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. ALLOWING BOWERS TO INHERIT DE SPOT WAS A MISTAKEBuccaneers general manager Mark Dominik has done an amazing job of acquiring talent over the last few years. Since taking over the team in 2009, his first-round draft picks have been solid, beginning with quarterback Josh Freeman, followed by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in 2010, defensive end Adrian Clayborn in 2011 and strong safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin last year.
Dominik has added superior, impact free agents in Pro Bowlers such as guard Carl Nicks, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and free safety Dashon Goldson. Additionally, he pulled off a major trade with the acquisition of Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. Dominik has shown the ability to re-sign his own high-profile free agents, including left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Davin Joseph.
In his nearly five years as general manager of the Bucs, the 42-year old Dominik has learned an awful lot about player acquisition and building a team full of talented players through free agency, through the draft and through trades. However, there is one lesson Dominik has had a hard time learning, and it may be coming back to bite the Bucs this season.
Instead of making third-year defensive end Da’Quan Bowers earn the starting left defensive job during training camp against proven competition, the Bucs are essentially handing him the starting job without having to earn it.
Under his watchful eye, Dominik has seen the Bucs do this on a couple of occasions with disastrous results. In 2008, Tampa Bay replaced long-time starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips with Sabby Piscitelli, a second-round pick in 2007 draft. Piscitelli had 20 starts for the team over two years, recording 128 tackles and four interceptions. But Piscitelli, who inherited the job due to his second-round draft status without earning it, was often out of position on defense and surrendered several touchdowns as a result.
In 2010, Kyle Moore, a fourth-round pick in 2009, was handed the starting left defensive end position. The Bucs let former starting defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson go to New Orleans in free agency after he produced six sacks and two forced fumbles, after notching five sacks in 2009.
Wilkerson did tear his ACL on December 27 at the Superdome while the Bucs were playing the Saints, so you can’t fault Dominik for not wanting to re-sign a player that was damaged goods in 2010. But Dominik and the Bucs didn’t give Moore any real veteran competition, and he failed to register even one sack during his oft-injured two years with Tampa Bay.
The Bucs have made similar gambles in recent years, starting McCoy, Clayborn and Barron and Martin during their rookie seasons without much competition – outside of LeGarrette Blount challenging Martin last year during training camp – and all four proved to be worthy of Dominik and the team’s confidence in them. But usually players have to go through a trial by fire to earn the right to start. Demar Dotson had to beat out veteran Jeremy Trueblood to start at right tackle. Jeremy Zuttah had to prove himself as a starting guard and center before he could unseat Jeff Faine.
Occasionally, some battles aren’t really battles at all due to the draft status of certain players. That was the case with Piscitielli, a second-rounder in 2007, Moore, a fourth-rounder in 2009, and Bowers, a second-round selection in 2011.
Re-signing Bennett, who signed a one-year deal with Seattle worth $5 million, had its own risks as the Bucs’ leading sacker in 2012 (with a career-high nine) had a torn rotator cuff and opted to play through the injury rather than have surgery this year. Bennett is currently the pass-rushing specialist at left end, replacing Red Bryant, who handles run downs as the Seahawks have a glut of talented ends that also include Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and rush end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin.
There’s no doubt that Dominik and the Bucs want Bowers to step up and become an every-down defender this season, especially because he is entering the third year of a four-year contract. Tampa Bay has to know what Bowers can do and how high his ceiling is, so the team has cleared the way for him to emerge. But in doing so, the lack of competition from a proven, veteran defensive end to truly challenge Bowers and ultimately have the ability, experience and credentials to start in case the former Clemson star falters could hamper the team’s efforts at defensive end this year.
Bucs head coach Greg Schiano has been having regular talks with Bowers during training camp, encouraging and demanding that he finds consistency and steps up to become a full-time player at defensive end – not just a situational pass rusher.
“Well, Da’Quan has what we refer to as heavy hands, he’s strong,” Schiano said. “So, when he puts his hands on you, you feel it. When he plays with good pad level and does that, he’s a force. But when he doesn’t, he’s not a force. I don’t know if you can put your finger on one single thing. I think it’s just practicing being a consistent player.”
Thus far, Bowers has said all the right things. Now it’s up to him to do them.
“Coach is a straightforward guy and I respect him,” Bowers said. “He said he wanted more out of me, so it’s my job to come out here and give him more, give him all that I have until I don’t have any more.”
Bowers played the entire first half against Baltimore in the team’s 44-16 loss in the preseason opener last week, only generated two tackles and missed a couple of opportunities for more.
“There’s definitely pressure, because if I don’t arrive, the next player will,” Bowers said. “So I have to get it taken care of. Camp is winding down; I just have to get it done and get on the ball.”
So far Bowers hasn’t that done to Schiano’s liking, and that concerns the team with just two real preseason games left. It’s doubtful that Bowers or any of the Bucs starters will see action against Washington in the preseason finale, a game typically reserved for evaluating the talent of reserve players.
Because of the unproven nature of some of the Buccaneers along the defensive line, including Bowers, Goldson called a meeting this offseason and told the defensive backs that they have to be the strength of the team and that the DBs have to lead from behind. Hall of Fame Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp doesn’t believe that a team can be built from the back – meaning the secondary – and believes that without a strong defensive line upfront a team can’t be successful.
Dominik has certainly tried to fortify the defensive line through the draft, and gets an “A” for effort. He spent two first-round picks on McCoy and Clayborn in back-to-back years, and spent two second-round picks on former defensive tackle Brian Price and Bowers in back-to-back years. He’s also added primary three defensive linemen through free agency in Te’o-Nesheim and defensive tackles Gary Gibson and Derek Landri, and then used three draft picks this year to select nose tackle Akeem Spence and defensive ends William Gholston and Steven Means.
If Bowers pans out and shows that he can become a double-digit sacker like he was at Clemson as a junior, Tampa Bay’s defensive line has a quality lineup of starters and reserves. But if Bowers doesn’t pan out and take advantage of one-on-one situations, then protections will slide towards McCoy and Clayborn and the Bucs won’t be able to generate much of a pass rush and Dominik may be kicking himself for not re-signing Bennett to a similar one-year, $5 million prove-it deal this past offseason.
FAB 2. BOWERS’ LACK OF CONDITIONING IS INEXCUSABLEFor Da’Quan Bowers to become an every-down defender he has to be in the right physical condition to achieve that goal. That’s why it was stunning to hear Bowers admit that despite having the entire offseason to train and knowing that the left defensive end job was likely his for the taking, he is still not in optimal shape through three weeks of training camp.
“I think I’m still a little winded at times,” Bowers said. “I’m still not in the best shape. I’m still getting used to the speed of practice. But other than that, (training camp) has been decent.”
Credit Bowers for his honesty, but damn him for not working hard enough during the offseason to fully seize the opportunity to replace the departed Michael Bennett and become a full-time starter in 2013.
“I think it’s a lot harder than the average person thinks,” Bowers said. “I think Coach [Greg] Schiano said it best, that when you’re a starting pitcher you have a whole lot more pitches than a closer, so, you know, you just have to get ready to go. You have to bring your A-game and be prepared. I’ve been in situations in the past, just coming in on second-and-long, third-and-long, and, you know, that’s easy. But being able to play the run on first and second down, third down, and then rushing the passer [is not easy].”
It would be easier for Bowers if he was in excellent condition, but he’s not. A quick look at his physique will tell you that Bowers could spend more time in the weight room and doing more cardio. Bowers is strong, but not well defined in terms of muscle and there is some excess weight he could shed to help his stamina.
No one will confuse Bowers’ physique to that of former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, or even rookie defensive end William Gholston, who is extremely cut and muscular. It’s clear that Rice and Gholston worked out extremely hard in the weight room and did plenty of cardio for conditioning because they have very little fat and are well defined.
In studying the NFL Draft for years, I’ve noticed that Clemson defensive ends have traditionally not made much of an impact in the league over the past decade. The defensive ends that Clemson has recently produced would not be confused with athletes from Florida State, Florida or Nebraska, who are generally more ripped and clearly hit the weights harder than they do at Clemson.
Since 2000, the following Clemson defensive ends have been drafted into the league: Bryant McNeal (Denver, Round 4, 2003), Charles Bennett (Tampa Bay, Round 7, 2006), Gaines Adams (Tampa Bay, Round 1, 2007), Phillip Merling (Miami, Round 2, 2008), Ricky Sapp (Philadelphia, Round 5, 2010), Bowers (Tampa Bay, Round 2, 2011) and Andre Branch (Jacksonville, Round 2, 2012).
Thus far, the most productive Clemson defensive end from that group has been Adams, who passed away three years ago after being traded from Tampa Bay to Chicago after amassing 13.5 sacks and two interceptions in his three-year NFL career. During his tenure in Tampa Bay, Adams was not known as a hard worker in the weight room and was often labeled a “soft, finesse player.”
McNeal and Bennett never recorded a single sack and are out of the league. Merling is on his fourth NFL team and has just 3.5 career sacks. Sapp is sackless, and Branch has just one QB takedown in his career. Bowers has 4.5 career sacks through three seasons in Tampa Bay.
Don’t think for a second that being ripped automatically makes a football player better. Former Buccaneers like safety Sabby Piscitelli and linebacker Quincy Black looked like the Greek god Adonis because of their weight room prowess, but were only marginal players at best and lacked the necessary instincts to excel on the football field. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay legends like defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks didn’t pass the eyeball test as workout warriors, but were some of the best NFL players at their respective positions.
What body types typically tell NFL scouts about players entering the league from college is the type of worker a player is. Guys that work hard in the weight room and max out the strength and conditioning program typically give effort in the classroom and on the field because they are in prime condition to do so. Players that don’t work very hard in the weight room won’t have the stamina to work as hard as necessary on the football field, and perhaps in the classroom if they are lazy.
Bowers’ effort on the field has been inconsistent due to his conditioning. To his credit he is trying to use training camp as a way of improving his stamina and to make up for lost time this offseason so that he can become an every down player.
“If he responded differently, he wouldn’t get any more playing time, and that’s what he wants, so if he didn’t want that, he might respond differently,” Schiano said. “But it’s certainly not anything personal. We both want the same thing; he wants the same thing; he wants to be an every-down player, and we need an every-down defensive end. We’re just trying to get there.”
It’s going to take more effort to get there, and Bowers is trying to play catch up in August when he could have been doing more from January through July to put himself in better shape – literally and figuratively – to excel in training camp and the preseason.
“I’m a firm believer in that there are no missed opportunities in this league,” Bowers said. “If I don’t take advantage of it, then somebody on the street will. I just have to come and bring my game. I have to play hard, I have to be able to go every step of the way, every down, whether it’s 10 plays in a row or just two plays in a row. I just have to be ready to go.
“It’s training camp. We’re practicing. We’re grinding every day. Those [preseason] games don’t matter. Come September 8, it will be a different story.”
It needs to be a different story for Bowers and the Buccaneers come September 8, which is only three weeks away.
FAB 3. NO-NONSENSE BANKS, GLENNON ARE PERFECT BUCCANEER MENIf you want some inside scoop on which players the Buccaneers are going to select in 2014 look no further than the players head coach Greg Schiano has picked in the first three rounds of his initial two NFL Drafts. Those are the critical rounds where NFL teams expect to draft starters and players that are expected contribute the most to a franchise. Missing on many players in the first three rounds in too many drafts will cost general managers and their head
In 2012, Schiano, general manager Mark Dominik and director of player personnel Dennis Hickey drafted strong safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin in the first two rounds and traded up in the second round to select linebacker Lavonte David.
What was the result of that Tampa Bay draft? All three players started all 16 games. David led all Buccaneers in tackles with 139, which ranked second in the NFL for rookies last year, while Martin led the Bucs with nearly 2,000 total yards, which ranked in the top five in the NFL. Martin also set Bucs rookie records for rushing yards (1,454) and rushing touchdowns (11) and total touchdowns (12).
Barron started off strong, hit a rookie wall and then rebounded at the end of the season with great games against New Orleans and Atlanta. He showed a great deal of promise with 88 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble during his initial NFL season.
In addition to producing on the field, Barron, Martin and David have all a similar personality trait. They are all business-minded, no-nonsense football players in the mold of their head coach. You won’t get any conversation outside of the company line from them, and none of the three are fantastic interviews when it comes to getting any juicy, sensationalistic quotes – which is exactly what Schiano wants. Barron, Martin and David all come to One Buc Place to work – not talk.
The same could be said of the new Buccaneers players selected high in the 2013 NFL Draft – namely cornerback Johnthan Banks and quarterback Mike Glennon. Unlike plenty of NFL cornerbacks that thrive on playing with loud mouths and swagger (see Richard Sherman, DeAngelo Hall, Cary Williams, etc.), Banks plays with confidence – not bravado.
“A couple of things that are very intriguing to us as an organization is, obvious (Banks was) a captain of his football team,” Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said recently. “He’s a very mature, young 23-year old, married with a little one. The Jim Thorpe winner and he played in one of the toughest leagues, the SEC, as a starter for more than 45 games.
“And he would take the No. 1 guy off every team and that’s a tough call, a tough road to hoe for a corner in the SEC. So we are obviously excited about not only with his skill set and his ability, but also with what he brings on and off the football field. He’s known as a great community guy as well.”
The Bucs love drafting mature players. Mature players come in ready to work and have the best chance not only to play right away and help the team, but also to have long-lasting NFL careers.
“(I’m) not at all [disappointed about going in the second round],” Banks said. “This is where I’ve always wanted to play. From the end of my junior season I wanted to play for Tampa. All the coaches were super-nice to me at the combine. I’m just really ready to get out there and go to work.
“I feel like I’m a first-round pick because I was the top pick here. All the fans have showed me a lot of love on Twitter and Facebook. I’m just happy to be here.”
If you follow Banks on Instagram and other forms of social media, you’ll see him posting pictures of his wife, Mallory, and his son, Kayden, rather than wads of cash, bottles of booze and being out at the clubs. He takes his role as a family man as seriously as he does his job of being a starting cornerback on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“[Being a father] has made me take responsibility,” Banks said. “I don’t want [my son] to ever have to suffer or anything. It really matured me a lot to take responsibility and to work that much harder to provide. I have my son; I have a wife who means a lot to me. They are very special. I’m just trying to enjoy life and live right. They motivate me. I always said if I ever had a kid and a wife I was going to make their life as easy as possible so they don’t have to struggle like I did.
“I come from a pretty hard background. My dad was killed in a car accident. I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother, she raised me in the church. I’m a Christian guy. I’m laid back; always try to keep a smile on my face. I always want to help others. God is number one in my life.”
Banks’ level of maturity and responsibility made him a very attractive player to Schiano and Dominik. He was a Buccaneer man before he was even drafted by Tampa Bay, and that’s why he will have immediate success on the football field. Like Barron, Martin and David, rookies like Banks and Glennon understand that football is serious.
Did you know that Glennon not only graduated from North Carolina State with a Bachelor’s degree in sports management, but also with a Master’s degree in liberal arts, emphasizing leadership and sports management? Glennon completed both while at N.C. State and graduated with his Master’s degree with a 3.8 on a 4.0 scale on December 14, 2012. It takes an incredibly mature and serious person to not only be a starting quarterback in college, but also to finish two degrees and do so with an incredibly high GPA.
The Bucs simply rave about Glennon’s intelligence and development.
“A really bright, intelligent quarterback with football IQ – very high – and I think he’ll fit in really, really well here,” Schiano said after drafting Glennon in April.
“[Glennon is] a very smart, cerebral young man who really understands systems and has worked with some of the best quarterback coaches,” Dominik said. “His coach actually coached Matt Ryan, coached Russell Wilson. He’s worked with some really great coaches in his development so far and that’s what’s exciting about him.”
For Banks, football is his job. It’s important. It’s his focus. It’s his livelihood for his wife and child.
“He’s one of us,” Schiano said of Banks. “I can’t say it better than that. This guy is going to fit right into our football team, skill set, personality and character.”
FAB 4. BUCS HAVE TALENT GALORE ALONG OFFENSIVE LINEThe Buccaneers have more talent along their defensive line past the likes of Pro Bowlers Donald Penn, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, and up-and-comers like Jeremy Zuttah and Demar Dotson. Aside from the starting five, which may be the most talented offensive line in the NFL on paper, the Bucs boast some experienced, quality depth on their second-team.
Gabe Carimi, who has a better grasp of the system three weeks into training camp and is starting to really compete with Dotson for the starting right tackle job, is more than a solid backup. He figures to make the Bucs’ final 53 as one of the eight linemen that the team typically keeps on its roster. Consider Carimi the sixth man on the roster, leaving two more open spots for a host of good players to claim.
Veterans Jamon Meredith and Ted Larsen don’t have as high an upside as some of the younger players on the team, but they do have lots of valuable experience in NFL games, which makes them attractive. Will both of those players round out Tampa Bay’s roster, or will the Bucs decide that mainstays like center-guard Cody Wallace or guard Roger Allen have earned a spot instead?
The Bucs are also high on rookie guard Adam Smith, an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky, and rookie Jace Daniels, a versatile offensive lineman from Northern Michigan. But Tampa Bay is so deep with talented linemen that Smith and Daniels may have to work their way up from the practice squad first – unless they shine in the final three preseason games.
“We brought some guys in and it’s going to be a tough spot for that backup running back job,” Penn said. “It’s going to be a tough spot for that third wide receiver spot, but it’s also going to be tough for some of our backup O-line guys. The one thing about our O-line, we’re going to have backups that could start on other teams. It’s going to be great to have that. Not a lot of teams have that.”
The Bucs have at least six reserve linemen that the team is high on fighting for two roster spots. Not a lot of NFL teams can say that and have that kind of depth on the offensive line.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5.
• Bucs weakside linebacker Lavonte David was instantly one of the team’s best and most sure tacklers from Week 1 last year. He notched 14 tackles in a Week 4 loss to Washington before an eruption of a career-high 16 tackles in a Week 9 win at Oakland. But prior to Tampa Bay’s Week 13 game at Denver, David had not made any splash plays (sacks or takeaways) during his rookie season.
Then he recorded his first NFL interception, which came at the expense of one of the league’s best-ever quarterbacks in Peyton Manning.
“It was big,” David said. “I was just trying to build a little momentum for our team. We were just trying to get some momentum and get back into the game. It was a great moment in my life. I’m going to treasure that moment forever.”
That interception sparked David to make more splash plays down the stretch. He recorded his first NFL sack the next week against Philadelphia, and had another sack three weeks later at Atlanta in the season finale. David picked up right where he left off in the Bucs’ preseason opener against Baltimore, recording the team’s first sack in August by dropping Joe Flacco for a 10-yard loss. Look for more splash plays from David in 2013 as he becomes a more well-rounded player.
• Tampa Bay right tackle Demar Dotson has a great role model to look to, as he becomes a better player. Donald Penn, who like Dotson, was an undrafted free agent that has worked his way into not only becoming a starter, but also becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
“The guy is getting better and better,” Dotson said about Penn. “I learn a lot from that guy as a tackle. Just seeing that guy has been doing it for over 90 starts and his 100th start is coming up this season. That’s a great blessing and something I’m working towards.”
Dotson points out Penn’s upcoming milestone. Penn has played in 96 NFL games and has a string of 92 consecutive starts dating back to 2007. In fact, once Penn replaced Luke Petitgout in Week 3 of the 2007 season he hasn’t missed a start.
• NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks had a great scouting report on Buccaneers rookie quarterback Mike Glennon prior to the draft. It was a pretty thorough analysis and definitely an unbiased look at the 6-foot-7 signal caller as Brooks played football at North Carolina, which is a primary rival school for Glennon’s North Carolina State.
You can check out Brooks’ scouting report, which suggests that Glennon can one day become a franchise quarterback, by clicking here.
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 protected]
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