Hello, Bucs fans and PewterReport.com visitors. I’ve recently returned from my Siesta Key honeymoon as I got married to the lovely Ashley Reynolds on May 17. That’s why there hasn’t been an SR’s Fab 5 for the past two weeks, but my signature column returns today and will once again be a regular fixture on PewterReport.com every Friday.
I was able to return in time to see Wednesday’s OTA (organized team activity) at One Buccaneer Place. I thought Mark Cook and I did a pretty thorough job of detailing all the action and providing some current depth charts for you. So if you are looking for a good read about the 2013 Buccaneers, I suggest you read that report if you haven’t already, and stick around to the end of this week’s SR’s Fab 5.
We are going to start things off with a few more insights on my favorite Buccaneer of all-time, the legendary Ronde Barber, and also feature some quotes from one of my other personal favorites, former Tampa Bay cornerback Donnie Abraham. So please indulge me by taking a step back in time for a minute to hear some old war stories. I think you’ll enjoy it.
I’ll wrap up this week’s SR’s Fab 5 with some real fresh inside scoop and analysis for you, and I’m already working on next week’s column for you. And if you haven’t let your friends know that the SR’s Fab 5 columns are now free for all Bucs fans to read, please do so. E-mail a link of this column to your friends and family that are Tampa Bay fans or share it on Facebook or tweet it on Twitter. Have a great weekend.
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. Tony Dungy has always spoken about how perception isn’t always reality, dating back to his days as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’ve always talked to players about perception and reality,” Dungy said.
“I don’t worry about perception. There may be some of that, that people want to attach to a good name, but the reality is that some good things can happen.”
The perception of the old Buccaneers prior to Dungy becoming the head coach in 1996 was that of a loser. They were called the Yuccaneers because they were so bad. Back then, perception was reality. But Dungy taught his 1996 team that perception didn’t have to become reality, and it was that mindset that helped change the franchise’s fortunes.
One player who had to buy into that concept was young cornerback Ronde Barber, a third-round pick in the 1997 NFL Draft. Barber picked off 15 passes in three seasons at the University of Virginia and came to Tampa Bay full of promise.
But a horrible rookie season in which he was active for just one game during the regular season – a 19-18 victory over Arizona on September 28, in which Barber surrendered a touchdown. Barber was benched for the remaining 11 games on defense before finally getting a chance to redeem himself in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Green Bay in 1997.
While Donnie Abraham was a rookie sensation at cornerback in 1996, recording a franchise rookie record five interceptions, Barber was initially a flop. That played a role in the team using a second-round pick on cornerback Brian Kelly the following year in 1998.
“It’s a what have you done for me lately business,” said former Buccaneers director of player personnel Jerry Angelo. “We liked Ronde. He had a rare quality in terms of handling adversity, particularly young players. If things don’t happen good for them early on things can go south in a hurry. But he had a unique quality to look at things as forced opportunity. He made the best of what he learned and he took it and he grew. Whatever he needed to see and whatever mistakes he made he grew from those. If you can do that you have the chance to be pretty good, and he wound up having a great career.”
Barber felt threatened by the Buccaneers selecting Kelly with a second-round pick and that made the chip on Barber’s shoulder get even bigger the following year.
“Careers are like that in the NFL,” Abraham said. “That’s what makes the NFL so great. Guys that will come out of college who are the top players sometimes they don’t always do good and vice versa. You have unheralded guys that come from small colleges like Jerry Rice and have fantastic careers. That’s what makes the NFL so great.
“That’s what makes great players like Ronde, who was able to adjust. A lot of players that come in from great college careers struggle and they don’t make it because they can’t adapt and don’t know how to handle not having initial success. Ronde was able to adjust and work at what he needed to work on. You’ve heard him say it. He has a chip on his shoulder, and that’s exactly how he played.”
While Barber was sweating the selection of Kelly, Dungy had no doubt that the 5-foot-10, 180-pound dynamo from Virginia would develop into a great player. Barber perceived Kelly to be a threat, but reality was a different story. Even if Barber had a phenomenal season like Abraham had in 1996 Tampa Bay had planned to draft another young cornerback.
“Ronde was going to be fine,” Dungy said. “He wasn’t quite ready in 1997, but Herm Edwards, Monte Kiffin and myself never lost faith in him. We knew his skill set was perfect for what we were going to do. He was going to be fine with the way he practiced and the way he played. Ronde was one of the guys that worked on his weaknesses. So when things happened and Herm said, ‘You have to work on this, this, this and this – he did.’
“We had a bunch of good players in here that we let go. Floyd Young started a playoff game for us. We let him go. We knew Al Harris was going to be a good player and we let him go. We knew what we had in Ronde and we kept him in favor of those other guys. We knew what we would be dealing with Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota and a lot of the three receiver schemes. So we needed three good corners. Getting Brian wasn’t really because we didn’t think Ronde could do it. We just needed more guys. But if that motivated Ronde, then it was pretty good as a side benefit.”
Looking back on his illustrious career, Barber said his wretched rookie season was necessary for him to become a legend over the next 15 years.
“I needed to struggle at the beginning,” Barber said. “It taught me that if I wanted it bad enough I’d have to work for it. I needed that doubt. I needed people to tell me I couldn’t do it. I always carried a chip on my shoulder that’s just the way it is.”
It didn’t take long for Barber to become motivated to live up to his potential. He was chasing Abraham’s instant greatness and trying to keep Kelly out of the starting lineup and resigned to the nickel cornerback role.
“It was the offseason of 1998,” Dungy said. “He came into training camp ready to go and he was ready to go. All that 1998 season he made plays for us. From Day One in 1998 we knew that he had a great player.”
In 1998, Barber recorded two interceptions, two forced fumbles, three sacks and 10 pass breakups. His first pick came against New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins and his first sack came against Minnesota’s Dante Culpepper. And the rest is history.
FAB 2. While the relationship between Barber and Kelly was a bit rocky at first, Barber’s relationship with Abraham was always solid. Having arrived a year before Barber, Abraham began to assault the Tampa Bay record books.
Abraham, whom I nicknamed “The Iceman” for his cool demeanor on the field in 1996 as a rookie, had 31 interceptions in six years as a Buccaneer, an average of five per season, which is the best in franchise history – even better than Barber. It took Abraham just six years to become Tampa Bay’s all-time interceptor, passing Cedric Brown, who had 29 from 1976-84. That’s something Barber noted during his retirement speech.
“I’ve forged some great friendships with guys; I see Donnie Abraham in here,” Barber said. “Nobody talks about Donnie much because of me. It took me 16 years to get 12 more interceptions than he had in nine [in the NFL]. I loved our relationship; I still do.”
Barber had 16 more picks than Abraham had as a Buccaneer before becoming a New York Jet in 2002, but he played 11 more years in red and pewter than Abraham did.
“Coming in we were pretty young together,” Abraham said. “I came in 1996 and he came in a year later in 1997. Initially, he did struggle at the beginning and that was motivation for him. We developed and grew as a tandem. Even the coaches – from Herm Edwards to Tony Dungy to Monte Kiffin to Lovie Smith to Rod Marinelli – said we were a special tandem at cornerback. We developed a special bond. We grew up together and had an awesome time.”
Many believe that Kelly is the second-best cornerback in Tampa Bay history behind Barber because he was on the Super Bowl team. While Kelly was good, he had just 22 interceptions over his 10-year career. That was nine fewer picks than Abraham in four more seasons.
Yet from 1998-2001, the trio of Barber, Abraham and Kelly was one of the best in the NFL
“We had a very good group,” Abraham said. “Ronde already had a chip on his shoulder over being drafted in the third round and not playing well as a rookie. Then they draft Brian Kelly in the second round the next year and there’s another chip on Ronde’s shoulder. The Bucs created a monster, which was good. What came out of it was a potential Hall of Fame career. He has all the credentials. He’s an outstanding person, man and father. He should be mentioned in that Hall of Fame group. That was a great group of guys on that Bucs defense – me, Ronde and Brian playing together along with John Lynch. I think it was one of the best secondaries playing at that time.”
Back in the 1990s, the Bucs had to have three talented cornerbacks that they could square off against the talented receivers in the NFC Central division. The Vikings had Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed. The Packers had Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks and Bill Schroeder. The Lions had Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton and Germane Crowell.
“The teams we played against back then – Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit – had a lot of great athletes and some Hall of Fame receivers and Hall of Fame quarterbacks,” Abraham said. “It was tough, but we competed. We won some battles, but we lost some battles.
“One of our best playoff games aside from the Super Bowl was against St. Louis when we shut down the Greatest Show on Turf until the end. We had a great group – not just with the back end, but with the front seven with some Hall of Fame players. We loved to compete together.”
While the trio competed against other teams’ wide receivers, they also competed amongst themselves for interceptions. Abraham had most of the bragging rights as he led the Bucs in picks in four of his six seasons in Tampa Bay.
“I had 38 career interceptions and individually you can be selfish a little bit and you want to hold that title as long as you can,” Abraham said. “But if it was going to be somebody that would come along and break my record I would want it to be Ronde. We have a special relationship and a great bond. If anybody was going to get it I was hoping it would be Ronde, and he did. Now we are sitting as the top two on that list, just like when we played together. Hopefully we can stay there together for a long time.”
While Barber will always be remembered as being the best cornerback in Tampa Bay history, it’s time that the light is also shined on Abraham, who was clearly the second best Buccaneers corner.
FAB 3. After Abraham retired from football in 2005, he moved from the New York area back to Tampa Bay and became the head coach for Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg before moving on to become the head coach at Clearwater High School. He’s still an avid Bucs fan and follows the team intently.
As a former defensive back, it pained Abraham to see Tampa Bay’s secondary struggle so much in surrendering 297.4 yards per game through the air, which ranked dead last in the NFL. The Bucs’ pass defense was so bad that the team was a few yards away from allowing the most passing yards in a single season in NFL history.
But acquiring the league’s best shutdown coverage cornerback when healthy in Darrelle Revis should help in 2013. Revis had 18 interceptions in his first five seasons, an average of 3.6 per season until last year when he had one pick in the first two games of the 2012 campaign before tearing his ACL and winding up on injured reserve.
“They have Revis now,” Abraham said. “His numbers from the Jets don’t count now that he’s a Buc and what he’s done in the past won’t matter here, but he’s the best there is in the NFL right now. A lot of teams will just be staying away from him and his side of the field, so I don’t know how many picks he’ll get, but he’ll make his presence felt.”
When talking about Tampa Bay’s new No. 1 cornerback to Abraham, I told him that Revis’ skill set reminded me an awful lot of his own when he played for the Buccaneers. Both players are similarly built as Abraham was 5-foot-10, 192 pounds and Revis stands 5-foot-11, 198 pounds. Both are known for their ability to play man coverage, and in addition to being fast both Abraham and Revis shared the gift of quick feet and loose hips.
Although he’s quite humble, Abraham admits he sees the resemblance, too.
“In watching over the years with the Jets, I feel like he resembled my style of play,” Abraham said. “My mannerisms are similar with the way we cover receivers, and it was a tremendous pick up by the Bucs. Even if he’s only 75 percent recovered from his knee injury this year, his 75 percent is better than most players’ 100 percent. He’s going to do a tremendous job here. The Bucs roster on paper looks awesome. They are going in the right direction and they are going to be hard to defeat.”
While Abraham fully expects the Bucs secondary to be improved this year, he notes that Tampa Bay’s strength last year – its number one-ranked run defense – forced and even invited opposing teams to throw the ball more last season.
“You look at it from the outside and you see a team that is number one versus the run, they are going to get a lot of passes thrown their way,” Abraham said. “The stats can be skewed a little bit. The back end played hard, but they gave up some plays.
“The Bucs organization has always been good at getting what they need, so they identified where the problems were and they addressed them in the offseason with Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson. Now if you look at them on paper they are probably one of the top secondaries in the NFC.”
I have to agree with Abraham, who knows his stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Abraham make the leap into college or NFL coaching before too long.
FAB 4. Despite being a fourth-round draft pick, Akeem Spence will be the starting nose tackle for the Buccaneers. The Bucs like his length, his strength and his quickness.
He is a faster version of Roy Miller with longer arms and that is key because it gives Spence the ability to do something that Miller couldn’t do, which was pressure the pocket and get some heat on the quarterback. The team believed that Miller had trouble disengaging from offensive linemen and getting to the quarterback.
Spence had just a 3.5 sacks in three years at Illinois, but Tampa Bay believes he can be a more effective nose tackle in the NFL lining up next to Pro Bowl three-technique tackle Gerald McCoy and perhaps contribute a few sacks each season if he really adheres to the teaching of defensive line coach Randy Melvin.
Veteran Gary Gibson will rotate with Spence at nose tackle, and if the rookie falters, Gibson has the ability to start without the Bucs defense losing much of anything.
“I love Gibby,” McCoy said. “We called him ‘White Lightning’ because Gibby was our best movement guy when we would stunt. When they brought him in we were all trying to pick up on how they wanted us to move. He had it down. He’s a strong guy. He’s quicker than people think, and he’s smart. He knows the game. I’m excited to see what he can do this year with more playing time.”
Derek Landri will be McCoy’s backup and right now, Lazarius “Pep” Levingston has the best chance to make the 53-man roster as the team’s fifth defensive tackle if the team keeps that many. Levingston, who stands 6-foot-4, and weighs 292, has the ability to play all four defensive line positions.The problem for Levingston is that the Bucs drafted defensive end William Gholston, who will be a reserve at the end position, but is also being cross-trained to play inside as a defensive tackle in the team’s nickel rush defense.
Although there is more potential than production at this stage, the Bucs are really excited about McCoy, Spence, Landri, Gibson and Levingston inside, and Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Gholston and Steven Means on the edge at defensive end. That’s 10 defensive linemen right there, not including Aaron Morgan, who was one of the starters in Tampa Bay’s three-man defensive line in nickel defense during Wednesday’s OTA practice.
It will be interesting to see how many defensive linemen the Bucs end up keeping and who ultimately makes the team in September.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 next Friday.
• Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy was one of the most cerebral coaches in the NFL, and perhaps appreciated legendary cornerback Ronde Barber’s intelligence more than any other trait.
“We played the Rams the year after they beat us in the NFC Championship Game here on Monday Night Football,” Dungy said. “On the first pass of the game it was a pass we worked on, but they ran it out of a different formation. They ran it with Issac Bruce, but instead they used Marshall Faulk as the receiver. Ronde understood the concept and ends up intercepting the pass. It wasn’t the way we practiced it, but he understood the concept and to me that was Ronde Barber.”
• Barber, who was never the biggest or the fastest cornerback on the team, always felt threatened by other players – even after he achieved Pro Bowl status – and that helped drive him throughout his career.
“I promise you a couple weeks ago I couldn’t have told you how many games I started. That was never my motivation,” Barber said. “[My motivation] was only to keep playing. You never want to come off the field, because once you do, somebody will be there to take your job. Dwight Smith was always there.”
• One more thing on Barber. Do you realize that he returned his 47 interceptions during the regular season for a total of 923 yards (and eight touchdowns)? Add in his postseason interception return yardage and he produced over 1,000 yards – on defense – which is just an astounding number.
• Keep an eye on second-year defensive backs Keith Tandy and Leonard Johnson. Both were starting in the dime package on Wednesday with the absence of free safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis. When both return, Tandy and Johnson will likely be relegated to the bench – but not without a fight.
Johnson, who had a pick of Josh Freeman on Wednesday when he stepped in front of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, had three interceptions last year as a rookie and will scratch, kick and claw rookie Johnthan Banks and Eric Wright for playing time. Many assume that Revis, Wright and Banks will be the top three cornerbacks on the depth chart once the season starts, but the scrappy Johnson will try to insert himself into that mix in training camp and the preseason. While Johnson has some height and speed limitations, he’s ultra-competitive, so don’t bet against him.
With Goldson and Mark Barron locks to start at the safety spots in regular and nickel defense, the Bucs like to deploy a third safety in dime defense and have that player play close to the line of scrimmage in the slot. That was Ronde Barber’s role last year and Barron was playing that role in the slot on Wednesday with Tandy, who was filling in for the absent Goldson, and Ahmad Black at safety. Don’t forget that Tandy led the Bucs in tackles last preseason and has the ball skills and coverage ability of a cornerback. He will push Black for the starting safety spot in dime coverage in camp and the preseason.
• The Buccaneers added former Temple running back and return specialist Matt Brown to the roster this week. Brown rushed for 2,647 yards and 23 touchdowns on 466 carries (5.6 avg.) for the Owls, and also added 2,068 yards and two scores on 83 kick returns, in addition to 403 yards on 45 punt returns. Brown was named the 2012 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year and was also a 2012 All-Big East First Team selection by the coaches.
Brown is expected to compete with running back Michael Smith and wide receiver Eric Page for the return duties in Tampa Bay, but don’t rule out Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps. He’s expected to meet with the Buccaneers next week and join the team during training camp after track season ends. Based on sheer talent and physical ability, Demps might be the odds on favorite to be the Bucs’ return man in 2013 – even though he will be a late arrival.
• You’ve probably seen where BloggingTheBoys.com, a website that follows the Cowboys, has reconstructed Dallas’ draft board because team owner Jerry Jones recently did a press conference in front of it. It’s interesting to note a few things about Dallas’ grades on some players that Tampa Bay drafted.
The Cowboys had a sixth-round grade on cornerback Johnthan Banks, who was selected in the second round by the Bucs. Quarterback Mike Glennon, who was a third-round pick, received a fifth-round grade from Dallas. Nose tackle Akeem Spence, who was selected in the fourth round, got a fourth-round grade. No other players that were drafted by Tampa Bay were listed on Dallas’ draft board.
It’s interesting stuff and just goes to show you the discrepancy in talent evaluation from team to team. For example, the Cowboys had quarterback E.J. Manual, who was Buffalo’s first-round pick, rated as a fourth-rounder. In the NFL beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
• Upon my return to work this week, I’ve been amazed – and disappointed – at the reaction of a few Bucs fans regarding Mark Cook’s report on Donald Penn’s weight clauses in his Five Bucs That May Be On The Hot Seat In 2013 article on PewterReport.com last week. Cook made a mistake in reporting that Penn has missed most of his weight clause incentives instead of writing that those instances were limited to 2010 and 2011, and that Penn had met his weight clauses in 2012 by staying in shape.
Cook did the right thing in admitting the mistake, and correcting and updating the report with new information on Monday. PewterReport.com regrets that an error was made, and Cook’s mistake wasn’t intentional. I’ve made similar mistakes in my 18 years of covering the Buccaneers. So has every Bucs beat writer I know.
Mistakes happen in this business and in every business. Ronde Barber has dropped interceptions and given up touchdowns. Josh Freeman has thrown interceptions. Penn has given up sacks. To suggest as some have that Cook lose his job over this mistake – no matter how it upset Penn – is asinine. I’m sure that those who made that suggestion have never committed a mistake at work, right?
Instead of condemning Cook, I rallied around him this week, and suggest our PewterReport.com readers do the same. He’s a great guy and a trusted reporter. This is a mistake that he can learn from as a young reporter, just as I have learned from my previous mistakes on the job with Buccaneer Magazine and Pewter Report.
And guess what? We at PewterReport.com will unfortunately make another mistake or two in the future, will have to issue a correction again, and will appreciate your forgiveness. We’ll strive very hard to make sure that mistakes don’t happen, but in the end we are only human.
The truth is that Penn has had weight problems in the past. The good news is that those issues appear to be in the past. But if his weight was never an issue, general manager Mark Dominik wouldn’t have put weight clauses in his contract extension in 2010.
I have a very good relationship with Penn, who is a very prideful player that has worked hard to get in fantastic shape for the 2013 season. Although Cook did mention him in the same breath as Bucs Ring of Honor member Paul Gruber and also had some heavy praise for him in the article, Penn had the right to be upset over the mention of the weight clauses, especially since it didn’t reward his efforts for staying in shape in 2012. My hope is that Penn can end up using the article for some motivation, but ultimately forgive Cook and move on.
• And finally, I want to give a big shout out to Texas Cattle Company Catering for providing some outstanding food at my wedding. In full disclosure, Texas Cattle Company and Texas Cattle Company Catering have been advertising partners with PewterReport.com for six years now, but I was a paying customer for the wedding, so this ringing endorsement is as objective as I can be.
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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: email@example.com
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