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Here are some things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. They say that if people don’t learn from their mistakes that history is doomed to repeat itself. I wonder if the Buccaneers are making a mistake by anointing Kyle Moore the starting left defensive end this year as Jimmy Wilkerson’s replacement.
Moore, a fourth-round pick in 2009 out of USC where he posted just seven career sacks, has been inserted into the starting lineup largely without merit. As a rookie, Moore only played in eight games, missing the first seven contests due to a knee injury he suffered in the preseason.
When he finally saw action, Moore was the only defensive end on the roster not to record a sack as he finished with just 14 tackles and one pass defensed in a reserve role. Tim Crowder, a defensive end entering his fourth year in the NFL, was acquired off waivers from Denver last year and was the third-most productive end behind Stylez G. White and Wilkerson. Subbing in mostly at left end for Wilkerson, Crowder notched 47 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 13 QB pressures and one tackle for loss.
Yet Crowder, a former second-round pick by Denver in 2007, is running second team behind Moore and White at both left and right end. I’m not suggesting that Crowder’s NFL production, which totals seven sacks over his first three years, should automatically make him the starting left end. But it certainly shouldn’t disqualify him, either.
Wouldn’t the Bucs be wise to have a truly open competition at left end between Moore, Crowder, Michael Bennett and any of the undrafted free agents the team signed this spring? To essentially hand Moore the starting reins because of his fourth-round draft status seems a little self-serving for the franchise, and this practice certainly hasn’t worked out well the last four times it tried it.
Dating back to the 2007 season when Gaines Adams was a rookie, Adams was clearly out-performed by White. After recording a team-high eight sacks and seven forced fumbles in ’07, White was supplanted by Adams as the starting right end in 2008 based purely on politics because he was a first-round pick.
In ’08, Adams led the team with 6.5 sacks as a full-time starter, but White recorded five as a backup. When Adams was traded to Chicago during the 2009 campaign, White recorded 6.5 sacks in only eight starts. It took Adams 16 games to get that many the previous year.
Starting former second-round pick Dexter Jackson over Clifton Smith proved to be a mistake in 2008, as did anointing former second-rounder Sabby Piscitelli the starter at strong safety without competition in ’09. Jackson is no longer on the Bucs, while Piscitelli will have to battle veteran Sean Jones for the right to keep his starting assignment. Right now, Jones has the edge.
Former third-round pick Jeremy Zuttah was supposed to compete with incumbent Arron Sears for the left guard job in 2009, but when Sears went AWOL due to mental health issues the club deemed “personal problems” he inherited the position and ultimately underperformed.
Yet the Bucs didn’t address the left guard position in the draft and waited until July 9 to sign veteran Keydrick Vincent to thankfully challenge Zuttah.
Just when you think the Bucs had learned from their mistake with Adams, Jackson, Piscitelli and Zuttah, there they go again. Are the Buccaneers continuing to make the mistake of handing a starting job to a player without that player earning it? That’s what Moore’s insertion into the starting lineup at left end signals.
Only time will tell if Moore can buck the trend, rise to the occasion and become the next Tanard Jackson. If not, he’ll fall in line with Adams, Jackson, Piscitelli and Zuttah and be the next not-ready-for-primetime player. Personally, I like Moore and hope he succeeds, but even the second-year product from USC has some initial doubts.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything yet,” Moore said. “We’re still in jerseys and helmets. Once we put the pads on then maybe I will feel like the starting job is mine once we get closer to the season. Right now, I just feel like I can be the starter once these pads come on.”
Moore may have not earned the starting role just yet, but he has shown improvement from a year ago when maturity issues and excess weight slowed him down. To be fair, Moore put on extra weight to play in Jim Bates’ defense last year, which called for defensive linemen to be close to or over 300 pounds.
“I’ve grown up a whole lot since last year,” Moore said. “I’m in shape and I’m not tired as much as I was last year. I’m not out here getting used to the heat. I’m already used to the heat now. I know the defense. The defense is very similar to the USC defense in terms of the formation and the terminology.
“When I first came back from the offseason I was 20 pounds under where I was last year. I weighed about 296 pounds last year. You really couldn’t tell by looking at me, but you could tell on film. I was slow. Now I’m back in shape. I’m about 278 right now. I’m going to get down to 270-275 by camp. I feel a whole lot different. I have more energy and I don’t get tired in meetings. Last year as a rookie, I was just doing everything I could to survive. This year, I know the practice schedule, the meeting schedule and I know what I’m doing.”
It certainly has been an offseason of transformation for Moore, and that’s a good thing. It would be great for him to become the starting left end given how hard he worked and the fourth-round pick that Tampa Bay has invested in him. But he really should be in an open competition versus Crowder and all comers.
“Coach (Todd) Wash got me right in that D-line room and kept me on the details,” Moore said. “If he can trust me to go out and run the plays with those first-teamers then I have a chance of starting as long as I do what I need to do, not mess up, be responsible and do my job. If he trusts me, he’ll give me the starting job.”
Ultimately, it won’t be up to Wash. It will be up to head coach Raheem Morris with perhaps some input from general manager Mark Dominik as to which player will land the starting left end role. Moore is coming off a good round of organized team activities (OTAs) and has formed a nice pass-rushing tandem with 2010 first-round pick Gerald McCoy. Moore has teamed up with McCoy as both a defensive end and also inside as a defensive tackle in nickel defense when the Bucs want to really amp up the pass rush.
“With Gerald and I playing side by side, that’s a lot of athleticism,” Moore said. “That’s a lot of quickness and size. Everybody has their strengths, and putting Gerald and I side by side gives us a lot of speed and athleticism. Both of us can pass rush. We’re going to give offenses a lot of trouble. Both of us can get up field. We’re going to create some more looks for our ends – Stylez and Tim. It’s going to help a lot. It’s going to look a whole lot different than it did last year. I’m not knocking Chris Hovan, but we’ll be a faster unit.”
Because of the quickness along the defensive line by going with younger players, the Bucs will be getting back to some TEX (tackle-end-cross) and ETX (end-tackle-cross) games that players like Chidi Ahanotu and Warren Sapp used to run in the late 1990s to help the Bucs rack up the sacks.
“That’s what we do,” Moore said. “Gerald and I work on those before we practice them on the field. We all know what we need to do and how we’re supposed to run those games. If you don’t run them the right way, they won’t work. The first step is critical. Your footwork is the biggest thing in those TEX and ETX stunts and run them to the right side because the offensive line will slide the protection to try to counter you. It’s a lot of stuff to know before we run it, but once we run it it’s going to open up a lot more things because offenses won’t know where we’re coming from.”
Tampa Bay would be wise to mix in Crowder more with the starters just in case Moore is not up to the task. By doing so that would further motivate Moore to have to compete harder to earn the left end job rather than to inherit it from Wilkerson.
The Buccaneers have the best intentions at heart and there’s nothing wrong with wanting Moore to succeed. They are just basing Moore being ready for the starting assignment on his 2009 preseason, in which his three tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble were all tied for the team lead, rather than his production during the regular season or even at USC.
Moore becomes a little sensitive when talking about his lack of big sack numbers during his college days, and chalked up his lack of production due to USC’s success and the fact that head coach Pete Carroll liked to generate pressure from blitzing linebackers like Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.
“We had 12 games in a college season,” Moore said. “At USC we probably practiced 80 plays a day, and when it came to the games we may only have 40 because of all the three-and-outs and turnovers we’d create. I didn’t get the opportunity to rush the passer a lot. I was dropping in coverage some and playing inside some doing stunt games and that limited my opportunities. We had Brian Cushing who would rotate in at defensive end.
“I can get up field. I know I can do it. I did it sometimes in college. But now I have 16 games. If I can’t get back there at least once in every two games there is something wrong with me. I’m going to do my best to get back there as much as I can. I can become a double-digit sacker in this league. Believe that! Sacks are going to come. They aren’t easy, but the sacks will come.”
The sacks better come, and a backup like Crowder better not outperform Moore or the Bucs will come under some scrutiny for not opening up the competition earlier and having Moore earn the job to begin with.
FAB 2. Ideally, Bucs head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris would love nothing better than to have his front four defensive linemen generate tremendous pass rush on every play. In addition to improving the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense, Tampa Bay desperately needs to increase its sack total.
Here is how Tampa Bay’s returning sackers rate as far as their production in getting to the quarterback over their respective careers:
25 sacks – CB Ronde Barber
19.5 – DE Stylez G. White
8.5 sacks – DT Ryan Sims
7.5 sacks – DE Tim Crowder
3 sacks – MLB Barrett Ruud
3 sacks – WLB Geno Hayes
2 sacks – DT Roy Miller
1.5 sacks – SLB Quincy Black
1 sack – DE Michael Bennett
1 sack – FS Tanard Jackson
That’s a combined 72 career sacks. At first that may not seem like a lot, but to put that in perspective, that’s only slightly less than the total number of sacks the Buccaneers players from the 1996 season had heading into the ’97 campaign.
Tampa Bay was coming off a 6-10 season in ’96 and players like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson, Brad Culpepper and others had only logged a combined 78.5 career sacks heading into ‘97. In fact, even after a stellar season in which the Bucs notched 44 sacks in ’97, including 10.5 sacks from Sapp, 10 from Chidi Ahanotu, 8.5 from Culpepper and 7.5 from Regan Upshaw – and an increase of 11 total sacks from the ’96 season – the Bucs collectively had only 98 career sacks.
However, by 1998, the frontline of Sapp, Culpepper, Ahanotu and Upshaw had established themselves as a pass-rushing front four. Outside of White, Morris’ front four does not have any established pass rushers.
What’s worrisome for Morris is that out of the 72 career sacks among his current players, only 38.5 sacks come from the defensive line, which is just over half. The Bucs haven’t had a double-digit sacker since Simeon Rice accomplished that feat in 2005.
Of the team’s 44 sacks in 1997, only four combined sacks came from linebackers and the secondary. The other 40 came from the defensive line.
Last year, Morris and former defensive coordinator Jim Bates had to rely on the blitz to produce sacks. Out of Tampa Bay’s 28 sacks in 2009, 6.5 sacks came from linebackers and the secondary, while only 21.5 came from the defensive line.
With two starters along the defensive line in Moore and McCoy that have yet to record their first NFL sack, Morris will have to continue to be inventive in his schemes and find ways to manufacture sacks with blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. That will also mean deploying more of a 3-4 scheme to rely on the pass-rushing talents of Hayes, Black and even White as a stand-up outside linebacker.
The reviews are mixed in the defensive line room as some of the players that are more comfortable in a 4-3 front prefer that scheme, while others are excited about the opportunity to mix it up with the 3-4. One of those is White, who was actually an outside rush linebacker in college at the University of Minnesota.
“Yes, I like playing in a 3-4 scheme,” White said. “Please tell Coach Morris that I am a very big fan of the 3-4 defense because I get to play some linebacker and show off my many talents. I want to drop into coverage and get me a pick and take it to the house! I want to go on record and say that Raheem is doing a great job of mixing it up.”
White’s enthusiasm for the 3-4 has a lot to do with him no longer playing defensive end in that scheme. Instead of putting his hand in the dirt as a down lineman and squaring off against an offensive tackle, White stands up and lines just off the line of scrimmage so that he has the chance to run downhill towards the quarterback and use different rush angles.
Moore has the opposite point of view. As someone who favors using a quick first step to penetrate gaps whether they be on the edge or inside at defensive tackle, Moore is not thrilled with the notion of lining head up on an offensive tackle and controlling him rather than penetrating and getting to the quarterback.
“It’s a nice change-up because it gives the offense different looks,” Moore said. “We do a lot of blitzing out of the 3-4. It basically features the linebackers a lot more than us. We have to kill ourselves by occupying blockers, but it frees those guys up. We’re team players, so we’ll deal with the 3-4. It’s what we have to do, and it gives offenses trouble.”
Moore said that playing one of the defensive spots in the 3-4 scheme is not all that bad, as long as the blitzing linebacker lines up on his side.
“It’s more of a power technique when you are playing end in that 3-4,” Moore said. “It’s zero shading and heavy techniques on the tackle. It’s hard to rush out of a tight five-technique because they are usually sliding that way. Whatever side we’re blitzing from – if it’s the left maybe I have to keep contain. On the right side you might have a two-way go as the other five technique. That means you have two gaps and you get to pick which gap you are going to rush. Whenever you can get that two-way go you’ll take it. You don’t ever want to be that regular five technique, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
When the Bucs go to a 3-4 scheme, Roy Miller mans the nose tackle position over the center, Moore plays one end spot and rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy mans the other end. Playing the 3-4 is nothing new for McCoy as Oklahoma mixed in some of that scheme in addition to its 4-3 base.
“It changes things up,” McCoy said. “We have different packages where I come off the edge as an end. I did the same thing at Oklahoma, so it’s not really different. I just have fun with it. It’s a lot to take it. This defense is similar to the one I ran at Oklahoma, but it’s not at the same time. It’s fun to run off the edge and come at the quarterback from a different angle.”
The coaches have been raving about how quickly McCoy has picked up the base 4-3 in addition to the 3-4 fronts. Even though he is a rookie, McCoy has been tabbed as the leader of the defensive line, whose main responsibility is to identify the offensive line formation and relay that to his teammates along the line.
“There are a lot of different looks we have,” McCoy said. “There is a lot I have to know in terms of making the calls on the D-line. I’m picking it up pretty fast because we did a lot of the same stuff at Oklahoma. We’re extremely serious about changing from last year [in terms of production]. We need a huge change.”
Morris knows that 28 sacks won’t cut it in the NFL, and even though young players like McCoy, Moore and rookie defensive tackle Brian Price all have a great set of athletic tools to work with, the term “potential” is one of the deadliest in the league. Morris can’t count on the “potential” of those players, which is why he will continue to incorporate the 3-4 and 3-3-5 fronts and use a heavier dosage of blitzing in 2010.
By playing both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, Morris believes that it puts more pressure on offensive tackles because they not only have to face pass-rushing defensive ends, but also blitzing linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks. It also forces teams to have to practice playing against multiple fronts in practice, which eats up limited and valuable practice time.
Playing a 4-3/3-4 hybrid defense also makes offensive linemen to have to study the pass-rushing techniques of multiple players playing multiple positions, which also eats up quite a bit of time in the film room. For example, Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas can’t just study White for his opening day assignment. He might also face Crowder in a 4-3 scheme, McCoy or Moore in a 3-4 scheme, or Barber, Hayes or Black coming on a blitz.
Of course playing Morris’ hybrid defense also requires a lot more work from a young and inexperienced defensive line to get all of its assignments down. It’s the exact opposite approach that former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and vaunted defensive line coach Rod Marinelli used in Tampa Bay. Marinelli and Kiffin essentially stressed doing one thing and learning to do it well by repetition with repeated use of a 4-3, one-gap scheme.
Yet without any proven pass-rushers up front except for White, Morris has no choice but to deploy a hybrid scheme to keep opponents guessing and manufacturing a pass rush until McCoy or Moore can turn into a real, consistent threat to quarterbacks.
FAB 3. Let’s stick with the defensive line theme. I get more questions from Bucs fans asking how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy fared during the organized team activities (OTAs) and mini-camp largely because he’s the team’s first-round pick, but the queries don’t end there. One of the burning questions on the minds of Bucs fans is how effective Tampa Bay’s pass rush will be.
I believe I answered part of that question in FAB 2 when talking about how head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will need to deploy a 3-4 defense to manufacture some sacks while players like McCoy gain valuable experience. The other part of the answer is simply, “I don’t know.”
And neither do Morris and his defensive coaches.The reason? The three positions most difficult to evaluate without pads on are fullbacks, offensive line and defensive line.
â€¨“We call the OTAs ‘glorified gym class,’” said Bucs defensive line coach Todd Wash. “We’re here working base fundamentals, but as a coach – and even as a player – you get upset about it because when you are rushing the quarterback you may want to go from speed to power and you can’t out here because it’s a non-contact camp. We also can’t concentrate on run fundamentals. We’ve got everything structured where we are trying to work on the finesse side of things and then we’ll work on the physical side of things in training camp. It’s frustrating as a coach because you can’t judge exactly how well we’re going to play against the run. That’s going to be a point of emphasis going into the fall.”
Unlike wide receivers coach Eric Yarber, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, whose players are featured prominently in OTAs and mini-camps and can be fully evaluated in the spring and summer, Wash must wait until training camp to truly evaluate his squad. That puts defensive linemen at a disadvantage because they have such a truncated window of opportunity – basically the month of August – to strut their stuff.
“A lot of times the offseason gives you a false sense of where a young man is at developmentally,” Wash said. “In the past couple years and even when Coach (Monte) Kiffin was here we would say, ‘Hey, this guy might be the surprise of training camp.’ Then we realize that he’s only a guy that can play in shorts and that he’s only a finesse guy. That gives you a little bit of a false sense.
“We’ve learned over the years that we can’t get too excited about players in the OTAs because we’re only seeing half their game. We aren’t seeing their physical side.”
That’s why players in years past, such as former Tampa Bay defensive ends Patrick Chukwurah and Gaines Adams, would shine in the offseason where their speed could be showcased, but would falter once the pads came on because they turned out to be one-dimensional players.
In other words, take the offseason hype regarding rookies like defensive tackle McCoy and defensive ends George Johnson and James Ruffin with a grain of salt. They are off to good starts, but must continue to impress once the pads come on in training camp.
Wash and Morris have also come to learn that defensive linemen that don’t shine in the offseason shouldn’t be written off before the start of camp.
“A prime example is Stylez White,” Wash said. “In a two-minute situation when we’re in full pads in training camp you see him as a really good rusher. Out here with no pads, he doesn’t want anything to do with that. That’s just his mental makeup. That’s not taking a shot at Stylez by any means. You just can’t judge him out here in OTAs and mini-camps.
“We know what Stylez can do, and we know what the Roy Millers and Kyle Moores can do because they were here with us last year and got to play. But we don’t know what the young guys like James Ruffin and George Johnson can really do yet, but we’ll have a good idea by the fourth day of training camp.”
And then players like Ruffin and Johnson will only have a few weeks to make an impact and prove they belong on an NFL roster. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s young corners and wide receivers have had the advantage and the luxury of several months worth of a head start when it comes to the evaluation process.
FAB 4. A scout from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was in attendance on Thursday at the workout for former BYU running back Harvey Unga in Provo, Utah. Unga, who was expelled for violating the strict honor code at the Mormon institution (allegedly for having premarital sex with his girlfriend, who gave birth to their first child over the Fourth of July weekend), is entering the 2010 Supplemental NFL Draft, which will be held on Thursday.
Unga appealed and applied for reinstatement to BYU this spring with the backing of his head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, but was ultimately denied. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Bucs were one of four teams believed to be the most interested in Unga’s workout among the 20 teams in attendance from the newspaper reporter’s eyewitness account.
The supplemental draft works this way. Based on 2010 draft order, teams can submit a secret bid via e-mail to the NFL during the supplemental draft and the highest bid wins. Let’s say St. Louis and Tampa Bay both agree to forfeit a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft in order to get Unga and that is the highest-round pick offered. The Rams, which had the first overall pick in April’s draft, would beat out the Bucs, which picked third overall.
The only way the Bucs could land Unga ahead of the Rams, who are also interested in him, would be to submit a fourth-round pick and hope that St. Louis submitted a fifth-round pick to the league.
Unga is an interesting player because he is a nimble big man. Measuring 6-foot-1, 244 pounds, Unga ran a 4.63 at his pro day and is considered to be a poor man’s Mike Alstott/Toby Gerhart. He benched 19 reps of 225 pounds, ran a 4.49 short shuttle, had a 10-foot broad jump and a 35-inch vertical at his pro day workout.
Despite suffering several minor injuries and nicks over his collegiate career, Unga only missed one game over the past three years, which was the 2009 season opener against Oklahoma, which BYU won 14-13. A three-year starter after redshirting his freshman year, Unga was the model of consistency for the Cougars.
In 2007 as a redshirt freshman, Unga rushed for a career-high 1,227 yards and 13 touchdowns on 244 carries, while catching 44 passes for 655 yards and four TDs. During his sophomore year, Unga rushed for 1,132 yards and 11 scores on 240 carries in addition to 309 yards and four TDs on 42 catches. As a junior in 2009, Unga rushed for 1,087 yards and 11 touchdowns in 208 carries, while catching 16 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Unga’s total offensive output was 3,455 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns on 696 carries, and 102 receptions for 1,085 yards and nine receiving scores. He produced 15 100-yard games during his career, and another eight in which he rushed for at least 80 yards. Unga scored a touchdown in 28 of the 39 games he played in at BYU.
Unga didn’t gain all of his yardage against the lesser foes in the Mountain West Conference like Colorado State, Wyoming and New Mexico. Some of his most productive outings came against the likes of Top 25 powerhouses like Utah and TCU and out-of-conference foes in the Pac-10.
In his first game as a starter in 2007 against Arizona, Unga recorded 67 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, in addition to catching nine passes for 127 yards and another score. Later that year against Utah, he rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in a 17-10 victory after rushing for 64 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-22 win over TCU.
In 2008, Unga and BYU stunned defensive tackle Brian Price and UCLA with a 59-0 victory against the Bruins. Unga rushed for 71 yards and added 42 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. Against Utah, he rushed for 116 yards and two TDs on only 15 carries in a 48-24 loss.
Last year, Unga rushed for 97 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries before Florida State poured it on in a 54-28 home loss for BYU. Despite being on the losing end of a 38-7 outcome against TCU last year, the Horned Frogs defense had a tough time against Unga as he rushed for 123 yards on 21 carries and added three catches for 11 yards and a touchdown. In a 26-23 win against rival Utah, Unga rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
You can watch Unga’s highlight video by clicking here. It’s worth watching, but it loads and plays slowly.
Would I advocate the Bucs spending a 2011 pick on Unga in the supplemental draft? Yes, because I see running back as a big need on this team now and in the future.
I don’t know if Cadillac Williams, who will be 29 next April – just months after he hits unrestricted free agency – will ever get back the burst he had before his two torn patellar tendons. If he’s can’t, he isn’t worth a big contract extension.
Derrick Ward, who turns 30 in August, has done little to show that he is capable of being a feature back in Tampa Bay. Speedster Kareem Huggins is intriguing, but unproven.
Tampa Bay’s running game is just average. I don’t think it is a team strength. It’s an area that will have to be addressed next offseason in the draft or in free agency as I don’t see both Williams and Ward on the roster. Actually, Williams and Ward should not be on the roster as they are the same type of running back with a little bit of power and a little bit of speed, but not a lot of both.
There is also a chance that neither Williams nor Ward returns in 2010. If Williams can’t become a 1,000-yard rusher again, Ward’s best days prove to be behind him, and Huggins can’t assert himself in the 2010 preseason, the Bucs could be completely starting over at the running back position in 2011.
Drafting a big, power back like Unga could be step in that direction. The first question is where would the Bucs find room for him? Unless the Bucs plan on carrying five halfbacks in Unga, Williams, Ward, Huggins and Clifton Smith, someone has got to go.
Is it too early to give up on Ward when the team is ticketing him for more carries in 2010? Would it be Huggins, who is the only speed back on the Bucs’ roster, that makes way for Unga?
In order to keep five halfbacks, the Bucs would have to commit to keeping only one fullback (Earnest Graham), only five receivers and probably only three tight ends. I don’t see that happening.
The second question is in what round would the Bucs forfeit a 2011 pick in order to land Unga? With the Rams interested in the BYU rusher, Tampa Bay might have to submit a pick one round higher than they have Unga graded to ensure the team lands him.
What the Bucs have to consider is not only is Unga worth perhaps a fourth-round pick, but which players Tampa Bay may be potentially passing on in next year’s draft. Forecasting a draft nine month ahead of time is awfully hard to do because there is no telling where the Bucs will be picking, what their team needs in 2011 will be and which players will be available when they’re on the clock.
The 2011 draft appears to be weak at running back right now with Penn State’s Evan Royster, Oklahoma’s oft-injured DeMarco Murray, West Virginia’s smallish Noel Devine and Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas as the top four seniors. Devine and Thomas may not even wind up in the first round. Alabama junior Mark Ingram would be the top-rated running back if he declares, but I’m not sure he’s the best running back the Crimson Tide has (I like sophomore Trent Richardson better).
I think a fifth-round pick would be worth using on Unga, but I believe it would take a fourth-rounder to actually draft him because of St. Louis. I just don’t see the Bucs giving anything higher than a fifth-round pick for Unga in the supplemental draft, but they may surprise me.
FAB 5. Here are a couple things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5.
• Since last week’s mention regarding Pewter Report’s Facebook and Twitter pages, we have seen a nice surge of friends and followers. Pewter Report now has 650 Facebook friends and is closing in on 1,900 followers on Twitter. Our stated goal by the end of the preseason is getting Pewter Report’s Facebook page to top 1,000 friends and our Twitter page surpass 2,000 followers. If you are into social media and haven’t followed or befriended Pewter Report yet on Twitter or Facebook, please do so. It only takes a few minutes to help us reach our goal. That way you’ll always be kept in the loop whenever new stories are posted to PewterReport.com.
• A lot was made of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s suspect bench press numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine. McCoy only did 23 reps of 225 pounds, which was nine less than the top-rated defensive tackle in the 2010 NFL Draft, Ndamukong Suh, who went ahead of McCoy to Detroit.
But the one thing the NFL doesn’t have a physical test for is hand strength, which is a crucial weapon for defensive linemen in the pros where defenders need to grab offensive linemen first to stop them from holding. When I met McCoy the day after the draft he shook my hand and about crushed it – and he wasn’t even trying to. The only other handshake that was harder than McCoy’s was that of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, who was drafted by Jacksonville with the 10th overall pick in April.
During the Bucs organized team activities this spring, I saw McCoy use his incredibly strong hands to grab the jerseys of guards Jeremy Zuttah and Marc Dile and sling them aside while pass rushing.
“The thing is that too many people get caught up in the bench press numbers,” Wash said. “You have weight room strength and you have functional strength. If all that stuff at the combine was that important then teams would always draft the fastest and strongest guys. They aren’t always the best football players. We’re not getting judged on Sunday in the weight room. We’re getting judged out on the field. Gerald has very, very good functional strength. His hand strength is extremely strong. I noticed that the first time I worked him out.
“We don’t get caught up on the bench press numbers. We get caught up on the functional strength, and he’s a very strong lower body guy, which you have to be to sit in there and anchor. Maybe he doesn’t bench press 500 pounds, but he can throw anybody he wants with his hands, upper body and his functional strength.”
• Don’t expect an instant impact from linebacker Dekoda Watson, who was one of the team’s three seventh-round picks. Watson is still learning the Bucs defense and is only slated for special teams duty in 2010 because he received limited reps on defense during the organized team activities and the mandatory mini-camp. There isn’t any chance he will unseat Quincy Black this year.
If you were to draw up a Tampa Bay linebacker hierarchy, Watson would currently be eighth on the list behind Barrett Ruud, Geno Hayes, Black, Adam Hayward, Jon Alston, Niko Koutovides, Lee Robinson, Watson and fellow rookie Rico McCoy. In fact, Watson will be battling Koutouvides and Alston for the sixth and final linebacker roster spot this August.
• Kudos to Bucs general manager Mark Dominik for signing veteran Keydrick Vincent to a two-year contract to compete with Zuttah for Tampa Bay’s starting left guard position. The 32-year old Vincent goes against the grain of what Dominik is trying to foster in Tampa Bay, which is a youth roster. But it was a necessary signing that actually helps the development of second-year quarterback Josh Freeman and adds experience to the left side of the line that currently features unproven left tackle Demar Dotson in place of hold out Donald Penn.
I criticized Dominik in a recent SR’s Fab 5 for not providing any real competition for Zuttah, who was Pewter Report’s Most Disappointing Player this offseason. Now that he’s addressed left guard Dominik deserves praise for the move. Some thought Pewter Report’s criticism of Zuttah was too harsh, yet they failed to realize that multiple sources had told us of Zuttah’s shortcomings this offseason. The fact that Vincent was signed just a week after our multiple stories on Zuttah were published only validates our reporting.
The Bucs like the size that the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Vincent brings as Zuttah has not developed enough size and strength from an underwhelming offseason in the weight room. Vincent will either push Zuttah towards greatness or push him to the bench. Either way, the Bucs benefit, and it shows some good foresight on Dominik’s part to create a much more competitive environment in training camp at left guard.
• Here’s another personal anecdote from my 15 years of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In last week’s SR’s Fab 5, I discussed an eventful ride on the team plane to Carolina in 1996 when running back Errict Rhett and linebacker Derrick Brooks were in the midst of a wager on the Florida-Florida State regular season contest that resulted in Rhett doing scores of push-ups on the trip – and even in the aisle of the plane. This week I will chronicle my first plane trip with the Buccaneers, which was to Detroit in Week 2 of the 1996 season.
Cliff Welch, Buccaneer Magazine’s (now known as Pewter Report) director of photography, and I met at One Buc Place to ride the buses with the players, coaches and staff members to Tampa International Airport to board the chartered plane. Rookie defensive lineman Marcus Jones was deathly afraid of flying and this was his second flight on the team plane.
Once we boarded the plane and began taxiing down the runway, Jones, who was sitting towards the back of the plane near me, was bent down with his head near his knees, chanting over and over again, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” As soon as the plane took off, Jones wailed at the top of his lungs, “Ahhhhhhhhh!”
That prompted several giggles from his teammates, but running back Errict Rhett, who was always known as a jokester, got Jones good a few minutes after takeoff. As the plane veered north towards Detroit, Rhett yelled at the top of his lungs, “We’re going down!” That caused Jones to shriek in horror and prompted a chorus of laughs. I think one of the veterans – maybe it was left tackle Paul Gruber or perhaps it was middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson – yelled at Rhett to knock it off.
I felt bad for Jones, but I have to admit that the sight of a muscle-bound, 6-foot-6, 285-pound defensive lineman screaming in fear over flying was a bit comical. It’s something that Jones was obviously not able to overcome in college or at least early on in his Buccaneers career.
I remember a few years later interviewing Jones for a story and discussing his fear of flying. The moment I mentioned flying Jones immediately starting sweating profusely. I mean like you had just poured a cup of water on his dreadlocks. Jones quickly asked me to change the subject, and I obliged. Jones’ fear of flying was quite intense.