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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. One Buccaneer that has seen his stock skyrocket this offseason is Adam Hayward. Hayward, a sixth-round pick in 2007, has patiently bided his time on special teams as a standout performer while waiting for the opportunity to contribute on defense. Over the past three years, Hayward has recorded 38 tackles on special teams, including a career-high 15 last year, which placed him third on the Bucs behind Niko Koutouvides (18) and Torrie Cox (17).
In his three seasons in Tampa Bay, Hayward has only seen spot duty on defense, recording just 51 tackles (42 solo). Meanwhile, Quincy Black, a third-round pick in Hayward’s draft class in 2007, and Geno Hayes, a fellow sixth-round pick, but in the 2008 draft, have gone on to claim starter positions on defense, while Hayward has been relegated to backup status and special teams work.
It has taken Hayward some time to earn the coaches’ trust. He hasn’t blocked a kick on special teams (Hayes has blocked two), nor has he made any splash plays in the preseason like other linebackers have to help his standing on the depth chart.
But he has made tackles in the preseason – lots of them. Hayward made 14 tackles, which was tied for second on the team behind linebacker Ryan Nece, in the 2007 preseason, and then made 13 stops the next year, which was tied for the team lead with safety Will Allen. Last preseason, he made 12 tackles, which was tied for fourth, and broke up two passes, while becoming a more productive player on special teams.
That combination was enough to give the coaching staff more confidence in the Portland State/Colorado State product that he was asked to learn the middle linebacker position this offseason. Hayward attacked the assignment as aggressively as he tackles punt and kick returners, and in doing so, worked his way up the depth chart behind starter Barrett Ruud and ahead of Niko Koutouvides.
That really says something because Hayward has learned both the weakside and strongside linebacker positions in Tampa Bay, but has never played middle linebacker in the pros or in college. Conversely, Koutouvides has been a middle linebacker since his days at Purdue.
“I’m excited,” Hayward said. “I like being in the middle. I’m fast and I’m a big guy, so I like to come downhill and smack some people in their mouth. It’s going well and I’m getting it down. I do a lot of stuff with Barrett and try to pick his brain because Barrett is an intelligent player. He’s been in that position for five years now. It’s new to me to be in control of everybody because now I have people looking at me and asking me what they are supposed to do. I have to know what I’m doing and try to remember what everyone else is doing, too. At first it was frustrating, but I’m getting it down now.
“Coach Morris told me that as a middle linebacker whatever play I call – I can never be wrong as long as everyone is playing the same defense on that play. Once I understood that it was easier for me, and if I should have made a different call we can talk about it on the sidelines.”
Hayward is a high-energy, rambunctious player that is always smiling – even during his frustration about not getting the chance to elevate up the depth chart until now. But he stayed positive during his first three years in the NFL and was excited about the opportunity to move to middle linebacker.
Hayward is thrilled that he has become the fourth linebacker on the depth chart, meaning that if there was an injury to Ruud, Hayes or Black that he would be the first player in the game replacing the fallen linebacker. But he still wants to crack the starting lineup. It will take a great deal of effort to unseat Ruud as the starting middle linebacker, but Hayward is readying himself for the challenge.
“My whole mentality is whatever my coaches ask me to do, I’ll do,” Hayward said. “I’ve been around the whole linebacking corps and sometimes I’ve even played offense. That’s the type of player I am, but it’s nice to kind of have that spot and work hard at it and compete with Barrett. Although Barrett has been there for a while, when it comes to competition, I think I may have a fair chance at it. I just want to be ready.”
Hayward is thankful that Morris and linebackers coach Joe Baker approached him early in the offseason about making the switch to the Mike (middle) linebacker spot so that he would have ample time to study it in the offseason.
“I think that’s key,” Hayward said. “I’ve been in that situation where you work at one outside linebacker spot in the offseason and then they move you to the other side for training camp. That’s hard to do during two-a-days. Right from the start of the offseason they called me in and said they wanted to put me in the middle. I’ve been able to learn the middle linebacker spot this offseason. I sit right next to Barrett in the meeting room and I just try to grab as much knowledge from him as I can.”
The 6-foot, 241-pound Hayward said that playing the middle linebacker position has required him to spend countless hours in the film room not only knowing his responsibilities, but also those of the 10 player surrounding him.
“When I was at outside, you just kind of listen for the part of the play call that pertains to you and that’s it,” Hayward said. “I like playing Mike because there is so much stuff you have to learn. You have to learn everything. You have to learn what the line is doing in front of me, and what the DBs are doing behind me. I think it makes your job easier when you know what everyone else is doing. In the middle when you call a play and you have a defensive lineman or a safety looking at you kind of lost you have to remind them what they are supposed to do. I like the knowledge and being able to know what everyone else is doing on any given play.”
At the end of organized team activities (OTAs), Morris praised Hayward for quickly picking up the Mike linebacker responsibilities and for his performance on the field as a linebacker and an emerging leader.
“Adam is great,” Morris said. “It’s funny; I can give you a couple great tidbits about Adam. He is a great listener. He loves asking questions that he already has the answer to just to make sure he is right. He is a great attention to detail guy. He has all those qualities and attributes. So now it is just about him relaxing and going out there be comfortable enough with the defense to call what you want to call. For me, I always tell my Mike linebackers, ‘You can’t be wrong.’ I’ll cuss you out on Monday when you are wrong and we want to talk about something that we didn’t get that we wanted to do. But at the time, if you go out there and you check to the defense and everybody does exactly what you say, we are going to be right. It’s your huddle. You are the quarterback, so when you’re wrong, be wrong and loud and make everyone get on the same page and let’s execute this play. Then we’ll get a timeout and a chance to talk.
“I was laughing the other day because Barrett had him on the side and [Hayward] did one of those dummy audibles and the dummy audible meant what we were playing. Barrett kind of calmly said to him, ‘You know, we don’t want to dummy audible to what we are playing when we are playing the dummy audible.’ He kind of smiled and laughed, but it was typical Barrett. He shook his head and walked away and couldn’t do nothing be look at me and laugh.”
Hayward took that lesson in stride and with a sense of humor. In fact, he is known as one of the most gregarious players on the team. Hayward loves messing with his teammates and will even pull some locker room pranks on occasion. That likeability has made his transition from follower to leader when the second-string defense is on the field even easier.
“I like taking a leadership role because I feel like I can talk to anybody and get my point across,” Hayward said. “Some people take well to negativity and you have to get on them. Some people prefer positivity and you need to encourage them. I’m able to do both, depending on the player. I’m not yelling at anybody as just any player, I’m yelling at them like a teammate. I think I’m a likeable guy in that sense.”
The Westminster, Calif. native is excited about the upcoming preseason because it gives backups like him the greatest opportunity for playing time as the starters on defense get limited snaps in August.
“I’m looking forward to this preseason,” Hayward said. “This preseason is going to be fun. I might even try to play a little running back and fullback this preseason.”
Hayward is actually quite serious. Not only is he moving from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, Hayward is also going to get some snaps at fullback – not just in practice, but in the games. At least that’s the plan.
“I played running back and slot receiver at Colorado State,” Hayward said. “I’ve pretty much done everything at one time or another. They’ve even used me on offense here in camp. I’ve played some fullback here before in practice.
“When I play fullback I’m going to get the ball and make things happen, man! I told E.G. (Earnest Graham) that I’m going to battle him. I might move to offense and change my number. I’m excited. Whatever they’ll let me do the better. The more guys like me that can do more than one thing the better. If an injury happens they can pretty much move me anywhere.”
Because of his lack of experience, it’s extremely doubtful that Hayward could beat out Ruud in training camp, but he is one step closer to becoming more than just a fourth down player in Tampa Bay
“I take pride in being a four-down player – not just a fourth down player,” Hayward said. “I love playing all four downs. I love doing everything I can for (special teams coordinator) Rich Bisaccia, everything I can for the defense, and if I get to play on offense that would be great, too. This sport is fun and it’s not for long. I’m definitely trying to make the most of it. Offense, defense, we-fense – I’m your guy. Or at least I’m trying to be.”
Just as Hayward’s off-field interview was concluding, Bisaccia overheard him talk about playing defense and offense and yelled at the four-year linebacker.
“You are my guy,” shouted Bisaccia. “Just remember, you are MY guy!”
Hayward didn’t know Bisaccia was behind him and shook his head and grinned.
“I’m your guy, Rich!” Hayward said. “I told Scott I’m your guy. I’m not going anywhere else.”
Not unless Morris and Olson have anything to say about it.
FAB 2. Bucs linebacker Adam Hayward isn’t the only defender that will be used on the offensive side of the ball during training camp. Tampa Bay plans to cross-train defensive end Erik Lorig, the team’s final seventh-round pick, at the tight end position.
Lorig missed the first half of organized team activities (OTAs) while rehabbing his right pectoral muscle that was torn during the winter.
“I hurt my pec training for the combine,” Lorig said. “I tore it pretty badly and I had to go get some sutures in. It hurt pretty bad when it happened. Now it’s fine.”
The Bucs kept Lorig out of team drills during the spring, but he was able to participate in the individual drills with the other defensive linemen prior to the 11-on-11 period.
“The individual periods were really good,” Lorig said. “It’s been five or six months since I’ve been on a football field. It’s great to be working with Coach [Todd] Wash and the rest of the defensive linemen. Now I finally feel like I’m back to normal. This pec will be 100 percent healthy by the time we go to camp. Then I’ll be doing everything full-go – defense and special teams.”
And even offense.
“The team mentioned it,” Lorig said. “Playing tight end is something that when I get back out on the field full-time it might come up again. I planned to work out as a defensive end and a tight end at my pro day. I was going to do all the defensive end stuff and all the tight end stuff so that I could show NFL teams that I could do both. I still feel pretty confident that I can do both.”
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Lorig admitted that while he had good hands, he was more of a blocking tight end than a receiving tight end in college.
“If they put me at tight end I would bring some really hard-nosed blocking,” Lorig said. “I really get after it. I was primarily a blocker my first two years at Stanford when I was playing tight end. I ran some short and intermediate routes, but I was more of a blocking tight end with a lot of power stuff – goal line, short-yardage. I’ve played tight end my whole life. I was a two-way player in high school, but I was recruited to Stanford as a tight end and then played defensive line there my last two years.”
Lorig only caught three passes for 21 yards at Stanford, all of which came as a sophomore in 2007. Over his last two years while playing defensive end, Lorig totaled 95 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Because he split his time between tight end and defensive end in college he was never able to master either position. That has Lorig concerned heading into training camp.
“The technique is the area I have to catch up to at defensive end,” Lorig said. “I feel like I have the athleticism and the explosiveness to play. That carried me through two years at defensive end at Stanford and got me to the NFL. My technique is something I’m always thinking about. My technique is going to be my success or my failure in the NFL.”
If Lorig can increase his versatility by playing tight end effectively in addition to defensive end that would aid his attempt for a successful NFL career in Tampa Bay.
FAB 3. Some Buccaneers fans were discouraged and dismayed by the reaction of Demar Dotson, player that only has two years worth of experience playing offensive line in his entire life, when asked if he was ready to play left tackle and protect quarterback Josh Freeman’s blindside this season by the Tampa Tribune. Dotson, who is a humble person by nature, did not feel he was ready to start at left tackle in case Donald Penn’s contract hold out continues into training camp.
“I’m not saying I’m a good left tackle. I don’t even know if I’m a starting left tackle or not at this moment. If you ask me, I’m not,” said Dotson. “I’m working at it, taking these reps while Penn is away and I look forward to Penn getting here soon and protecting Josh’s blindside.”
Although Dotson didn’t project a lot of confidence with his comments, his play certainly suggests otherwise. Offensive line coach Pete Mangurian has been happy with how far Dotson has come this offseason in not only making the switch from right tackle to left tackle, but how to play offensive line in general.
“He’s worked extremely hard,” Mangurian said. “He has to overcome a lot of the things that instinctively these guys already knew when they got here because they played football all their life and he hasn’t. That takes time. I’m really pleased with the progress he’s made.”
Bucs center Jeff Faine, who is the leader of the offensive line and is known in the locker room as a straight shooter, is thrilled with how Dotson has held his own with the starting offensive line in the organized team activities (OTAs) and mandatory mini-camp.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Faine said. “I think even we take it for granted on the inside of the offensive line – not just the team, but the inside of the offensive line – that he’s been playing football for three years. He’s learning how to play at the highest level you can play football at – period. He’s someone who came in last year and played some ample snaps and that was his second year of ever playing football. We’re not talking about the second year of playing in the league. We’re talking about ever playing football. I think that a lot of us take it for granted. I think that he is a very, very bright star with a lot of potential. He has a great attitude and a great work ethic. He wants to learn and wants to keep improving. I think if he puts it all together he could be one of the best to play this game. Now that’s a lot being said and it’s a pretty good while away, but he has the potential to do that because of his athleticism, how big he is and how naturally strong he is. There are a lot of good attributes that he has, but he’s very, very raw.”
Dotson could be one of the best to play this game? That’s heavy praise from Faine, who also cautioned that he’s years away from being at that level. But I’ve heard similar things from others inside the Buccaneers organization, and that may be why the team is taking a slow and cautious approach when it comes to Donald Penn’s contract extension. The Bucs might have a future starter at left tackle in Dotson.
It’s one thing for Mangurian or Faine to talk up Dotson this offseason because he is one of their brethren. Faine and Dotson are brothers along the offensive line, and Dotson is Mangurian’s pupil. So to get a less biased assessment on the progress of the former basketball player, I went to the player he faced every day in practice – defensive end Stylez G. White.
“He’s getting better,” White said. “He’s got a lot of pressure on him. It’s a tough tackle spot to play, and he’s going against me, so you know I’m going to get the better of him! (Laughs). He’s getting better. He was already big and strong. Now he’s learning the plays and playing fast. The most important thing he has to do is know his plays. I think he’ll be good. He’s got good feet. He has nice, long arms. He’s strong. He’s just got to know the playbook and gain confidence when he’s run blocking and pass blocking.”
I asked White point blank if he thought Dotson could develop into a great left tackle like Faine had suggested.
“I believe so,” White said. “I think he can be great, but we’re in mini-camp right now. Ask me that question once we get to camp and put the pads on. Then I can really give you a fair assessment. He’s really aggressive and competitive, but I need to see him in pads.”
Dotson showed off his aggressive side during one of the OTAs that were open to the media when he and rookie defensive end James Ruffin got into a scuffle. Dotson manhandled Ruffin and slammed him into a Gatorade bucket and then pinned him to the ground.
Ruffin was trying to make an impression on the coaches by showing he would fight (literally) for a roster spot. Dotson and White didn’t have any skirmishes because the veteran defensive end has his roster spot all but guaranteed. White was also too busy trying to make Dotson better.
“At first I was getting him with speed because he had never played on the left side before,” White said. “Now I’m at the point where I can’t just run around him. I’ve got to dip into my bag of tricks and use some moves. He’s getting better every day, though. Part of my job in playing right end is to get him better. If I’m B.S.’ing around, I’m not getting him better and I’m not getting myself better and the team is not getting better.”
White, who is known for his sense of humor, joked that there are limits to how much he is prepared to help Dotson.
“I can’t give him too many pointers because then he’ll start blocking me too good and making me look bad!” White said. “Then it won’t look good for me! I’ve got to be a little selfish! No, I’m only kidding. I’m helping him as much as I can. We’re going to need him.”
I have a feeling White is right.
FAB 4. As I cleaned out the vault of interviews on my tape recorder from the month of June, here were some of the highlights I recorded at the Bucs’ Chalk Talk Luncheon with the Greater Chamber of Commerce, which took place on June 18. Representing the Bucs were co-chairman Bryan Glazer, general manager Mark Dominik, head coach Raheem Morris, quarterback Josh Freeman, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2010, and wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who was one of Tampa Bay’s two second-round picks this past April.
• McCoy was asked how he felt about the comparisons to legendary Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp and if he felt any pressure with those comparisons.
“I embrace it,” McCoy said. “I love pressure. I was under a lot of pressure at Oklahoma. I’ve grown up with pressure. I love it and I’m going to use it to my advantage. I have a lot of guys pushing me and pressuring me to be exactly what you want me to be. That’s what I plan to be. I actually love the comparison to Warren Sapp.”
That obviously drew a ton of applause from those in attendance.
• Benn was asked by a member of the audience which receiver he would compare his game to. The Illinois product rattled off several of the league’s top pass catchers.
“I would say Anquan Boldin, Jerry Rice, Hines Ward,” Benn said. “I would say that I have the same body type as Anquan Boldin and a similar game to his. I take a lot of stuff from Rob Moore and some of the guys in the past.”
• When asked what Freeman’s individual goal for 2010 was, the 22-year old quarterback responded to the question with an answer that was wise beyond his years.
“My goal is to go out and win every game,” Freeman said. “I want to win every game. I hate to lose. I’m trying to better myself at quarterback and trying to get the mindset of a fifth-year veteran quarterback in my second year.”
• One of the most interesting questions presented to Freeman was how he would handicap the NFC South division in 2010.
“Obviously you have the Saints coming off the Super Bowl,” Freeman said. “In the preseason they’ll probably be the favorites to win the division. At the same time they did suffer a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which shows they do have a chink in their armor.”
That answer drew cheers and applause from the hundreds of Chamber members in attendance and showed a little bit of swagger from the usually quiet and even-keeled Freeman.
“I would probably have the Falcons and the Buccaneers tied for number two,” Freeman said. “The Falcons have a young quarterback in Matt Ryan, who has proven that he can win in this league. He also has guys like Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez that make him a pretty big force on offense.”
That leaves the Panthers, a team the Bucs played extremely close twice last year, as the division’s cellar dweller in Freeman’s mind.
“With the Panthers it’s going to be interesting the way that their defensive line is [without Julius Peppers],” Freeman said. “I’m kind of interested to see how they build a defense around Jon Beason because he’s definitely the heart and soul of their defense. I look for them to come with more blitz packages this season. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
• Picking up on Freeman’s comments about the division, Morris singled out Tampa Bay’s first road game, which is at Carolina in Week 2, as one of the most important games of the 2010 season.
“The game in Carolina sets a precedent for us in what we want to be and who we are,” Morris said. “It’s a great test for our guys because you always want to play against a young, tough, physical football team. John Fox’s football teams are always going to give you everything you want. When we were great we went there once and won 12-9. When we were great we would always seem to win by one point and when they were great they would always seem to win by two. We always look forward to playing our division opponents because they are the toughest.”
• Dominik spent more time discussing the off-field merits of his most recent draft classes as he did talking about their on-field exploits. He reaffirmed the commitment by he, Morris and the Glazers to draft players that fans feel good about and would want to root for. Players like Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Derrick Brooks that have done great work in the community.
“We are very excited about the draft class,” Dominik said. “I know two of these guys haven’t played a down for us yet (McCoy and Benn), but when we made the commitment to a youth movement with this football team, we wanted guys that were going to be great not only on the football field, but also off the football field. We want a stadium where people want to have number 17 jerseys, number 93 jerseys and number 5 jerseys. Our players, staff and ownership have all made the commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Gerald McCoy has already had a day named after him back in Oklahoma for all the achievements he had in college. Those are the type of men that we want to bring into this organization. It’s important for us to be winners on and off the football field. That’s the type of people we sign and that’s the type of people we draft. That’s the type of thing we promote. … I’m proud of our 2010 draft class. I’m proud of guys like Josh Freeman and Sammie Stroughter from last year’s class. I’m excited about this year’s class. Enjoy the foundation that is being built right here in Tampa.”
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• We recently have begun promoting our Pewter Report Facebook page, and we already have close to 600 friends who like it. Pewter Report’s Twitter page has over 1,800 followers thus far. By the end of the preseason, I would like to see Pewter Report’s Facebook page 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 and we sure would appreciate it. That way you’ll always be kept in the loop whenever new stories are posted to PewterReport.com.
• As Pewter Report pointed out in its Top 5 Most Improved Bucs This Offseason article last week, running back Kareem Huggins has been quite the head-turner during the spring and summer. One of the people singing Huggins’ praises aside from head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson is Bucs running backs coach Steve Logan, who thinks that Huggins can become an every-down running back – not just a situational, third-down back.
“I think Kareem can play every down in the NFL,” Logan said. “He can get into some trouble in some pass protection situations. He’s not undersized. He’s a little short in stature, but he’s a 200-pound football player. He might be pound-for-pound one of the strongest men in the weight room. He can survive even though he gets mismatched from time to time. I don’t have a problem playing Kareem on every down.”
• The Bucs aren’t interested in trading for any restricted free agents, including New England left guard Logan Mankins and San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Despite the youth and inexperience at the wide receiver position, the Bucs like the potential of second-year player Sammie Stroughter and rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams.
Guard is a different story. Pewter Report has reported that the team is unhappy with Jeremy Zuttah’s offseason and there is virtually no experience behind him to challenge for the left guard spot. Mankins, whom the Bucs were poised to draft in the second round in 2005 before New England made him a Patriot, would make a great addition.
However, Mankins wants a lucrative new deal and the Bucs won’t have enough to pay him, left tackle Donald Penn, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood over the next two years. Keep in mind that Jeff Faine was made the NFL’s highest-paid center three years ago. There’s no way the Bucs will entertain the notion of trading for another player who will be due a huge contract.
The situation might be different if Bruce Allen were the general manager. He loved both Mankins and Jackson in the 2005 draft. Yet if Allen were still Tampa Bay’s general manager a lot of things would be different across the board, and not necessarily in a good way.
• I haven’t heard from anyone telling me to stop disclosing some of my personal anecdotes from 15 years of Bucs coverage yet, so I guess I’ll dish out another one. This story has quite a bit of humor in it and dates back to the 1996 season. The Glazers had just taken over the franchise in 1995 and Buccaneer Magazine (which is what Pewter Report was known as back then) had two seats on the team plane to travel to away games. Back in the early 1990s it was not uncommon for the media to fly with the Bucs to away games because the team could use all of the media coverage it could get.
That practice stopped in 1996 except for Buccaneer Magazine because the former publisher had a loosely constructed sub-license agreement with the team to use the name “Buccaneer” and the logo for our magazine among other things, including two seats on the plane. Although our trips on the team plane came to an end in 1997, there was one particular flight that really stood out from the ’96 season.
The Bucs traveled to Carolina for a game against the Panthers on Saturday, November 30, 1996. The game was the next day on December 1. That Saturday happened to be the day of the most anticipated college football game of the season – No. 1 Florida at No. 2 Florida State. Running back Errict Rhett, a Florida alum, and linebacker Derrick Brooks, a Florida State product, were jawing with each other back and forth during the bus ride to the airport and all throughout the flight.
Brooks had purchased an expensive pocket-sized TV that picked up regular broadcast signals and was watching the game on the bus and up until the plane took off. During the flight, the captain would relay score updates to the plane and close to the end of the trip, it was revealed that Florida State won, 24-20.
Brooks was whooping and hollering and made sure Rhett paid up his end of the losing bet. So what did Rhett and Brooks bet? Push-ups.
Whenever Brooks commanded Rhett to do push-ups, the veteran running back had to do them. So upon conclusion of the game, Brooks told Rhett to drop and give him 20 – much to the delight of the rest of their teammates. So in the middle of the isle of the plane, Rhett did his push-ups. Brooks also made him do push-ups in the hotel lobby once the team checked in and several other times that night.
After the Bucs-Panthers game, which Tampa Bay lost, 24-0, I interviewed Rhett one-on-one by his locker. I asked him about his performance in the game, including a costly fumble. Rhett joked with me that his arms were so sore from doing so many push-ups over the last 24 hours. Rhett said that Brooks even called him in the middle of the night and made him get out of bed and do some push-ups!
Rhett would have the last laugh about a month later as his Danny Wuerffel-led Gators would beat the Seminoles in a re-match in the Sugar Bowl and win the national championship. I wonder what the bet was for that game?