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. I’m back from my spring break vacation. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. The Buccaneers want Josh Freeman to be a true franchise quarterback and the QB of the future. General manager Mark Dominik needs Freeman to have a great year because his future is tied to Freeman, his first-ever draft pick, and the team’s first-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Dominik loves Freeman and made sure that the team’s starting quarterback had an open pathway for success in 2013, which is a contract year. No proven veterans for Freeman to see over his shoulder. While the team is looking for a more capable backup than Dan Orlovsky, who was cut on Thursday, his replacement will not be a legitimate challenger for Freeman’s job.
And there is no way the Bucs will spend a first-round draft pick on a quarterback because that would pose an immediate threat to Freeman.
Dominik didn’t trade for Seattle’s Matt Flynn or Oakland’s Carson Palmer, even though ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Palmer would have rather have been traded to Tampa Bay rather than Arizona. The reason is that Dominik wants to give Freeman a distraction-free opportunity to live up to his potential, to rid himself of the occasional poor, inconsistent games that typically end up in a Buccaneers defeats.
A Bucs source told PewterReport.com that while Freeman is loved by Dominik, he is only liked by head coach Greg Schiano. In his first year with Freeman as the team’s head coach, Schiano went 7-9 and that’s not good enough.
Although there were games that the defense blew fourth quarter leads, such as games against the New York Giants, Washington and Philadelphia, there were also three losses against Dallas, New Orleans and St. Louis in which Freeman played awful and looked like a bad rookie quarterback.
CBS Sports NFL writer Pete Prisco tweeted that he heard that Schiano and Freeman were at odds with each other. On February 25, Prisco tweeted “I keep hearing the talk that the Bucs (as in Schiano)don’t really like Josh Freeman and visa-versa (sic).”
While PewterReport.com has not heard anything regarding Freeman not liking Schiano, the source told PewterReport.com that Schiano likes serious, no-nonsense football players and that Freeman can come off being too aloof and not serious enough for the head coach’s liking. Multiple sources tell PewterReport.com that Freeman worked harder than he’s ever worked in the film room and in the weight room in 2012 and it showed. Freeman dropped 20 pounds down to 230 pounds and also set a career-high with a franchise-record 27 touchdowns and a team-record 4,065 yards passing.
But will that be good enough for Schiano, who openly wanted more competition for Freeman at his season-ending press conference? Schiano recanted those remarks at the NFL scouting combine, likely after discussing the quarterback situation with Dominik, who is likely more interested in clearing the path for Freeman’s success getting him a challenger. Schiano also went on to say that he felt like Freeman could be a Super Bowl-winning QB, and hope that happened in Tampa.
The reality is that Schiano inherited Freeman and has no prior connection to him other than beating him in college when Freeman was at Kansas State and Schiano was at Rutgers in the Texas Bowl in 2006. If Freeman can win in 2013 he will likely earn Schiano’s love. With a better year, the Kansas City native will also earn a lucrative contract extension. Then Schiano and Freeman will be tied together for several years.
And they better learn to love each other.
FAB 2. If Josh Freeman isn’t the long-term answer at the quarterback position in Tampa Bay past 2013, then who is? The answer may not lie in the 2013 draft class of quarterbacks, which is not considered to be overly talented. In fact, there may be just one or two selected in the first round, and potentially not even one in the top 10 unless a team truly falls in love with West Virginia’s Geno Smith.
The 2013 crop of signal callers is so bad it prompted NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock to say, “I can’t stand this whole quarterback class.”
If Tampa Bay decides against extending Freeman’s contract, it will likely look to the 2014 draft because there is no telling which veteran quarterbacks may be available next year in free agency or via trade. So let’s take a look at some of the more interesting options, and we’ll have to include some junior quarterbacks because the upcoming senior crop isn’t too exciting outside of Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, who has delivered two championships despite only slightly above average measurables and arm strength, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, who has great ability and size at 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, but lacks consistency, and Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who is fighting the tag of not being able to win the big games.
There are a couple of other interesting senior QBs worth watching during the 2013 college football season, including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, San Jose State’s David Fales and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, but there are more interesting underclassmen signal callers to take note of too, and not just Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Here is a list of some of interesting junior quarterbacks that will become household names – and potential 2014 draft picks – to keep an eye on:
Louisville QB Teddy BridgewaterBridgewater completed 287-of-419 passes for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2012, and caped off a tremendous sophomore season with a 33-23 upset over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. He completed 20-of-32 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against the Gators. Bridgewater, who has ideal QB size at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, threw multiple TDs in 10 out of his 13 games last year.
Marshall QB Rakeem CatoCato, who stands just 6-feet and weighs only 182 pounds, was the nation’s leading passer in 2012, completing 406-of-584 passes for 4,201 yards with 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The mobile Cato, who has already thrown 52 TDs in two years, added 168 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He will need to add some bulk to his skinny frame in 2013, but has a stronger arm than one would expect.
Ohio State QB Braxton MillerThe 6-foot-1, 210-pound Miller may be the best dual threat quarterback not named Johnny Football. Miller led the suspended Buckeyes to an undefeated season last year while completing 148-of-254 passes for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, in addition to rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 scores on 227 carries. In two years at Ohio State, Miller has rushed for 1,986 yards and 20 touchdowns, while throwing for 3,198 yards and 28 touchdowns with just 10 picks.
Oklahoma QB Blake Bell Why in the world would a quarterback that has completed just 10-of-20 passes for 115 yards with one interception and no touchdowns be placed on this list? Because the 6-foot-5, 254-pound Bell has rushed for 372 yards and 24 touchdowns in two years as Oklahoma’s short-yardage and goal line specialist and he plays at Oklahoma, which means he’ll be slinging the ball all over the field in 2013 as replaces Landry Jones as the starter.
One sophomore quarterback that really caught my eye last year and is poised to become a household name in 2013 is Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton, who guided the Aggies to their best season ever and a bowl victory over Toledo. Haven’t heard of him yet? You will.
Keeton burst onto the scene in his first start as a freshman and nearly beat Auburn in the 2010 season opener. Utah State lost, 42-38 at Auburn, but Keeton completed 21-of-30 passes for 213 yards and rushed eight times for 33 yards and two touchdowns.
During his freshman season, Keeton
completed 106-of-174 passes for 1,200 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions, while rushing 68 times for 293 yards and four touchdowns. As a sophomore, Keeton completed 275-of-407 passes for a school-record 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also carried the ball 129 times for 619 yards and eight touchdowns. Keeton’s 3,992 total yards in 2012 also set a Utah State record.
Keeton’s best passing days came against Wyoming in 2012 when he completed 16-of-21 passes for 228 yards and five touchdowns in a 63-19 victory. Against UNLV, Keeton completed 21-of-34 passes for 404 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in a 35-13 victory. Against Louisiana Tech, Keeton completed 20-of-34 passes for 340 yards with two touchdowns, while also rushing for a career-high 121 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.
If you haven’t seen Keeton play, check out his highlights. He’s fun to watch.
Although he’s undersized at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Keeton’s draft stock can benefit from the success of perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, who stands just 6-foot, 209 pounds, and Seattle phenom Russell Wilson, who is only 5-foot-11, 206 pounds. Keeton’s mobility will make him more attractive as the NFL is now favoring mobile quarterbacks with the incorporation of the zone read into pro offenses. The running success of quarterbacks like Wilson, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Collin Kaepernick will elevate NFL team’s opinions of Keeton.
Wilson rushed for 489 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season, while RGIII gained 815 yards and seven scores on the ground during his inaugural NFL campaign. Despite playing in just 13 regular season games, Kaepernick rushed for 415 yards and five touchdowns and then rushed for a postseason-record 181 yards and two more scores in a playoff win against Green Bay. Kaepernick totaled 264 yards rushing and three scores in the playoffs while averaging 10.6 yards per carry.
Keeton had five games in which he rushed for 75 yards or more last year, including a 121-yard, two-touchdown effort in a thrilling 48-41 overtime victory at Louisiana Tech. He had a 62-yard touchdown run in the Aggies’ bowl win over Toledo, and a 76-yard touchdown jaunt over New Mexico State.
If Freeman falters in 2013, one of these players could be his successor. And if he shines, one of these quarterbacks could be his backup.
FAB 3. The signing of Derek Landri shows how little the Buccaneers value the nose tackle position. While Roy Miller did an admirable job eating up double teams and freeing up Gerald McCoy to penetrate backfields to rack up five sacks and make his first Pro Bowl, in addition to helping the Bucs go from worst to first in rush defense, he recorded just 23 tackles and two tackles for loss as a starter in 15 games.
Did you know that Landri’s backup, 30-year old veteran Gary Gibson, had 18 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery while playing less snaps in 2012? Gibson only started one game, which was against Philadelphia when Miller missed the game due to an injury. Gibson actually made more plays – three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery – than Miller did with fewer snaps.
Letting Miller go to Jacksonville in free agency was all about money. The team liked Miller’s talent and he was a great teammate in the locker room and well respected by his peers. But he plays a position the Bucs don’t want to put a lot of money into.
Miller received a $500,000 signing bonus from the Jaguars and $1.975 million of his two-year, $4.4 million contract is guaranteed. Miller is averaging $2.2 million per season in Jacksonville.
The 6-foot-3, 312-pound Gibson is set to earn $1 million in 2013, and Landri signed a two-year deal that will pay him $1.25 million this year and $2 million in 2014. The Bucs essentially got Gibson and Landri for the same amount that Miller will make in Jacksonville this season.
Although the Bucs are back to employing a tilted nose tackle under Greg Schiano like they did in the glory days with Brad Culpepper during the Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin years, they aren’t putting the money behind the position as they did with Culpepper and Anthony “Booger” McFarland, who was a former first-round pick. The nose tackle in this defense is what the free safety position and the strongside linebacker spot used to be in Tampa Bay in terms of value in the 1990s and early 2000s.
FAB 4. I like the signings of defensive tackle Derek Landri and defensive end George Selvie, who was a star at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Landri will make the team, but Selvie has an uphill climb as he must be out Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Aaron Morgan, Markus White and Ernest Owusu to have a chance at making the 53-man roster.
Of course the Bucs haven’t done nearly enough yet to improve their defensive line. Even if Gary Gibson or Landri can successfully replace departed nose tackle Roy Miller, Tampa Bay has yet to do anything to replace the production of last year’s leading sacker and fumble creator, Michael Bennett.
It’s interesting to note that Tampa Bay hosted pre-draft visits with Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and SMU defensive Margus Hunt, whom I have written about since last November and again at the Senior Bowl where he had a lengthy meeting with the Bucs that lasted over an hour. The Bucs will likely use a draft pick on another edge pass rusher, which is a good thing considering that Da’Quan Bowers has just 4.5 sacks in two years in the NFL, and Adrian Clayborn is coming off ACL surgery that sidelined him for Tampa Bay’s last 13 games.
But it’s also important to note that Tampa Bay will undoubtedly draft another defensive tackle – perhaps in the first round. With Landri and Gibson slated to team at nose tackle, the Bucs have little proven, quality depth behind Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. If an injury happened to sideline McCoy for any real length of time during the 2013 season the defense would be in serious trouble.
McCoy is the only premier penetrator the Bucs have at the defensive tackle position. If he went down, Tampa Bay’s two starting defensive tackles would between Landri, Gibson, Lazarius Levingston, Corvey Irvin, Richard Clebert and Matt Misifilo. Take your pick because any way you slice it it’s bad news without McCoy.
So instead of looking for a nose tackle in the 2013 NFL Draft to start next to McCoy, expect Tampa Bay to look for another three-technique tackle with a skill set similar to McCoy’s. Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, Purdue’s Kawann Short, North Carolina’s Sylvester Wright, who was recruited by Tampa Bay’s Butch Davis, Bowling Green’s Chris Jones, Missouri Southern’s Brandon Williams and Penn State’s Jordan Hill all fit the mold of what Tampa Bay is looking for as a three-technique tackle. Of course Florida’s Shariff Floyd does too, but he’s likely going in the top 5.
It’s also worth noting that McCoy will be in the final year of his contract during the 2014 season. He’s making over $8 million in 2013 and will be the highest-paid Buccaneer in 2014 with a salary that surpasses $12 million due to the fact that he was the third overall draft choice in the 2010 NFL Draft just before the rookie salary cap was put into place.
If McCoy continues to play well and make Pro Bowls could the Bucs afford to keep him, or would they even want to? To be safe, the Bucs should spend a premium pick on a potential successor to McCoy just in case. And seeing how it usually takes two to three years for defensive tackles to adjust to the NFL and develop, Tampa Bay would be wise to start that process with a defensive tackle that the team spent a 2013 draft pick on.
If that tackle succeeds and the Bucs decide to keep McCoy around, there would be ample, talented depth at the three-technique spot, and both McCoy and the yet-t
o-be-drafted defensive tackle could line up together in nickel defense on obvious passing downs and attack the quarterback.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• PewterReport.com friend and colleague J.P. Peterson did a fine 20-minute interview with legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber on TampaBaySportsCentral.com. Barber said that the combination of inexperience in Greg Schiano’s new defensive system and youth at the cornerback position proved to be deadly for Tampa Bay’s secondary last year and there were plenty of growing pains as a result.
“A lot of things – learning the technique the coaches wanted, learning a new scheme that was very press heavy. The corners – we ask a lot of them,” Barber said. “Not a lot of teams play that defense for the reason that it exposes your corners. You are basically playing with half a safety in the box and kind of out, so it helps and it’s great in the run game, which obviously showed. But teams can definitely pick out their matchups and if you don’t win on the outside it can look pretty bad.
“As the year went on, we kind of adjusted. The way we played in Atlanta, I think we’ll see a lot more of that in 2013. It can’t all be that way [in press man coverage]. It’s too hard.”
• I spoke with Hadley Englehard, the agent for Mike Williams, yesterday to get the latest on any possible contract extensions for the Buccaneers wide receiver, who is entering a contract year. Englehard said he spoke with the Bucs yesterday and they agreed to table any contract talks until after the draft so that general manager Mark Dominik could give of those endeavors his full attention. Englehard was given assurances that contract discussions would pick up immediately after the draft.
With all of the salary cap space Tampa Bay, which is believed to be over $28 million thanks to the release of quarterback Dan Orlovsky and running back D.J. Ware on Thursday, I suspect a long-term deal for Wiliams will get done prior to training camp.
• One last note on Barber. Peterson asked Barber if he felt as if his career was Hall of Fame-worthy. I certainly believe he is, and laid out what I believe is the most compelling case for Barber being immortalized in bronze in Canton, Ohio. Here’s what Barber, who has over 1,400 tackles, 47 interceptions, 28 sacks and 16 forced fumbles in his 16-year NFL careeer, had to say about it.
“There was no big fanfare of ‘this guy is a can’t-miss player,’” Barber said upon entering the league as one of Tampa Bay’s two third-round draft picks in 1997. “It was a grind. Over the course of my second, third and fourth year, the position that nobody else really played evolved. You heard the argument, ‘He’s only a system guy and he can only do this.’ Well everybody started playing it and I did it better than anybody else. A lot of people try to find my type – a ‘me’ in their defense because I’ve been able to obviously rush the passer, cover in the slot and I’ve played multiple positions on a defense that was really simple and required your guys to be playmakers. I think I stood out in that regard. It would be entirely too humble to me not to acknowledge that.”
Well said, Ronde.
• And finally, Pewter Report will be unveiling its 2013 Draft Party details in full next week on PewterReport.com, but here is a teaser. This year’s Pewter Report Draft Party will be held at The Grille at Westchase (formerly Courtside Grille, which is where we had the last Pewter Report Get2gether) on the SECOND DAY of the draft, which is Friday, April 26 and will feature a very special guest – Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.
We opted to hold our annual Pewter Report Draft Party on the second day of the draft for a few reasons. First, the Bucs do a fine job with their draft party, which will be held on Thursday, April 25 at Raymond James Stadium and we don’t want our event to force fans to choose which one to attend.
This way, Bucs fans can go the stadium for the first-round draft pick on Thursday night and head over to The Grille At Westchase for the second- and third-round picks on Friday night, and to meet Freeman, who will be on hand promoting the Josh Freeman ProCamps football camp, which will take place on June 11-12 at Wesley Chapel High School.
Also, we feel that since the NFL moved the draft to primetime and started it on a Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. ET that attendance has been hurt as many of us have to go to work early on Friday morning and the Bucs typically don’t pick until close to 10:00 p.m. Moving our party to Friday night will surely boost attendance – and having Freeman and free appetizers for PewterReport.com visitors will certainly help, too.
The Pewter Report staff, featuring yours truly, editor-in-chief Mark Cook and director of business operations Kim Roper, will be on hand to discuss the Bucs’ first-round pick and preview what’s to come for Tampa Bay in rounds 2-7. Each PewterReport.com attendee will be registered to win plenty of premium prizes, but you have to be present to win. The drawing will take place after the second round of the draft.
We will have more information on Monday on the Pewter Report Draft Party, which is open to all Bucs fans, but space will be limited and reservations will be required. Be sure to check out PewterReport.com on Monday for full details.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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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