SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. DEMPS’ UNIQUE SPEED COULD BE A REAL WEAPON IN TAMPA BAY’S NEW OFFENSE
Tampa Bay wrapped up the first three-day mini-camp in the Lovie Smith era on Thursday and running back Jeff Demps was clearly one of the stars. Demps, who has sub 4.3 speed and elite quickness, was a blur with the ball in his hands either as a running back or a receiver out of the backfield or lined up in the slot or out wide.
Smith and new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford were like kids on Christmas morning on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place and the speedy Demps, who at age 23 won an Olympic silver medal last year as a member of the U.S. track team, was their new toy.
“I’ve never had a chance to coach the fastest guy in the NFL and we talked about his commitment to football,” Smith said. “He loves track, but he considers himself a football player and he’s anxious to get started with whatever position we ask him to play, whether it’s running back or wide receiver or returning kicks. Again, we’re a new staff coming in so we’re going to give guys an option to do what they feel like they do best.”
Just how fast is Demps? He won the 2010 100 meters outdoor national championship at the University of Florida with a 9.96 time. In 2011, Demps won the 60 meters individual national championship and the team indoor national championship for the Gators as the fastest track star in college.
Demps showed he could do it all with his speed during the three-day mini-camp, knifing through the offensive line to break off a long run, lining up as a receiver, catching passes in the flat as an outlet receiver and turning those plays into big gains, and running go routes as a receiver. Demps did the latter on Wednesday as a wide receiver matched up with linebacker Ka’lial Glaud.
With just five steps off the line of scrimmage Demps burned Glaud by eight yards, but dropped a perfectly thrown, 60-yard pass by Josh McCown at the goal line. Glaud yelled because he was toasted and gave up what should have been a touchdown. Demps yelled because he missed he couldn’t complete the big play by hauling in McCown’s bomb.
“He is definitely the fastest guy in the NFL and you see that quickness,” Smith said. “We have to find a way to use that speed. He has good hands even though he dropped the long one yesterday; I’ve been talking to him about that ever since.”
While Demps didn’t score a touchdown on that play, he scored a lot of points with Smith, Tedford and the Bucs coaching staff, which are now are charged with the responsibility to get him on the field and get the ball in his hands.
“There are some things you can do with a guy like that, whether it be with returns or [runs or receptions] – it’s on us now to find some ways to use him,” Smith said.
Demps is already doing his part to earn playing time and touches by showing his commitment to football and showing up for the Bucs’ offseason program. It was a different story last year after the Bucs acquired him in a draft day trade with New England and he opted to run track during the offseason and summer before reporting to Tampa Bay after training camp and the preseason had concluded.
“He’s committed,” Smith said. “I called Jeff – I was on the job for less than a month or so, and wanted to talk to him about where his commitment was. Do you want to win another Olympic medal or do you want to be a good football player? And he let me know he was totally committed to being the best football player he can be. He’s been here every day and I saw a lot good things from him.”
Demps starred on the football field at the University of Florida where he finished his time in Gainesville as the school’s eighth-leading rusher with 2,470 yards on 367 carries, a 6.7 average, 23 touchdowns on the ground and 10 games in which he had at least 100 yards rushing. The 5-foot-7 speedster is committed to finding that same level of success in the NFL.
“I’m focused on ball right now, I’m here,” Demps said. “I’m trying to get the system down. As far as track, I’m just concentrating on football this year – the whole year.
“I want to be in football mode so I can get my lateral movement, focus on getting stronger, put a little more weight on. I’m 188 right now. I came in around 182 last year. I’m trying to bulk up a little bit.”
Demps admittedly wasn’t in football shape last year and only saw action in two games. In his debut against Arizona, Demps had a 14-yard run on his first carry and caught an 8-yard pass. In Tampa Bay’s next game against Philadelphia, Demps had two catches for 13 yards, including a 10-yarder, before tearing his groin because he was in track shape, but not fully conditioned for football at the time. That injury required surgery and landed him on injured reserve.
“Last year was kind of tough,” Demps said. “I felt like I was getting back in the football swing of things and then to have a freakish injury it was disappointing for me to be on IR for the second straight year. That was real depressing. I just had to stay positive and keep positive people around me, just rehab and get back healthy.”
With Michael Smith already on injured reserve, Demps also saw starting halfback Doug Martin land on IR with a torn labrum by midseason, followed by rookie Mike James, who suffered a broken ankle in the Bucs’ first win of the 2013 season in Week 9 against Miami. With the Bucs in desperate need of running backs, the team had to sign Bobby Rainey and Michael Hill off the street just to finish the season. Had Demps been healthy he would have had a golden opportunity for playing time at the end of the season.
“It was just a tough year, seeing everybody struggle with injuries and not being able to contribute to the team,” Demps said. “I’m very excited about the year, but the main thing is staying healthy. I mean if I believe I can actually stay healthy, I think I can contribute pretty good to the team.”
Martin is fully recovered from his shoulder injury and is expected to carry the load as the starter. But Tedford will undoubtedly find ways to get the ball into Demps’ hands on a weekly basis, especially after such a sensational first impression during the team’s mini-camp.
New Bucs nickel cornerback D.J. Moore played with receiver and kick returner Devin Hester in Chicago. While Hester is known as a burner, Moore said that Demps has a different gear.
“He’s a track star,” Moore said. “The fastest person I’ve seen on the field is [former Tennessee running back] Chris Johnson. When he takes off you’re not catching him. With Demps, you can see his speed in practice. I can’t wait to see him in a game. You’ve seen him in the Olympics. He’s got it on the clock. If you’re running below a 10 [in the 100 meters], you’re the fastest guy.”
Demps was equally effective in mini-camp as a running back and a receiver on flare passes out of the backfield to attack the flank or down the field on go routes. Demps nabbed 57 passes in his career for 481 yards, an 8.4 average, at the University of Florida.
“During this offseason I’ve been getting some slot stuff and working on my hands,” Demps said. “If they do decide to throw me out to the slot I think I’ll be pretty comfortable with it as long as I can catch the ball.”
Demps had 10 runs of 40 yards or more, including five over 60 yards, at Florida, in addition to a 61-yard catch and a 72-yard reception. Tedford talks about wanting to get “speed in space,” and that’s a phrase that seems to be tailor-made for Demps’ skill set.
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but whatever they ask me to do I’m just going to do it,” Demps said. “Whether it’s as a running back coming out of backfield, or lining up in the slot and running a few routes, but whatever they ask me to do, whenever they call my number, I’m just going to do the best that I can.”
Currently the third-string running back behind Martin and Rainey, Demps will also be expected to make an impact on special teams given his place on the depth chart. The Winter Garden, Fla. native’s speed put him position to be an effective kickoff returner for the Gators, and that’s a role he will likely contend for in Tampa Bay this year. Demps averaged 28.8 yards on 61 returns including a career long 99-yard touchdown return his senior season.
“I’m on almost all of the special team units, as far as return I think I’ll return some,” Demps said. “We’ll see, I think I’m on kick-off return, I’m not sure about punt return. Like I said, if my number’s called you know I’m just excited to go out and make something happen.
“I also did punt block at Florida. I had two or three. If they need me there I’ll do it. At Florida we looked forward to blocking kicks. If they want me to block punts, I’ll do. I’ll take advantage of that opportunity, too.”
Despite Smith routinely saying he’s the fastest player in football, Demps is as humble as they come. While his new head coach heaps a heavy dose of praise and admiration on him, Demps still maintains a deep sense of humility.
“I don’t know, it doesn’t really sink in,” Demps said. “I know I’m fast and how God has blessed me. It doesn’t press a certain button, rub me the wrong way or give me a big head when people say that about me. If you’re fast, you’re fast.”
In Demps’ case, he’s the fastest football player in the country.
“Yeah, I definitely feel like I’m the fastest,” Demps said.
See how fast Demps is for yourself by watching this highlight video.
FAB 2. WITH A RB STABLE FULL OF TALENT, MARTIN BETTER NOT LOSE HIS GRIP ON STARTING ROLE
Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith made it clear that Doug Martin will be the team’s starting rusher this year. In this week’s mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place, Martin was back on the field after successfully rehabbing a torn labrum and made a few nice runs.
“He’s done everything, taken every rep we’ve asked him to,” Smith said. “Doug has been around here rehabbing a lot but to finally see him on the football field – he’s compact, he runs downhill an awful lot, but the wiggle that he has of making people miss in the open field. Happy guy, I like being around him. He takes coaching. If you’ve seen (running backs coach Tim) Spencer he’s had a smile on his face quite a bit.”
But Smith has also made it clear that the team’s stable of running backs, which includes Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Jeff Demps, will also see their share of opportunities because of the talent and depth at the poistion. The speed and quickness that Rainey and Demps displayed during the three-day mini-camp really stood out – perhaps even more so than Martin – while James sat out while still rehabbing his left ankle, which he broke against Miami in Tampa Bay’s first win of the season.
“I love what I’ve seen from them,” Smith said. “We have three running backs that have a 100-yard game on record and that’s hard for most teams to say. I like the quickness that they have. I went in the room the other day and I asked them if there was a requirement of being under 5-foot-10 to be in this room. I like everything about all of them. They can catch the ball even though they haven’t been used that way. They can run inside the tackles. They have good quickness. They can make you miss. They come to work with a smile on their face every day. Again, that group of guys that we’re going to have and as far as how many play, we’ll have – Doug Martin is our starter, but Bobby – they’ll all play and we’ll let them have their reps.”
Martin endured a bit of a sophomore slump last season after having a breakout rookie campaign in 2012 in which he had 1,454 yards rushing, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns. In 2013, Martin managed only 456 yards and one touchdown on 127 carries through six games before winding up on injured reserve.
Tampa Bay’s former first-round pick got off to a slow start to a season he was unable to finish, topping the century mark just once – with 144 yards against New Orleans in Week 2 – in 2013. In Week 4 against Arizona in the team’s 13-10 loss, he rushed for just 45 yards on 27 carries (1.7 avg.).
Martin rushed for 95 yards on 24 carries in his NFL debut in Week 1 against Carolina in 2012, but otherwise had a slow start to his rookie season and didn’t officially top the 100-yard mark in his career until Week 8 when he had 135 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries (4.7 avg.). Martin continued to make up for lost time the following week as he rushed for a franchise-record 251 yards and a team-record four touchdowns on 25 carries (10.0 avg.) in a 42-32 win over Oakland.
The Boise State product had three more 100-yard performances on the ground over the final eight weeks in 2012, including 142 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries (5.1 avg.) in a 22-17 season-ending upset at Atlanta. Martin, who struggled catching the ball last year and had five drops in six games, which was the second-most on the team, only had one such dominant game on the ground last year.
If he has another slow start in 2014, Martin could lose some serious playing time to Rainey, who has the skill set to thrive in Jeff Tedford’s offense.
Rainey, who was acquired by Tampa Bay in Week 7 and rushed for 45 yards and the game-winning touchdown on eight carries (5.6 avg.) in the team’s 22-19 win over Miami on Monday Night Football, led the Bucs in rushing with 532 yards and five TDs on 137 carries (3.8 avg.). Rainey had a career-high 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries (5.4 avg.) in the Bucs’ 41-28 win against the Falcons. He also had two catches for four yards and his first receiving score versus Atlanta.
Three games later, Rainey led the Bucs with 127 yards on 22 carries (5.8 avg.) and showed off his speed and power with a tackle-breaking, 80-yard touchdown in a 27-6 win over Buffalo.
“Bobby Rainey is a good football player,” Smith said. “Same thing – he can make you miss. They’re compact players. If we say that we’re going to be a team that runs the ball, those guys need to be that way and be guys that we can count on.”
Smith not only counts on his backs to run with speed and power downhill, and catch the ball well, he also expects them to hold on to the football. Smith is a big believer in the turnover margin determining the outcome of games in the NFL and he abhors fumbles.
Unfortunately for Martin, he had the ball knocked out of his grasp twice in successive days during Tampa Bay’s mini-camp. On Tuesday, Lavonte David punched the ball out of his hands from behind and the star linebacker also recovered the fumble. In Wednesday’s practice, defensive end Adrian Clayborn hustled downfield to swat the ball and force another Martin fumble. In Thursday’s practice, Martin bobbled a pitch in the backfield for his third fumble of the week.
Due to his talent and his sensational rookie season, Martin will be given the first crack as Tampa Bay’s starting running back in Tedford’s offense, but he’ll have to hold on to it by holding on to the football and produce early to avoid the slow starts he’s been accustomed to. If not, Rainey and James have proven that they can step in and start in the NFL and be productive, and could be given a greater opportunity. And more touches could be given to Demps, too, as he is a big play waiting to happen.
FAB 3. BUCCANEERS HAVE A STABLE OF UNHERALDED, YET TALENTED RECEIVERS
Even before the trade of Mike Williams to Buffalo a few weeks ago, wide receiver was deemed to be the biggest need for the Buccaneers heading into the draft alongside the guard position according to most observers. With the departure of Williams, a three-year starter who produced 25 touchdowns in Tampa Bay since being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, receiver has moved to the top of the list, and most NFL mock drafts have the Bucs selecting 6-foot-5, 232-pound Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans.
A quick look at Tampa Bay’s roster shows 31-year old Vincent Jackson as the lone accomplished receiver with 422 catches for 7,362 yards and 52 touchdowns in his nine-year career. Of those stats, 150 catches for 2,608 yards and 15 TDs have come as a Buccaneer over the past two seasons.
Newcomer Louis Murphy is next with 121 career receptions for 1,744 yards and eight touchdowns, including six catches for 37 yards and one score as a member of the New York Giants. Murphy, a St. Petersburg native and a product of the University of Florida, is hoping to revive his struggling NFL career. He signed a one-year deal in Tampa Bay, which is his fourth team in four years. Murphy spent his first three seasons in Oakland where he averaged over 15 yards per catch on 90 receptions, before moving on to Carolina in 2012 and New York in 2013.
Lavelle Hawkins is the third-most accomplished receiver, also signing a one-year deal with the Bucs after spending his first five years in Tennessee where he caught 71 passes for 771 yards and one touchdown during his Titans career. Most of that production came in 2011 as he caught 47 passes for 470 yards and his lone touchdown. Hawkins played for new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at the University of California and is hoping that a reunion with his former college coach can lead to some success in the NFL.
After those three receivers, Chris Owusu has 14 career catches for 138 yards, including 13 receptions for 114 yards in 2013. Eric Page has four receptions for 68 yards and Skye Dawson has two catches for 12 yards. Russell Shepard and Tommy Streeter are still waiting for their first NFL reception.
But just because the Bucs’ receiving corps is inexperienced – and unheralded –doesn’t mean that it lacks talent outside of Jackson. The fact that the Bucs only signed two receivers in free agency, despite trading Williams, suggests a degree of comfort with the existing pass-catchers on the roster.
“At receiver, we’re working to get a starting rotation,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re working to it. It’s safe to say Vincent Jackson will be out there once the season starts and from there we have some other younger players that will have chances, and be in a position to prove to us that they belong in that position opposite him right now. We have a long ways to go and right now I don’t know a lot about some of our younger receivers, except for we have them on video right now and we get a chance to evaluate them a little more.”
The one common element the Bucs’ unheralded receivers have is speed. Murphy is the fastest with a 4.32 time in the 40-yard dash coming out of Florida, followed by Dawson, who has run a 4.33 time. Owusu has 4.36 speed and Streeter, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound newcomer, also has sub 4.4 speed.
“Listen, he is a fast cat,” Bucs nickel cornerback D.J. Moore said of Streeter. “I saw him running and you know big guys kind of lumber a little bit, but when he takes off, he takes off. I don’t know what he runs in the 100 [meters], but he should be doing something else like running track or something. He’s fast, Owusu is fast and Skye is fast and quick. We have some fast receivers.”
Streeter had 52 catches for 967 yards (18.6 avg.) and nine touchdowns in his three years at the University of Miami, including 46 catches for 811 yards and eight scores in his final season in 2011. Owusu had 102 catches for 1,534 yards (15.0 avg.) and 10 touchdowns in his Stanford career. Dawson had 91 receptions for 1,350 yards (14.8 avg.) and six touchdowns at TCU.
All three fast receivers had some standout moments catching the ball and turning up-field in the three-day mini-camp. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s new offense does a great job of moving receivers through zones into open spaces and the entire unit did a great job of catching the ball and making yards after the reception.
“If you’re on the roster right now, we’ve seen something in you that we feel like we would like to explore a little bit more,” Smith said. “There are at the receiver position, at the cornerback position, there’s some young players with talent. The numbers say give them a chance. I believe in adding veterans, but the foundation has to be on the young players coming up and not just the top picks coming in but I’m talking about the players you have a chance to develop.
“We have young players right now that have potential. I know that’s a scary word a little bit. But we have some, and we’ll just continue the process. That’s ongoing. We’ve done a lot in free agency, but we weren’t trying to fill our entire roster through free agency. I think there is a deep group of receivers in the draft. Free agency isn’t over, but we’re going to use the draft to address a lot of areas also.”
It’s a foregone conclusion that the Bucs will draft a receiver, and most likely a fast one. Tedford has repeatedly used the phrase “speed in space” this offseason and that’s one big element he’s looking for at the receiver position.
While Evans has been linked to the Buccaneers in many mock drafts, his 4.53 time in the 40-yard dash may not be fast enough for Tedford’s liking. The team has brought in Clemson’s 6-foot-4, 211-pound Martavis Bryant for a visit and a workout after he ran a 4.42 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was the fifth-fastest time for a receiver – even edging past teammate Sammy Watkins, the top receiver in the draft, who ran a 4.43.
Other targets for the Buccaneers in the first round should the team move down from the seventh overall pick, or move up from the second round back into the first round, could be Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, who was the fastest receiver at the Combine with a 4.33 time or LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., who ran a 4.43. In the second round, the Bucs could target Fresno State’s Davante Adams, who ran a 4.47, or Colorado’s Paul Richardson, who ran a 4.40 and was coached by Bucs tight ends coach Jon Embree in college.
While Tampa Bay will undoubtedly add a receiver to the mix in the draft, the Bucs’ cupboard is fare from bare at the position in terms of speed and talent. Notoriety due to a lack of opportunity and experience may be the only hurdle that some of the unheralded receivers on the Bucs’ roster face this year.
“They’re really good, and I’ve learned that they’re really fast, too,” Moore said. “I think the thing about receivers is that it’s not whether they are good – and they’re all good – it’s whether they are known. If the league doesn’t know you, then the reporters might say we don’t have any receivers. Technically, we do have a lot of receivers, and they’re good.”
Owusu indicated that the Bucs receivers are developing a chip on their respective shoulders as many outsiders suggest the position is among the weakest in Tampa Bay in terms of talent.
“People can say what they want to say, but it’s up to us to prove to them and ourselves what we can do,” Owusu said. “Opportunities will present themselves when they present themselves, and we have to be ready to take advantage of them. We’ll be ready. We’re working as hard as we can. The receiving corps is looking great right now.”
FAB 4. DAWSON MAY BE A TRAINING CAMP SLEEPER AT RECEIVER, RETURN SPECIALIST
For several of Tampa Bay’s new wide receivers, such as Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Tommy Streeter, this offseason is their first not only in Jeff Tedford’s offense, but also at One Buccaneer Place. The same could be said for Skye Dawson, who was added to the Bucs’ practice squad during his rookie season in 2013 after failing to make the Washington Redskins’ final roster.
Dawson didn’t have the luxury of learning Tampa Bay’s offense last year during the offseason, nor did he have the chance to compete for a Bucs roster spot in training camp. He spent much of his rookie campaign in Tampa Bay as a scout squad, running opposing teams plays against the starting defense while trying to pick up Mike Sullivan’s offense on the fly.
This offseason he’s getting the opportunity to showcase his ability on equal footing as Tedford’s offense is new to everyone.
“For myself for sure because I didn’t get to go in the games too many times,” said Dawson, who had some impressive catches during Tampa Bay’s three-day mini-camp. “In practice, I was able to show my speed, quickness and hands. Last year it was totally different because I didn’t get the reps in games or in practice like I am now. Now they are really beginning to see what I can do.”
In an offense that puts an emphasis on speed, Dawson fits right in.
“Oh, yes,” Dawson said. “Coach Tedford’s coached a guy like DeSean Jackson, and I feel like I’m that type of player. Speed and quickness, running deep routes – that’s me all the way. I ran a 4.3 at TCU. I also ran track in college, so my times speak for themselves.
“I’m playing inside receiver and outside receiver. I love this offense. It’s the perfect offense, especially for me where I can show my speed on deep plays. There are a lot of plays where I run in the slot. There are a lot of option routes off the safeties. It’s great.”
Dawson marveled at how quickly the offense digested the playbook and was able to execute the myriad of pass plays with such precision and execution to the point of suggesting that the Bucs offense is further ahead of the defense after the three-day mini-camp.
“As a second-year guy, it’s hard to get a brand new playbook down and go full speed, but I feel like all the receivers caught on real quickly,” Dawson said. “As a matter of fact, the whole team caught on real quickly. You saw all the catches and big plays we made.”
The problem for Dawson is that he wasn’t the only receiver that stood out. Vincent Jackson was his usual remarkable self, and Murphy, Hawkins and Chris Owusu also had their moments where they shined, as did Streeter, who is a blazer at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds.
“He’s a big guy,” Dawson said. “He says he runs around a 4.3 in the 40, too. He’s big and quick. He’s able to break out of his routes, too. A lot of guys that are big and tall are clumsy whenever they try to break in or out. He runs really good routes.”
The Bucs will undoubtedly draft a receiver in the early rounds, and that rookie along with Jackson and Murphy will surely make the team. That means there will be a real fight for the remaining two roster spots with a receiving corps that has more talent and speed than outsiders might think at this stage of the offseason. Dawson is ready for battle.
“That’s how it’s been my whole life,” Dawson said. “Everywhere I’ve played I’ve had to prove myself from middle school to high school to college. At TCU I had to prove myself. I had to prove myself to the Redskins as a rookie. I had to prove myself to the Buccaneers. That’s just my life. A lot of people don’t expect me to do what I do best, which is run by guys and shake them off the line of scrimmage with my quickness and speed. That’s just me. I’m the underdog. I’ve been the underdog my whole life. This is nothing new to me.”
Dawson had an 11-yard catch against the Buccaneers in the preseason finale when he was with the Redskins, but he also impressed Tampa Bay with his ability to return punts and kicks. He had 31 punt returns for 244 yards (7.9 avg.) with a long of 64 yards, and returned 27 kicks for 644 yards (23.9 avg.) with a long of 52 yards.
“I’m also on special teams on punt returns and kick returns,” Dawson said. “It’s a work in progress. I’ve got to work my way up the depth chart. We’ll see when the preseason starts.”
Last year, Dawson had just two catches for 12 yards, including a 10-yarder against Carolina in his Buccaneers debut, in addition to two end arounds for 15 yards, including a 14-yarder for a first down at Seattle. But he also made an impression on special teams late in the season, returning a punt 17 yards on a reverse from Eric Page, and returning three kicks for 67 yards (22.3 avg.).
Page handled the return duties last year in Tampa Bay, but is more quick than fast, evidenced by his 4.51 speed. With speed now more in demand than ever in Tampa Bay with the arrival of Smith and Tedford, that helps the Dallas, Texas have an advantage over the likes of Page and Russell Shepard, who has 4.49 speed and missed all of the mini-camp with an injury. If Dawson can win the punt or kick return job in Tampa Bay it would solidify his roster spot and a place on the Bucs’ depth chart at wide receiver.
Keep an eye on Dawson during training camp, but don’t blink. You might miss him.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• When he was at the University of Washington, Bucs linebacker Mason Foster played against Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford when he was the head coach and playcaller at the University of California. Foster’s Huskies compiled a 3-1 record against the Golden Bears from 2007-10, but Foster remembers his team’s 48-7 loss in 2008 as running back Jahvid Best exploded for a school-record 311 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries (16.4 avg.).
“Cal’s offense is tough,” Foster said. “There are a lot of different things he can do. They had Jahvid Best and all those good running backs. It was a well-balanced offense that really tried to attack the weak points of the defense.”
• Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith made some waves this offseason by cutting a pair of veteran offensive linemen and long-time starters in left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Davin Joseph. The departure of the pair of 31-year olds helped make the Buccaneers roster younger as a result.
Of the 75 players on Tampa Bay’s roster, the Bucs only have four players age 30 or older. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is 31, punter Michael Koenen is 31, long snapper Jeremy Cain is 34 and quarterback Josh McCown, who is the oldest and will turn 35 in July.
• As the 2014 NFL Draft draws near, there is a lot of speculation surrounding the Bucs drafting a quarterback or a receiver with the seventh overall pick, but with a loaded draft class at receiver, and Josh McCown looking fantastic with his mobility and accuracy in the three-day mini-camp, the Bucs could go in a different direction with their first-round pick. Here are three sleepers Tampa Bay could strongly consider with the seventh overall pick:
Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
A classic three-technique defensive tackle, the 6-foot, 285-pound Donald is undersized, but extremely fast and quick, running a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. An All-American and the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Outland Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award, Donald recorded 29.5 sacks and an amazing 66 tackles for loss at Pittsburgh and would be a great fit in the Bucs’ one-gap scheme due to his ability to penetrate. The Bucs have a two-time Pro Bowler and All Pro in Gerald McCoy, who is in a contract year, but have no proven depth behind him. Matthew Masifilo is the current second-string three-technique defensive tackle, which is the most important position in Tampa Bay’s defense. Because the Bucs plan to rotate their defensive linemen in and out of the lineup to keep them fresh, drafting Donald with the seventh overall pick would hardly be a waste, especially when defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier could pair McCoy and Donald together for a potent inside pass rush on obvious passing downs.
Alabama MLB C.J. Mosley
Mason Foster is in a contract year and Mosley is the best linebacker in the draft in terms of instincts and coverage ability. After recording 67 tackles, a team-high 10 pass breakups, two pick-sixes, a fumble recovery and half a sack as a freshman, Mosley shared the starting duties with Nico Johnson and posted 37 tackles, two pass breakups, two sacks and an interception. Mosley was an All-American as a junior with 107 tackles (43 more than the next defender), four sacks, two pass breakups, two interceptions, including a pick-six, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. As a senior, Mosley had 108 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five pass breakups and a forced fumble. With 4.65 speed in the 40-yard dash, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound Mosley has the speed to go along with his playmaking ability to be a perfect fit in the Tampa 2 despite playing in a 3-4 defense at Alabama where he won multiple national championships. Mosley is considered to be a top-10 pick.
Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
There are always some surprises on draft day, and if the Bucs do go after a wide receiver with the seventh overall pick, who says it will be Texas A&M’s Mike Evans? The 5-foot-10, 186-pound Cooks is the fastest receiver in the draft, and that’s exactly what Jeff Tedford’s offense is predicated on – speed. Cooks, who ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, was one of the most prolific receivers in college football last year, catching 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. In his three years with the Beavers, Cooks hauled in 226 passes for 3,272 yards (14.4 avg.) and 24 touchdowns. The Oregon State playmaker had nine catches for 210 yards and three scores in a 51-48 overtime win against Utah, and later had 13 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown in a 49-17 win over Cal. Cooks had 13 games with 100 yards receiving or more and five games with multiple touchdowns. Most mock drafts have Cooks going in the teens or early 20s, but he could be a draft-day surprise.
• Keel and Curley Winery’s 7th Annual Blueberry Festival starts today and runs through Sunday! If you are looking for something to do this weekend come out to the Keel and Curley Winery and Two Henrys Brewing Company in Plant City, Fla. from April 25-27 for the Blueberry Festival.
Admission is free and it’s a family-friendly event. The event, which features plenty of award-winning wine and beer, as well as live entertainment, games for the kids, and dozens of food and craft vendors. Of course the highlight is the you-pick blueberries, which allows you and your family to traverse the winery and pick as many fresh blueberries as you want.
My family went last year and we had an absolute blast. I also saw about a dozen PewterReport.com and Bucs fans at the Keel and Curley Winery, which is great. We will be there on Sunday afternoon, April 27, so if you see me stop by and say hello. Click here for more information.