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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. I remember thinking the Buccaneers had a steal when they landed Notre Dame wide receiver Maurice Stovall in the third round of the 2006 NFL Draft. I remember being excited for the organization when Stovall became a Buc.
The guy was an absolute stud during his senior season for the Fighting Irish. Stovall overcame a slow start to his college career under Tyrone Willingham and flourished under first-year head coach Charlie Weis during his senior campaign, catching 69 passes for 1,149 yards and 11 touchdowns, which eclipsed his previous three-year total of 61 receptions for 1,046 and seven touchdowns.
With passes thrown by Brady Quinn, I remember the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall lighting up BYU for 14 catches for 207 yards and four touchdowns, scorching Michigan State with eight receptions for 176 yards and one score and sinking Navy with eight grabs for 130 yards and three touchdowns.
He was a dominating force, out-leaping and stiff-arming cornerbacks for touchdowns. Aside from his first NFL preseason game when he skied up to catch a 2-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski on a fade route against the New York Jets, we haven’t seen that type of play from Stovall on game days in the NFL, which has been very disappointing.
Stovall has teased the fans, the media – including Pewter Report – and the team itself with impressive outings in OTAs and in training camp, making some amazing catches and using his huge frame to out-muscle his opponents for the ball or for extra yardage. He has had a couple productive preseasons, such as his rookie year when he caught five passes for 63 yards and one score, and eight catches for 81 yards last year, which led all wide receivers. But in 2007, his second season in the league, Stovall caught just four passes for 40 yards and was outshined by Paris Warren, Chas Gessner and Michael Clayton in August.
But just when it seemed like he was building some momentum in last year’s productive exhibition season, Stovall struggled out of the gate, dropping a touchdown pass on one play and fumbling the ball on another in Tampa Bay’s overtime win at Chicago. That earned him a trip to Jon Gruden’s doghouse, replacing Michael Clayton, who emerged from it last year to start opposite Antonio Bryant.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a torn hamstring during the bye week ended his season. The previous year, a broken arm against San Francisco prematurely concluded his 2007 campaign.
“It’s very frustrating,” Stovall said about the fact that he is always injured. “I always joke and say that someone must have a voodoo doll of me somewhere. Every time the season comes, something happens. But being in the NFL, it’s just like a marathon. You get banged up here and there, but the big thing is to bounce back and prove yourself each year and to prove to the coaching staff and your teammates that you belong on the team and that you can make plays. Some things can be prevented, some things can’t.”
And of course Stovall has been injured this offseason, missing a week’s worth of OTAs two weeks ago before returning last week.
“I just had a little back spasm, but I took care of it and rehabbed it all last week,” Stovall said. “(Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) and the training staff did a great job with the treatment. I was back at practice (on Tuesday). I feel great and there are no problems.”
Since I was writing about him for this week’s SR’s Fab 5 I was excited to get the chance to watch Stovall in practice to gauge his progress, especially since last week’s open practice to the media was a glorified conditioning session that didn’t contain any X’s and O’s or offense or defense. But alas, Stovall wasn’t there and I couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone as to whether he was inside rehabbing his back again or if his absence was excused or unexcused.
“Maurice has got a back situation where it has flared up on him,” Bucs wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “That’s a new situation for me. That hasn’t been there. Usually it’s hamstring-related issues. But he has worked through it and looked good out there when he’s been able to be on the field. We don’t want his progress from the back injury to be stunted, so we have been very careful. We told him, ‘If you have any relapses with the back thing we’re going to be mad at you. Be smart and shut it down when you need to.’ Conditioning has never been an issue with Maurice. We just want the back issue to be something of the past when we get to camp.”
To say that conditioning has never been an issue with Maurice is an understatement. Stovall routinely spends an extra 30-40 minutes after every practice out on the field catching passes and running routes. When he first got to Tampa Bay, I admired his work ethic and his desire to improve himself. Now, given the hamstring pulls and back spasms he’s had over the last couple years, I’m convinced that he over-trains to the point where it is detrimental to his game and his body.
I posed that question to him and asked Stovall if the trainers, coaches or front office members say the same thing and ask him not to overdo it.
“Yeah. They tell me that a lot – all the time – ever since my rookie year,” Stovall said. “The coaching staff and the trainers tell me I’m working too hard and I’m doing too much. But it’s something that I can’t help. That’s what got me in the NFL. I’m not going to stop, but I can be monitored. They are working on me with that and I’m being mindful of not hurting my body, but I can’t help trying to get better every day. That’s who I am as a person.”
I then confronted Stovall with the notion that he had a complex – a compulsive behavior to work out.
“It is. It’s like an addiction,” Stovall said. “I might say, ‘I didn’t catch this ball today, so I have to work on that.’ I’m trying to improve myself. I always live by a saying that I had at Notre Dame: what you gave today you have, what you did not give you lost forever. I don’t want to leave the field or the facility feeling like there is something I could have done better that day, but didn’t. That would always be in the back of my mind.”
Stovall is always the last player off the field in practice every day by a long shot. I can’t remember not seeing that happen in his three years with the team.
“I’m always the last one off the field,” Stovall said. “If I’m not doing something on the field after practice, I will come inside and do something. That’s who I am as a player.”
It’s this type of compulsion to work out that is why the Bucs don’t mind Stovall missing a week of OTAs with minor back spasms. It’s probably better for his hamstrings that way. But by the same token, Stovall is entering his fourth year in the NFL and needs to stand and deliver this season.
Gruden is gone as a playcaller and I am of the opinion that his style of coaching didn’t bring out the best in the quiet, unassuming Stovall, especially when injuries struck. I think Chucky may have sucked the confidence out of Stovall.
Gruden couldn’t stand when players got injured because those players were of no use to him on Sundays. It was a cold-hearted approach, and one that didn’t endear the former coach to his players, but that notion is filled with reality and that that is just the way the business-minded Gruden operated. Stovall understood.
“I try not to take it personally,” Stovall said. “You have to realize that football at this level is a business. If you are injured, you really can’t do anything to help the team. All you can do is to be supportive and be an extra coach by helping guys out on the sidelines with an extra set of eyes. You can’t really take things like that personally. It’s a crazy business. A lot of guys at this level make a lot of money, so there is pressure there that comes along with that. I believe with Gruden and I it was just business – it wasn’t personal – and that’s just how he expressed himself.”
Stovall seems relieved that there has been a change of playcallers in Tampa and is just as excited about offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski’s arrival as he is about the fact that Mann has stayed on as his position coach.
“I’m looking forward to playing for a new coaching staff and with the new players we have, including the new quarterbacks,” Stovall said. “At the same time, I’m looking to mature as a player, make more plays and stay healthy. I’m not really worried about what happened in the past, but rather look forward to what is going to happen in the future. I think we have a very good coaching staff, a lot of young players and we are excited about this season.”
This upcoming season, which is a contract year, is the one in which Stovall, who has just 20 catches for 210 yards and one score and two runs for 29 yards in his pro career, needs to go from being a dominant player on special teams to one who finally dominates as a wide receiver. It took Stovall four years to reach his potential and star at Notre Dame. He’ll need to do that in his fourth year in the NFL and become a late bloomer.
“With this being my fourth year, it is similar to my last year at Notre Dame to show what I can do if I am given the opportunity to shine,” Stovall said. “But things happen for a reason. You might ask God for things to happen, but they will happen when he’s ready for them to happen. You just have to stay focused. This is a marathon. You aren’t going to reach your potential and your peak overnight. You have to be in the right situation.”
I then confronted him with the fact that I saw him dominate at Notre Dame as a senior and we haven’t seen that Maurice Stovall in years. I asked him if that particular dominant Stovall was still within him.
“It has been a while,” Stovall said. “I realize it just as much as you do, or any other fan, player or coach. But as long as you can envision yourself doing it, you can still do it. I still have that guy in me. It will happen when it is supposed to. Things may not happen when you want them to, but they will happen if you keep working hard. You’ve just got to keep pressing.”
The thing I wonder about Stovall, who is one of the nicest players on the roster, is whether he has enough of a mean streak to bang with defenders and dominate. The perplexing thing is watching Stovall mow through two vise defenders on special teams when he’s a gunner on punt coverage and tackle the return man, yet that aggression has not transferred over to offense. Gruden told me that he couldn’t understand why Stovall couldn’t swat away a 5-foot-10, 190-pound corner at the line of scrimmage given his seven-inch, 30-pound size advantage.
So I asked Stovall how the new offense suits his skills and was puzzled by his answer because he neglected to even mention himself, which was the focus of my question.
“Our new coaching staff is trying to fit their offense around the players rather than fitting the players around the offense,” Stovall said. “We have a lot of players that can go deep and we have a lot of players who can run the intermediate routes and we have some that can run routes right out of the backfield. We have running backs and tight ends that can run routes as good as the receivers and be just as fast and elusive as the receivers. We have receivers that are as fast as track stars. We have a lot of talent on our team. I believe our offensive staff and Coach Raheem Morris will fit the offense around our players.”
But I wanted to know how his skills were going to fit in the new offense, so I asked a follow-up question that was more direct.
Maurice, in your three years in the NFL, what do you do best?
“The best thing I do is work hard,” Stovall said. “I come to work every day and try to get better. I believe that I compete hard in the meeting rooms as well in terms of watching film, but I feel like I’ve become more of a professional receiver. In college, you are used to doing things one way and one way only because that’s how they do things. In the NFL, there are a lot of adjustments. You have to learn how to adjust to different coaches also.”
I was looking for something like, “I use my size well going across the middle, shielding the ball away from defenders” or “I use my strength and long arms to beat jams and quickly get off the line with an extra step on my defender” or “I out-leap any cornerback for the ball.”
Without hearing those things, I wonder if Stovall has the aggressive attitude and swagger needed to be a productive wide receiver in the NFL. I asked him what he thought about the depth chart now that Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard were gone, and if he saw an opening that he could take advantage of.
“I really don’t even think about that,” Stovall said. “I just worry about coming out every day and competing hard and showing the coaches and the players what I can do and that I belong on this team. I’m just enjoying my teammates and joking around with Coach Mann and enjoying football. All those things will happen and all that stress comes in training camp. Right now, I’m just enjoying the offseason and trying to better my skills as a wide receiver.”
I would have preferred to hear a little more bravado and confidence in Stovall, but that may not be his personality. However, having a little more swagger in his game might help him deal with the stress he apparently feels in training camp.
That’s something that Morris has thought about, too, calling out Stovall in front of the team during a team meeting at the start of the Buccaneers offseason program, challenging him to be a better receiver this year.
“That’s right. It’s time for him to stand or fall,” Morris said. “He’ll get an opportunity to show us what he can do.”
But it might be Stovall’s last opportunity in Tampa. This is a big year for the Philadelphia native and both Morris and Mann are in his corner right now.
“Raheem is trying to motivate him, but I think Mo is a self motivator,” Mann said. “The problem he’s had is getting hurt. That’s what Raheem is basically saying, ‘We want you to stay healthy, and then we want to see you step up.’ We all want to see him do well. He’s a hard worker and a great guy. He’s also one hell of a special teams player, so we know we can use him. We just have to keep him healthy.”
Morris’ message hit home with Stovall.
“It’s a means of motivation,” Stovall said. “It’s one thing if he pulls you into his office and tells you in a one-on-one. It’s something else when he says it front of your fellow teammates because he knows what his vision of you is and the rest of your teammates know that. It makes guys feels closer because they know what is going on. Everyone is on the same page. It makes us tighter and we play better.”
Stay healthy and play better. That’s what Stovall must do to compete for a roster spot with the likes of the buzz-worthy receivers Morris has mentioned – Kelly Campbell, Brian Clark, Sammie Stroughter, Cortez Hankton and Dexter Jackson.
To conclude my interview with Morris, I asked Stovall if his successful senior season at Notre Dame – the type of success he needs to recapture – seemed like it was yesterday or a long time ago.
“It seems like it was a long time ago,” Stovall said. “A lot has happened between me graduating from Notre Dame and me coming into my fourth season in the NFL – both on and off the field. It seems kind of distant, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday.”
It’s time for Tampa Bay’s gentle giant to wake up and play like the giant he once was and can be again.
FAB 2. There has been discussion this offseason regarding how simple Jeff Jagodzinski’s offense is compared to Jon Gruden’s rather complex playbook. As it turns out, the same could be said of some elements of defensive coordinator Jim Bates’ new scheme, especially as it pertains to the defensive line.
The defensive ends – likely Jimmy Wilkerson and Gaines Adams – will still line up and play the seven-technique (outside shoulder of the tackle) and the nine-technique (outside shoulder of the tight end) under Bates, but will be split out a bit farther and slightly cocked to create more of a pass rushing angle that will put more pressure on offensive tackles and tight ends. That should create more space for defensive ends to work with a hard outside rush or a strong change-up to an inside rush.
When it comes to the defensive tackles, there are no more nose tackle and under tackle roles. Both tackles – called left and right tackles in Bates’ defense – stay in their position the entire game, which differs from Monte Kiffin’s scheme in the fact that the tackles will exchange sides depending on where the tight end lines up to create the strong side of the formation. The left and the right tackle stay put and line up over the guards.
“We’re never lining up over the center,” starting defensive tackle Ryan Sims said. “We only line up on the guards. We are trying to occupy blockers and keep our linebackers able to flow and see. We’re trying to put the offensive lineman’s body in one gap and ours in the other. That’s how we’re playing. It’s kind of like an aggressive two-gap, except you are using an offensive lineman’s back to take care of the other gap. We just have to stay square. The whole thing is about keeping our body square and keeping his body as tight to the next guy as possible so there is no hole. The running back can’t run through his offensive lineman.”
After 12 weeks of only allowing one 100-yard rusher, there were several breakdowns in Kiffin’s one-gap defense that led to multiple big plays on the ground during the last four games of the 2008 season in which the Bucs surrendered 756 yards rushing.
“Last year everybody was a gap for gap,” Sims said. “If you did have two players in a gap then a gap got breached because nobody was in the open gap. That’s how sometimes we got mixed up and we got some big runs on us. In this new defense, as long as you are square – even if you get knocked off the ball – the running back doesn’t have that many places to go. From what I’m seeing, it’s not going to be as many 5-yard tackles for losses and 5-yard runs. It’s going to be a lot more 1-yard and 2-yard losses and 1-yard gains. It’s definitely about managing offenses and not letting them get rolling. Once that running game gets rolling with a big 20-yard run, those guys get fired up. If you hold those running backs to just 1-yard or 2-yard gains, they are going to get frustrated and the offensive coordinator will get frustrated and they have to throw it. Then an offense becomes one-dimensional very fast.”
Sims said he and his fellow defensive tackles have bought into the new, simpler philosophy that allows them to focus on only one guard during the week in their film study.
“The biggest difference is that you get to line up on a guy the whole game and you know his strengths and weaknesses,” Sims said. “You don’t have to learn about two or three guys. You can just learn one guy and find out his weaknesses and try to beat that guy. It kind of plays into the defensive tackle’s hands, but it could also be a long day if a certain guy has your number.”
While the coaches are discovering what players fit better as left defensive tackles and right defensive tackles, Sims said that both tackles will end up playing the same technique. That is another difference from Kiffin’s scheme, which had under tackles play the three technique (lining up to attack the outside shoulder of the guard) and nose tackles play the one technique (lining up to attack the outside shoulder of the center).
“Right now, they want guys to be comfortable as a left tackle or a right tackle. They want to see if guys can play both,” Sims said. “Either way, you have to line up with your right hand down or your left hand down – no matter what side you’re on. If I’m in a three-technique and the guy is inside of me, I’m putting my right hand down. But if I’m in a two-technique, then I’m going to have my left hand down. You are either going to be on the outside edge of the guard or the inside edge of the guard. We’re still lining up head up on a guard, but we’re still in the gap a little bit. Not as much as we used to because our thing now is to control the gap. Control that guard. It’s kind of simple. It’s read and react, but the reading part is coming from our linebackers. The defensive tackles know what we’re going to do. There’s not much to it. Even if we get a lot of pulling guards we just stay there. That’s for the linebackers to deal with when they flow towards the ball. It keeps the integrity of our defense in place each and every play so they can never take us out of what you want to do.”
Sims has been getting the starting reps alongside Chris Hovan and feels at home in a defensive scheme that emphasizes size and strength, which fits his frame quite well.
“I’m perfect right now at 320 pounds,” Sims said. “This is a very big opportunity for me. This is what I’ve been working for. The last two years I’ve been humbled and I just had to be quiet and work. That’s what it’s all about. When you just get your opportunity, you just try to take advantage of it. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m just glad that when we changed defenses it favors big guys like me.”
FAB 3. Here are a couple other observations from Thursday’s OTA, which the media was allowed to watch:
• It seems to me like the participation during the OTAs has been less than it has been in years past, although it is hard to say that definitively because the media is only allowed to watch one practice per week and the Buccaneers have been very tight-lipped about the team’s injuries. Sometimes a player may be present at One Buccaneer Place, but inside nursing an injury rather than on the field participating.
Regardless, it was somewhat alarming to see 13 players not on the field on Thursday, including quarterback Brian Griese, kicker Matt Bryant, punter Josh Bidwell, tackle Donald Penn, defensive end Stylez G. White, linebackers Barrett Ruud and Angelo Crowell, running backs Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams, wide receiver Maurice Stovall, guard Arron Sears, cornerback Torrie Cox and guard Julius Wilson. Out of the 85 players on the team, that’s 15 percent of the roster. I recall the days under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden that the team had about 95 percent participation during the OTAs.
We have yet to find anyone who will confirm that there are indeed fewer players participating in the OTAs this year. Part of the problem is that most of the coaching staff is new, as is half the roster, and they weren’t here last year for comparison purposes.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik went on the record to say that he is not going to make any public comments about any player missing OTAs (including middle linebacker Barrett Ruud) outside of the following statement:
“I’m not going to be talking about who isn’t here. You are going to get the standard answer from us that it is voluntary. Again, we stress that it is voluntary. Whoever shows, shows, and who whoever doesn’t, doesn’t. There’s nothing we can do about it. Would we like every player to be here? Sure. It would be great, but it is voluntary and people have their reasons. All we do is ask our players to communicate with us. If you are going to be here are not, let us hear why. The ones that surprise you are the ones that don’t show up and no one knows about. That’s what we don’t want. So we are avoiding that and that’s the most important thing for us.”
If the Bucs are a little light in the practice numbers, are they testing the new Dominik-Raheem Morris regime? I think the Buccaneers enjoy playing for Raheem Morris and they respect him, but they don’t fear him – at least not yet. While I’m not sure Morris is the type that wants to instill fear in players and go for that approach, but a little bit of fear doesn’t hurt. It certainly worked for the likes of Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Belichick, and to some extent, Gruden.
Maybe the young guys didn’t really feel the sting of Morris cutting Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Cato June because those players were released in a veteran purge that didn’t affect them. But there will be some eye-catching moment over the course of the next six months that will make the entire team realize that Morris means business, which he does. I’m guessing that OTA attendance will be higher next year after the team finds that out.
• Kicker Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell have been among the no-shows at this year’s OTAs. Both are veterans and long-time starters for the Buccaneers and it may not seem like a big deal at first except for the fact that Tampa Bay signed kicker Mike Nugent, a former second-round pick of the New York Jets, to compete with Bryant. Nugent has been at every OTA this offseason along with long snapper Andrew Economos, so it’s not like special teams is something the Bucs are blowing off this spring.
But the real intrigue surrounds the fact that Bryant and Bidwell are close friends and Bidwell is the team’s holder. I’ve heard some talk around One Buc Place that say that Bryant, who has hit at least 84 percent of his kicks in three out of the last four years in Tampa Bay, is upset that the team brought in Nugent for competition.
I’m not going to suggest that Bidwell might be staying away from OTAs to leave the team without its regular holder for Nugent, but that scenario wouldn’t be implausible.
• Although I wasn’t in on his interview with Jim Flynn, Bucs offensive line coach Pete Mangurian is quickly becoming my favorite assistant coach this spring with his “serious as hell” demeanor and approach to coaching. Mangurian offers no-holds-barred comments towards his linemen in practice, and he did the same in his interview with Flynn.
The one thing that caught our eye was Mangurian’s commentary on how penalties will be the demise of the offense if they occur, which resembled those of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski – but to the tenth degree.
“That’s the intelligence factor,” said Mangurian. “You can call penalties whatever you want, but that’s intelligence. Jumping offsides, not knowing the snap count, false starts – that intelligence or concentration, whatever you want to call it. In terms of holding penalties, how are officials calling the game? You have to be aware of that. You have to understand what situation you’re in and when a mistake is most costly. Personal fouls and dead ball penalties will destroy you. Penalties and all of these things we’ve talked about go back to being unselfish and being a team guy. Penalties will kill us. They will destroy us in any given situation. We have to understand that. You can say, ‘Don’t have penalties,’ but until you understand what penalties can destroy your team, and your priority is to be a good team, then you won’t do those things. You really have to understand why it’s important not to have penalties and what they will do to your team, and really feel the consequences of doing them. That all falls back to being responsible to your teammates. If you make a penalty and do something dumb you destroy your team. If that’s your number one priority then we’ll get rid of the penalties.”
Destroy. Kill. Destroy. You’ve got to love that. It reminds me of the way Rod Marinelli used to talk. I can’t wait to interview Mangurian myself.
Oh, and by the way, the new offensive coaching staff is anti-penalty – in case you didn’t notice. The guess here is that Tampa Bay improves on its penalty numbers from a year ago, which were 95 infractions for 834 yards.
• I’m hearing that Donald Penn’s absences from OTAs are creating some annoyance at One Buccaneer Place – even though they are voluntary. The Bucs’ new zone blocking scheme requires all five linemen virtually moving in unison with great chemistry. Chemistry is hard to develop when a starting lineman is missing.
Penn isn’t thrilled with the notion that he didn’t get a lucrative, long-term contract from the organization this winter and had to settle for a one-year tender due to his restricted free agent status. And he might think he has the leverage to miss some days given the fact that the Bucs lack any experienced depth behind him at left tackle. But there was a time back in 2007 when nobody really knew who an inexperienced Penn was when he was backing up Luke Petitgout, either.
The Bucs have invested a fifth-round pick in Xavier Fulton, whose on-the-field work has been very limited due to his recovery from a shoulder injury. But the real threat to Penn should he continue to miss OTAs and get in Pete Mangurian’s doghouse (if he has one) is James Lee, who was featured in Pewter Report’s In The Lab feature in our April issue. Lee has been running with the first team in Penn’s absence and getting some invaluable reps that will serve him well in training camp and the preseason.
• As I mentioned on my appearance on Thursday’s “The Lineup” show on Bright House Sports Network (cable channel 47), the gap between quarterbacks Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich for the starting job is narrowing. It’s not because McCown is faltering, it’s just that Leftwich is starting to come on. The two are splitting starter reps and the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the mobility difference between McCown and a slimmed down Leftwich. While Leftwich is more mobile than he has been in previous years when he was heavier, McCown has superior movement ability and it showed on several occasions in Thursday’s OTA. Leftwich is really coming on in the playmaking department with his strong arm, but this job is still McCown’s to lose.
FAB 4. The 2009 NFL Draft may not be over for the Buccaneers. A stunning suspension of one of college football’s better defensive ends could likely result in the addition of Kentucky’s Jeremy Jarmon in this summer’s NFL Supplemental Draft. Jarmon, who was a very good pass rusher and a great leader and model student-athlete at Kentucky, was ruled ineligible for his senior season on May 23 for testing positive for a banned NCAA substance. Thus, his college career is over.
The 6-foot-3, 277-pound Jarmon, who was attempting to lose weight while rehabbing a shoulder injury, took a supplement containing a diuretic, which was a banned substance by the NCAA. Jarmon made the mistake of failing to ask the Wildcats trainer whether the supplement was legal or banned by the NCAA. After taking the supplement for three weeks, he did ask the trainer and found out it was illegal, which prompted him to stop taking it immediately.
However, the banned substance was already in his system and showed up as positive on an NCAA drug test. Jarmon had opted not to enter the 2009 NFL Draft after receiving a fourth- or fifth-round draft grade from the league advisory committee, but won’t be able to take advantage of his senior year to improve his draft stock.
Jarmon, Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks and athletic director Mitch Barnhart called a press conference to address the suspension. A tearful Jarmon said he was responsible for his mistake of not checking with the training staff prior to taking the supplement and apologized to the university for letting them down.
“It was my responsibility to research this before I bought it or have it looked at by someone in our athletic facilities,” Jarmon said. “Every year we go through programs that outline and explain the rules. Clearly, I did not follow those rules on this one occasion.”
Unfortunately, such accountability is rare these days in this society. While some choose to blame others, hide and duck responsibility, Jarmon took this situation head on and addressed the matter publicly.
Brooks was shaken and upset by the news that not only his star pass rusher was not going to be returning in 2009, but that Kentucky lost a great leader, too.
“My first concern is with Jeremy and his family and what a devastating blow this is for them,” Brooks said. “There was no intent by Jeremy to do anything improper, it was an error in judgment in not checking with our staff (before taking the supplement). Jeremy has been an outstanding individual on and off the football field, and I hope that people understand the class act he has been.”
Barnhart echoed those sentiments.
He is also leaving for France next week to study abroad as he works toward a second major. Jarmon has already earned a degree in political science.
“Here’s a guy when you draw up the poster of the ideal student-athlete, he was it,” Barnhart said. “He graduated in political science, speaks two languages fluently. He was the face of our program. He never tested positive for anything before. He had a three-week window where he got a dietary supplement that caused him to test positive in a random drug test. Two weeks later, it’s out of his system, so it’s clear he wasn’t trying to gain a competitive advantage. He was rehabbing a shoulder at the time, so he wasn’t trying to get stronger.
“I love the kid, so I’m trying to figure out all the fairness in it. At some point in time, there’s got to be some credit from the NCAA in such a ruling for a kid’s track record. I don’t every want to see Jeremy labeled as a kid that took a shortcut.”
The fact that the school came out with such a strong defense about Jarmon’s character speaks volumes about him as a person. After watching him for three years, I can tell you that he’s a pretty darn good player. Had he come out in this year’s draft, I think Jarmon, who has 17.5 career sacks, would have been a better option than USC defensive end Kyle Moore in the fourth round for Tampa Bay.
Jarmon was an All-SEC performer as a sophomore, recording 62 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and forcing two fumbles. Coming off that big year, Jarmon was a marked man in 2008 and he posted only 38 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while missing the Tennessee game due to injury. Yet the production in Jarmon’s overall career should have a lot of appeal to the Buccaneers.
I’ll have to see Moore really produce in the pass rush department in training camp and the preseason before I get on his bandwagon. His seven career sacks at USC does little to excite me about the prospects of him becoming a pass rushing force in Tampa Bay. Throw in the fact that Jimmy Wilkerson is entering a contract year and will be a free agent in 2010, coupled with the inconsistent season Stylez G. White, who will turn 30 in July, had last year and the Bucs could use some more depth and talent for the future.
The New York Giants have one of the best pass rushing defensive lines in the NFL because they keep drafting defensive ends and stacking the position. Despite having Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan, the Giants drafted Justin Tuck in 2005. Despite that powerful trio, the team still spent a first-round pick on defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka in 2006.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik would be wise to follow that approach in Tampa Bay and spend a third- or fourth-round pick on Jarmon this summer, although he has not officially declared for the NFL Supplemental Draft. I envision the Bucs having to draft another defensive end next year anyway. Might as well do it ahead of time with Jarmon, who has a busy summer ahead as he will be in France finishing his second degree.
Intelligence, character, proven pass-rushing skills and very good size – what team wouldn’t want a defensive end with those attributes?
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Count Bucs wide receiver Antonio Bryant among those who gasped at Tampa Bay’s daunting schedule, which is ranked as the fifth-hardest in the NFL based on last year’s results (.580 winning percentage). But even though Atlanta checks in as the fourth-hardest (.588 winning percentage), and Carolina has the league’s second-toughest slate (.592 winning percentage), Bryant points to the travel the Bucs will have to log in the upcoming season. “I do feel like we have the hardest schedule,” Bryant said. “We play everybody Carolina plays and then we have to go coast-to-coast. We have to go to Seattle and we have to go to London. That’s what gives us the edge over them. We have a tough schedule. We play some big dogs – a lot of dogs this year. I’ve played in that NFC East. I know what the AFC East has to offer as well. It’s going to be a big season. … What gives us the edge on having the toughest season is that we have to go coast-to-coast. We have to go all the way across the world. We have to go to London and then we have to go to Seattle. Talk about night and day – literally.”
• Bucs center Jeff Faine has a back “issue” he’s dealing with. I’m not sure if it’s a muscle strain, a disc issue or back spasms. As I mentioned before, the Bucs are as tight-lipped as ever when it comes to injuries. Faine indicated that his condition –whatever it is – may not go away by the time the season starts and he’ll have to play through it. That means the Bucs better have a good backup just in case. Keep an eye on the training camp battle between Sean Mahan and rookie Rob Bruggeman. Jeremy Zuttah could be the likely front-runner if he wasn’t also in the mix to start at left guard. With Arron Sears missing some OTA time due to injury, the left guard starting assignment is wide open, according to offensive line coach Pete Mangurian, and Zuttah is contending for it.
• Count me as excited to see former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on ESPN’s Monday Night Football this year. I absolutely could not stand Tony Kornheiser, whom Gruden is replacing, and saw him as a very slight upgrade over Dennis Miller, whose comedy and commentary I enjoy – but not during a football game. ESPN erred in making Kornheiser the focal point of the show rather than football itself. The network tried to help the broadcast booth by swapping out Joe Theisman for the X’s and O’s savvy Ron Jaworski, whose commentary I enjoy. I maybe watched four Monday Night Football games last year because of my disdain for Kornheiser. Now with Gruden in the booth along with Jaws, I’ll get a double dose of X’s and O’s and learn a lot about more about the game I love. Just because of the addition of Gruden, I’ll try to catch every MNF game regardless of the teams playing. I expect Gruden will be stellar on Monday nights.
• Don’t believe all the Marvin Harrison rumors. The Bucs cut 38-year old Joey Galloway and 32-year old Ike Hilliard earlier this offseason to go with a youth movement. Harrison will turn 37 in August and if Tampa Bay were to acquire him it would make general manager Mark Dominik look like a hypocrite. As I explained in last week’s SR’s Fab 5, I could see Hilliard coming back, but Dominik seems committed to letting the young guys duke it out behind Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, despite Bryant’s claims of wanting another veteran at the receiver position.
• We had a great week with hundreds of Pewter Report/Pewter Insider renewals and subscription extensions. Remember that Father’s Day is June 21 this year, and if you are looking for a great, inexpensive gift for you, your father or grandfather, look no further than Pewter Report’s incredible “$10 Recession-Buster Subscription Special” that is still going on. You could show your dad you are fond of him with a $10 for a one-year subscription, which includes 10 issues of Pewter Report magazine and the Pewter Insider content on PewterReport.com. Or you can really show him how much you love him with a three-year subscription for just $30! Think about it. The regular price for Pewter Report is $39.99 for one year. You could renew his subscription for a whopping three years for less than the cost of one year under the regular price. We have already had well over 1,200 subscribers take advantage of this offer. Give your dad or grandpa what he wants this year with a subscription or a renewal to Pewter Report. Call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or subscribe online by clicking here.
• Pewter Report has doubled the amount of followers on Twitter since I mentioned it in the last two SR’s Fab 5 columns. Did you know that you can set your cell phone or mobile device up to receive FREE Twitter updates from us and breaking news alerts from Pewter Report’s Twitter page via text messages? Click here for details. All you need to do is set up a Twitter account, which is easy, fast and FREE, and then sign up to follow Pewter Report on Twitter by clicking here. In addition to breaking news alerts, you will also know when a story has been posted on PewterReport.com so you can quickly check it out. And to give you an incentive to follow Pewter Report on Twitter, check out a nugget of inside scoop on the Pewter Report Twitter page each time I post an SR’s Fab 5 on Sunday. Remember, after you finish SR’s Fab 5, go become a PR follower on Twitter and check out the FAB5 Extra now on our Twitter page. For those who don’t use Twitter, I’ll post that FAB5 Extra later on the Pewter Insider board on PewterReport.com to be fair.
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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