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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Is Tampa Bay defensive end Gaines Adams a bust? No, not quite, according to my definition of the term as it applies to NFL players.
A bust is a guy that simply can’t play in the NFL – a player that has no business being in the league. Dexter Jackson, the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2008, was a bust.
A bust is someone like Atlanta defensive end Jamaal Anderson, the Falcons’ first-round draft pick, who was selected eighth overall in 2007 – just four spots below Adams. Anderson did not record a sack in his rookie season and has notched just two sacks in the 33 games he’s played in, and has gone 10 straight games without a sack.
Adams is a credible NFL player. His problem – and the Bucs’ problem – is the fact that as the fourth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft Adams needs to be an incredible player. Thus far, he’s not.
So if he’s not a bust, what exactly is Adams, who has recorded 12.5 sacks and two interceptions in a little over two years?
Based on the fact that Adams has just one sack over the past six games dating back to 2008 and has not shown any improvement in 2009 he is a big-time underachiever and a disappointment. That’s what he is right now, and that’s what he might forever be known as if things don’t turn around quickly – like this Sunday.
Last year when Adams had 6.5 sacks and two interceptions he was Regan Upshaw, and the Buccaneers and their fans were hoping he would turn into Lee Roy Selmon in 2009, especially in Jim Bates’ defensive end-friendly scheme. Instead, Adams has turned into Eric Curry this year, and that’s a serious problem for a team that is low on pass rushers as it is and was counting on him to be a double-digit sacker this year and live up to his draft status.
What went wrong? Why has Adams taken a step backwards?
He has just four tackles in two games and has yet to make a meaningful, impact play in either of Tampa Bay’s first two contests. Adams, who plays on all three downs, has only two quarterback pressures, too.
To put that in perspective, backup defensive lineman Tim Crowder, whose first action as a Buccaneer was last Sunday at Buffalo, has two quarterback hurries. Heck, cornerback Ronde Barber and nose tackle Chris Hovan, who isn’t regarded as much of a pass rusher, each has three QB pressures.
Adams deserves credit for trying to improve his pass-rushing ability in July by going to Chuck Smith’s pass-rushing camp at Defensive Line, Inc. along with rookie Kyle Moore. But three weeks of Smith’s expertise haven’t been enough to make Adams a more physical player, nor did it deter him from running around offensive tackles and drifting five yards behind the quarterback.
I have no doubt that Adams wants to be a great pass rusher and that he has worked hard at it this offseason as the pressure mounted for him to become the pass-rushing terror Tampa Bay expected when it used a top 5 pick on him in 2007.
Yet it hasn’t happened, and it’s obvious that Adams is frustrated and his confidence is shaken. Sources within the team concede that off the record.
Adams hasn’t been able to handle the pressure of carrying the team’s pass rush this year and I don’t know if he has the fire in his heart to work harder, try harder, to rise to the occasion, beat back the pressure bestowed on him and forcefully regain his confidence. At some point in time, doesn’t he need to get so fired up and ticked off that he actually goes through an offensive tackle and just wills his way to the quarterback?
But Adams, whose quiet demeanor reminded me of Warrick Dunn’s, may not be wired that way.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris probably didn’t help much this summer when he set high expectations for Adams and told the media during training camp: “Double-digit sacks – that’s what he’s graded on, there’s no secret about it. I’ve got no problem telling him, ‘Hey Gaines, if you don’t do it this year, you’re going to be considered a bust.’ I told him that in a team meeting. I tell him that every once in awhile when we walk out together.
“There’s no other thing that’s going to define Gaines Adams other than sacks and production. He can’t wait. He’s embraced it. He’s going to come out ready to play.”
You can’t blame Morris for speaking the truth and he was only trying to motivate his young defensive end, but it’s clear to anyone that has watched Adams in the first two games of 2009 that he hasn’t risen to the occasion. I asked Morris about Adams in his Monday afternoon press conference and got him to admit that his right defensive end isn’t getting the job done.
“He hasn’t [put forth the production], and I think Gaines knows that,” Morris said. “Gaines is one of those guys that knows that he is judged on whether he touches the quarterback or not. Right now he is not getting production as far as not just touching the quarterback, the tackles, the sacks – he’s not getting any of that. He is not playing up to par right now. He’s holding himself accountable. We have to hold him accountable, and it is tough right now. He is not getting it done. There are no excuses. There are no explanations. Gaines is not getting it done right now.”
Morris even went so far as to question Adams’ effort level, which has apparently tailed off from training camp, and certainly from the start of last year when he had two sacks and two interceptions in the first four games of the year.
“Last year to start off the season his whole thing was to play hard – to play harder than the people he was playing against,” said Morris. “Right now I just don’t see that. I don’t see that same fire. I don’t see him playing with the same speed in terms of how hard he played last year. We got to get that back. We got to get that back from him. If we don’t get that back it is going to be a long season for Gaines, and us.”
So what is in store for Adams for the rest of the season if he doesn’t turn on the pass rush immediately? The Bucs are considering benching him after the New York Giants game and only using him as a situational pass rusher like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
I know, it sounds kind of crazy – having a guy be called on to only do something that he is not very good at, such as rushing the passer. However, the Bucs want to see if Adams performs better without getting worn down by playing over 50 snaps per game. Perhaps if his playing time can be limited to obvious passing downs on maybe 25 snaps per game that his role on the team won’t be so pressure-packed. If he can find some success coming off the bench fresh and getting to the quarterback he just might be able to regain his confidence, still contribute to the team and re-emerge as a starter later in the year.
Of course, to bench Adams and use him as a situational pass rusher, the Bucs need a player to step up and be worthy of starting in his place at right end. Is that player Stylez G. White? Is it Crowder? Will it be Kyle Moore, who appears to be recovered from a groin injury? The answer isn’t clear.
Now is not the time for Adams to let his frustration get the best of him and suck the effort out of himself. Adams’ effort has always been a question on the periphery of his pro career. The first words uttered from former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on April 30, 2007, which was the day Adams was introduced to the Tampa Bay media?
“We expect him to come in here and lead the NFL in effort. That’s our goal, right, Gaines?” Gruden asked.
“I’m going to come in and lead the league in effort and play my hardest,” Adams replied.
If Adams doesn’t turn up the effort and step up the production against the New York Giants this week he could be beginning to punch his ticket out of Tampa Bay. Although it’s unlikely Dominik would trade Adams this year because the team is just deficient at defensive end from a pass-rushing perspective, he may pull the trigger in the offseason and move on.
On his way out of town in January after Tampa Bay’s season-ending loss to Oakland, legendary Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who played as big a role as any in drafting Adams, proved to be prophetic while offering an ominous show of support for a player that he thought had Simeon Rice-like pass-rushing ability.
“I think he’ll be outstanding, I really do,” Kiffin said of Adams. “Sometimes they come on their first year. Sometimes they come on in the second year. Sometimes they come on in the third year. If they are not there by the third year, maybe you look back. But I would be shocked if he doesn’t – all because of his attitude. He works hard. I think Gaines got frustrated. I think he gets frustrated. He has to learn not to get frustrated. Maybe the first two games he doesn’t have a sack. Let’s just say he doesn’t – worst case scenario. Just get to the third game. Maybe you are going to get three in the third game. He’s very talented. He’ll be fine. He really will. He’ll have the same coach with him and that would be good for him. This was his first year with Todd [Wash]. He’s had two coaches in two different years. Gaines will still be outstanding. I would be shocked if he wasn’t.”
We’re all waiting to be shocked. Shock us on Sunday, Gaines.
FAB 2. We’re only two weeks into the 2009 season, the Bucs are 0-2 and there already some cries to bench quarterback Byron Leftwich and start rookie Josh Freeman – even though he’s not ready. The conventional wisdom among those fans clamoring for Freeman is that if Tampa Bay’s season is already doomed and if there is a youth movement afoot, why not make Freeman be a part of that so he can gain experience and be that much further ahead for the 2010 season?
Aside from the fact that he’s not ready (did I mention that already?), Bucs fans must realize that benching Leftwich and playing Freeman now would have some unintended consequences for the entire team, but let’s look at how Freeman would be affected first, followed by the repercussions to his teammates.
When Freeman was drafted, most NFL draft pundits agreed that the junior from Kansas State would need a year or so to sit and learn before being ready to become an NFL starter. That collective opinion was based on the fact that there are accuracy issues that need to be cleaned up, evidenced by his 44.9 percent completion percentage during the preseason and his QB rating of 41.
Freeman has the physical tools and intelligence to develop into a very good pro signal caller, and I think under the guidance of quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Greg Olson he will be the closest thing Tampa Bay has had to a franchise QB. However, putting him in the lineup right now when the offense is clicking and ranked fourth overall with Leftwich as the starter might retard Freeman’s growth and development and hurt his confidence.
Look at it this way, the Bucs fell behind Buffalo, 17-0, in the first quarter, and 26-14 in the third quarter thanks in part to turnovers and the fact that Tampa Bay’s defense is still very much a work in progress. If the defense takes awhile to come around or simply doesn’t come together at all this year, what happened at Buffalo could become a common occurrence for the offense.
Freeman threw three picks against only one touchdown in the preseason, and that kind of play would put the Bucs in a hole early like they were against the Bills and take away Tampa Bay’s running game, thus putting an enormous amount of pressure to throw 40-50 passes per game – like Leftwich did last Sunday – in an attempt to catch up. Right now, Leftwich is the best quarterback for the Buccaneers because of his experience. The chances of Tampa Bay rallying for wins under Leftwich are greater than that of a rookie quarterback.
Bucs fans have to realize that Freeman is not Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco or even Mark Sanchez. And the team did not prepare him to be the starter at all during the offseason. Freeman didn’t take many reps with the starters in training camp and didn’t take any reps with the starters during the preseason. Throw in the fact that the playbook has grown by leaps and bounds over the last three weeks under Olson, and Freeman is still far behind Leftwich and backup Josh Johnson.
One Bucs official told me this week that Freeman is learning a great lesson from the sidelines while watching Leftwich take a beating in the pocket. Freeman has more mobility and escapability than Leftwich has, but is in essence a pocket passer. Leftwich is fearless in the pocket and doesn’t mind hanging on to the ball until the last possible second before taking a shot. Freeman is learning a valuable lesson first-hand about toughness in the pocket.
Sources also tell Pewter Report that there is a chance that Freeman’s presence on the field right now could also hinder the development of its young players on defense. With the rookie in the lineup at the quarterback position there would undoubtedly be more three-and-outs from Tampa Bay’s offense. That would mean more snaps for a defense that is already having a hard time on Sundays.
More snaps for young players like defensive backs Elbert Mack, Aqib Talib and Sabby Piscitelli, linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black and defensive linemen Roy Miller, Kyle Moore, Dre Moore and Tim Crowder would mean more opportunities to give up big plays because of fatigue, in addition to the increased risk of injury. Giving up more big plays because they would be on the field longer could damage the confidence of the young defenders and could stunt their growth.
An increased rate of three-and-outs could add another 10-20 snaps each game for the defensive players, and that has Bucs coaches and the front office concerned. Let’s say Freeman was going to start after the sixth game of the year and due to his rookie mistakes, the defense will have to play an extra 12 snaps as a result. Over the last 10 games, that’s 120 extra snaps – or the equivalent of close to two additional games for the defense and some dead legs once December rolls around.
Between Freeman not being prepared to play, not yet capable of carrying the offense and winning shootout games due to the inept play of the defense and the undue pressure he would put on the defense, Leftwich should remain the starter. Besides, Leftwich is a team captain, has the support of the players, currently presides over the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense and has thrown four touchdowns against two interceptions. He’s done nothing to lose his job yet.
Is Leftwich the kind of quarterback that is going to lead the Bucs to the playoffs? No. He’s a journeyman that is on his fourth team in four years.
But Leftwich is the right quarterback for the Buccaneers right now and will remain that guy even if Tampa Bay remains winless for a while.
Sources tell Pewter Report that Freeman absolutely will not start until starting center Jeff Faine returns from a torn triceps injury. The Bucs aren’t going to risk the health of the future franchise quarterback lining up behind Sean Mahan. Because Faine’s rehab and recovery from his injury is deemed to last another 4-6 weeks, Freeman won’t be starting until after the bye week in November at the earliest – if at all this season.
Some fans aren’t impressed with Leftwich and know he’s not the long-term solution. They want the instant gratification that playing this year’s first-round quarterback can bring – or at least they think will bring. I get that.
But some of those same fans that are calling for Freeman now will only be calling him a bust three weeks after his first start when he flops because he’s not ready to start. That’s what the Bucs are trying to avoid.
FAB 3. Buccaneers fans are fretting because Tampa Bay’s defense doesn’t look much better now than it did over the last four games of last year when the team missed the playoffs due to a 0-4 December. The Bucs surrendered 34.8 points per game, 401.8 yards per game and allowed 16.3 points in fourth quarter in December. ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas, who is my good friend and mentor, originally reported those statistics in his NFC South blog.
In fact, the defense has gotten slightly worse in some areas in 2009 because of the adjustments to a new scheme and seven new full-time starters in defensive tackle Ryan Sims, defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, linebackers Quincy Black and Geno Hayes, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack (in nickel defense) and safety Sabby Piscitelli. Through the first two contests of the season, the Bucs have given up 450 yards per game, 33.5 points per game and allowed an average of 13.5 points in the fourth quarter thus far.
Yes, the Bucs would have likely been helped by the acquisition of Albert Haynesworth or a defensive player in free agency, or in the first round of the draft instead of the team drafting a quarterback. However, general manager Mark Dominik opted to attack the offensive side of the ball this offseason because that’s where the talent was in free agency outside of Haynesworth and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Yet after two weeks, the focus seems to be on what’s wrong with the team, the league’s 31st-ranked defense, instead of what’s right, which is the fourth-ranked offense.
Dominik signed the best running back in free agency in Derrick Ward, who is the team’s second-leading rusher with 94 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries (4.5 avg.) and three catches for 26 yards (8.4 avg.).
Tight end Kellen Winslow, whom Dominik traded away a second-round pick in 2009 and a fifth-round pick in 2010 to acquire, leads the team in catches (12), yards (120) and touchdowns (two). If he keeps up his current pace, Winslow projects to have 96 catches for 960 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns by season’s end. No Bucs player has ever caught more than 10 TD passes in a season except for Joey Galloway in 2005 when he hauled in 10 that year.
Dominik brought in Byron Leftwich to compete with Luke McCown, whom the Bucs’ general manager considered to be the front-runner to start heading into training camp, and the seven-year veteran wound up winning the job and making McCown expendable. Through two games, Leftwich has completed 51-of-91 passing (56 percent) for 572 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions and a respectable 80.5 QB rating. Should he last the entire season and maintain his level of productivity, most Bucs fans wouldn’t be upset if Leftwich threw for 32 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Michael Clayton was re-signed in the offseason, and although some fans and media pundits took issue with the size of his five-year, $26 million contract, Tampa Bay’s 2004 first-round pick proved his worth in Week 1 when he had his best receiving day since his rookie year with four catches for 97 yards and a fantastic day blocking for Cadillac Williams and Ward. Clayton’s production in Buffalo was lackluster, but his 120 yards on seven catches is tied for the team’s most receiving yards. It’s hard to believe that in just two games, Clayton has already produced a quarter of his 484 yards receiving total from a year ago.
Re-signing Clayton has proven to be an even wiser move in hindsight given the injured status of Antonio Bryant. Perhaps Dominik’s best move on offense was franchising Bryant rather than signing the star wide receiver to a long-term deal. Bryant’s career may be plagued by his chronically injured knee, which he can’t seem to get right. Imagine the criticism fans would be giving Dominik right now if Bryant had been given a multi-year deal worth $9 million per year given the iffy status of his knee.
In an article from Tuesday lambasting the Buccaneers for not spending more money to become a more competitive team, the St. Petersburg Times suggested that the Bucs should have signed Terrell Owens, despite the fact that the mercurial receiver produces as much bad chemistry and headaches as he does touchdowns. Now I certainly don’t take issue with The Times for highlighting and criticizing the Bucs for not spending more money and leaving $30 million in cap room on the table.
That’s a legitimate claim that should raise eyebrows and the ire of season ticket holders. But to offer up Owens, 32-year linebacker Mike Peterson and a pair of 34-year old defensive ends in Greg Ellis and Bertrand Berry was rather pointless.
Didn’t The Times get the memo that the Bucs were going with a youth movement this year – hence the release of linebackers Derrick Brooks (36) and Cato June (29), running back Warrick Dunn (34) and wide receivers Ike Hilliard (33) and Joey Galloway (37) and the refusal to re-sign quarterback Jeff Garcia (39) and defensive end Kevin Carter (36)?
Owens, who turns 36 in December, and the others would simply be stop-gap players that wouldn’t even be around in two years. Didn’t we see enough stop-gap players in the Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen era that contributed to a double-digit winning season one year and a double-digit losing season the next because there was a lack of a solid foundation of young, talented players?
Bucs fans, you can’t have it both ways. If you follow The Times’ suggestion and get Berry or Ellis because it helps the team this year, then there is no room for young, promising players like Kyle Moore or Tim Crowder, who may emerge as starters down the road if they can develop properly, and the need for defensive end help pops up again in a year or two as those veterans are in the twilight of their careers.
Watching young players like linebacker Geno Hayes and safety Sabby Piscitelli develop, gain experience and go through growing pains can be an exercise in extreme patience – and sometimes futility when those young players, such as defensive end Gaines Adams, don’t pan out.
My suggestion for Bucs fans that have gotten emotionally crushed over the Bucs’ 0-2 start and take to sports radio and the PewterReport.com message board with premature cries of “Fire Raheem Morris” and “Bench Leftwich” is to resign yourself to the fact that this is indeed a developmental season in Tampa Bay and one that may become a double-digit loss campaign.
Some of you, especially season ticket holders that pay good money to go to the games, will reject that notion and state that the Bucs should be doing everything they can do to win every game every Sunday. I absolutely respect that opinion. Don’t take offense, as I’m not trying to lecture you on your fan behavior towards the team.
I’m just trying to prevent as much depression and angst among the Bucs fan base as I can this year by preparing you for what will likely be a long season.
You can insist on being mad at Dominik, Morris, Leftwich and the Glazers all you want, just be sure to take your high blood pressure medicine at halftime each Sunday.
Agree with it or not, but the Bucs’ plan this year is two-fold: play the young players on offense and defense to find out which ones can play and which ones can’t, and win as many games as possible while doing it.
Dominik will continue to tweak the offense in 2010, likely adding another receiver and a few linemen to improve the competition and depth, but most of the reconstruction work will be done on the defensive side of the ball next year. How much help is needed on that side of the ball will depend on whether players like Adams, Piscitelli, Hayes, Black and Mack develop and are deemed worthy to keep or if they will need to be replaced based on their performance as starters this year. It’s impossible to take a snapshot of some of these players after a couple games and draw real conclusions, which is why they need to play an entire season to make a proper evaluation.
Piscitelli played poorly in the season opener against Dallas and some fans even suggested he be benched. Had that happened, he wouldn’t have made the key fumble recovery and interception to thwart two Buffalo drives in the red zone last week.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be Tampa Bay’s roster. The Bucs offense is much further along than the defense due to Dominik’s emphasis and offseason moves, and it will be an even more cohesive unit heading into 2010 by the end of this season. That should make Josh Freeman’s transition to becoming the starting quarterback easier next year. And hopefully for you, the Bucs fan, he’ll have a revamped defense that will offer far more support to Freeman and the offense.
FAB 4. Give new offensive coordinator Greg Olson credit for being imaginative last Sunday at Buffalo by using athletic backup quarterback Josh Johnson as a wide receiver and having he and starting quarterback Byron Leftwich on the field at the same time for a couple plays. Johnson didn’t touch the ball and was only on the field as a decoy just to give the Bills defense a moment of hesitation due to the new wrinkle, and to give New York something it has to spend some extra time game-planning for this week.
We’ve seen Johnson run. We’ve seen Johnson throw. But can he catch the ball? That’s the question I wanted answered so I sought him out in the locker room this week to find out.
“If I need to catch the ball to help us win games, then yes, I can catch the ball,” Johnson said. “As soon as you get the roster cut down to 53 guys and injuries hit, depth becomes a problem. Last year when injuries hit at the receiver spot, I ran around out there as a receiver. I’m not technically sound as a route runner, but I know which routes to run because I know the whole offense, I know the adjustments and I can run pretty well. We’ve had some guys hurt at the receiver spot this year, too, so I’ve been like a safety net for them at that position. At the same time, it gives the defense something to think about when Byron and I are on the field at the same time because you never know what could happen. Because of the lack of depth at receiver, I’ve been seeing some action there.
“I catch tons of passes from Byron every day. The quarterbacks are always playing catch with each other. I’ve never really put too much work in it because quarterback has always been my main focus. Playing receiver is just an added value for me to help win football games.”
The guess here is that over the next two or three weeks Johnson gets his first NFL catch or carry, or fires his first pass downfield on a trick play.
It’s really a credit to Johnson’s intellect that he is the Buccaneers’ backup quarterback behind Leftwich and ahead of Josh Freeman, the team’s first-round pick, this season despite hardly taking any reps in training camp as the fourth-string quarterback. Without many practice snaps, Johnson proved that he could quickly pick up the playbook with only mental reps and had a great performance in the preseason finale against Houston. Johnson finished the preseason completing 17-of-30 passes (56.7 percent) for 218 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 76.8 QB rating.
“For me, all it takes is just mental reps,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been able to learn just from watching and getting those mental reps. For me, feeling a pass rush and reading defenses is the same whether you are getting reps with starters or the scout team. A lot of the schemes in the NFL are the same. Getting scout-team work keeps you in it physically. Where you get it mentally is in the classroom. Byron takes most of the reps while Josh and I take the leftover reps, which aren’t many. But I never feel like when Sunday comes I’m not prepared. It’s not a problem. I think we’re all comfortable with it.”
Olson certainly has a comfort level with Johnson, who he has watched grow by leaps and bounds since arriving as the team’s fifth-round pick last year and digesting Jon Gruden’s complicated playbook with relative ease.
“The good thing for me and Josh is that we spent last year together,” Olson said. “We were in that quarterback room together and have a background with one another. We speak a lot of the same language. I think he’s really further along than both Josh Freeman and Byron Leftwich in terms of the playbook and the mental part of the game and the offensive line calls. That’s good. I know I can trust him. He’s in an unfortunate situation because we’re trying to speed up the development of Freeman and it’s hard for Josh to get many reps out here, but he’s been great. We used him a little bit at wide receiver last week and we’ll continue to get him involved in game-planning as well.”
There is a lot of responsibility on Johnson’s shoulders because aside from those two snaps on Sunday, he has yet to cross over the white lines on an NFL field during a regular season game. If something happens to Leftwich, who has already taken a pounding in the pocket over the first two games of the season, Johnson will be called upon to lead the offense until Freeman is deemed to be ready.
Considering that the athletic Johnson has quite a bit of scrambling ability compared to Leftwich, who is clearly a pocket passer, would there be a radical change in the game plan if Johnson were to go in at quarterback during a game for Leftwich?
“As of right now, no,” Johnson said. “The game plan for me would be the same game plan for Byron. It would be the same with Josh Freeman, too. I don’t think there’s a creative package for me right now. We’re all just getting started with Coach Olson’s offense, so who knows what can happen in the future.”
Ah, but there is a Josh Johnson package that Olson is working on. The second-year signal caller just doesn’t know it yet.
â€¨“There would be some differences if Josh Johnson had to come in and play quarterback,” Olson said. “He’s a different quarterback. He’s not a stand-in-the- pocket guy like Byron. I always tell Josh that he has a special ability – not Michael Vick-like – but he’s that kind of player where I would want him to use his legs more because he does have special speed and he is very elusive. He has shown us that he can escape and make people miss. There would be some definite changes in what we would be doing if he were to play quarterback for us. There would be some base stuff that would be the same, but I see some real difference with him in there at quarterback for us in a football game. We would have some special plays for him.”
That just goes to show you how special Olson thinks Johnson is. Pretty remarkable for a guy that was perceived to be an afterthought during training camp because he got nary a meaningful rep.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next installment of SR’s Fab 5:
• As Pewter Report first reported a couple weeks ago, the Bucs are in talks with offensive coordinator Greg Olson regarding a contract extension. That deal is nearing completion based on what we’ve heard. Olson’s contract was set to expire after the 2009 season.
• The thing that would concern me if I was head coach Raheem Morris or general manager Mark Dominik would be the looming problems on defense and which player would take it upon himself to step and fix those problems. At some point in time if the defense keeps giving up big pass plays and missing tackles, someone is going to have to step up and call for the old tried and true players' only meeting and demand accountability. The Bucs are espousing accountability right now, but I get the sense that it’s mostly lip service. The most vocal player on defense is defensive tackle and team captain Chris Hovan, who has been throwing out some tough talk over the past two weeks, stating that giving up 450 yards and 33.5 points per game is unacceptable and unsustainable. Everyone knows the Bucs will likely not win a game this season if they keep playing defense like they have. While Hovan has the players’ respect because he’s an incredibly hard worker, he is not the best player on defense, nor is he the most productive statistically. Does he have the credibility to effectively rally the troops and ensure that the tackling and the coverage issues are cleaned up? Will players listen to tough talk and react favorably? Barrett Ruud, who leads the team in tackles with 28 this year and has been the tackler leader over the past two seasons, should be saying the same thing Hovan is saying as Ruud is the closest thing Tampa Bay has to a Pro Bowl player right now. But Ruud is not a rah-rah guy and may be too nice and polite for the job. It’s interesting to note that although he makes the defensive calls on the field, Ruud was not voted as a team captain. Will Ruud ever become a vocal leader on defense? It remains to be seen, but at least the Bucs have Hovan to fill that role right now.
• The Buccaneers may or may not be in position to select Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in next year’s draft, but even if they are, there may be a more pressing need than defensive tackle that Tampa Bay must address in the first round. At some point next April, the Bucs will need to invest in another starting-caliber defensive tackle as Chris Hovan is 31 and in the twilight of his career, and 29-year old Ryan Sims has not shown playmaking potential thus far in 2009. One player that has caught my interest is Louisiana Tech’s D’Anthony Smith, a sizeable defensive tackle that is 6-foot-2, 300 pounds. Smith has the frame to add another 10 pounds of bulk in the NFL. What I like about Smith is his initial quickness and his ability to keep his feet. At Louisiana Tech, Smith is asked to penetrate gaps and disrupt offensive backfields in the running game. That won’t be his assignment in Tampa Bay’s defense, which requires defensive tackles to occupy guards, but Smith can quickly and effectively shed linemen and make tackles in the running game and also get after the quarterback on passing downs. He’s played defensive end, under tackle and nose tackle and is very good athlete for such a big man. Suh is the best defensive tackle in the draft, but Smith, who helped Louisiana Tech rank 13th in the NCAA in rushing yards allowed (103.8 yards per game) may be second on the list. Smith has 17 tackles on the year and is coming off a 2008 campaign in which he recorded 65 tackles and five of his nine career sacks. Smith currently projects as a late first- or early second-round pick.
• Sunday’s game against New York represents a big chance for six-year veteran Will Allen, who signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay last spring. Allen, who is Tampa Bay’s special teams captain, will get at least two starts at free safety before Tanard Jackson is allowed to return to the team from his four-game suspension. I thought Allen played the best in the preseason out of all of Tampa Bay’s safeties, a fact Raheem Morris backed up during Wednesday’s press conference, giving Allen a “grade A” preseason. We’ll see if Allen can carry over his stellar preseason play into the regular season.
• Big kudos go out to general manager Mark Dominik and director of college scouting Dennis Hickey for signing one of my favorite college players from 2007, former Appalachian State safety Corey Lynch, off Cincinnati’s practice squad. I don’t know if the 6-foot, 204-pound Lynch has was it takes athletically to make it in the NFL, but he was an incredibly productive and instinctive player in college where he notched an amazing 24 interceptions, 28 pass pass breakups and forced seven fumbles while compiling 358 career tackles. You might remember Lynch for blocking a last-second field goal at Michigan to give the Mountaineers one of the biggest upset wins in college football history in the 2007 season opener. (EDITOR'S NOTE: It was previous reported that Lynch is cousins with former Bucs safety John Lynch, but that is only an Internet rumor. He only idolized him in college by wearing number 47.) Lynch’s rookie season ended prematurely due to a knee injury, but not before picking off Brett Favre for his first NFL interception. I’m really interested to see what Lynch can do once he learns the defense.
• Head coach Raheem Morris needs to work on his pre-game and halftime speeches as Tampa Bay has yet to score a point in either the first or the third quarter. Tampa Bay has scored 21 points in the second quarter and 20 points in the fourth quarter. Getting off to quicker starts is a must if the Bucs want to be a run-first offense. Tampa Bay is getting outscored 23-0 in the first quarter. The Bucs also need to learn how to finish better – a recurring theme that has hung over from last year when finishing was a problem. The Bucs have allowed 27 points in the fourth quarter through two games – more points surrendered than in any other quarter thus far in 2009.
• He hasn’t gotten much attention, but the Bucs have to be pleased with what new punter Dirk Johnson has been able to do in 2009 as Josh Bidwell’s replacement. Johnson is averaging 42.1 yards per punt with a 39-yard net. He’s pinned five punts inside opponents’ 20-yard line and has yet to have a touchback. Although it is doubtful he could maintain that rate, Johnson is on pace to record 40 punts inside the 20, which would be a team record. His 63-yarder against Buffalo was Johnson’s longest punt of the 34-year old’s six-year NFL career.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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