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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. The reason why the Buccaneers benched starting quarterback Byron Leftwich in favor of Josh Johnson is because the team was convinced that Buffalo had laid out the blueprint for defending Leftwich and Tampa Bay’s offense in Week 2. The more talented New York Giants followed that blueprint to stymie Leftwich and hold the Bucs to only 86 yards of total offense and just five first downs in Sunday’s 24-0 victory over the Pewter Pirates.
So what did the Bills do defensively? They attacked the “A gap” which is the gap between the center and guard. Buffalo sent a ton of linebacker blitzes right up the middle at Leftwich to get in his face and force a quick throw. The Bucs have long advertised that they wanted to throw the ball downfield, which was Leftwich’s strength. If Buffalo could force Leftwich to get rid of the ball quickly and throw underneath passes as opposed to deep balls, he would throw incompletions and interceptions, which is exactly what happened.
The Bucs didn’t recognize this deficiency in training camp for two reasons. First, Jeff Faine is a better center than Sean Mahan when it comes to making line calls regarding blitz pickups, and he’s better pass protecting from the center position. Second, Tampa Bay’s pass rush is so weak that the Bucs offensive line did a sound enough job in blitz pick-up that the team thought it had this issue under control.
Yet for some reason, the Bucs also failed to recognize this deficiency from Leftwich’s film from Jacksonville, Atlanta and Buffalo. Leftwich is what he is – an immobile quarterback with a slow, wind-up release and bouts of inaccuracy. Leftwich earned my respect vs. Dallas for hanging tough in the pocket and making the throws, but the Cowboys had to respect the Bucs’ ability to run the ball and throw deep off play action during the season opener, and with Faine in the lineup, the offense still rolled up yards regardless of whether Dallas blitzed or not.
But once Buffalo took away Tampa Bay’s running game with a combination of an early 17-0 lead and great run defense, the Bills really tested Mahan and Leftwich up the middle. The Giants followed suit last Sunday and even though they didn’t blitz the “A gap” as much as the Bills did, New York sent both of its defensive tackles through the “A gap” on occasion while blitzing from the outside, which put a lot of stress on Leftwich, Mahan and the rest of the offensive line because of Leftwich’s lack of escapability.
The Bucs did not see this situation getting any better, especially with teams like the Philadelphia Eagles on the schedule two weeks from now. Johnson’s mobility and scrambling ability is a big reason for the quarterback change because Leftwich was a sitting duck behind Mahan. Again, why general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris didn’t realize this when they not only signed Leftwich, but also made him the team’s starting quarterback, is beyond me.
Sources tell me that another reason why Leftwich is getting the heave-ho after just three weeks is the Eagles game on October 11. The Redskins contest this week is winnable – even on the road with a newbie quarterback like Johnson under center. This is the most appropriate opportunity on the schedule to make a quarterback switch except for the Carolina game at home on October 18. The fear is that the Bucs could be 0-5 by then.
Philadelphia’s defense, which is ranked fifth in total defense in the NFL, is a buzz saw on par with New York’s defense, which ranks second after shutting out Tampa Bay on Sunday. Yet the big difference is the Giants rank 24th in sacks, while the Eagles rank second in the league with 10 sacks in three games.
After speaking with multiple Bucs officials I support the reasoning for Morris starting Johnson against the Redskins, but that’s about all I support with the way this organization has handled its quarterback situation over the past three months. Think of all the starting reps in mini-camp, training camp and the preseason games that were essentially wasted by Leftwich and Luke McCown while Johnson and first-round pick Josh Freeman were essentially bystanders for most of the time.
What was the end result? Leftwich’s tenure as a starting quarterback in Tampa Bay is over after three games and now McCown is the backup in Jacksonville. What a waste. Imagine how Johnson or Freeman would have benefitted from the now useless reps given to Leftwich and McCown.
In hindsight, the Bucs would have been better off having Freeman and Johnson compete with McCown if this was going to be the end result on the field. I can see the benefits of having a veteran like Leftwich around to help mentor Johnson and Freeman, but having the two youngsters get the thousands of reps that Leftwich consumed over the summer might have been more beneficial.
For those of you that missed last week’s SR’s Fab 5, the reason why Johnson is getting the nod rather than Freeman is clearly spelled out in that column. The Cliff Notes version is that Freeman is not ready. Playing Freeman would actually be detrimental to Tampa Bay’s already beleaguered defense, and Johnson knows the offense better than Freeman and Leftwich because he was here last year with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, who is the team’s new offensive coordinator.
This quarterback switch is a move that should be praised for its boldness like the decision by Dominik and Morris to admit a mistake early and fire offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. This is also a move that should be criticized and scrutinized the same way Morris and Dominik were questioned over hiring Jagodzinski in the first place.
We knew the Bucs were committed to a youth movement this year and that this was going to be the year in which they determined which young players can play and which ones can’t. We all knew in the back of our minds that Freeman was probably going to play at some point this season, despite Dominik’s attempts to adhere to the plan of having the 21-year old rookie sit and learn this year.
But I don’t think we knew that the Bucs would end up playing two young quarterbacks this year as part of that youth movement. Johnson gets his shot and when Faine returns Freeman will get his turn, too.
FAB 2. Tensions are mounting at One Buccaneer Place, and the next two weeks will be awfully telling as to how the rest of the 2009 season plays out for Tampa Bay. The reason I say the next two weeks is because it will be interesting to see how the Bucs respond to Sunday’s 24-0 beat down at the hands of the New York Giants when practice resumes on Wednesday. It will also be interesting to see what kind of Bucs team shows up in Washington for Sunday’s game, and how the team handles the outcome from that contest during next week.
The outcome will either be a depressing loss, the fourth straight this season and the eighth in a row dating back to last year, or a much-needed win that will prompt many at One Buccaneer Place to breathe a collective sigh of relief – albeit quickly before having to travel to Philadelphia to face the always dangerous Eagles with Donovan McNabb back at the helm. Sorry, I’m not going to predict a tie between the Bucs and the Redskins.
What does a win do for Tampa Bay? It probably makes the players buy into the system and the team concept a little more because a win rewards the Buccaneers for their hard work, and it halts – at least temporarily – the finger pointing that naturally comes with a winless football team.
What does a loss do for the Buccaneers? A 0-4 record with such a young team can be a devastating thing to overcome. Finger pointing is bound to ensue, players will begin to question their coaches and the systems and schemes, the effort level will drop and the team will begin to fracture until it wins. The heat will also be turned up significantly on head coach Raheem Morris, especially after this week’s abrupt decision to bench veteran Byron Leftwich and start second-year quarterback Josh Johnson against the Redskins.
No, the Bucs aren’t going to the playoffs this year and they will finish with a record below .500, but this Sunday’s game against Washington is big – real big. Tampa Bay needs to claim victory in the games it could and should win, and the 1-2 Redskins present the Bucs with a winnable game.
The biggest reason why tension is building in the locker room is because the team’s younger players are not locked in to film study and doing whatever it takes to quickly and dramatically improve and win football games. That has a number of veterans I’ve spoken to quite upset.
One who went on the record with me was seven-year veteran defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson.
“I’m just speaking for myself and my experience,” Wilkerson said. “When I came in as a young guy, I didn’t know what it took to get mentally and physically prepared for a game. I wasn’t one to stay late and watch extra film. As a young guy, I was one of the first ones out the door. I can understand where the young guys are coming from, but now as a veteran in my seventh year in the league, in order to get an edge up on your opponent you’ve got to out-study those guys and out-work those guys and do what you have to do individually to help win the game. That’s something that I have really been honing in on this year and being mentally prepared in the classroom, whether it is watching extra film or coming in early in the morning and watching film before we go into meeting. The young guys – I don’t know. They need to pay more attention to the veteran guys. Who is in there watching extra film? Who is in there writing down their notes? You can tell everybody to get in there and watch film because the veteran guys are in there watching film. It’s going to be up to the younger guys to decide if they want to be the best at what they do. I’m trying to be the best at what I do.”
On defense, especially in Jim Bates’ man coverage scheme, winning individual battles is the key for the defense winning the war on Sunday. Too many times individuals have not made the tackle in a one-on-one situations, have not shut down receivers in one-on-one situations and not beaten one-on-one battles to get to the quarterback. Wilkerson, who has one of the team’s three sacks and is second on the team with five quarterback hurries, is trying to do his part in the film room to gain an edge on his opponents.
“Losing enough individual battles is going to mess the whole team up,” Wilkerson said. “If everybody is not on the same page we’re not going to win games. It might be a close game, but you are not going to win it if you are not in it mentally.”
This is not a good thing for a team undergoing a planned youth movement, especially when the young players outnumber the veterans. There are 25 Buccaneers who are in their first, second or third year in the NFL out of the 53 men on the roster. Throw in the seven players on the practice squad and that number swells to 32, and the number of young players make up the majority of players on the team.
Consider that many of the veterans on this team are only in their fourth, fifth or sixth season and still are trying to establish themselves as good players, and there is not a lot of credible leadership on this roster right now. As it is, the Bucs only have five players that have been in the league eight years or more – cornerback Ronde Barber (13 years), defensive tackles Chris Hovan (10 years) and Ryan Sims (eight years) and tight ends Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore (eight years each).
Other veterans I have spoken with confidentially over the past two days said the team’s captains don’t seem to be respected by the younger players and that there may be a credibility issue at stake. I touched on this in my portion of Sunday’s Pewter Report Roundtable, which appears to be spot-on analysis:
“Speaking of Byron Leftwich, the thing that would concern me if I were general manager Mark Dominik or head coach Raheem Morris is the lack of leadership from the captain positions. Center Jeff Faine is injured, so his role as a captain is diminished somewhat because he’s not in the huddle in practice or the games, and won’t be for several weeks. Leftwich played okay over the last two weeks, but the reality is that he’s on his fourth team in four years and hasn’t led the Bucs to a win in three games. Leftwich is an experienced quarterback, but he’s not necessarily a good one. On defense, Ronde Barber’s game has slipped. Tampa Bay’s record-breaking cornerback is still a solid player, but no longer the playmaker he was a few years ago. Barber is a quiet leader who does not seek to vocally lead the troops and doesn’t believe in giving rah-rah speeches – and won’t. Will Allen is a special teams captain, but is not considered to be a vocal leader. The fact that he’s only starting on defense due to Jermaine Phillips’ injury and Tanard Jackson’s suspension robs him of a lot of credibility when it comes to addressing the defense. Perhaps the most ‘rah-rah’ captain on the team is defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who just doesn’t have the production to back up his talk. At age 31, any game-changing skills that Hovan had are gone. He had a pedestrian four tackles on Sunday and his play may not be much better than that of defensive tackle Ryan Sims or rookie Roy Miller at this stage of his career. I would bet that Gaines Adams gets his first sack of the season before Hovan does. The Bucs’ best player on defense is middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who had 14 tackles on Sunday to once again lead Tampa Bay. But Ruud’s quiet, ‘aw, shucks’ demeanor may undermine his leadership ability. It will take leadership in conjunction with playmaking to turn the Bucs’ season around, and through three games the Bucs have shown little of either.”
Today’s rookies and young NFL players don’t seem to be as committed as they were when I first started covering the Buccaneers professionally back in 1995. Earlier in the week, head coach Raheem Morris talked about his young team resembling Tony Dungy’s 1996 Tampa Bay club in terms of the growing pains and learning curve that were present in the Bucs’ winless start. I bought into that logic as I likened this year to ’96 even before the season started and the Bucs began with a 0-3 record.
But what I see now reminds me of 1992 Buccaneers before the arrival of Hardy Nickerson. The team had some young, talented players – although not enough of them – and lacked true veteran leadership. After a phony 3-1 start, the Bucs stumbled to a 5-11 record. In 1993, Nickerson came in as a free agent import from Pittsburgh and shook things up with tough talk backed up with action. If he called a players-only meeting he could be counted on to go out and get 18 tackles like he did against Minnesota on October 10, or 19 stops like he did in a win against Chicago on December 12.
The Bucs had some leadership last year with aging players like quarterback Jeff Garcia, linebacker Derrick Brooks and defensive end Kevin Carter, who were all past their primes. Therein lied the problem. The younger players on the team didn’t have as much respect for them because they thought they were faster, stronger – and yes, better – than the trio of thirty-something Buccaneers.
When Brooks was in his prime in Tampa Bay there wasn’t a single linebacker on the team that thought he was better than him other than a fellow Pro Bowler like Nickerson. The reason why Nickerson got so much respect in 1993 when he arrived was because he had credibility. His body could cash the checks his mouth would write.
That wasn’t necessarily the case last year and the veterans got tuned out. That’s a big reason why the Bucs weren’t able to get back on track after the Carolina game last December.
This year, there just isn’t a lot of real leadership on this Bucs team. Re-signing Brooks or Carter won’t help much, either, because younger guys respect players who can still get the job done on a dominating level.
Tampa Bay’s veterans who are on the journey to becoming good players don’t feel like they have yet earned the right to stand up and tell the young players to focus, to get in One Buc Place early and to stay late. And there are some guys like Barber that would rather lead by example. The problem is that not enough young guys are following.
The veterans tell me that Ruud is the guy with the credibility to stand up, get ticked off and demand accountability on defense – not just ask for it – due to his production. Yet it might not be in his personality to do that and that may be evident by the fact that his teammates voted Barber and Hovan as the captains on defense despite Ruud making all the play-calls in the huddle.
In addition to searching for their first win and which players can really play, the Bucs are also looking for true leadership. I don’t know that they’ll really find it this year in the locker room outside of Faine.
The rest of the leadership must fall on Morris, who was hired as the head coach for his motivational and communication skills just as much as his football acumen. Based on what’s happened the first three weeks on the field and behind the scenes, Morris needs to step up.
FAB 3. The three things that have legitimately surprised me about the team’s 0-3 start since the 2009 campaign began has been the benching of Byron Leftwich in favor of Josh Johnson (I wouldn’t have predicted that three weeks ago), the porous run defense after a pretty positive preseason of stuffing the run, and the lack of takeaways on defense.
Tampa Bay’s lack of productivity in the takeaway department may be the team’s most damning deficiency aside from its non-existent pass rush. The reason why is because the Bucs drill creating turnovers on a daily basis in practice, and even did circuit drills in the mini-camps where position groups would go from station to station working on forcing fumbles, recovering fumbles, picking off passes downfield and picking off balls from tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.
Through three games, the Bucs have just one interception and one fumble recovery – both of which came from strong safety Sabby Piscitelli against Buffalo. The Bucs have had 196 plays through three games to force a turnover – an average of 65 plays per game – to jar the ball loose or step in front of pass, but have been unable to make it happen, leaving some of the team’s defenders puzzled.
“Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you why [we’re not generating turnovers],” said Bucs defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson. “It could be a lot of things. It could be cats doing too much. It could be cats not doing enough. It could be cats being one step behind getting an interception or forcing a turnover. It could be a number of things. I just don’t know.”
Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud knows that a turnover or two might have changed the outcome of last Sunday’s game 24-0 loss to the New York Giants in which the offense struggled mightily in generating only 86 yards and five first downs.
“We definitely have to do a better job of it,” Ruud said. “You’ve got to win the turnover battle, especially when the offense isn’t having a great day. You have to help them out. You have to get them the ball on a short field. That sparks them, too. It sparks the whole team if you can find a way to force a turnover. We definitely have to do a better job of that.”
In looking for safety help in the middle of Tanard Jackson’s four-game suspension and in the wake of veteran Jermaine Phillips’ move to injured reserve, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik cut veteran journeyman Steve Cargile and signed second-year player Corey Lynch off Cincinnati’s practice squad. The 6-foot, 206-pound safety was a ballhawking machine at Appalachian State and one of my personal favorite draft prospects in 2008 after posting some unbelievable stats in college.
Lynch, who was drafted by Cincinnati in the sixth round last year, recorded 358 tackles, had an amazing 24 interceptions, which set a Southern Conference record, and set an NCAA FCS record for the most career pass breakups with 58. He also recovered eight fumbles, recovered two loose balls and blocked six kicks, including Michigan’s game-winning field goal attempt to preserve a 34-32 victory in Ann Arbor as a senior in 2007 in the season-opening stunner.
To say that Lynch, who was a three-time All-American for the Mountaineers, and is always around the ball, is an understatement. While Piscitelli has done a credible job in his first year as an NFL starter and Jackson will likely come off suspension and resume his role as a starter, Lynch could step into the rotation as the team’s third safety in place of Will Allen. That could be sooner rather than later.
“This past week was pretty much a whirlwind week, but I learned the whole playbook by Sunday,” Lynch said. “I was ready to go on Sunday, so I was mentally prepared. I don’t know when the coaches will put me in. I don’t think I would have put me in last Sunday. I knew I was ready, but for the coaches – why would they put someone in who hadn’t been here more than a couple days? I can’t fault them for that.”
If sounds like Lynch is a smart guy, that’s an understatement. He was not a kinesiology (physical education) major, a communications major or a criminal justice major like most college football players. Lynch had a double major in applied physics and a solid 3.0 GPA in that difficult line of course work.
“At this level, everyone has to use their intelligence and I definitely use mine,” Lynch said. “If you can’t think out there you can’t play, no matter how talented or fast you are. If you can’t think fast, you can’t react fast and you can’t play fast.”
Lynch believes that his knack for picking off passes and recovering fumbles is partly due to his natural instincts, and partly due to his mental preparation by knowing his opponent and doing the necessary film study to put himself in the right place at the right time.
“It’s probably a 50-50 deal, a little bit of both,” Lynch said. “I have the instincts to be around the ball and to read the quarterback’s eyes and track the flight of the ball. I’ve had three interceptions so far in the NFL in a little under two years. It’s just something I’ve always been kind of good at. Ever since my Pop Warner days and in high school I’ve always had a knack for creating turnovers. It’s a God-given talent that I use to glorify him. In high school, I had 31 interceptions in three years. That’s pretty good, I guess. It’s always been my forte`.”
Of Lynch’s three INTs as an NFL player, only one came during the regular season, but it’s a doozy. His first career pick came against one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks of all-time – Brett Favre. The turnover came in Cincinnati’s 26-14 loss last year against the New York Jets.
“That was awesome,” Lynch said. “Yeah, that was pretty cool. It was kind of surreal. We lost the game, so I really hadn’t thought about it too much until I got home. I didn’t think I would pick off a guy that’s been playing NFL football since I started playing football as a kid.”
Lynch knows that Tampa Bay is going through a youth movement on the heels of a regime change, and without established Pro Bowl-caliber starters in front of him, he knows that he has a chance to compete for playing time once he earns the coaches’ trust.
â€¨“When I got the call I kind of knew this was a good opportunity for me,” Lynch said. “My plan is to come in here and play on special teams first and excel at that. Hopefully down the road I’ll be able to get out there on defense whether it be on third downs or whenever it is. I see a lot of opportunity here.
“It’s a job and I’m very thankful to have it. “I’m ready to work hard and I’m ready to do all of the things off the field that will attribute to on-field mental preparation. I’m ready to be serious in the meeting rooms and become a better football player.”
Based on Lynch’s serious demeanor and ballhawking skills, this is one young guy the veterans may not complain about if he has the athletic ability to play at this level and can do the things he did on the field at Appalachian State.
FAB 4. The Detroit Lions beat the Washington Redskins, 19-14, on Sunday to end a 19-game losing streak. Unfortunately for a person intertwined in 17 of those consecutive losses, Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, who served as the Lions defensive coordinator from 2007-08, the losses continue.
Thanks to Tampa Bay’s 24-0 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, Barry’s personal losing streak reached 20 consecutive regular season games, dating back to Detroit’s 25-20 win against Kansas City on December 23, 2007. That was the last time Barry enjoyed a victory in the regular season as the Lions dropped their 2007 season finale at Green Bay, 34-13, and then lost all 16 games in 2008.
With the Bucs’ 0-3 start in 2009, the losing has followed Barry back to Tampa Bay where he was part of a Super Bowl championship in 2002 and NFC South division championships in 2002 and 2005. Those seasons seem like a distant memory for Barry, who has tasted a victory once in his last 27 regular season games.
The preseason has been much kinder to Barry in some respects as the Lions went 4-0 in the 2008 exhibition season, which turned out to be a cruel, misleading joke prior to Detroit’s infamous 0-16 campaign. Barry also notched a win during Tampa Bay’s 1-3 preseason this year, but those combined five preseason victories over the last two years just don’t do much to lift the spirits of a veteran coach that knows they don’t count for real.
I’ve always had a good rapport with Barry since his arrival in 2001 when he replaced one of his mentors, Lovie Smith. He’s a great guy and a one heck of a linebackers coach. He’s also a winner that has been surrounded by winners in Tampa Bay from head coaches Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, to defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to defensive backs coaches Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris.
As a journalist, it’s not my job to root for the Bucs or any team for that matter. But when Tampa Bay gets its first win of the 2009 season I won’t be able to help being pleased for Morris for getting his initial victory as an NFL head coach, but I’ll probably be much happier for Barry to relish a regular season win once again. It’s long overdue.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next installment of SR’s Fab 5:
• After the Bucs’ third consecutive loss of the Mark Dominik-Raheem Morris regime, I’ve had several electronic and personal conversations with Pewter Report subscribers that feel that Pewter Report may be giving the new regime a pass and going too easy on the Bucs’ new powers that be. Long-time subscribers know that Pewter Report generally takes a fair, well-reasoned approach to covering the Buccaneers. I’m not going to impulsively say things like, “I dare somebody to write an article about why Clayton is on the team again. I dare you” or state that Josh Johnson should be a backup quarterback for the next decade or compare Jeremy Zuttah to Michael Jordan or Byron Leftwich to Magic Johnson. I’ll leave that up to the head coach. Folks, all of the bad stuff is out there in the open. It’s plain to see and we’ve written about all of it on PewterReport.com from Morris’ tell-too-much press conferences to the poor handling of the quarterback situation from training camp to present day to the Glazers’ financial difficulties affecting the team’s talent to Dominik striking out on Albert Haynesworth, Jonathan Vilma and Jay Cutler in the offseason. What I’m not going to do is overact and immediately write off the season and say that the Bucs are the second coming of the 0-16 Detroit Lions. Maybe they will go winless, but that’s something we’re not about to forecast with 13 games left on the schedule. I still think this team has an outside chance at six wins this year if things fall into place. Yes, at times what we’ve seen going on at One Buccaneer Place resembles amateur hour and in some ways it is. Dominik has never been a general manager before and Morris has never been a head coach before. They are amateurs. I recall thinking the same thing about Tony Dungy at times during his amateurish 1-8 start in 1996. There were bound to be some mistakes with Dominik and Morris at the helm. The key things will be how they learn from their mistakes, if they begin to make fewer mistakes as time goes on, and if the team shows improvement by the end of the season. What you won’t see from the staff at Pewter Report or myself is needless piling on or unnecessary venom in our reporting. We took the same approach with Dungy and Rich McKay and Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen. When the Bucs are bad, they’re bad. Pewter Report has no problem admitting that and reporting the facts. But just because we may not be piling on and passing what may be premature judgments like some of the newspaper columnists and sports radio talk show hosts are doesn’t mean Pewter Report is giving Morris and Dominik a pass. All we’re giving them is a chance – and that’s going to last beyond just three games.
• As I stated in FAB 1, I understand the reasoning behind Raheem Morris making the quarterback change to Josh Johnson. What I didn’t like about it at all was his decision to announce it on Monday. That tipped off Jim Zorn and the Redskins way early and told Washington to just game plan for Johnson. That was a tactical mistake as the coaches usually spend Tuesdays doing their film study and installing the game plan. Game-planning for Johnson is radically different from game-planning for Byron Leftwich. Morris should have announced the quarterback switch on Wednesday to force the coaches to turn the time preparing for Leftwich into wasted effort by the Redskins coaching staff. I know why Morris revealed the QB switch on Monday. It was because the team did not want him to be seen as a waffler or a liar if he comes out on Monday and fields questions from reporters about the quarterback position and states that Leftwich was going to start during Monday’s press conference, only to change his mind by Wednesday. But Morris has an obligation to help his team – not the local press. Coaches don’t win over the press with honesty and an open door – or mouth, in this case – policy. They win over the media with wins and competency. None of the beat writers probably like tight-lipped and crass Bill Belichick up in New England, but they respect the hell out of him because he wins. I guarantee you Jon Gruden would have waited until Wednesday to announce the quarterback change in this situation – even if he had made up his mind about it on Monday. Morris has to understand that the media as a whole will end up eating him alive if he doesn’t win – regardless of how nice and accommodating he is in press conferences – because winning is all that matters in the NFL. Waiting until Wednesday to announce Johnson as the team’s starting quarterback was a tactical edge that Morris unwisely and unnecessarily surrendered to Washington on Monday.
• Perhaps the most beneficial thing from Tampa Bay’s 24-0 loss to New York – except for the fact that it was over in less than three hours – was that it gave the Bucs coaching staff plenty of film about what not to do. Sorry, Bucs fans. That was about as rough a game tape as I’ve seen. At its best, the play was sometimes mediocre. At its worst, the play was awful. Sunday’s game gave new meaning to the term “growing pains.” Yet the one thing I took away from it was that the Bucs were not nearly as physical as they needed to be and they were losing the individual one-on-one battles. Both aspects contributed mightily to Tampa Bay’s defeat. Morris is doing his part to rectify the situation by keeping the pads on longer this week and having shorter, more physical practices to help with the physical part of winning one-on-ones. As I reported in FAB 2, the players – especially the young ones – have to study harder and longer to gain an edge on their opponents and win those one-on-ones from a mental and tactical standpoint.
• I don’t know who the Bucs are targeting on the trading block and I don’t know who general manager Mark Dominik is willing to trade away, but I would not be surprised to see him do some wheeling and dealing in about two weeks when the NFL trade deadline approaches. Dominik is looking to acquire more draft picks for next April. The problem is with such a young, unproven roster there aren’t many players worth premium draft picks, especially on a 0-3 football team. One move that I could see going down would be either cutting or trading Stylez G. White unless he starts getting to the quarterback. White leads the team with six quarterback hurries, but has yet to record a sack despite being Tampa Bay’s designated pass rusher. White’s carefree demeanor and lackadaisical practice habits rub some at One Buc Place the wrong way. The last thing a young team that must become more serious needs to see is a non-serious veteran player. It sets a bad example. Defensive end Louis Holmes showed some real pass-rushing ability during the preseason with a couple sacks and forced fumbles. He’s young and hungry – which White used to be – and he may be a better fit on this roster.
• Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud is off to a monster start in terms of tackle totals. Fresh off his career-high 20 tackles against Buffalo, Ruud notched 19 tackles against the Giants and has a total of 47 stops (24 solo, 23 assists) through three games, an average of 15.7 per game. At this pace, Ruud will end the season with 250 tackles, which would not only shatter his personal best of 178 stops from last year, but also break the franchise record of 214 set by Hardy Nickerson in 1993. Ruud is accustomed to fast starts, recording 31 tackles over the first three games in 2008 and 43 stops in the initial three contests in 2007 only to fade down the stretch to some degree in each season. Not only does Ruud need to finish stronger, he needs to create some turnovers. In 2007, Ruud forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and picked off a pass in his first three games. Last year, he picked off a pass in the end zone at Chicago in Week 3.