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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. The Buccaneers were a bit disappointed when Chargers running back Darren Sproles was franchised by San Diego this offseason because Tampa Bay was considering going after him in free agency, especially given how badly the 5-foot-6 rusher tore them up in a 41-24 Week 16 loss on December 21 last year. Although he only rushed for three yards on two carries, Sproles totaled 221 yards against Tampa Bay, returning four kicks for 127 yards (31.75 avg.), returning two punts for 45 yards (22.5 avg.) in addition to three receptions for 46 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
The reason why the Bucs aren’t crushed they weren’t able to land Sproles this offseason? They think they have a Sproles-like player in Pro Bowl return man and running back Clifton Smith, who is entering his second year in the league.
“Right now they are using me in the Darren Sproles’ category,” the diminutive, 5-foot-8 Smith said. “I’m in on third downs, I’m in the two-minute offense to pick up a bunch of blitzes and catch some dump passes and go one-on-one with linebackers and abuse them a little bit and have fun.”
Sproles had a breakout year for San Diego last year as a third down back that complemented LaDainian Tomlinson. Sproles rushed for 330 yards and one touchdown on 61 carries (5.4 avg.) and caught 29 passes for 342 yards and five scores in helping the Chargers make a playoff push in 2008. The Bucs envision Smith putting up comparable numbers.
While Smith’s speed is closer to 4.6 than Sproles’ burning 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash, the Buccaneer nicknamed “Peanut” has some of Sproles’ quickness and elusiveness, and new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski plans on taking advantage of those traits in Tampa Bay’s passing game, which has been overhauled from a year ago.
“In comparison to last year, the difference is that we are stretching the field a lot more this year,” Smith said. “With the screen passes, we have added a lot of those to our arsenal this year. Last year, we weren’t that good at screen passes. But with the new coaching staff coming in, we’re just working to be good at running screens. We’re watching a lot of San Diego stuff because we see the stuff Darren Sproles does and he just torches people on screens every time. To add that to what we do will be a great addition.”
Smith admits that while he will no longer sneak up on teams due to his Pro Bowl status as a return man, he believes that he still has a chance to be a sleeper on offense.
“The thing is that they have only seen me on special teams,” Smith said. “They really have not seen me on offense yet. On special teams, I can understand why I won’t be sneaking up on anybody any more like I did last year. But I think I can still sneak up on some people on offense.
“As far as special teams goes, as long as my 10 blockers can hold their blocks, I feel like I can navigate my way through the other team because they do a great job for me. They make my job so easy. They have confidence in me to go back there and get the job done, but I have an ever greater confidence in them knowing that they are going to get their job done for me.”
The one thing that may hinder the success of Smith’s return game in 2009 is the NFL outlawing the wedge on kick returns. Last year, Smith returned 36 kicks for 992 yards (27.6 avg.) and scored a touchdown on a 97-yard return at Kansas City, which was the longest return in Buccaneers history.
“On kickoff return, we’ve got that new rule where there can be no more wedges, so we have to tweak our kickoff schemes. I think we’re going to be just as successful as we were last year. We did have a lot of man blocking schemes, but we had a lot of wedge blocking schemes, too. It all depends on how different teams were attacking us and how we wanted to set them up.”
In addition to his kick return prowess, Smith proved that he was a dual threat on special teams, returning 23 punts for 324 yards (14.1 avg.), including a 70-yard touchdown against Detroit. Despite not even playing an entire season (Smith was brought up from the practice squad against Dallas in Week 8), he battled the odds as an undrafted rookie free agent to make the Pro Bowl. In fact, Smith is one of only three undrafted free agents to ever make the NFL all-star game, following the likes of Dallas cornerback Everson Walls (1981) and Seattle linebacker Rufus Porter (1988).
Smith returned two punts for 28 yards and three kicks for 128 yards (42.7 avg.), including a 55-yarder, and really made a statement in the Pro Bowl. The Fresno State product was surprised at how well he was able to do, totaling 156 yards while having 10 news guys blocking for him and having only three practices to create any kind of chemistry.
“In the Pro Bowl, nobody really plays hard until that fourth quarter comes around,” Smith said. “Then the fourth quarter comes around and everybody sees that money that is on the line if you win. That’s when everybody gets serious. The only real run that I can take with any seriousness from that whole game was the 55-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. After all the fun and games were over and everybody started to get serious, I was reading everybody’s blocks because I knew they were really gunning for me.”
It appeared as if Smith might actually replicate his return wizardry and score a touchdown on the 55-yard kick return, but he was fittingly tackled by the AFC’s special teams ace, Ryan Pontbriand.
“Cleveland’s long snapper actually made the tackle,” Smith said. “I made the kicker miss and Adrian Peterson was trying to hold me up because I was stumbling and the dude just jumped on my back.”
While Smith has the return game down pat, he is still a work-in-progress when it comes to offense. Smith was never a feature back in college and only totaled 630 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 102 carries (6.2 avg.) and 34 receptions for 368 yards. Last year for the Buccaneers, he suffered through a pair of fumbles on offense while rushing for 40 yards on eight carries (5.0 avg.) and catching four passes for 24 yards (6.0 avg.). Smith said that he is much further ahead of schedule in learning Jagodzinski’s tailored down offense as opposed to Jon Gruden’s voluminous playbook.
“We’ve put a big chunk of plays into the playbook already, and as far as the verbiage, it’s a lot easier than it was last year,” Smith said. “In Gruden’s offense, you would swear he was speaking a different language, but it all meant something. It all pieced together. But this offense is a lot easier to learn. It’s more just memorization instead of thinking as much so you can go out and play. Jags is just taking the thinking part out of the game.”
Part of the reason for the reduced number of plays is the new zone-blocking scheme the team incorporated this year for the running game.
“There aren’t many runs, but there is enough,” Smith said. “There are really only three ways to run the ball – inside zone, outside zone and right up the middle. The zone scheme is always going to be the same no matter where you go with the ball.”
In addition to the number of running plays being whittled down this year, the number of passing plays has also been dramatically reduced.
“I would say the number of passing plays has been cut in half,” Smith said. “Coming in last year, you had a lot thrown at you at once, especially with me being a rookie coming in. Your eyes get big and you get nervous. Now the rookies have it a lot easier just learning the plays, learning where to line up and going and playing.”
Having fewer plays doesn’t necessarily mean that Jagodzinski’s offense will be better or more productive than Gruden’s, but one thing is for sure – Smith will be a bigger part of it in 2009 and he will be doing his best impression of Darren Sproles.
FAB 2. Another way Clifton Smith will impact the Buccaneers this year is not with his hands or feet, but with his story. With a roster of 85 Buccaneers stocked with an astonishing 20 undrafted free agents listed as rookies or first-year players, there are nearly two dozen guys trying to be the next Smith.
Last year, Smith went from being an undrafted try-out player out of Fresno State at the team’s rookie mini-camp, to becoming an undrafted free agent signee. Then he went from being a practice squad player to a Pro Bowler – all during a magical rookie season. You see, Smith, who turns the ripe old age of 24 on July 4, has become a bit of a legend to players like cornerback Marshall McDuffie, safety C.J. Byrd, center Rob Bruggeman and defensive end Louis Holmes, among others. Those players want to take Smith’s story and make it their own.
Despite not even having a full NFL season under his belt after being activated from the practice squad in Week 8, Smith has become a role model to nearly one quarter of the team. But he insists that he’s not a trailblazer. He’s simply following in the footsteps of another Buccaneer running back who was undrafted, did his time on the practice squad and is now in a starring role with the team.
“Those guys can learn from my story, but all I did was take Earnest Graham’s story and incorporated into what I was doing every day because I got cut just like he did,” Smith said. “He got cut three or four times and was put on the practice squad. But he turned out to be our starting running back. The younger guys now come up to me and ask me what I had to do to make the team. It’s great to give my story to them because maybe they are going through the same situation I was going through.”
So what advice does Smith tell the team’s undrafted free agents who ask him for advice?
“I tell guys to put everything on film in the preseason because every NFL team looks at that film,” Smith said.
Smith totaled a modest 53 yards on 19 carries (2.8 avg.), but led the Bucs with 11 catches for 91 yards (8.3 avg.), including a 21-yarder. He also averaged 13.8 yards on four punt returns and was the team’s leading kick returner with a 23.5-yard average. Although it wasn’t enough for him to make the Bucs’ initial 53-man roster or sign elsewhere after roster cutdowns, it was enough to impress Tampa Bay, which signed him to its practice squad.
The practice squad has been a place where players like Smith, Graham and wide receiver Brian Clark have all used it as a springboard to eventually make the 53-man roster. Players like cornerback Kyle Arrington are trying to follow in their footsteps.
And if a player like Holmes, who has impressed Smith as a versatile defensive end, can’t make it on the Bucs’ roster, there is still a chance to keep his NFL dreams alive with a stint on the practice squad.
“Clifton’s story motivates me,” Holmes said. “I talk to Clifton about it every once in a while. We’re pretty close. It makes me work harder because I can look at a guy like him and see his success. I’ve asked him a couple times what it takes to make it at this level. He told me I have to show up every day, do my job full speed and wait on a break.”
Or make a break for yourself with a fantastic preseason.
“I definitely have to blow the doors off in the preseason to really get noticed,” Holmes said. “The bar is set for me pretty high being an undrafted free agent. I don’t have any leverage.”
With the Buccaneers having such an amazing amount of undrafted free agents on its roster, there is a good chance that another will rise up and make the team this year. Because of the position they play and their talent, Arrington and Bruggeman appear to be the rookies that have the best chance to do so at this time.
Whoever it is will have a chance to pass his story down to next year’s undrafted free agent class the way Smith has passed his story and the story he took from Graham down to this year’s crop of young, long-shot Buccaneers.
FAB 3. One of the sleepers emerging along Tampa Bay’s defensive line is newcomer Louis Holmes, who was an undrafted free agent out of Arizona last year with San Francisco. Holmes has caught the eye of some of his teammates, including last year’s running back and return specialist, Clifton Smith, who was last year’s Buccaneers undrafted free agent success story.
“I’m surprised by Louis Holmes,” Smith was quoted as saying in last week’s SR’s Fab 5. “He comes off the edge hard and he gives our tackles a lot of great work. He’s been tough to run around.”
Rookie Kyle Moore, who is getting work at left defensive end and also at defensive tackle in the team’s pass-rushing “Go” package, likes what he has seen from the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Holmes. Moore has sensed Holmes’ hunger to make the Bucs’ 53-man roster in practice.
“He’s looking real good. That is a determined man,” Moore said. “The situation that he is in as far as being with a team last year, getting cut, and coming here to try and get a spot on the team. He’s working hard. I think he’s more of a pass rusher. He’s got real good pass rushing moves, and he’s real quick.”
A checkered past that has included a couple of arrests in college, including a bar fight on July 1, 2007 in which he was charged with criminal damage and disorderly conduct for punching a patron and ripping the blazer of a doorman, stained his reputation with NFL scouts. And those brushes with the law along with a disappointing senior season, in which he recorded just two sacks after notching four as a junior, kept him from being drafted. Holmes pleaded guilty to the criminal damage charge and was required to complete a diversion program for anger management over a six-month period, according to the Arizona Star Daily.
Holmes was a five-star JUCO recruit out of Scottsdale Community College where he racked up 16 sacks, 40 tackles for loss and 192 tackles in two years. But after arriving at Arizona as a highly touted prospect, Holmes only managed to record 72 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. The fact that Holmes’ sack production was cut in half after a promising junior season was the ultimate disappoint for scouts.
“I don’t think I maxed out my potential at Arizona,” Holmes said. “If I only played as hard as I do now, I would have gotten drafted. I only pulled a couple sacks down my senior year and I could have had double-digit sacks if I would have played harder, but you have to let it go.
“I fell off track in college and was involved in some things I shouldn’t have been involved in. Now I know that if you miss your opportunity you may never get it back. I just walk on thin ice and try to do the right thing every single day.”
Even though Holmes went undrafted, he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent and had a pretty decent preseason campaign. But when the phone didn’t ring at all last year after his release, Holmes was hit hard by the reality of not being able to fully realize his NFL dreams.
“Getting picked up by San Francisco and then getting released, I was just sitting around the whole time trying to find a job. I thought the league forgot about me,” Holmes said. “I figured I had a pretty decent preseason in San Fran with a sack, a couple hurries and a couple tackles. Tampa was the only team that called me and I was hoping to get another try-out, but for 17 weeks this was the only phone call I had. It was bad. It was rough.
“I looked for jobs. It was pretty rough out there – even for a college graduate. I was looking for a place to stay every day. It wasn’t what I expected after college.”
When Holmes received a call from then-pro personnel director Mark Dominik, for a try-out, he decided that his NFL do-or-die moment had arrived much quicker than he anticipated.
“I got a phone call from the G.M. at the end of the season asking me if I wanted to come try out,” Holmes said. “That was the only job inquiry – football or non-football – that called me back, actually. It was big.”
After a season without football for the first time in his life, Holmes worked out hard for the Buccaneers and was signed on January 8 in a transaction that understandably got little fan attention. But to Holmes, it was a last-chance, wake-up call – one that he vows not to squander like his two years at Arizona.
“I want to be in the league for a long time because I went from being out of football for a long time,” Holmes said. “I have an opportunity. I want to make this team and be the best player I can be for the team.
“In college you try to plan out everything from the season to the Combine to the NFL Draft. But with this situation, I just had to take it one day at a time and not think too far ahead because you don’t know what can happen. I’m just going to show up every day, work hard and take whatever is in front of me and go full speed.”
Holmes’ teammates see his fire and his tunnel-like vision on making the Bucs’ 53-man roster. Although it hasn’t been acknowledged on the record, behind the scenes, the Bucs have been disappointed with Stylez G. White this offseason. White, whose play faded down the stretch in 2008 along with that of several other Bucs defenders, has missed a lot of valuable OTA (organized team activity) workouts due to a shoulder injury and a recent motorcycle accident that left him a bit bruised and burned.
While White is one of the more accomplished pass rushers on the team with 13 sacks and eight forced fumbles over the last two years, he must step up his game as eight of those sacks and seven of those forced fumbles came in 2007 when he was a surprise addition to the roster after making the leap from the Arena Football League. White’s play against the run has not improved enough to put him in contention for the starting left defensive end position that was vacated by the departure of Kevin Carter.
Instead, White is relegated to a role backing up Gaines Adams at right defensive end while Jimmy Wilkerson will start at left end, followed by Moore. Holmes is getting cross-trained at both left and right end and has a balanced game that allows him to play the run as well as the pass.
“I’m playing both. It doesn’t matter to me,” Holmes said. “When you are sitting at home, you’ll play anywhere. I’m scared to go back out on the streets. That’s fuels me. I’ve got a college education, but a lot of people are getting laid off and I fell in that category. If I don’t make it here, what am I going to do? That’s what has me hungry. My back is always against the wall it seems like.”
It’s that type of hunger that allowed White to work his way on to the roster back in 2007. But with the sense that White may feel like he has “arrived” and is big-timing it with his “Stylez” moniker, there is an opening for Holmes to use his hunger to steal White’s roster spot, especially with White likely being shelved for the mandatory mini-camp due to his motorcycle accident.
“I’m hungry to play football,” Holmes said, making his pitch to this reporter on why he deserves to make the team. “I can quickly learn schemes. I’m young and I’m healthy. I’m in really good shape. I really don’t get tired. I can run and go all day. I’m trying not to make this team on talent, though. I want to be a hard-nosed player that can run and hustle. I just have to show up and do my job and if they like how I do my job then it will all work out. I would much rather be here than living on the streets.”
Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris have charted a course for a younger Buccaneers roster, stocked with ultra-competitive players like Holmes, who had some pretty impressive rushes against left tackle James Lee on Thursday’s OTA, knocking him to the ground with one physical pass rush. So far, Morris likes what he sees from Holmes.
“Louis is an interesting pass rusher. He’s got nothing else to do in life but football,” Morris said. “He’s very hungry. He’s getting an opportunity right now and he’s rushing the passer well. There’s a doorway open for him. He sees it and I hope he jumps through it and brings something positive for us in the preseason.”
The 30-year old White better bring his “A” game to training camp and the preseason like he did in 2007. Otherwise Holmes will steal his roster spot.
FAB 4. Buccaneers tight end John Gilmore was upset when the team fired Jon Gruden on January 16. Gilmore was one of the first players targeted in free agency last year and he received a call just after midnight from Gruden to be his primary blocking tight end, replacing Anthony Becht.
Gilmore, who had gotten lost in the shuffle in Chicago behind starter Desmond Clark and Greg Olson, the Bears’ first-round draft pick, was eager to join the Buccaneers due to Gruden’s sales pitch and fondness for the tight end position in general. The former Penn State standout was in Tampa on the first day of free agency in 2008, signing his contract on March 2.
Statistically speaking, Gilmore’s best season prior to last year came as a rookie in 2002 when he caught 10 passes for 130 yards. He recorded a career-best two touchdowns in 2006 during a year in which he caught six passes for 38 yards.
Gruden lived up to his promise with Gilmore, who was promised a bigger role with the Buccaneers and more opportunities in the passing game – even though he would primarily be a perimeter blocker in the running game. Gilmore wound up catching a career-high 15 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown in his first season in Tampa Bay. After recording his TD against Atlanta in Week 2 on a 5-yard pass from Brian Griese, Gilmore also posted a 36-yard reception, which was a career-high.
When Gruden was fired, Gilmore was unsure of his role on the team because there would be a new offensive coordinator. Would the Bucs bring in someone who favored three- and four-wide receiver sets like New England, or would they hire an offensive coordinator who valued the tight end position?
The good news came on January 29 when former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski was hired as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. When asked how much he planned to use the tight end position in his offense, Jagodzinski, who spent a few years coaching Green Bay’s tight ends earlier in the decade, said: “A bunch. A bunch. A bunch. If we have a good match-up, you put the players in a position to succeed by match-ups. I think we have players here that we can do that. I’ve been fortunate to coach a bunch of tight ends that were Pro Bowl players in Bubba [Franks], [Mark] Chmura and Alge Crumpler. I’ve had a bunch of different types of guys. We’re going to find a way to get those guys the ball.”
That was all Gilmore had to hear to feel comfortable about the new offense. Despite the fact that he may not get many more opportunities in the passing game than he got last year with the arrival of former Pro Bowler Kellen Winslow and the re-signing of receiving tight end Jerramy Stevens, Gilmore is excited about Jags’ affection for his position.
“I think tight ends are starting to be a big part of the game again,” Gilmore said. “The tight end position wasn’t like this a couple years ago. I think more and more teams are utilizing the tight end position now. Maybe Jon Gruden had something to do with that. Jags is really going to use the tight end. He’s going to get us involved. I’m kind of anxious to see what situations he puts us in as the season goes on. It should be interesting.”
With the Bucs using of a lot of two-tight end sets during the offensive installation this offseason, Gilmore has been a mainstay on the field. There are times when Winslow and Stevens are paired together on the field, but more often than not, it is either Gilmore and Winslow or Gilmore and Stevens lining up due to his blocking prowess. But with Winslow and Stevens labeled as the pass-catching tight ends on the Buccaneers, Gilmore has the chance to go unnoticed and make an occasional surprise splash in the passing game.
“John has better hands than he is given credit for because he has been tagged as a blocker,” said Bucs tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts. “He understands that he has to better himself in his craft, but he is naturally physical. He’s a big thumper guy, but when you throw it his way, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll catch it. You can really feel comfortable throwing him the football.”
Gilmore wouldn’t mind being more involved in the Bucs’ passing game, but he understands that his money is made blocking defensive ends in Tampa Bay’s running game. And he’s excited that he’ll be involved in more double team blocks with the new zone-blocking concept that is being installed.
“Obviously with the zone-blocking concept, we’re working with the tackles a lot more, which is a lot different from what we did last year,” Gilmore said. “I’m kind of excited about it – to work with Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood. That’s a lot of weight coming at our opponents. We’re going to take a lot of pride in that. I’ve already spoken with Trueblood and Penn and told them that nobody should beat us. Once we get the concepts down I think it’s just a matter of getting repetitions together. The big thing with the zone-blocking scheme is the most important block is made by the running back. I say that because he sets up his blocks. I think it will be a big ‘feel’ thing for us to develop the chemistry along the line, but once we get going, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
While most offensive linemen are losing weight to become more mobile and have better endurance to handle the movement demands of the zone-blocking scheme, Gilmore, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 257 pounds, has done the opposite.
“I actually gained some weight and lost some body fat,” Gilmore said while raving about new strength coach Kurt Shultz. “We’ve been eating those weights up in the weight room with Kurt this year. I’ve lost a lot of bad weight and put on some more muscle. Believe it or not, I hit 270 at one point this offseason. But three weeks ago I didn’t feel as comfortable moving around as I used to, so I got back down to 263. I feel good again. I feel like my normal self, moving around here, but I feel stronger. I was hitting those weights really hard, but I’ve scaled back a little bit. I want to play this year around 262. I think that’s my ideal playing weight.”
He may not be featured on the side of the stadium like Winslow is, or make clutch, game-winning touchdown catches like Stevens does, but Gilmore’s role in the Bucs offense is just as important in different ways that greatly affect the running game. And the good news for Gilmore is that his role won’t change much with Jags calling the plays this year.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Kudos to Bucs head coach Raheem Morris for lifting his media ban on quarterbacks coach Greg Olson last week. Olson was not allowed to talk to the media since proclaiming himself as a candidate for the offensive coordinator job back in January at the Senior Bowl. Olson might have campaigned for himself a little bit while talking to the Tampa Bay newspapers and Morris and general manager Mark Dominik applied a gag order on Olson, who was retained as the team’s quarterbacks coach, but denied the opportunity to interview elsewhere for offensive coordinator gigs this offseason. Yes, Olson’s commentary can be quite frank at times, such as his revealing interview with Pewter Report’s Charlie Campbell and the Tampa Tribune’s Ira Kaufman last week, but he didn’t deserve to be singled out while the other team’s assistant coaches have been allowed to talk to the media. Former offensive line coach Bill Muir was just as frank and outspoken. Being able to talk about the team’s quarterbacks to the media will undoubtedly increase Olson’s morale – not that it needed a boost, though. Morris needs to remember that his meteoric rise to head coach of the Buccaneers was due to the fact that his NFL profile was raised over the years showing showing his energy, personality and knowledge of the game to the media in countless interviews as an assistant. The same can be said of the 38-year old Dominik, who has been media-friendly over the years. Olson, who is in the final year of his contract, is a good guy and does a tremendous job of translating a lot of his football knowledge to the media in interviews, which in turn, educates a lot of our readers. As a Bucs beat writer, that’s all you can ask for. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to get to speak to Olson this summer, especially with the Bucs’ starting quarterback battle between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich taking center stage this summer, and Dominik and Morris investing this year’s first-round pick in quarterback Josh Freeman.
• Speaking of Josh Freeman, count former Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib as a Josh Freeman fan. Talib squared off against Freeman twice when KU and Kansas State battled each other in 2006 and ’07. Talib picked off Freeman twice, but has an awful lot of respect for the former Wildcats quarterback, who teamed with wide receiver Jordy Nelson to burn Talib on this infamous YouTube clip. Talib is glad that Freeman is his teammate. “You see a lot of good things from him,” Talib said. “We blitzed him a lot of times and he was shaking off our linebackers and throwing the ball down the field. It was always a good game when we played K-State. He was a real competitor and brought a lot of good things to the table. I’d rather play with him than against him.”
• Pewter Report has been guilty of not featuring Brian Clark enough in our Inside Bucs OTA reports and other Pewter Insider columns this offseason. Aside from writing about a nice touchdown catch he made in the back of the end zone on a throw from Luke McCown two weeks ago, and the fact that he and Maurice Stovall were splitting time as the number three receiver last Thursday, Clark has not been covered as much as he should have been. The problem is that he doesn’t have the speed that Kelly Campbell has, nor does he have the size that Stovall and Michael Clayton possess. Clark doesn’t have Sammie Stroughter’s suddenness and quickness, nor does he make sensational catches the way Antonio Bryant does. But what Clark, a former undrafted free agent who is in his third NFL season, does is run good routes, be in the right place at the right time, play with enough speed and catch everything in sight. It’s that type of play that may not stand out for the eyes of Pewter Reporters, who are trying their best to watch 85 players simultaneously. But the 6-foot-2, 204-pound receiver is following in the footsteps of players like Karl “The Truth” Williams and Ike Hilliard, who impressed their coaches with their dependability and ability to play multiple positions rather than flash and dash. The fact that Clark is an accomplished special teamer only helps his chances of making the team once again. Pencil him in as one of the Bucs’ five or six receivers this year, and we’ll try to better appreciate Clark’s game and give him the media coverage he is deserving of.
• Rod Wilson has done a great job filling in for starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who has skipped the voluntary OTAs due to his desire to receive a lucrative contract extension. Wilson has shown speed, quickness and good instincts and has put himself in position to win a roster spot as Ruud’s backup this year. By all accounts, Wilson has outplayed fellow newcomer Niko Koutouvides, which is no small feat considering that Koutouvides entered the NFL as Seattle’s fourth-round pick in 2004. Koutouvides also has a lot more playing experience in the NFL compared to Wilson, a former college safety who entered the league as a seventh-round pick of Chicago in 2005. This is also Wilson’s first year playing middle linebacker, which makes the accolades he’s been receiving even more impressive. The guess here is that Ruud will show up for the mandatory mini-camp (if he doesn’t, he’s subjected to fines by the Buccaneers) so he won’t lose any money and he can get a quick primer before training camp. But if he doesn’t, that’s a few more practices where Wilson will be getting even more work with the starting defense and further helping his cause to make the team.
• With Chris Hovan, Ryan Sims and rookie Roy Miller all looking like good fits for Jim Bates’ new defense, which emphasizes bigger defensive tackles to occupy guards rather than penetrate gaps, the pressure is on youngsters like Dre Moore and Greg Peterson to really step up in training camp. The buzz for Moore is growing while Peterson’s buzz has faded in recent weeks, which is not a good sign for Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2007. Peterson has also missed OTA time this past week due to a minor knee injury. It is unknown whether that will keep him out of this week’s mandatory mini-camp or not. Peterson, an impressively built athlete that now weighs 310 pounds, has all the physical tools to start and potentially dominate in the NFL. According to some at One Buccaneer Place, what he lacks is the fire and aggressive attitude necessary to survive and thrive in the trenches. “Someone needs to get him really (ticked off),” one source told Pewter Report. What Bucs coach Raheem Morris needs to do is get permission from Peterson to have big, imposing strength coach Kurt Shultz slap him across the face the way John Henderson gets slapped in his routine pre-game ritual. With Jimmy Wilkerson and rookie Kyle Moore moving from defensive end to defensive tackle in the Bucs’ “Go” package in obvious pass-rushing situations, sources have told Pewter Report that Moore and Peterson are fighting for the same roster spot. They both need to stop with the gentle giant routine and play with the intensity that Hovan, Miller … and Henderson … play with. May the most (ticked) off man win.
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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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