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. Does size really matter in the NFL? You bet.
NFL wide receivers keep getting bigger and bigger and the need for bigger cornerbacks to cover them is becoming more and more important. Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, general manager Mark Dominik, director of player personnel Dennis Hickey and director of college scouting Eric Stokes all see the value of the team getting bigger at the cornerback position as a result.
That’s why the team has not quite given up hope on Myron Lewis, a former third-round pick that has great size. In addition to Lewis, the Bucs added two more 6-foot-2 cornerbacks this offseason as the intent was to get more length in the secondary to match up against wide receivers like 6-foot-3 Larry Fitzgerald, 6-foot-4 Marques Colston and 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson – all of whom are on the schedule in 2013.
As a result of the Bucs’ offseason roster tinkering, they have four cornerbacks that are 6-foot or taller. Danny Gorrer is 6-foot, 180 pounds. Lewis, Rashaan Melvin and Johnthan Banks are all 6-foot-2. Lewis is the biggest at 203 pounds, followed by Melvin, who weighs 193 pounds and Banks, who is 185 pounds. It is believed that this is the tallest group of cornerbacks the Bucs have ever fielded at one time.
At 6-foot-2, Banks is a tall, rangy cornerback. But what makes him special is his ability to sink his hips and bend his knees and play lower and smaller. That’s why the Bucs spent a second-round draft pick on him, in addition to his 16 career interceptions at Mississippi State.
Not only is Banks getting a lot of playing time with the starters on the outside in practice (especially due to Revis’ absence during the organized team activities and mini-camp), Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan is also getting the team’s second-round pick some reps inside as a slot cornerback due to his ability to cover smaller, quicker receivers because he can play low and he’s long. Within a year or two, the Bucs believe that Banks can develop into becoming a shutdown cornerback capable of matching up with either tall or short receivers.
The Bucs have three other cornerbacks that are 5-foot-11, including Darrelle Revis and rookies Deveron Carr and Braden Smith. Revis weighs 198 pounds, while Carr is 190 and Smith is 182.
Tampa Bay has three corners that are 5-foot-10, including Anthony Gaitor, Leonard Johnson and Eric Wright. At 182 pounds, Gaitor is the smallest cornerback on the roster because of his height and weight. But because Wright is 200 pounds and Johnson is 203, they would hardly be considered small.
The top five cornerbacks getting the most action during the offseason workouts were Banks, Wright, Johnson, Gorrer and Melvin. Right now those five appear to have the best chance of making the team along with Revis, but what happens under the lights during the preseason games could change everything.
FAB 2. The Buccaneers like big cornerbacks, and also have some ideal size measurables for wide receivers and tight ends, too. Entering Year Two of the Greg Schiano system, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik and the scouting department have done a very good job of acquiring the type of bodies that Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan want for the offense.
Because Tampa Bay’s offense is vertically based and requires its wide receivers to execute in jump ball situations, the team needs big, physical receivers with leaping ability. Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds, is the epitome of what Schiano and Sullivan with his supreme leaping ability.
Jackson and Tiquan Underwood, who is 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, joined 6-foot-1, 212-pound Mike Williams last year to form the Bucs’ biggest trio of wide receivers since 6-foot-1, 191-pound Keenan McCardell, 6-foot-4, 212-pound Keyshawn Johnson and 6-foot-5, 229-pound Joe Jurevicius helped the franchise win Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. Tampa Bay’s 2012 roster also included Chris Owusu, who is 6-foot, 196 pounds, and David Douglas, who is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.
This offseason, the Bucs added Kevin Olgetree, who is 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, Derek Hagan, who is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Jerry Johnson, who stands 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, Carlton Mitchell, who is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and Terriun Crump, who is 6-foot-2, 223 pounds. The Bucs only have one wide receiver that is under 6-foot tall, which is Eric Page. The undersized speedster stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds.
If Page and Owusu don’t make the 53-man roster this year, Tampa Bay’s shortest receiver will be 6-foot-1, which is big by NFL standards. The Bucs have likely never had a bigger wide receiver corps from top to bottom as they do under Schiano.
Jackson has been absolutely dominant this offseason and the only Bucs cornerback that may truly be able to slow him down in practice is the one he has yet to face – Darrelle Revis. If he plays in all 16 games again Jackson will undoubtedly make a return trip to the Pro Bowl.
Williams has made his share of spectacular catches during practice, which is routine for the fourth-year star, but he’s also had more noticeable drops during the offseason. Is Williams thinking too much about his contract extension negotiations?
The battle for the remaining wide receiver positions will be one of the most interesting during training camp. Olgetree is penciled in as the third receiver, but there have been times he has been outshined by Underwood, who had that role last year, in practice. The receivers that fill out the depth chart in Tampa Bay will largely be decided on how well they perform on special teams. Page has shined as a receiver and in the return game and should have an edge heading into training camp.
While height is a desired – and perhaps required – measureable for wide receivers in Tampa Bay, the Bucs have a similar body type they are looking for at tight end, too. Teams like New England, which feature the tight end in their offense, generally like monster-sized players like 6-foot-6, 265-pound Rob Gronkowski – with the exception of 6-foot-1, 245-pound Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots have three tight ends that are 6-foot-5 or greater in height, and four that weigh 265 pounds or more.
All of Tampa Bay’s six tight ends are either 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5. At 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, Nate Byham is the biggest tight end on Tampa Bay’s roster, followed by starter Luke Stocker, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, but appears to be closer to 260 pounds.
Six-foot-5, 248-pound Danny Noble checks in as the third-best Bucs tight end, followed by newcomer Tom Crabtree, who is 6-foot-4, 245 pounds. The team has two players that are on the lighter side at tight end in 6-foot-5, 236-pound Zach Miller and 6-foot-4, 220-pound rookie Tim Wright, who was just moved over from wide receiver.
The three favorites to make the 53-man roster right now are Stocker, Crabtree and Byham. While Stocker has gotten the opportunity to start, he has done little to impress Pewter Report in the open practices the media has been able to view with his receiving ability. Stocker appears to be too big and lacks the fluidity, leaping ability and athleticism that former starters Kellen Winslow and Dallas Clark had. The player most similar to Winslow and Clark is Crabtree, who will play a lot in 2013 and get more passes thrown his way due to his speed, agility and sure hands.
FAB 3. While the Bucs like big receivers and big cornerbacks, the team definitely seems to have an affinity for shorter running backs. The most successful back that Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano has worked with is former Rutgers star Ray Rice, who is 5-foot-8, 212 pounds.
Schiano, general manager Mark Dominik and the scouting staff found a Rice clone in Doug Martin, who overcame a slow start during his rookie season last year to produce 1,454 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns on 319 carries. Martin is built like a bowling ball, standing at 5-foot-9, 215 pounds.
Although Martin was drafted prior to the arrival of director of college scouting Eric Stokes, the former Seattle personnel honcho loved the Boise State product, and like Schiano, has an affinity for running backs that are short, yet powerfully built.
“Jacquizz Rodgers is a guy I really liked from Oregon State,” Stokes said. “He was 5-foot-6, 196 pounds and was going to run 4.6 all day, but I had seen a lot of him. He was a USC killer. I used to give Coach [Pete] Caroll a hard time about him. I was banging on the table for him, but I knew Coach’s style and what he wanted he wasn’t going to be the right fit, but I did pound the table for him. He was so tough and so physical. I love a fire hydrant runner.”
Martin is definitely built like a fire hydrant, as is current backup Michael Smith, who is 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. Smith, a speedster from Utah State drafted in the seventh round a year ago, has been getting a lot of work as the team’s No. 2 running back and the primary third down back this offseason.
The Bucs have also acquired two smaller running backs in former Florida rusher, return specialist and Olympic track star Jeff Demps, who is just 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, and former Temple standout Matt Brown, who is the smallest Buccaneer at 5-foot-5, 165 pounds.
With a massive offensive line in Tampa Bay that features no player shorter than 6-foot-3 and weighing less than 312 pounds, Schiano sees the value of having of having smaller – yet powerful – backs that can lost behind big lineman. Trying to find a smallish, fire hydrant running back can cause a defender to hesitate and give the runner a chance to escape for big yardage.
Martin is assured of being the starter and Smith is in prime position to make the 53-man roster and contribute. Demps will be joining the Bucs in mid-August after track season and will likely be available for the final two preseason games. It is expected that Demps could help the Bucs as a return specialist, a runner and a slot receiver. If he or Brown, who will be vying for the same role in Tampa Bay, make the team, the Bucs could have three running backs under 5-foot-10 on their roster.
The team says it is still high on rookie Mike James, who is 5-foot-10, 223 pounds, but he is a bit bigger than the rest of the team’s backs, outside of Brian Leonard, who is 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. Neither James nor Leonard is a lock to make the team, and part of the reason may be because they don’t fit the ideal mold of what a Buccaneers running back should look like.
The team jettisoned bigger running backs LeGarrette Blount and D.J. Ware this offseason, and size might have been a reason as the Bucs are obviously turning towards smaller rushers.
FAB 4. New Tampa Bay quarterbacks coach John McNulty is already a big fan of quarterback Josh Freeman. McNulty first saw Freeman in 2006 when he was on Greg Schiano’s Rutgers staff that beat Freeman and the Kansas State Wildcats in the Texas Bowl. He also played against him in 2010 when the Bucs beat the Arizona Cardinals 38-35.
After having the chance to work with him for a few months, McNulty knows the best is yet to come for Freeman, who has had the unfortunate circumstance of having four quarterbacks coaches and three different offensive coordinators to deal with, and three offensive systems to learn in four years in the NFL.
“I saw him when he was a freshman in college,” McNulty said. “I saw him when he came out and threw for 38 points – I don’t know what the yards were – two years ago against us in Arizona. The ball was flying over everybody’s heads like it was nothing. Certainly he has an ultra-talent, but when you ask a guy to play in that many different systems – some of them are drastically different, some were different enough – that was a lot.
“You tell me any guy that just picks up the playbook and says, ‘Okay, I’ll go run these [plays].’ It’s a process. He hasn’t really been able to complete that process yet with any system. Hopefully going into his second year with this one, he takes that next leap and goes from there. I do think that’s a factor because obviously he is physically talented. He’s a very bright guy. He’s a very football-savvy guy. He’s been asked to learn all this stuff and then forget it. Learn it and then forget it. I think that’s hard on him.”
In his first season in Mike Sullivan’s offense, which is a mixture of the Rutgers playbook that McNulty is familiar with and the New York Giants playbook that Sullivan became familiar with prior to coming to Tampa Bay, Freeman set franchise records for passing yards (4,065) and passing touchdowns (27).
“Take Eli Manning, and Mike could tell you better,” McNulty said. “I was living up in New Jersey at the time and it was really three or four years before he hit his stride. You could see a guy that was finally so comfortable with that offense that he could almost close his eyes and just know where everybody was going to be. That’s what it looked like. I don’t know if we’ll get there in Year Two, but I think the biggest thing was just command and control of the offense. That’s what I told him for this offseason. So far on the field and in the meetings with the players he’s demonstrated that and it’s not B.S. You can’t fake it. I think he’s demonstrated that on the field so far.”
McNulty understands that Freeman, who has yet to take the Bucs to the playoffs since becoming the team’s first-round pick in 2009, draws some criticism and has yet to win over every Tampa Bay fan.
“I know this, there are a lot of guys that would take him today,” McNulty said. “He’s tremendously talented. He’s a great person. He’s football-savvy. He’ll do anything you ask him today. He just really needs to have a consistent structure around him as far as his system, his coaches and the people he can kind of rely on – the players he’s playing with. If that can kind of line up – that can kind of go for anybody – that helps.
“Honestly, I have not heard one person [in the NFL] say, ‘Yeah, good luck with him!’ Everybody I’ve talked to has said, ‘If you don’t want him I’ll take him!’ Those are guys [saying that] that have good quarterbacks and guys that are struggling.”
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week’s SR’s Fab 5:
• Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik felt like the team got another first-round pick with the acquisition of offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. Dominik surrendered a sixth-round pick in 2014 for the former Wisconsin star, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2011.
“We did have a low first-round grade on him, which is about where he went,” Dominik said. “He’s a good fit for a mauling-type scheme. He’s physical and can run block. Obviously having Bob Bostad on the staff is important. He was around him for four years and got the best out of him. I think our style of play fits into what he is and what he can be.”
• Despite Dominik having mentioned that offensive lineman Jamon Meredith was being considered as a trade possibility during the offseason in a secretly recorded conversation with Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix that was made public, Tampa Bay’s general manager sees the value of having Meredith around. In fact, Dominik wasn’t devaluing Meredith by putting him on the trading block this offseason.
Rather, he was interested in giving Meredith a chance for more playing time elsewhere because Tampa Bay’s starting offensive line is set with the return of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Dominik couldn’t find any suitors that would pay his asking price, so as a result, Meredith is back to be a super sub along the offensive line for the Buccaneers in 2013.
“The thing about Jamon is that he can play all four [positions],” Dominik said. “He can play left tackle, he can play right tackle and he can play both guards, so it gives him some versatility, which helps him.”
• One of the interesting coaching connections on Tampa Bay’s roster is the fact that special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt hired Greg Schiano to be a defensive assistant and secondary coach in Chicago from 1996-98. Now Wannstedt works for Schiano as he was hired to head up the Bucs’ special teams after being fired as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator last year.
One of the players that Wannstedt and Schiano coached in Chicago, linebackers coach Bryan Cox, is now Tampa Bay’s pass rushing coach. Bucs safeties coach Jeff Hafley got his first start at the University of Pittsburgh under Wannstedt where he coached cornerback Darrelle Revis before moving on to Rutgers and joining Schiano there as a defensive backs coach.
“Having Coach Wannstedt back with me is unbelievable,” Hafley said. “It’s incredible. I was with for five years and he gave me my first big job at Pitt, so I am forever grateful for him. I have learned so much football from him, and to have my office right next to his I keep having flashbacks to when we were at Pitt. He’s a guy I really, really look up to. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be coaching with him again. He’s going to make a difference on special teams and on everything he does. He’s a great football coach and an even better person. He’s going to be a great guy to have around our guys.”
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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