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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have failed at the one objective that head coach Jon Gruden was lamenting about at the Senior Bowl – the need for speed. Gruden wanted juice for his offense this offseason and appears to have wound up with water in free agency.
No Devery Henderson. No Bernard Berrian. No Javon Walker. No D.J. Hackett. No Bryant Johnson. No Donte` Stallworth.
No juice, right? Maybe not.
What if the juice Gruden was referring to wasn’t necessarily at the wide receiving position like all of us were thinking? What if re-signing speedy halfback Michael Bennett, signing running back Warrick Dunn and tight end Ben Troupe and adding a playmaking wide receiver in the draft is what Gruden had in mind?
Perhaps Gruden wasn’t thinking about replacing the slow-footed likes of Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Paris Warren with four Joey Galloway clones in free agency. What if Gruden went back to the NFC Wild Card game film and watched Tampa Bay’s running game provide the necessary balance to out-gain the New York Giants 78 yards to minus-2 in a first quarter that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Earnest Graham to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead?
Maybe Gruden sees that the last two times Tampa Bay won the NFC South title it was with a strong, powerful running game. After all, the Bucs’ 4-12 record in 2006 was created due to a lack of a successful running game, and in part from Chris Simms throwing seven interceptions in the first three games and rookie Bruce Gradkowski being asked to throw over 40 times in the windy Meadowlands against the Giants.
Gruden might realize that he has spent the last two drafts stockpiling offensive linemen like right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and guards Davin Joseph and Arron Sears who can power an impact running game, and he should play to their strengths.
After seeing Jeff Garcia get knocked from the Seattle game and miss the Washington, New Orleans and Houston games with a bruised back, Gruden might see that it would be wiser to have his 38-year old quarterback throw the ball about 20-25 times per game as opposed to 40-45 times that the head coach may prefer.
Maybe Gruden realizes that the Bucs win games when they run the ball at will and pass the ball successfully off play action out of a two tight end set, and wants to stick with that approach instead of his fantasy of having three dynamic wide receivers and a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback like he had in Oakland.
Yes, teams that pass the ball with great success typically score more points (see New England and Indianapolis) than run-oriented teams do. But Tampa Bay is what it is – a run-oriented team that executes better out of a two-tight end set.
Don’t believe me? Go back and look at the contest at New Orleans, which was arguably Gruden’s best game as a play-caller last year.
With a balanced offense that featured 172 yards rushing (106 by Graham), Tampa Bay rolled up 466 yards of total offense and scored 27 points against the Saints in a game that was filled with two-tight end sets and saw Galloway (seven catches for 159 yards) as the lone receiver in the formation. Tight ends Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens each scored touchdowns for the Bucs in a key, 27-23 come-from-behind win at the Superdome.
Yes, the Bucs have the personnel to feature a one-back set or three wide receivers, but don’t expect Gruden to stray from the two-tight end sets and the running game in 2008. That’s what worked so well in 2007 and produced an NFC South title and a home playoff game.
Take a look at the Bucs’ first two free agent signings on offense this offseason – a center and a blocking tight end. That should tell you something.
Jeff Faine was obviously the most important part of the puzzle in free agency. Tampa Bay was in desperate need of a solid center this offseason.
But the player signed right after him? Tight end John Gilmore, whose strength is blocking.
Tampa Bay also added another tight end in Troupe to go along with the signings of Bennett and Dunn, which further bolsters the Bucs’ ground game.
This team did nothing to upgrade the wide receiver position outside of signing journeyman Antonio Bryant, and there is no telling what type of shape he will be in for the 2008 campaign after sitting out all of last year. Who knows if he will even make the roster?
I don’t know about you, but to me, signing a center, two running backs and two tight ends tells me that the Bucs wanted to further improve their running game this offseason. Granted, there weren’t many difference-making receivers out on the free agent market in 2008 (and no, Randy Moss doesn’t count because he wasn’t about to leave Tom Brady and New England), but it just didn’t seem like improving the talent at wide receiver was a real priority in free agency. Perhaps that will change in the 2008 NFL Draft.
It’s no secret that Gruden has a strong love for the passing game. He was a former quarterback in high school and in college and works more closely with the Bucs quarterbacks and receivers than any other position on the team. If he had the likes of Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison or Brady, Moss and Wes Welker there is no doubt that he would have the Buccaneers slinging the ball all over the field.
But Gruden's strong love for winning overtakes his strong love for the passing game, and when the Bucs run the ball successfully they typically win. For Tampa Bay’s sake, it’s a good thing he found that out in 2007.
FAB 2. Last April, I wrote a column in Pewter Report’s Bucs Draft Preview that stated how most teams, including Tampa Bay, don’t take the best player available in the first round. Instead, teams draft for need.
This explains the Bucs’ selection of wide receiver Michael Clayton (2004), running back Cadillac Williams (2005), guard Davin Joseph (2006) and defensive end Gaines Adams (2007). It could be argued that the Bucs had pressing needs at those positions, evidenced by the fact that each of those first-round picks started or saw significant action as a rookie.
But this is the year I may be wrong. Where does Tampa Bay’s greatest need lie? Where would the Bucs’ first-round pick step into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2008?
Frankly, I can’t see a surefire opening.
I might say under tackle, but that would be dissing Jovan Haye, who recorded 97 tackles, six sacks, recovered four fumbles and forced two fumbles in his first full season as a starter.
Perhaps the biggest need is at cornerback, but Ronde Barber has a lock down on the right corner spot and Phillip Buchanon and Eugene Wilson have the experience and playmaking ability to keep a rookie at bay on the left side of the defense.
What about wide receiver? Joey Galloway is the starter at split end and Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton have experience on any rookie for the starting flanker role.
The Bucs have an obvious logjam at quarterback (Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese, Luke McCown, Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski), running back (Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett, Warrick Dunn and Williams) and left tackle (Luke Petitgout, Donald Penn and Anthony Davis), and positions like guard, tight end and linebacker have already been addressed through free agency and appear to be well-stocked.
Maybe this is the year the Buccaneers can truly draft the best player available in the first round, and by that I mean a player who doesn’t have to come in right away and start.
With Barber turning 33 in April and Buchanon, Wilson and Sammy Davis all in the last or only year of their contracts, the argument could be made that drafting a cornerback in the first round would be wise. Troy’s Leodis McKelvin, South Florida’s Mike Jenkins, Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers and Kansas’ Aqib Talib would be considered at No. 20 if they were still available.
With Galloway and Hilliard both in their mid-30s and questions surrounding the ability of Clayton, Maurice Stovall and Antonio Bryant stepping up and becoming a starter in Tampa Bay, using their first-round pick on a wide receiver makes sense for the Buccaneers. Houston’s Donnie Avery, Indiana’s James Hardy or Oklahoma’s Malcolm Kelly may fit the bill.
Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart is expected to slide down in the first round due to offseason toe surgery. He would be an ideal fit in the West Coast offense, as would East Carolina’s Chris Johnson. And with Dunn (33) and Bennett (29) no longer spring chickens and health concerns surrounding Williams, you can’t rule out Tampa Bay drafting a running back for the future as an insurance policy against Williams’ torn patellar tendon.
If Vanderbilt left tackle Chris Williams is on the board at number 20, don’t the Bucs have to consider taking him to solidify an already young and impressive offensive line? Petitgout will be 32 in June and Penn looked good for one year as an emergency starter, but does he have what it takes to be an elite left tackle like Williams might become?
With Jon Gruden receiving a three-year extension that puts him under contract through 2011, he may feel the time is right to finally spend a first-round draft pick on a quarterback. Louisville’s Brian Brohm may be too good to pass up if he falls to the Bucs at number 20, or Gruden may be tempted to take strong-armed Joe Flacco from Delaware in the first round. Starter Jeff Garcia just turned 38 years old, Brian Griese may be nothing better than a backup quarterback and Luke McCown may not have shown Gruden enough to warrant automatic consideration for quarterback of the future.
Cornerback, wide receiver, running back, left tackle … quarterback? This is the year when none of those positions can be ruled out. And if the right defensive end (Florida’s Derrick Harvey) or defensive tackle (LSU’s Glenn Dorsey) should miraculously slip to number 20, Tampa Bay would have to consider those positions as well. FAB 3. What you do know is that the Buccaneers have their first four draft picks in 2008 after surrendering their sixth-rounder to Kansas City for running back Michael Bennett and their seventh-rounder for quarterback Jake Plummer.
What you don’t know is the fact that Tampa Bay does indeed have seven draft choices in 2009.
Didn’t the Bucs trade away a couple of draft picks in 2009, namely for Bennett (a seventh-rounder) and quarterback Brian Griese (a sixth-rounder)? And what about the trade last year for defensive tackle Ryan Sims? What did Tampa Bay have to surrender to Kansas City for him?
It’s kind of hard to tell with all of the trades that have included “undisclosed draft picks.” By the way, isn’t the fact that NFL teams don’t disclose the full terms of a trade simply maddening? What is the point of secrecy, really?
I think the term “undisclosed draft pick” is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. NFL teams should be forced to reveal the conditions of all trades publicly. We all wind up knowing what trades did or did not consist of anyway as the 2008 draft eventually comes, as will the 2009 draft next April. So why not just declare it now for Pete’s sake? Why the secrecy?
I can’t believe someone like myself who is paid to be a Buccaneers expert had to call a team official to verify the fact that the team only had five draft picks in 2008 prior to me writing Pewter Report’s first mock draft a couple weeks ago. Hey, with all of these trades involving "undisclosed draft picks" I wasn’t 100 percent sure that Tampa Bay had its first five selectons.
So you are curious about the 2009 draft and want me to reveal what I know about the team having seven picks despite the trades for Griese and Bennett that were supposed to involve next year’s draft picks. Tampa Bay does give its 2009 sixth-round pick to Chicago for Griese, but has a chance to acquire a seventh-rounder from the Bears in 2010 if Griese meets certain conditions.
I don’t know what those conditions are, but my guess is that it is tied to passing yards or playing time. If Griese winds up starting some games, the Bucs would likely wind up losing Chicago's seventh-rounder in 2010.
So the Bucs only have six draft picks in 2009, right? Wrong.
Tampa Bay will receive a seventh-round pick from Kansas City next year for the Bennett trade. That was one of the conditional picks involved in the trade. Bennett did not rush for 400 yards with the Buccaneers in 2007 (he only rushed for 189 yards), so that allows the Bucs to get a pick from Kansas City next year. The Bucs have their own picks in rounds 1-5 and they have two seventh-rounders – their own and the Chiefs’.
It’s nice to see that Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen asks for something in return the following year – a conditional draft pick – in exchange for giving up a pick for a player in trades. I think that’s smart business.
As for Sims, with the Bucs not losing a draft pick in 2008 or 2009 for him, I guess he did not meet the conditions set forth in the trade from Kansas City that included one of those mysterious “undisclosed draft picks."
FAB 4. You may look at his sack total of 1.5 QB captures and not come away impressed with the job nose tackle Chris Hovan does for the Buccaneers, but talk to coaches and front office personnel at One Buc Place and you will soon realize just how important Hovan is to the defense. Many of those folks think that Hovan was the defensive MVP last year.
Note that under tackle Jovan Haye recorded 97 tackles last year, which ranked fourth on the team. Then note that Hovan, who drew a double team on virtually every play in 2007, was fifth on the Buccaneers with 95 tackles in 2007. Only two tackles separated Haye and Hovan, yet Hovan often had to fend off two linemen to make his tackles.
Not only does Tampa Bay value the job Hovan does in clogging the middle on running plays to allow middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to record a team-high 166 tackles last year, but he also creates one-on-one pass-rushing opportunities for Haye, who recorded six sacks from the under tackle position in 2007.
Perhaps the greatest compliment the team paid to Hovan came this offseason when Tampa Bay cut veteran defensive ends Greg Spires and Kevin Carter. That move left Hovan as the lone Bucs defensive lineman with experience and clout on the roster.
The hard-working Spires led by example and had Super Bowl champion credentials. Carter immediately had the respect of the team walking in the Bucs locker room as a 13-year veteran that had demonstrated staying power in the league.
When Spires and Carter were released on February 28, it was a sign that the Buccaneers had confidence in Hovan’s leadership ability. At the time, the only veteran defensive linemen who had more than five years experience aside from Hovan were tackle Ryan Sims and end Patrick Chukwurah, but both players were reserves last year and did not establish themselves in their first season in Tampa Bay.
The reason why Hovan’s leadership role is important in Tampa Bay is because three of the team’s best pass rushers and most active defensive linemen – Haye and defensive ends Greg White and Gaines Adams – are entering their second season as starters in 2008. Without solid leadership keeping those young players grounded, a big head syndrome could emerge from the guys that experienced a reasonable amount of success in their first real season of NFL action.
Tampa Bay ultimately signed veteran defensive end Marques Douglas and re-signed Carter, but there was no assurance that the Bucs would wind up with either one of these players in March. Having Carter and Douglas takes some pressure off the hard-working Hovan in the meeting rooms and on the practice field, and gives Tampa Bay an insurance policy in case the veteran nose tackle were to be sidelined with an injury in 2008.
He may not make a lot of splash plays and light up the stats sheet in the sack column, but now you know how valuable Hovan is to the Buccaneers and just how highly the team holds him in regard. The fact that Tampa Bay was willing to head into the 2008 season with Hovan as the lone proven veteran speaks volumes about his value to the team.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next SR’s Fab 5 column.
• If you haven’t taken part in PewterReport.com’s Pewter Petition yet, please do so today. We’ve had over 700 Bucs fans participate in the first week to let the Buccaneers know that there is a real interest from the Tampa Bay fan base in seeing a Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. But given the amount of traffic we have on our website on a daily basis (between 10,000-18,000 Bucs fans), we haven’t scratched the surface yet. If you have already participated, please do your part to help our efforts by e-mailing other Bucs fans or posting this link – https://www.pewterreport.com/articles/view/3993 – on other message boards and encouraging other Tampa Bay fans to participate. Thank you.
• The amazing dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons continues. After parting ways with defensive tackle Rod Coleman and tight end Alge Crumpler, arguably the team’s best pass rusher and offensive weapon, respectively, and then cutting veteran running back Warrick Dunn once Michael Turner was signed, the Falcons kept on getting rid of their best players by trading away cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Hall, a former Pro Bowler, was dealt to Oakland for a second-round pick in 2008 and a fifth-round choice in 2009. Yes, Atlanta has acquired a talented runner in Turner this offseason, but he is unproven as a feature back over a 16-game season and he needs a quality line to run behind. Turner went from running behind the best offensive line in the NFL in San Diego to perhaps the league’s worst line in Atlanta. The Falcons have a chance to add some real impact players in the 2008 NFL Draft with the third overall pick and three second-round selections, including Oakland’s, but they better hit on all four premium picks as they let a lot of experience and playmaking ability walk out the door when Atlanta parted ways with Coleman, Crumpler, Dunn and Hall.
• There have been reports that Texas running back Jamaal Charles, who was scouted hard and heavy by the Bucs at the Texas Pro Day, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne and Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm all have private visits scheduled with Tampa Bay in April. PewterReport.com is working to get these visits confirmed, but we can exclusively confirm the fact that the USF cornerback tandem of Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams visited One Buc Place in mid-March and watched film with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Kiffin previously went to the USF pro day to watch both corners perform on March 7. PewterReport.com can also exclusively confirm the Bucs also worked out Appalachian State receiver Dexter Jackson privately on campus in March and plan to bring him in for a visit in April. As we continue to learn which players are coming in to Tampa Bay for a visit we’ll report them at PewterReport.com.
• Speaking of USF’s Mike Jenkins, he may be the top cornerback on Tampa Bay’s draft board. But apparently he’s also highly thought of by New England, which has the seventh overall pick. Due to the loss of Asante Samuel, Randall Gay and Eugene Wilson, it is believed the Patriots will draft a cornerback in round one. The Tampa Tribune’s USF beat writer, Brett McMurphy, reported that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was in Tampa last week personally working out Jenkins and fellow cornerback Trae Williams, who is projected to be a fifth-round pick, and watching film of the USF-Louisville game with them. I would love to see Jenkins fall to the Bucs in the first round at number 20, but the reality is that he would have to slide past cornerback-needy teams like New England (7), New Orleans (10), Buffalo (11), Detroit (15) and Houston (17) in order for that to happen.
• I spent some time watching some game film of cornerbacks this week and the one guy who really stood out to me was Virginia Tech junior Brandon Flowers. Out of all of the cornerbacks in this draft, he may be the best fit – not the most talented, but the best fit – for what Tampa Bay does defensively. Flowers could be the hardest-hitting cornerback in the entire draft and that is one of the prerequisites for a Tampa Bay corner who is going to play for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. Over the past two years as a starter, Flowers has recorded 137 tackles, 27 passes broken up, eight interceptions and 3.5 sacks. The former Hokies star has great ball skills, instincts and absolutely loves to tackle. Flowers is a better football player than he is an athlete and his disappointing NFL Combine numbers showed that with a 4.56 time in the 40-yard dash. Flowers will have a chance to run a better 40-yard dash time on March 27 at his pro day. Expect the Bucs to be interested in the result as it could determine whether Flowers is a late first or early second-round pick on April 26. If Tampa Bay misses out on Jenkins and Flowers, Arizona’s Antoine Cason or Indiana’s Tracy Porter could be options in the second round, but the Bucs would have to trade up in the round to get either of those players. In the later rounds on Day 2, San Jose State’s Dwight Lowery and Kansas State’s Justin McKinney are Tampa Bay-type corners.
• Although new Bucs center Jeff Faine is well regarded for his toughness and aggressive play, he wants to be known as a technician. “I work my technique to death,” Faine said. “That’s one thing I pride myself on, is that I have really good technique. That’s the thing, it’s always a work in progress. I won’t say that I have perfect technique, but I will say that I have really good technique. That’s something that gives me the upper advantage – my hand placement – that’s the thing that I think is very underrated for guys coming out. I was terrible in college with my hands. But you get into the NFL and you have to learn quickly how to use your hands or else you’re just going to get your lunch handed to you.” I have always likened the 6-foot-3, 291-pound Faine to a bigger version of former Bucs center Jeff Christy. After meeting Faine on Wednesday and hearing the quote I just delivered to you, those comparisions are valid. Emulating Christy, a former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, is certainly not a bad thing for Faine to do.
• I’m going to come out and say it. I absolutely can’t wait to see Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan and new center Jeff Faine battle in full pads in training camp. It’s going to be a war in Orlando and I expect to see these highly competitive players, who were once enemies, really duke it out in camp – literally. I would be shocked if the fists don’t fly in late July. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some skirmishes between Hovan and Faine in the OTA days before camp, either.
• Just a reminder to help our efforts here at PewterReport.com by clicking the advertising banners on our story pages in addition to the Ads by Google on the message boards. It only takes a second to do this, and I ask that you click each ad you see daily or every time you come to the message boards. By doing so, that helps us recover the costs associated with our reporting and operating and maintaining the PewterReport.com site and message board. It also helps keep the regular costs of our subscriptions down too, and allows us to periodically lower the price for new subscribers, so you’re actually doing yourself a favor by clicking those Google ads. As always, we appreciate your support here at PewterReport.com and I thank you for your clicks.
• There will be a new mock draft up on PewterReport.com next week. Stay tuned!
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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