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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. I believe the Buccaneers are going to have a losing season in 2009 based on the fact that so many of the team’s starters this year, especially on defense, are young and inexperienced. While the goal at One Buccaneer Place remains to emerge victorious from every contest, there is the unspoken belief within the building that the 2009 campaign is largely one of discovering which Buccaneers can play and are worth building around for the future, and which ones can’t play and will be discarded next offseason.
It’s also a season in which the team’s young players will gain the necessary experience and go through the growing pains of becoming solid NFL players or future stars.
As the losses for Tampa Bay mount, thanks in part to a brutal schedule that is ranked as the fifth-hardest in the NFL, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris will be called upon maintain a positive nature within the team and rally the troops each week – even if the team should fall out of playoff contention in November or December. Some new coaches can never gain the trust and get the players to buy in to their system if their teams don’t experience some level of success initially.
That won’t happen with Morris, who has been a fixture at One Buc Place dating back to 2002 with the lone exception of the 2006 season when he went to Kansas State University to become the Wildcats defensive coordinator. The veteran Bucs players have been familiar and comfortable with Morris for quite some time, so they’ve already bought in. The team’s younger players have already become enamored with Morris’ honest, tell-it-like-it-is coaching style.
But will they continue to buy in when and if the chips are down and the losses keep coming?
Although no Buccaneer remains from his first season, Tampa Bay kept the faith in former head coach Tony Dungy during his rookie head-coaching season in 1996, which started off 1-8 before ending with a 6-10 record. Expect the Bucs players to stay upbeat and loyal to Morris because of the way he treats them.
Morris bristles at the notion that he’s a “players’ coach” that has a too-cozy relationship with his players. That may be a perception generated from those outside the confines of the team meeting room at One Buccaneer Place, but it is far from reality.
Especially since his approach is night and day different from that of former head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden could quickly become hot or cold on players during the season and many didn’t know where they stood with their head coach. Some even accused him of double-talk. Gruden had his share of positive qualities, such as preparing his quarterbacks and offense for games, motivating his team with inspirational speeches and videos and challenging his players mentally with a voluminous playbook and up-tempo practices, but every day player relations was not his strong suit.
Yet player relations is Morris’ specialty, and that’s exactly what the Glazers wanted coming off the Gruden era. He’s open and candid with the players and each one knows exactly where they stand with Morris at all times, which leads to a great deal of respect to the 33-year old head coach.
“Open and candid isn’t something that goes hand-in-hand in the NFL, so he’s like a breath of fresh air to deal with a guy who is going to tell you like it is straight up – whether you want to hear it or not,” Bucs tight end John Gilmore said. “At least you know you are getting the truth. That’s definitely one of his best qualities. Raheem is definitely going to shoot it to you straight. He keeps it real and he said that from the first day back in OTAs. He told us he’s going to be the same Raheem. He’s the same guy that he was last year when he was the DBs coach. He’s a guy you want to go out and win for. Losing that game against Dallas hurt as a player, but it hurt even more because he’s a guy that you want to go out and win for. You want to put it on the line for him.”
That’s one line that you didn’t hear from players regarding Gruden. Most liked him, and all respected him for how hard and diligently he worked, how he challenged them to become better football players and how he prepared them for their opponents, but the Buccaneers players didn’t lay it on the line for him the way they did for Dungy and are doing for Morris. There just wasn’t that personal connection with Gruden, who was deemed to be standoffish, especially to the defensive players because of his relentless focus on the offense.
Morris was wise not to try to take on the role of defensive coordinator and head coach, and the freedom he enjoys from the responsibility of having to game plan for opponents allows him to mix with players on both sides of the ball on the practice field, in individual position meeting rooms and even the locker room – a place Gruden rarely visited on a daily basis during his six-year stay in Tampa Bay.
Regardless of where Morris goes to interact with his players within the team’s headquarters, accountability is always the message. That message has been received loud and clear by all of the players, including the rookies.
“That’s his style of coaching and you don’t see that a lot in this business,” Bucs rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter said. “A lot of people will smile in your face and then talk bad about you when you get to the meeting rooms. I love having a coach like Raheem because when I mess up, I’m held accountable to the whole team in front of the whole team.”
Since the first mini-camp back in early April, Morris has held players accountable by regularly and singularly calling them out in team meetings, a practice that didn’t really exist in the Gruden era. In fact, it didn’t really exist in the Dungy era, either. Morris is taking being candid to a whole new level.
“That’s a great word – candid,” Bucs defensive end Stylez G. White said. “He forces you to man up. He’s not afraid to tell you what you did wrong and what you need to do to make it right. He gives you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. I’ve never played for a head coach like that before.”
White is one of those players who was called out by Morris in front of the team during training camp for a string of sub-par practices. In fact, Morris even spoke with great candor when recalling his discussion with White about improving his game.
“He probably told you that because when we walked off the field I said ‘Hey Stylez, I like you again,’” Morris said in a press conference on August 17 after White had been motivated to turn in a sack, an interception and a key tackle for a loss against Tennessee in the Bucs’ preseason opener. “I just have to teach him how to practice. He does not understand that you have to practice. He is Allen Iverson. You have to get him to the game and you have to prepare him and you have to practice like you are going to play in a game. I need to see some of that stuff on the practice field so I can talk good about you to our local media. So they can talk good about you in the paper so the people can love you. Obviously, he is a gamer. But you can’t let him be a gamer when you are a coach. You got to make him go do it in practice. I’m going to keep my foot on him and I’m going to keep him in the doghouse for now.”
Morris didn’t just call White before the team. He also had a private, face-to-face meeting with the defensive end during training camp and spoke with brutal honesty about his role on the team.
“I want my role on the team to be bigger and I talked to him about it,” White said. “Rah said, ‘Look, you pass rush. That’s what you do. That’s your role.’ I asked him if I had a chance to start and he said, ‘Sure, but right now you are a pass rusher. That’s it.’ It’s different when you understand your role. When you understand your role instead of worrying about everything else, you become a better player. I got better from him telling me that. I didn’t like to hear it because I want to start, but I know my role so I can focus on that. There isn’t much I can do because he’s got his mind set on that. Worrying about me starting or playing time shouldn’t be my priority. Rushing the passer should be. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t feel sorry for myself. But if you understand your role, you don’t have to worry about that. I want to be the best pass rusher on this team.
“He doesn’t blow smoke by telling you, ‘Oh yeah, you have the chance to start’ when that’s not the case. I only have a chance to start if I become the best pass rusher on the team first. That’s one of the ways of him getting me better. He always talks about being your best self. For me, my best self is being a pass rush specialist. That’s what I’m going to be. I called my agent and told him what Rah said and he said, ‘Well, at least he’s honest. Most coaches would have just blown smoke at you.’”
White, like many of his teammates, is a true believer in Morris, and that may come in handy if most of the NFL pundits are right and the Bucs’ ship sinks with a record below .500 this year.
“Yes, of course I believe in what he’s saying. I’m behind him,” White said. “I’m pretty sure he’s behind us, too. He was very optimistic in nature after Sunday’s loss. He said we’re on to the next one, and we are. No one is hanging their heads.”
As the players have seen since the first mini-camp in April, Morris can be upbeat, energetic and optimistic. But they don’t confuse that rosy demeanor with the candid accountability his sharp tongue can bring in team meetings or press conferences. Safety Donte Nicholson was told in a team meeting that Morris didn’t trust him to play on defense and surprisingly revealed that to the media.
“When we get in that meeting room, he sets it straight,” Gilmore said. “He will call you out in front of the team. That’s fine. That’s motivation. You have to stay accountable in this business and the person that is supposed to hold you accountable is the boss – and Raheem is the boss.”
FAB 2. One of the better performances turned in by a Buccaneer in the season opener against Dallas was that of right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who did not have an exceptional preseason. But the 6-foot-8, 305-pound Trueblood had a great game in both the run and the pass elements of Greg Olson’s offense.
As I have chronicled before, Trueblood has had weight issues before the 2009 season, weighing in with a beer-and-pizza induced 320 pounds when he arrived in Tampa Bay as a rookie from Boston College. After buying into former strength coach Mike Morris’ diet regimen, Trueblood got lean – too lean – dropping 20 pounds in 2007 and another 12 in 2008. Last December during the Bucs’ four-game losing skid, Trueblood was playing at 288 pounds, which was way too light.
“It’s not good when the defensive ends you are trying to block actually out-weigh you,” Trueblood told me at the time.
Thanks to new strength coach Kurtis Shultz, Trueblood has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle mass to his frame and is in optimal shape. That strength, conditioning and stamina showed itself in Trueblood’s performance against the Cowboys.
At the 7:00 mark in the first quarter, Trueblood did a great job sealing off linebacker Bradie James on Cadillac Williams’ 14-yard run off the right side of the line. With 12:18 left in the second quarter, Trueblood turned linebacker Anthony Spencer away from the play as Williams ripped off a 35-yard run off right tackle. With 2:18 left in the third quarter, Trueblood and right guard Davin Joseph had great seal blocks on Derrick Ward’s 22-yard run.
With the Bucs rushing for 71 of its 174 yards on those three plays behind Tampa Bay’s right tackle, it should come as no surprise that both of the team’s rushing touchdowns – 1-yard plunges by Williams and Ward – came off the right side behind Joseph and Trueblood, too. Those two 1-yard scores actually diminished the Bucs’ rushing average, which was 5.9 yards per carry if those carries are subtracted.
“Whenever you get a rushing average like that, it’s going to be a good day,” Trueblood said.
With most of the Bucs’ rushing action taking place off the right side of the line, Trueblood didn’t do as much cut blocking as left tackle Donald Penn did against Dallas. In Tampa Bay’s new zone-blocking scheme, the backside tackle and guard may be called upon to execute a cut block to help open up a cutback lane for the running back.
There is always a danger involved in cut blocks, which are blocks below the waist aimed at the hip and thigh, because if done improperly, there is the potential for significant knee damage to defensive linemen. That’s why most teams, including the Bucs, do not execute cut blocking in practice for fear of injuring their teammates. That means that the only place Trueblood and Co. can essentially practice cut blocking is during the games due to the elevated game speed and tempo.
Considering the fact that the Bucs’ starting offensive line played a total of about five quarters during the preseason, they only had a little more than a game’s worth of experience in cut blocking within the zone blocking scheme. To come out and rush for 174 yards against a talented defense like the Cowboys’ with such few reps is quite a feat.
“It’s harder in practice to learn to cut guys when you really can’t cut them,” Trueblood said. “It’s easier to cut guys in games, to tell you the truth. We can’t cut our own guys in practice. I’m not going say that my cuts were the prettiest, but we’re out here busting our butts and we’ll see where it takes us. We’re feeling pretty good about where this can take us.”
Trueblood’s massive frame and wingspan certainly helps him in pass protection, but it can be a hindrance when called upon to get low and cut block. Is it much harder for him to get down to the ground and throw a cut block as opposed to a player like center Jeff Faine, who is six inches shorter at 6-foot-2?
“I’ve never been their size so I wouldn’t know … but I’m going to say yes just to help myself,” Trueblood said. “I used to think I was really good at cut blocking and people would say, ‘Hey, that was a great cut, Blood.’ But the older I get the tougher it is for me to get down and cut. I don’t know if I am just out of practice, but in my first three years at Boston College we did it quite a bit. Only doing it once or twice a year in Tampa under [former offensive line coach] Bill Muir has probably hindered me a little bit, but [offensive line coach] Pete [Mangurian] has been doing a great job of practicing with us. You just have to launch yourself. It’s a lot harder to pass protect than to do that.”
In addition to opening up big holes in the running game and being part of an offensive line that did not allow a sack against Dallas, Trueblood also played penalty free, which is a big deal because he led the Buccaneers in penalties last year with 11 infractions, 10 of which were accepted.
Trueblood plans on building on a successful outing in Week 1 when he and the Bucs travel to Buffalo on Sunday to face the Bills. Trueblood will be matched up against veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay and Aaron Maybin, Buffalo’s first-round pick who recorded 12 sacks last year for Penn State.
FAB 3. The Buccaneers are talking contract extension with quarterbacks coach and new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and after Tampa Bay’s 450-yard performance in Week 1, that sounds like a heck of a good idea.
I’ve admired Olson’s work and reputation as a quarterbacks coach for some time with former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden giving Ollie rave reviews to me last year when he came aboard Tampa Bay’s coaching staff. I’m really interested to see what he can do with this talented Buccaneers offense after being thrown into the fire on September 3 after being named as Jeff Jagodzinski’s replacement.
The first thing Olson did was add a bunch of new plays. As Pewter Report reported back on September 3, Jagodzinski’s playbook was essentially a pamphlet, and that was one of the biggest reasons that coaches like Olson were concerned about the direction Tampa Bay’s offense was heading in under Jags.
“I felt like we could be giving them more, and they needed more [plays] over a 16-game schedule,” Olson said. “I just didn’t feel like our base (package) was big enough. I indicated to them that, ‘Guys, over the next three weeks here, it may seem – the volume may seem – to be a lot.’ But I feel like we’re behind, so I asked for their dedication to learn things and they’ve been great about it.”
After the passing game showed notable improvement in the preseason finale against Houston, which was Olson’s first game as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, the entire offense came alive in Week 1 against Dallas with Tampa Bay rushing for 174 yards, a 5.6-yard average, not turning the ball over, committing only one offensive penalty, going 3-for-3 in the red zone and showing some real aggressive play-calling like the Bucs haven’t seen in some time.
Olson directed quarterback Byron Leftwich to throw the ball in the end zone several times, an approach that was lacking with Jeff Garcia running Gruden’s offense. Leftwich took shots into the end zone on multiple occasions, firing passes to Antonio Bryant in the first and second quarters, and tight end Kellen Winslow in quarters two and four, the last of which resulted in a touchdown.
Olson even had receiver Michael Clayton attempt to throw a pass to Bryant on the first play of the fourth quarter on an end around, which showed a good deal of creativity despite the play being well covered and the pass falling incomplete.
Tampa Bay’s new offensive coordinator also demonstrated creative ways to use personnel. With John Gilmore sidelined with an ankle and calf injury, the Bucs were short a blocking tight end. On Cadillac Williams’ touchdown run in the second quarter, Olson used starting fullback B.J. Askew as the motion tight end and used halfback Earnest Graham as the lead back in front of Williams, who followed Graham’s lead into the end zone.
But perhaps the best example of Olson’s direction as it pertains to Tampa Bay’s offense was what transpired in the last two minutes of the first half. With the Bucs leading 7-6 and backed up on their own 14, Olson didn’t just want to attempt to run out the clock and end the half, wasting a possession that could produce points.
So he opted to throw a wide receiver screen to Bryant, which was diagnosed and well defended by Dallas. The play lost a yard, but the clock continued to move. Leftwich made a critical gaffe on the next play by running out of bounds, which stopped the clock and prevented Dallas from having to burn its last timeout. On third-and-10 from the 14, Clifton Smith gained only four yards and the Cowboys used their final timeout to stop the clock with 1:08 left. Had Leftwich not stepped out of bounds, the Cowboys would have had only 43 seconds left when they got the ball back.
As it turned out, it might not have mattered as Dallas only needed 16 seconds to move 42 yards for a touchdown to go on top 13-7 at halftime.
The Bucs got the ball back with 38 seconds left from their own 22. Having had the last drive backfire and allow the Cowboys an opportunity to score right before halftime, one would think that Olson might pack it in and have Leftwich kneel down before halftime.
Instead, with 16 seconds left after a 3-yard pass to Smith, Olson aggressively ordered a shot downfield to Clayton. Leftwich’s 47-yard strike was on target and Clayton’s great, over the shoulder catch set Tampa Bay up at the Dallas 28 with seven seconds left. The safe, prudent call would be to send out kicker Mike Nugent to attempt a 46-yard field goal, but the aggressiveness that Olson and head coach Raheem Morris share went into action as Leftwich went out onto the field for one shot at the end zone before the Bucs would attempt a field goal.
“I loved the [play call] with seven seconds left,” Leftwich said. “Raheem was about to kick the field goal, but he and I had a conversation and he trusted me that I would do the right thing with the football. As a quarterback, you always want those opportunities. That thing was closer than it seemed. I knew I couldn’t put it in the air because I didn’t want the time to run out. I knew it had to be a ball that was thrown pretty hard that way if we get it, we score. If we don’t, we’ve still got enough time to kick the field goal. The last thing I wanted to do was drop back, throw the ball in the air and we don’t have those two seconds left. But it did work and we still got the field goal attempt accomplished. We added a play. We still gave our chance to score a touchdown there. As a quarterback, you love when your coach does those things for you.”
At the end of the day, the Bucs couldn’t cash in on the aggressive calls before halftime, and the 450 yards and 21 points generated by the offense weren’t enough to beat Dallas. But the players know from just last Sunday that Olson’s exciting, aggressive play-calling will make the difference in a Buccaneers victory soon enough.
FAB 4. After watching the game tape from the Bucs-Cowboys game, here are my insights on certain aspects of the game you might have missed.
• For all the flack that strong safety Sabby Piscitelli caught from fans and the media in Tampa Bay’s 34-21 loss to Dallas, I was more disappointed by the game that Jermaine Phillips had. Yep. That’s right. I thought Piscitelli actually had a better game, and here’s why. Piscitelli’s tackling was sharp, especially against the run, and he finished tied with middle linebacker Barrett Ruud for the team lead in tackles with eight. In the first quarter alone, Phillips took bad angles and missed wildly on two plays, a 12-yard run by Marion Barber, which should have been held to half that total, and a 19-yard run by Barber, when the gain should have been seven yards. Throw in the missed tackle on the Miles Austin 42-yard touchdown and the poor angle on Roy Williams’ 66-yard touchdown and Phillips had a bad day at the office, which is just about inexcusable for a six-year starter. By contrast, Piscitelli was starting his sixth NFL game. He had some underneath coverage culpability in the Cover 3 defense on Williams’ touchdown, but Piscitelli’s main gaffes occurred in the fourth quarter when he gave up an 80-yard touchdown and a 44-yard catch to Patrick Crayton, in addition to a running into the kicker penalty. Piscitelli undoubtedly deserves some blame, but he has been wrongfully singled out as a fall guy for the secondary’s woes against Dallas. I’m pretty confident that Piscitelli will be a good and possibly great safety in time. All he needs is more experience. You don’t bench capable, developmental guys like Piscitelli. You play them and watch them improve as they learn from their mistakes.
• With the exception of a missed block on special teams that caused Mike Nugent’s first field goal attempt to be blocked by safety Gerald Sensabaugh, I thought the blocking from tight end Jerramy Stevens was vastly improved from what it used to be. Stevens has been labeled a pass-catching tight end, and justifiably so throughout his career, but he really stepped up last Sunday when the team was without its usual blocking tight end, John Gilmore. Stevens sealed off Sensabaugh on a 14-yard run by Cadillac Williams in the first quarter, and then threw a great block on linebacker DeMarcus Ware on Williams’ 7-yard run with 1:10 left in the opening quarter. Stevens also had four catches for 41 yards against Dallas, which compared favorably to Kellen Winslow, who had five catches for 30 yards, including a touchdown. With opponents keying on Winslow all year, expect Stevens to receive more favorable matchups this year – and win them.
• I would like to know how the NFL statisticians at Raymond James Stadium credited middle linebacker Barrett Ruud with only four tackles after Sunday’s game. By my count, Ruud had three alone in the first quarter. The Bucs coaching staff revised Ruud’s total after watching the game film, giving him eight against the Cowboys, which seems more reasonable based on what I saw. But make no mistake, although Ruud was tied for the team lead with Piscitelli, he needs to make more than eight tackles per game and he certainly needs to produce some splash plays. Ruud is capable of playing much better than he did against the Cowboys – and must if he wants a lucrative contract extension this year. Ruud had a couple highlight reel flying tackles versus Dallas, but perhaps his best play came by simply taking the right angle and shoving running back Tashard Choice out of bounds to set up fourth-and-2 with about five minutes left before halftime. Keep in mind that tackles are not an official NFL statistic as the league leaves that up to its individual teams to chart after reviewing the game film.
• Ronde Barber got plenty of kudos for his coverage and his sack of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo on Sunday, but I thought second-year cornerback Aqib Talib played just as well. Talib allowed very few yards after catch and had exceptional coverage throughout most of the game, finishing with four tackles and a pass defensed against Williams on second-and-8 with 4:20 left before halftime. With 3:46 left in the third quarter, Talib almost had his first interception of the season while covering Williams. If I’m Jim Bates, I line up Talib against Terrell Owens every play on Sunday up in Buffalo.
• Matt McCoy got the start at weakside linebacker Geno Hayes after the second-year linebacker got to the stadium late, but I liked Hayes’ spirit once he entered the game. He did make some rookie-like mistakes, such as getting out of his gap on Barber’s 22-yard run with 10:10 left in the second quarter, but he got better as the game went on and showed he could really rush the passer with back-to-back pressures with about four minutes left in the third quarter. If given the opportunity to blitz regularly, Hayes has the speed and ability to lead the team in sacks. His best play occurred with 2:39 left in the second quarter as Hayes knifed through and blew up a screen pass to Choice for no gain on third-and-20.
• I came away impressed with the play of quarterback Byron Leftwich. He surprised me with his 60 percent completion percentage for the most part, but what I really didn’t expect was his improvisation. You have to hand it to Leftwich for flipping the ball to running back Derrick Ward for a 14-yard reception on the first play of the second quarter, and his pitch to Winslow for seven yards late in the fourth quarter. Leftwich has been turnover-free in every game appearance as a Buccaneer, dating back to the preseason, and that’s a good thing for Tampa Bay. Leftwich wasn’t without his faults, as he missed Ward with an overthrow on third down in the second quarter and he should have had a touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant, who beat Mike Jenkins, with two seconds left before halftime. But he also threw a beautiful 30-yard pass across middle to Bryant with 8:20 left in the second quarter and that 47-yard strike to Michael Clayton was on the money with seven seconds left before halftime.
• You saw Michael Clayton’s devastating blocks. I saw Michael Clayton’s devastating blocks. Yet they deserve another mention, along with Williams’ hard-nosed, slashing running style. Clayton’s blockfest began at the 8:53 mark in the first quarter when Williams dashed off left side for an 11-yard gain behind a great block on Dallas inside linebacker Keith Brooking. On that run, Clayton absolutely pancaked Jenkins to allow Williams to burst outside. With 12:18 left in the second quarter, Clayton was on the right side of the formation and it was Terrance Newman’s turn to be driven backwards. Clayton had Newman on rails for over 10 yards during Williams’ 35-yard run down the right sidelines.
• And finally, much has been made about the lack of pass rush from defensive end Gaines Adams against the Cowboys. Jimmy Wilkerson and Stylez G. White were equally ineffective, but all the fuss is justifiably over Adams because he’s got the first-round draft status. Yet I was equally disappointed by the lack of pass rush and pocket push from Tampa Bay’s defensive tackles, primarily Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan. Each player was credited with a quarterback pressure, but I must have missed it on the game film. I saw Hovan late off the ball and flailing his arms around but doing little else. Sims resigned to the fact that he was blocked at times and showed a lack of vigor. As much as the defensive ends need to pick up their production in pass-rushing situations, so must Tampa Bay’s defensive tackles.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next installment of SR’s Fab 5:
• The Bucs certainly aren’t getting discouraged by their Week 1 loss to the Cowboys. Spirits were up at One Buccaneer Place this week and that optimism began moments after Sunday’s 34-21 loss to Dallas. “You don’t see anybody in the locker room holding their heads down,” quarterback Byron Leftwich said. “We lost to Dallas. We lost to a good football team today. Give those guys credit. They beat us. They made more plays than us.” Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams said this team is still full of resolve heading into Buffalo. “You can’t drop your head,” Adams said. “This is just the first game of a long season. We’re definitely going to improve.”
• You’ve got to love the maturity of Tampa Bay’s rookie receiver Sammie Stroughter, who nearly had a touchdown in his first NFL game before instant replay ruled he had a knee down at the 1-yard line (the Bucs would score the touchdown anyways on running back Derrick Ward’s 1-yard touchdown). Instead of being angry at the officials for denying him his first score at the pro level, Stroughter, who had three catches for 25 yards, held himself accountable for not getting the job done against Dallas. “I messed up. I was a coach killer out there,” Stroughter said. “There would have been no question on the touchdown if I had done what I needed to do and follow my rules. I was just rushing things. In practice, we have to do certain things a certain way and you understand the concepts. In a game you get out there and everything is faster. It was just one of those things where I didn’t give my quarterback an indicator, like sticking your foot in the ground. Quarterbacks love indicators. But I had a great time out there. It was a great experience. It was everything to cherish, but I understand I have to get better. You have to pay attention to detail. You have to be 100 percent correct on your assignments because that is what your team is expecting you to do. As a professional, that’s what we have to do.” That’s uncommon wisdom coming from a 23-year old rook.
• With 97 yards rushing on 13 carries (7.5 avg.) against Dallas, Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams is back and is looking like his old self from 2005 when he rushed for over 1,000 yards en route to becoming the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood didn’t arrive on the scene until 2006, but he has seen the highlight reels of what Williams could do prior to his back-to-back torn patellar tendon injuries, and he likes what he’s seen thus far from the talented halfback – and not just on the field last Sunday. Trueblood is amazed at how hard Williams has worked in the weight room, the training room and the practice field to come back from his latest knee injury, which occurred in the season finale loss to Oakland last year. “He truly is an inspiration to everybody,” Trueblood said. “It’s hard not to get pumped up when you look at somebody like that who has gone through what he’s gone through and to never give up. He has such a positive mindset. Look how hard he does everything. He’s a 100 percent guy. You can’t ask for more in a teammate.” Bucs left guard Jeremy Zuttah agrees. ““It gets you ready to go back and do it again when you see him run like that and run through safeties,” Zuttah said. “He jumps up and gets all jacked up. Cadillac is definitely a guy you like to like to work for.”
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• The Kansas State connection between Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and quarterback Josh Freeman played a huge role in Tampa Bay making Freeman the team’s first-round pick this year. Morris was K-State’s defensive coordinator in 2006 when Freeman became a starter as a true freshman. Morris’ Wildcats connection may help the Bucs land another player, tight end Jeron Mastrud, who also started as a true freshman that season along with Freeman. The 6-foot-6, 253-pound Mastrud, who was actually Freeman’s roommate in college, is a do-it-all tight end that can block and catch. He hauled in 17 passes for 235 yards (13.8 avg.), including a career-long 66-yarder against Kansas back in 2006. After recording 30 catches for 316 yards (10.5 avg.) as a sophomore, Mastrud had a career-high 38 catches for 435 yards (11.4 avg.) and two touchdowns, including a 52-yarder, last year as one of Freeman’s top options. K-State’s passing game has become quite pathetic this year due to Freeman’s early departure, but Mastrud figures to have a good season as he can be the safety blanket for quarterback Carson Coffman. Mastrud has six catches for 79 yards (13.2 avg.) and a touchdown through two games. That gives him 91 catches for 1,065 yards and three TDs in his career. Because Tampa Bay loves to use the tight end and both Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore turn 30 this year, the Bucs are keeping close tabs on Mastrud, who is projected to go in rounds three or four next April. Mastrud and the Wildcats, which suffered a frustrating loss at Louisiana-Lafayette last week, travel to UCLA to get slaughtered by the 2-0 Bruins on Saturday.
• Another mid-round draft prospect worth keeping an eye on is someone I discussed as a Pewter Prospect during my Pewter Report Radio show on Wednesday. UConn defensive end Lindsey Witten leads the nation with seven sacks through two games and set a school record with four sacks of North Carolina’s T.J. Yates in last week’s 12-10 home loss to the Tar Heels. Witten also had five tackles and forced a fumble in the defeat en route to becoming the Big East Defensive Player of the Week. In the season opener, he notched three sacks against Ohio. Witten is a bit of a late bloomer in that seven of his 17.5 career sacks have come this year as a senior. His previous season high was five sacks last year as a junior. Witten is a physical, high-motor defensive end with a nice, chiseled, 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame. The Huskies travel to Baylor to play dangerous sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin, who is a threat to run or pass on any play. Witten, who is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick, will need to show scouts his closing speed this Saturday while tracking down Griffin.
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