago. McCoy reminds me of former UCLA quarterback Cade McCown, who was a first-round bust, for some reason. After a good junior season in which he threw 26 touchdowns and 13 picks, Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead has only completed 52.6 percent of his passes and has only thrown 11 touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. There is not a consensus opinion in the NFL community that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is a first-round draft pick, much less a top 10 pick. Tebow has all the intangibles, but is considered to be a raw passer despite some gaudy stats, especially from his sophomore year. His two pick-sixes in last week’s win at Mississippi State didn’t assuage his doubters’ concerns, either. Cincinnati signal caller Tony Pike has had a great senior season and has good physical tools – except for a busted plate in his left forearm that caused him to miss parts of his junior and senior seasons, and will be a problem in the NFL. So with Freeman, the supposed franchise quarterback, already in-house, the Bucs aren’t beholden to draft a quarterback in 2010. Instead, Tampa Bay, which will likely be drafting in the top 5 of next year’s draft, can turn its attention to its woeful defense and draft Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy or Tennessee safety Eric Berry. The Bucs may also be in better position to trade down and acquire more picks because there will be teams like Cleveland, St. Louis and perhaps Tennessee that will need to draft a quarterback in the first round.

 

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]