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Here are five things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. The Buccaneers didn’t pull the trigger for Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams, and in hindsight, it was probably a good idea that they didn’t. Dallas forked over a first-round pick, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick, which is too much compensation for Williams’ services.
As much as the Bucs need a legit number one receiver for now and the future – after Joey Galloway retires – giving up that many draft picks would have been foolish for the Buccaneers. A first-round pick is one thing, and while there is no telling who Tampa Bay would draft in the third and sixth rounds, it would have been guard Jeremy Zuttah and linebacker Geno Hayes if those picks were the ones from this past draft.
I don’t know about you, but I don't think the Bucs would be 4-2 without the efforts of those two rookies. Zuttah started the first four games of the season while right guard Davin Joseph was sidelined with a broken foot. He also played most of the game at left guard last Sunday while Arron Sears was nursing an injured knee.
Hayes has shown great instincts and tremendous thump as a hard-hitting weakside linebacker. He could be Derrick Brooks’ heir apparent and has totally surprised me with how well (and how quickly) he has adjusted his game to the NFL. Hayes’ blocked punt for a touchdown gave Tampa Bay the momentum in the first quarter necessary to score a key, NFC South win over the Panthers.
From what Pewter Report has been able to find out, the Bucs had some interest in Williams, but thought that the cost would be prohibitive, especially for a receiver who was slated to become a free agent in 2009. The risk in trading for a player that will become a sought-after free agent in six months is that unless Tampa Bay could pay Williams a real market value contract, the Bucs might have to franchise Williams to ensure they don’t lose him if the two sides can’t agree to terms before free agency.
Within NFL circles, Williams had made it known that he wanted to be a Cowboy. He grew up in Odessa, Texas and went to the legendary Permian High School of Friday Night Lights fame before going to the University of Texas in Austin. The Buccaneers thought that if Williams didn’t like his stay in Tampa Bay, they knew that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would be aggressive in pursuing him in free agency. Had Williams been under contract for 2009 or longer that may have caused the Bucs to be more interested in trading for him. But once the Cowboys showed signs of interest and knowing that Jones would pay just about any price to get Williams, Tampa Bay’s interest waned.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he likes his wide receiving corps. He also said back in 2006 that he thought Bruce Gradkowski would be a good quarterback in the NFL. Galloway’s birthday is next month, and he’ll be 37 years old next November. Ike Hilliard will be 33 next year.
Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant will be free agents at year’s end and neither have shown that they can be a consistent playmaker on a weekly basis. They are more complementary receivers than they are lead receivers at this stage of their respective careers.
Third-year receiver Maurice Stovall has been a big disappointment on offense and who knows if rookie Dexter Jackson, who has struggled mightily with punt returns, will ever develop as a receiver. He does not have a catch through six games and has barely seen the field on offense.
Without Williams, Tampa Bay’s search for a playmaking wide receiver will have to continue next offseason.
FAB 2. Why is it so imperative that the Bucs find an heir apparent to the aging and recently oft-injured Joey Galloway? Since 2005, only two wide receivers – other than Galloway – have posted 100-yard games. Those two players are Ike Hilliard, who did that in 2007, and Antonio Bryant, who had a 138-yard game against Chicago this season.
In 2007, Galloway produced three 100-yard receiving games. Hilliard was the only other receiver who posted a 100-yard receiving game that year, catching seven passes for 114 yards at Carolina.
During the 2006 campaign, Galloway had four 100-yard receiving performances after having the same amount of 100-yard days the year before. In both 2006 and 2005, Tampa Bay did not have a 100-yard receiver other than Galloway.
In 2004, Michael Clayton had two 100-yard games during a sensational rookie year, Bill Schroeder had a 100-yard game and running back Michael Pittman had a 100-yard game as a receiver, too.
Galloway has posted three 1,000-yard seasons in consecutive years, which is a franchise record, but he has received little help as Tampa Bay has not had a true number two wide receiver line up opposite him during his tenure with the Buccaneers. When Tampa Bay had a more complete and talented wide receiving corps with Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, all three pass-catchers produced big plays and had big games.
During the 2003 season, Johnson had two 100-yard receiving games before being suspended by the team, while McCardell had four 100-yard games in his Pro Bowl season. In the 2002 Super Bowl season, even though the wide receivers were more of the possession variety, the Bucs got three 100-yard games out of Johnson, two 100-yard games out of McCardell and one one 100-yard effort from Jurevicius.
Tampa Bay should be concerned about the fact that without Galloway for most of the 2008 season, the team has had just one 100-yard game (Bryant vs. Chicago), the Bucs’ longest pass play of the year is just 38 yards (Bryant vs. Chicago) and of the team’s nine pass plays longer than 20 yards, the receivers have produced just four. That, Bucs fans, is a glimpse of the future without Galloway.
Yes, the Bucs have fared well in Galloway’s absence, bolting out to a 4-2 record. But there will come a time – like the playoff game against the New York Giants – where the Bucs will fall behind and have to play catch-up in a hurry. Due to a lack of speed and firepower from the receiver position, Tampa Bay may very well fall short unless Galloway returns to form and stays healthy.
And unless Galloway comes back on a tear, the Bucs will not have a 1,000-yard receiver in 2008. Bryant leads the team with 291 yards on 25 catches, but only averages 48.5 yards per game and is on pace for 776 receiving yards.
Other teams have complementary or backup receivers that have posted more 100-yard games than Tampa Bay has produced. That’s not too much to ask.
Pittsburgh’s number two wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, has four 100-yard receiving games over the past three years. Unheralded Philadelphia reserve wide receiver Hank Baskett has three 100-yard games over the past three years. Dallas’ complementary receiver Patrick Crayton has two 100-yard games over the same time frame.
But Clayton only has two 100-yard games in his entire Buccaneers career that dates back five years. Hilliard and Bryant only have one 100-yard game in pewter and red.
With Dallas’ Roy Williams and Buffalo’s Lee Evans locked up with big-money contract extensions, the free agency class of 2009 looks rather bare outside of Cincinnati’s T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
When it comes to the 2009 NFL Draft, the best wide receivers in the nation are underclassmen, such as Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, Florida’s Percy Harvin, North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks, Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rutgers’ Kenny Britt. The top senior receivers consist of Penn State’s Derrick Williams, Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie, Florida’s Louis Murphy, Oklahoma’s Juaquin Iglesias and Clemson’s Aaron Kelly – none of whom project to be drafted in the first round.
So what does all this mean? The Bucs will continue to rely heavily on Galloway as the team’s lone big-play wide receiver and hope that he neither gets hurt nor retires any time soon.
FAB 3. With wide receiver being a continual position of need in Tampa Bay, there has been much discussion about which wide receivers I’ve been scouting this fall. I outlined several receivers I would be targeting in 2008 in a Pewter Insider article prior to the start of the season. Many of these prospects are top-shelf juniors like Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, Florida’s Percy Harvin, Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree and North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks, but all of those players have been in nationally televised games and most draftniks have seen them play.
Here are a trio of off-the-radar senior draft prospects that aren’t as mainstream as those aforementioned names, but are worth keeping an eye on:
Rice WR Jarrett Dillard At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Dillard doesn’t have the frame of a typical big-play wide receiver. But with a 42-inch vertical, toughness and an uncanny knack for catching the ball in traffic, Dillard plays like he’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. Dillard has 251 catches for 3,502 yards and an insane 51 touchdowns. Dillard’s breakout season came during his sophomore campaign in 2006 when he hauled in 91 catches for 1,247 yards and an eye-opening 21 touchdowns. He “slumped” as a junior with “only” 79 catches for 1,057 yards and 14 touchdowns. With at least five games remaining in 2008, Dillard has posted 53 catches for 815 yards and 14 touchdowns. Dillard has eight games with three touchdowns and 14 games with at least 100 yards receiving.
Tulsa WR Brennan Marion After coming to Tulsa from junior college, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Marion set an NCAA record for receiving average with 31.9 yards per catch. Marion totaled 1,244 and 11 touchdowns on 39 catches – and that’s with two games with only one catch and one game with no receptions. He’s got 10 100-yard receiving games in his short career for the Golden Hurricane – and Marion is not even the team’s primary receiver as Tulsa spreads the ball around. Marion, who has 28 catches for 755 yards and seven touchdowns had a colossal career day against UTEP on Saturday with six catches for 233 yards and three touchdowns, including a 97-yarder that showcased his legit 4.3 speed. Marion is averaging 26.9 yards per catch in 2008. You want to talk about an ideal replacement for Galloway? Marion is your man. I absolutely love this kid's speed and soft hands.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo WR Ramses Barden Barden has 28 catches for 626 yards and seven touchdowns through four games this season and is averaging 22.4 yards per catch. Last year, Barden burst onto the scene 57 catches for 1,467 yards (25.7 avg.) and 18 touchdowns. Yes, Barden is a Division I-A product, but so was Northern Colorado’s Vincent Jackson, who was a third-round pick by San Diego. What makes Barden an intriguing prospect is the fact that he is 6-foot-6, 227 pounds. He’s not going to light it up in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but neither did Marques Colston. Barden, who has 167 career catches for 3,572 and 39 scores, will get knocked for his lack of separation ability, but look at his average. And with his monstrous frame and leaping ability he’s open – even when he’s covered.
All three of these receivers currently project as second-day draft picks. How they finish the season and perform at the Combine and at their respective pro days will ultimately determine how soon they are selected.
I’ve already discussed with you my disappointment over the career-ending neck injury that Ball State wide receiver Dante Love suffered at Indiana a few weeks ago. Love, who was one of my favorite senior prospects, finished his playing career with 199 catches for 2,778 yards and 20 touchdowns to go along with 87 carries for 428 yards and four scores. On special teams, Love returned 93 kickoffs for 2,129 yards and two touchdowns.
Well, disappointment struck again as North Carolina’s Brandon Tate was lost for the year with a torn ACL against Notre Dame. Tate is the all-time NCAA leader for kick return yardage with 2,688 yards and three scores on 109 returns. Tate also returned 79 punts for 835 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound was developing as a receiver this year, catching 16 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns before the injury. Last year, Tate hauled in 25 passes for 479 yards and five scores. For his career, Tate had rushed 26 times for 294 yards and two scores.
Tate had great quickness, agility and a 40-time somewhere between 4.3-4.4 before his knee injury and would have looked good in red and pewter as a third-round pick. With a successful rehab, that still may happen.
FAB 4. Here are my thoughts after watching the game film of Tampa Bay’s 27-3 victory over the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers last Sunday:
• How in the world did defensive end Gaines Adams not come up with that interception on Carolina’s second play of the game? What a weapon Adams is. Not only can he impact the play of opposing quarterbacks by rushing from the left and right edges, but he can also drop into coverage effortlessly and effectively. Adams, who already has two picks this year, could realistically wind up with 10 interceptions or more when his career is over. That’s an absurd number for a defensive end and that’s what makes him a special player.
• Oh, how defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is getting creative with his zone blitzes. On Carolina’s first third down (third-and-9) of the game, rookie cornerback Aqib Talib moved from the right corner position into the slot next to defensive end Greg White. Then free safety Tanard Jackson, a former cornerback at Syracuse, slid over to cover wide receiver Steve Smith, whom Talib was previously guarding. Talib came on a blitz and Jackson’s coverage on Smith was so good that quarterback Jake Delhomme dumped it down to fullback Brad Hoover.
• Credit Geno Hayes for a perfectly executed punt block against Carolina, but special teams coach Rich Bisaccia and assistant special teams coach Dwayne Stukes also deserve plenty of credit, too. They targeted tight end Dante Rosario, who had given up a punt block earlier in the year against Chicago. The Bucs coaches schemed to take advantage of Rosario’s soft blocking ability and it worked to perfection.
• Hats off to head coach Jon Gruden for being more aggressive with his playcalling against Carolina after a somewhat conservative and timid game plan and execution against Denver the previous week. That 29-yard pass from quarterback Jeff Garcia to tight end Alex Smith was just what this team needed. After coming into this week with just five passes over 20 yards throughout the entire year, the Bucs offense rolled up four passes of 20 yards or more against Carolina alone.
• Tampa Bay’s safeties are asked to do so much in terms of coverage and run support that it’s natural that fatigue sets in, especially on a hot and humid day at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs are fortunate to have a reserve like Sabby Piscitelli, who is playing so well. Piscitelli is getting playing time at both safety spots and Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips are getting the breathers they need to stay fresh for the fourth quarter.
• The Bucs lost the chance to get a safety against Carolina. With 4:53 left in the second quarter, left tackle Jordan Gross was flagged for holding (and essentially tackling) defensive end Gaines Adams in the end zone while quarterback Jake Delhomme was attempting to throw the ball. Holding in the end zone is a safety, but on that play, the Bucs were guilty of illegal contact (linebacker Derrick Brooks) and taunting (safety Jermaine Philips).
• Reserve running back Michael Bennett made a huge impact filling in for an injured Maurice Stovall as the team’s flier on punt coverage. Bennett downed two Josh Bidwell punts inside the 5-yard line, including the one that safety Sabby Piscitelli kept from going into the end zone at the Carolina 1-yard line. Bennett may not be getting the opportunities he wants on offense, but he is using his 4.3 speed to make plays on special teams.
• Earnest Graham scored his second touchdown from the fullback position this year against Carolina. How fitting after spending most of the day as Warrick Dunn’s lead blocker after Byron Storer’s torn ACL knee injury versus the Panthers. When Jon Gruden said that Graham played the fullback position as well as any fullback has played it in Tampa Bay, Gruden was right. I could list a couple of plays for you and describe how well he played fullback, but that would be cheating the plays that I wouldn’t list. Graham made effective block after effective block against Carolina and deserved every accolade he received from Gruden and his teammates after the game. What a player Graham is.
• Cornerback Elbert Mack got some quality playing time in the fourth quarter and made a great tackle while displaying some great coverage. Mack lined up across from fellow rookie cornerback Aqib Talib late in the game. Take a picture. The sight of two rookie cornerbacks on the field at the same time in a Monte Kiffin defense is a rare sight. From the coaches standpoint, the Bucs offense really helped out the defense and allowed the defensive coaches to clear the bench in the fourth quarter. Ryan Sims and Jimmy Wilkerson replaced Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan at defensive tackle. Geno Hayes, Adam Hayward and Quincy Black subbed in at linebacker. And Will Allen moved into the nickel cornerback position while Ronde Barber moved to free safety. That’s right. Barber was playing safety at the end of the fourth quarter, just like Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn reported in last week’s Flynn’s Focus.
FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 – after a word from our sponsor.
SR’s FAB 5 SPONSOR: GAINESVILLE COINS Please allow me to introduce you to a new section in each SR’s Fab 5, which recognizes one of Pewter Report’s sponsors. I ask you to read this paragraph in each edition as it is these companies that support our efforts and make it possible for you to enjoy Pewter Report’s coverage of the Buccaneers. This week’s sponsor is Gainesville Coins. You’ve probably seen Gainesville Coins’ banner ads at the top of PewterReport.com promoting their Collect for a Cause program. Gainesville Coin partnered with Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia through Pewter Report, and the Collect for a Cause program benefits the Garcia Pass It On Foundation charities. With the value of the U.S. dollar falling and the price of gold on the rise, now may be the time to buy some gold coins and invest in gold. With each purchase from Gainesville Coins, you’ll be benefitting Garcia’s charitable foundation, too. Thus far, the program has raised $4,200. Visit GainesvilleCoins.com, buy some gold coins and up that total. It’s a win-win situation for you, Gainesville Coins and the Garcia Pass It On Foundation.
• By now you know that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has a dog house and has been known to hold a grudge. Gruden, who was agitated at former running backs coach Art Valero’s unkind parting shots in the offseason, fired a salvo his way while praising the work of new running backs coach Richard Bisaccia. “We’ve got a really good coach here. He's the best backfield coach we've had. He's an outstanding special teams coach. He's one of the very top leaders that we have here. He's one of the hardest working guys that we have here. He’s a great coach and I want him to have his much responsibility and hands-on as he can get. Tim Berbenich, our young quality control man and assistant running backs coach, has really helped him. But I’ll go to my grave on Rich Bisaccia; he’s a heck of a football coach and he’s a loyal, hard-working guy and they're hard to find like that. He’s a hard guy, man. He’s a tough guy, man. He’s a tough guy.” Notice the line, “He’s the best backfield coach we’ve had”? That was intended for Valero, who was on Gruden’s staff from 2002-07. Zinger.
• Quarterback Jeff Garcia’s performance against Carolina last Sunday upped his career QB rating in Tampa Bay to 92.9, makes him the franchise’s all-time passing leader. Heading into the Panthers game, Luke McCown was actually Tampa Bay’s all-time career passer in terms of QB rating with 91.7. Garcia was second with a 91.6 QB rating. In case you are interested, Tim Rattay ranks third with an 88.2 QB rating, followed by Brian Griese’s 85.4 QB rating. Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson is fifth in team history with an 83.2 QB rating.
• It’s amazing that Buccaneers strong safety Sabby Piscitelli only missed one week after dislocating his elbow against Green Bay. After sitting out the Denver game, Piscitelli returned to action against Carolina last week. “I tried not to think about,” Piscitelli said. “It’s one of those things where you have to learn how to play through the pain of an injury. I tried to avoid it and not think about it as much as I could. After watching the film, I think I did a pretty good job of not babying it. I just went out there and tried to make some plays. I’m just going to keep rehabbing it and getting it stronger. It was just a freak accident. I guess karma is catching up to me. I’ve never been dinged up and now I’ve had another freak accident. I’m just glad it wasn’t worse and that I only missed one game.” Piscitelli remembers the play the injury occurred on and recounts that for Pewter Report. “It was the same play that Aaron Rodgers hurt his shoulder on,” Piscitelli said. “I was covering a receiver and the receiver tried to turn. I was off balance already and he gave me a swim move or a push and I fell back. I put my hands out so I could catch myself and pop back up to cover him and then my elbow snapped under me. I don’t know if one my hands slipped or hit a hole in the turf. How many times have you put your hands down to catch yourself? A million? I just thank God that it’s not worse. I didn’t go down or stay out on the field. I just ran off. My parents didn’t even know I was hurt. It was scary, though. It was instant pain. All I heard was some snaps, crackles and pops. It’s behind me now and I’m almost at 100 percent, so I’m good.”
• Pewter Report’s perfect 5-0 start in terms of the Bucs’ game-by-game predictions from our Season Kickoff Issue came to an end in last week’s 27-3 win over Carolina, a game that PR had forecasted Tampa Bay to lose. Bucs fans certainly didn’t shed any tears over the fact that we missed our first Bucs prediction after getting off to the best start we’ve ever had in 14 years of covering this team. That’s fine with us. Pewter Report should get back on track this week as we picked the Bucs to beat the Seahawks. Should that happen, Tampa Bay would be 5-2 on the season – and in PR’s mind – playing with house money. With an injured and struggling Cowboys team looming next Sunday, a previously forecasted loss at Dallas is not the slam dunk it once seemed back in August. Even if the Bucs should lose in Dallas, Tampa Bay would be 5-3 heading into a winnable game at hapless Kansas City. A win there and victories against a mediocre Minnesota team at Raymond James Stadium and at Detroit the following weeks would propel the Bucs to a 7-3 record by the time the Saints visit Tampa Bay on November 30. You would take that, wouldn’t you, Bucs fans? If that were to happen, Pewter Report’s prediction of a 10-6 record would look very attainable heading into December.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost one of their biggest fans on last Saturday, October 11 when Laura McCoy passed away after a long battle with cancer. Pewter Report is deeply saddened by this news as Laura used to work for then-Buccaneer Magazine in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In addition to being a big part of the Buccaneer Magazine and Authentic Team Merchandise family, Laura helped support her fellow Bucs fans and friends. She played an integral role in helping fund Jackie Riles' trip to the NFL Fan Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio when she was inducted into the Hall as the "Pillow Lady" several years ago. Laura is survived by her husband, Brian, and her three children, Norbie, Brittany, Hunter and several grandchildren. Laura had a tremendous passion for the Buccaneers and life. She was a wonderful person and will be missed. Rest in peace, Laura.
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: email@example.com
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