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This SR’s Fab 5 column is dedicated to my late grandfather, Vernon Reynolds, who died on Friday, August 27 at the age of 93. My grandfather, who lived his whole life in Virginia and was a die-hard Redskins fan, had a tremendous work ethic, and also a big heart for such a quiet, no-nonsense man. Two very admirable qualities that I’ve tried to take from the example he set. He always used to love to talk about football with me. Although I grew up hundreds of miles away in Kansas City, we always had football in common. You will be missed, Granddaddy.
Here are a few things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. I learned a lot about the game of football from former Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden. Say what you want about the Super Bowl-winning head coach’s play-calling, coaching style or his eye for talent, but one thing that he always did was to gravitate towards players that loved the game of football. Heck, the name of Gruden’s autobiography is aptly titled, “Do You Love Football?!”
That’s why he overlooked the obvious talent deficiencies of aging veteran Jeff Garcia and made him his starting quarterback. Garcia was a die-hard competitor. That’s evident because he’s still playing the game in the UFL at age 40. Gruden likes grinders.
Gruden said something to me several years ago that I apply in my job on a daily basis. We were discussing what happened to wide receiver Michael Clayton, who had a great rookie season in which he caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns in 2004, but never lived up to those numbers in the years that followed. Gruden said that he thought he drafted a football player, but instead got a football playa once the fame went to Clayton’s head.
I can still hear Gruden’s voice resonate in my head as he emphasized the different ending of the words “player” and “playa.”
“You know, Scott, there is a difference between a football play-ER and a football play-AH,” Gruden said. “I don’t like play-AHs. I like player-ERs. With play-ERs, it’s all about the team. With play-AHs, it’s all about themselves.”
In Gruden’s eyes, real players loved the game of football and were professionals, while playas loved being able to tell the honeys at the clubs that they were in the NFL and loved the fame and celebrity that came with being a Buccaneer.
I’ve long suspected it – and probably so have you – but Tampa Bay running back Derrick Ward is a playa. In a SR’s Fab Five column this summer I warned that Ward had done nothing to deserve the additional carries that the team was planning on giving him this year, and our offseason hype of backup running back Kareem Huggins has been dead-on and warranted.
This week I have spoken with several sources at One Buc Place that have absolutely confirmed it. Too many people have told me Ward, who was dating Khloe Kardashian when he was signed by the Buccaneers, is more concerned about which parties he’s going to rather than the game of football.
Some teammates suggest that Ward is unhappy in Tampa Bay because the local nightlife isn’t nearly as grandiose as it was in New York when he was with the Giants. Yet he has apparently embraced it.
So much so that he was allegedly spotted in a nightclub following the Tampa Bay vs. Kansas City game last Saturday. You know, the one where Ward reportedly suffered a mild concussion?
Take that as just a rumor as I wasn’t there to witness him, but the thought of getting your bell rung in a football game and then going to a nightclub with loud, thumping music sounds counterproductive – and painful. Heading out to the clubs with a concussion doesn’t sound smart, but apparently Ward had to get his party on. Then again, after rushing for only 11 yards on five carries (2.2 avg.), Ward probably had plenty of energy to do so.
When Ward reported to training camp, he made a big scene when he pulled up in a brand new, black Lamborghini. It’s too bad that in his first season in Tampa Bay his play resembled a Ford Pinto as he only rushed for 409 yards, only one touchdown and a 3.6-yard average after signing a lucrative, four-year, $17 million deal in 2009.
Through two games, Ward’s preseason numbers have been even worse. He has more carries than any other running back, yet has only produced 31 yards on 17 totes (1.8 avg.). His coaches have called him pudgy and out of shape, which is inexcusable for a veteran running back playing pro football these days with virtually year-round conditioning programs.
The coaching staff is not thrilled with the fact that Ward lied to them, either. After missing several OTAs (organized team activities) in 2009 immediately upon signing his big contract, Ward vowed not to miss an OTA this offseason after a disappointing year running the ball. Although it’s unclear how many OTAs he missed, there were at least five absences out of the 17 that were documented by the media. That alone is nearly a third of the voluntary workouts that were missed.
Ward has been clearly outperformed by all three of the team’s other running backs. Starter Cadillac Williams has rushed for 28 yards on six carries (4.7 avg.), while Huggins, who is challenging Ward for the right to back up Williams, leads the team with 99 yards on 16 carries and a whopping 6.2 average. Unheralded rookie Carlos Brown has also been more productive than Ward, rushing for 54 yards on 10 carries (5.4 avg.).
Due to Ward’s lackluster and sluggish showing in the preseason, which the coaches attribute to him being overweight, the team is only averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Take out Ward’s carries, a minus-1-yard run on a quarterback kneel down by Rudy Carpenter, and the loss of four yards on punter Brent Bowden’s safety last week and Tampa Bay’s running backs are collectively averaging a whopping 5.3 yards per carry.
Unless he does something spectacular against Jacksonville in the third preseason game, the Buccaneers should cut Ward for two reasons. First, there will be a better running back out on the street than this 30-year old, who obviously doesn’t have much left in the tank.
Second, having a malcontent playa on the team is not good for locker room chemistry. This is a very young football team and there will undoubtedly be some players that will be unhappy with the fact that they are making far less than Ward and are twice the player he is. And how will the fact that Ward is a third-string back making twice what Earnest Graham makes and 10 times what Huggins makes sit with his teammates?
Money can change people, and for a guy like Ward, who came from humble beginnings and had to walk the hard road to get to the NFL, his big contract seems to have sapped some of the enthusiasm he has for the game. If you love football and really want to be a big-time contributor to your football team, you show up for every practice and you show up in shape. Ward did neither in the offseason.
And when he did show up to training camp he did so in a a six-figure Lamborghini. It seems to me like he was more inclined to make an impression in the parking lot in front of One Buc Place rather than on the practice fields in the back.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik has to realize that it’s much easier to admit a mistake now and save his owners $3 million in base salary by cutting Ward, rather than to try to pretend that this free agent signing isn’t so bad and continue to give this playa the benefit of the doubt. Where has he shown he deserves it?
FAB 2. As an objective journalist, I tried to give beleaguered running back Derrick Ward the benefit of the doubt this week by going back over the first two preseason games and charting his plays against the results of Tampa Bay’s other halfbacks. My thinking was that perhaps with the team deploying four fullbacks this preseason in Earnest Graham, Chris Pressley, Rendrick Taylor and backup middle linebacker Adam Hayward, Ward was somehow let down by his lead blocker.
I have tallied all of the running plays through the first two preseason games, including any runs that were negated due to a penalty. I have identified the yards gained or lost on the play, in addition to how effective the block of the fullback was (where applicable).
GAME 1 – AT MIAMI
Williams 3 yards – Graham effective block
Williams 8 yards – Graham great block
Williams 8 yards – No fullback
Williams 2 yards – No fullback
Ward 5 yards – No fullback
Ward 0 yards – Graham effective block
Ward minus-1 yard – Pressley effective block
Ward minus-1 yard – Pressley effective block (Ward ran into his back)
Ward 0 yards – Pressley poor block
Ward 4 yards – Pressley effective block
Ward 3 yards – No fullback
Ward 0 yards – No fullback (no play due to penalty)
Ward 10 yards – No fullback
Ward 3 yards – No fullback
Ward minus-1 yard – Pressley great block
Ward minus-1 yard – Pressley poor block
Ward minus-1 yard – No fullback
Huggins 4 yards – No fullback
Huggins 35 yards – Pressley great block
Huggins 4 yards – No fullback
Huggins 4 yards – No fullback (TE Ryan Purvis was an H-back in motion)
Huggins minus-6 yards – Pressley poor block
Huggins 17 yards – Taylor great block at point of attack
Huggins minus-1 yard – No fullback
Huggins minus-2 yards – Pressley effective block
Brown 5 yards – No fullback
Brown 15 yards – Pressley great block at point of attack
Brown 2 yards – Taylor great block
Brown 0 yards – Pressley effective block
GAME 2 – KANSAS CITY
Williams 2 yards – Graham effective block
Williams 5 yards – No fullback
Ward 2 yards – Graham effective block
Ward 1 yard – Graham great block (Ward ran into his back)
Ward 1 yard – No fullback (Purvis motion H-back, poor block at point of attack)
Huggins 6 yards – Pressley effective block
Huggins 13 yards – Hayward effective block
Huggins 3 yards – Hayward effective block
Huggins 4 yards – Taylor poor block
Huggins 5 yards – No fullback
Ward 4 yards – Hayward great block
Ward 3 yards – No fullback
Huggins 4 yards – No fullback
Huggins 9 yards – No fullback
Huggins 0 yards – Taylor poor block
Huggins 20 yards – Pressley great block (no play due to penalty)
Brown 1 yard – No fullback
Brown 26 yards – Purvis move H-back, great block at the point of attack
Brown 3 yards – Taylor effective block
Brown 1 yard – Pressley great block
Brown minus-1 yard – Taylor poor block
Brown 2 yards – Pressley effective block
Here are some of the conclusions that I have drawn from these two games. Keep in mind that the blocks of the fullbacks are not the lone cause for yardage or negative yardage as the offensive line obviously plays a big role, too.
In my estimation, Graham had two great blocks and four effective blocks. His blocking on six snaps allowed the running backs to pick up 16 yards and he did not miss any assignments.
With 15 snaps, Pressley has had the most opportunities of any fullback. In my estimation, he had seven effective snaps, five great blocks and three poor blocks. He helped the team rush for 71 yards.
Taylor, an undrafted free agent, has had eight opportunities to lead block and has produced three poor blocks, two great blocks and one effective block, while the team has rushed for 25 yards with him serving as a lead blocker.
He has actually been outplayed by Hayward, who has had two effective blocks and one great block in three opportunities in the Kansas City game in which the Bucs rushed for 20 yards with him in the game, and that’s significant. I’ll get to the reasons why a little later in the SR’s Fab 5 column.
In summarizing the play of the running backs, Williams rushed for 15 yards without a lead blocker and 13 yards with one. He has been equally effective running the ball with and without a fullback.
Huggins has rushed for 29 yards without a fullback and 70 yards with the help of a lead blocker. His 29 yards without a fullback are nearly more than Ward has rushed for – with or without a fullback – this entire preseason.
Brown has rushed for 48 yards with the aid of a fullback and only six yards in a single back situation.
Surprisingly, Ward has rushed for 24 of his 31 yards this preseason without the help of a fullback. Yet with a lead blocker in front of him, which has occurred 10 times, Ward has only produced seven yards. On two plays, Ward ran into the back of his fullback.
Perhaps Ward is better off in a single back formation or running draws. But then again, Ward has been unable to create any action on his own, rushing for 24 yards on seven carries (3.4 avg.) without a fullback.
It’s not like Ward has truly been let down by his fullbacks. Of the 10 instances in which he has had a lead blocker, Ward received effective blocking five times, great blocking three times and was only subjected to two snaps of poor blocking by my estimation. With or without a blocker, Ward has to produce more than he has, but just doesn’t seem to have the burst he displayed in New York.
FAB 3. The Bucs coaching staff has been pleased with the play of the fullbacks during the preseason. Earnest Graham is the unquestioned starter and the coaches love his athleticism and versatility. Although Tampa Bay has shown very little of Graham during the preseason, he will be a major weapon in the offensive game plan.
“Earnest is one of the more steady, accomplished football players we have at any position, really,” Bucs running backs coach Steve Logan said. “He’s continued to exhibit that for us and you couldn’t ask for any better in my opinion.”
For those of you fans who would rather see Graham carry the ball and be Cadillac Williams’ backup instead of Derrick Ward, you will get your wish – although it will be from the fullback position. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson wants both Graham and Williams on the field at the same time because both players are a threat to run or catch the ball on any given play. You could say this is Olson’s nod to Jon Gruden’s old “Rocket” backfield, which consisted of two halfbacks.
Olson plans to bring back the fullback dive, a play that Graham would consistently gain huge chunks of yards on during the organized team activities and training camp. Graham could also catch as many as 50 passes out of the backfield and be used the way Mike Alstott was so effectively by former offensive coordinator Mike Shula by catching swing passes out in the flat and often picking up a first down while doing so. Trust me when I say that Graham’s talents won’t be wasted as a lead blocker for Williams on every play.
“We’re happy right now with the play of fullbacks,” Olson said. “We want to take a little bit more of a look at them. We know Chris Pressley and we like what we are getting out of him. But we are putting together a squad and a backup fullback could be a luxury possibility. We’re just covering all our bases in case we don’t get that backup fullback.”
Despite the steady play of Pressley and the promise shown by 6-foot-2, 270-pound undrafted free agent Rendrick Taylor, the Bucs may only wind up keeping one fullback on the roster, and that’s Graham. This is something that Pewter Report first reported prior to training camp based upon hearing similar information over the summer.
We also reported that backup middle linebacker Adam Hayward would be cross-trained at fullback during training camp and that’s exactly what happened. He saw three snaps in the Kansas City game, lead blocking twice for Kareem Huggins and once for Derrick Ward.
“Every year in training camp we pick two or three men who have a real good chance of being on the roster to cross-train in the event of a catastrophic injury situation,” Logan said. “What happens if you get two guys with sprained ankles in the backfield and you’ve got to finish a game? Who’s going to get you out of a game? That’s what we’re doing with Adam. Can he learn enough to go in and get us out of a game and let us re-group for the next week? Adam is one of those men at fullback. Ryan Purvis and Roy Miller are also playing some fullback for us. You are always trying to create a little bit of depth that way.
“Adam took three snaps in the Kansas City game and assignment-wise he was on point. Obviously, he’s got some technique work to do if we want him to go dig out a linebacker. He has to play with lower shoulder pads, but we’re just looking to see if he can be a functional player for us in that regard. There is some carryover there for Adam, who has played the position before when he was younger. In college a lot of these linebackers were fullbacks and the fullbacks were linebackers, and it was probably that way in high school, too. They have an understanding of both sides of the ball. “
Players like Hayward and Miller are locks to make the team because of their abilities on defense, and if they can establish themselves as viable options as reserve fullbacks that could cost Pressley and Taylor a chance to make the 53-man roster.
“Chris Pressley played a little bit for us last year and he’s progressed,” Logan said. “He’s gotten a little bit more versatile. He’s worked hard on his hands. He’s doing a nice job in the blocking game. His strength is being a thumper. He is a classic thumper and he’s doing real well, but it’s a numbers game.”
Pressley spent most of the season on the practice squad last year and he is still eligible for that again in 2010. He is likely fighting Taylor for the right to be Tampa Bay’s practice squad fullback, although if he continues to play well, he could build up some trade value as a seventh-round pick to a fullback-needy team.
“Rendrick is a young man that has never played the position before. He’s really a project of sorts in the fact that he’s a big man – 6-foot-2, 270 pounds – and he runs really well. The truth of the matter is that he mostly played in the slot at Clemson, if you can believe that. It’s kind of like, ‘Welcome to the NFL’ with him. He’s finding out how physical he needs to be. We’re excited about his upside and his athletic ability. If he can display the toughness, he does give us some flexibility.
“I’m not uncomfortable with any of them right now,” Logan said. “With Rendrick, I kind of hold my breath. His assignments are fine, but as I mentioned, he is having to learn how to play behind his helmets and behind his shoulder pads. He’s never done it before it. Obviously, I’m real comfortable with Earnest. I really think Earnest is one of the more unique guys in the league with his tailback abilities and his fullback mentality. Not many men can do that.”
The problem with Pressley and Taylor is that neither of them are special teams studs and their limited ball skills make them one-dimensional luxuries in a day and age when versatility and roster maximization are paramount.
“To be real honest with you, if either Chris or Rendrick is playing fullback, our offense won’t have many things in it where we will ask them to carry it,” Logan said. “On the flip side, if Earnest is in we will have a lot of things in it where he will carry it, which will be an abnormal presentation to any defense in the NFL when suddenly the fullback is given the ball. With Rendrick and Chris, we just want them to be functional, and if we give them the football on a belly play, hold on to the ball and get the two yards we are asking you to get.”
Olson said he will be running plenty of plays that involve lead blocking over the next two games in order to see if either young fullback can take advantage of the opportunity and convince the Bucs’ brass to keep a true backup fullback.
“We have to make a decision,” Olson said. “We know what we have in Pressley and we’ve seen some good things out of Taylor, too. That will be a tough decision between those two. Ryan Purvis may be getting some snaps at fullback so we can get more of a feel for him. We also think Adam Hayward can do it. That may free up a roster spot for us for somebody that would play a lot elsewhere on a full-time basis. We like Earnest. Pressley and Taylor are two guys we are taking a close look at right now over the next two games and we’ll make a decision there. We’ll continue to experiment with Adam Hayward during the season and obviously we have used Roy Miller in our goal line situations. We would like to take away some of the pounding from Earnest in some of those situations.”
The problem for defensive players like Hayward and Miller is that the only real practice time they get playing the position is during the preseason games.
“The athleticism is what makes Earnest such a good fullback,” Olson said. “Sometimes you will see those fullbacks go in for the kill shot like Adam Hayward did on his first rep against Kansas City and you have to be able to change direction a little bit better. It’s a matter of getting up to speed. In practice we don’t go live, so when it comes to a live situation like a preseason game, they have to learn how to maneuver their bodies in the hole.”
The coaching staff loves the fact that the 6-foot-2, 310-pound Miller has played goal line fullback at the University of Texas and has been impressive in practice thus far in 2010.
“We’re trying to teach Roy to be functional in about three or four plays,” Logan said. “We’re talking about him going in from the 1-yard line in before we get to that kind of thinking. Once Roy is in the game you are into your ‘football in a phone booth’ calls. It’s going to be power. It’s going to be blast. We’re going to try to put an athletic, big body in front of Carnell or Earnest or Derrick or Kareem – whoever is in there.”
Olson said that he isn’t afraid to get Miller involved as a potential offensive weapon, either. Miller has practiced taking snaps on fullback dive plays as well as catching play-action passes.
“You’ve seen in the training camp scrimmages, we’re not afraid to throw the ball to Roy Miller,” Olson said. “He catches the football in practice. In order to really help us on offense they have to be able to handle the football whether it is the run or the pass.”
Having defensive players like Miller and Hayward line up in the backfield can also lull the defense to sleep a little bit and give Tampa Bay’s offense an advantage.
“When [defenses] see a defensive guy in the backfield teams will think there is a pretty heavy percentage that you will run the football,” Olson said. “There’s no question it helps us from an element of surprise standpoint [if we throw them the football].”
In essence, Pressley and Taylor are not just competing against themselves for a roster spot. They are also battling two defensive players in Miller and Hayward and the current state of the NFL where versatility and roster flexibility rules.
“It all comes down to the roster size,” Olson said. “You can have somebody help you out on defense for 25 snaps and on offense for four or five snaps to maximize your roster, and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
FAB 4. ProFootballTalk.com founder Mike Florio pointed out this week that the new contract of Donald Penn was not as robust as the six-year, $48 million deal that was originally reported. In doing so, he inadvertently did a great job of propping up one of his new whipping boys, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik. You can read the full contract details that Florio provides by clicking here.
Florio’s commentary highlights the fact that Penn only received a $2 million signing bonus. By doing so, that unintentionally illustrates Dominik’s negotiating prowess. With Penn only receiving $6.5 million in total compensation in 2010, including the $2 million signing bonus. In fact, the most money Penn will receive in any of the six years is $7.1 million, which will be his base salary in 2011. Penn’s base salary decreases to $5.1 million in 2012 and $5 million in 2013 before rising to $6.4 million and $6.5 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Even with annual workout bonuses ($80,000) and meeting the weight clause provisions in his contract ($120,000), Penn would only add an extra $200,000 to his yearly earnings. Out of Penn’s $20 million guaranteed, he will have earned more than half of that by 2012, so if he gets injured (non-career threatening) or his play slips, Dominik and the Bucs will be safeguarded by the fact that they are only on the hook for $6.5 million in guaranteed money.
While Florio points out the “fluff” in the originally reported contract numbers, he fails to address the fact that Penn admitted that he was willing to take less than he was asking for to report to training camp on time and the security that comes with a long-term contract. Penn deserves credit for that.
I have a lot of respect for Penn, who believes he is one of the elite offensive tackles in the NFL, in taking less than he could likely get on the open market. That rarely happens in this day and age with hyper-inflated player egos and money-hungry agents.
This was a true win-win for both Penn and Dominik and the Buccaneers. Dominik has been ready to a do a deal that included little to no signing bonus, just like the contract extension that Kellen Winslow received in 2009, but it took Penn willing to take less up-front money to make it happen. When Penn gave in to those demands as well as putting aside the $9 million per year contract he dreamt about, Dominik gave in by guaranteeing a fair, $20 million worth of the deal and giving the starting left tackle a long-term contract that gave him security as long as he plays well.
Dominik also got the weight clauses and workout bonuses he wanted. And he also gets credit for job a well done on paying a very good player below market value.
FAB 5. Here are a couple things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Bucs nose tackle Roy Miller is excited with the opportunity to serve as Tampa Bay’s goal line fullback this year. He appreciates the coaches’ trust in him to help the offense.
“Any way I can help this team, it’s exciting to me,” Miller said. “Being able to line up in the offensive backfield is just an honor in itself. I just like it. I’ve done it in college. I just want to keep using everything I have to help this team win. I wouldn’t say I’ve earned the position yet. I’m still working on a lot of things. The coaches have been very patient with me and I’m just working and trying to get better every day. I’ve been practicing hard and there’s no telling what could happen.”
When told that Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson has not ruled out throwing Miller the ball in the end zone on a play-action pass, the second-year nose tackle’s eyes lit up.
“I have pretty good hands,” Miller said. “We practice all different situations. I’m just waiting. If an opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready.”
Olson is ready, too.
“History has shown that those guys can do that,” Olson said. “The Warren Sapps that have come in and played tight end or different players that have played fullback – look back at Refrigerator Perry with the Bears or Mike Vrabel with New England. That’s what a limited roster can force you to do sometimes. Why not use an athletic defensive player as a backup fullback?”
And if Miller were to get the chance to score a touchdown on a fullback dive play like Perry did in the Super Bowl with the 1985 Chicago Bears?
“I can definitely get a yard or two and the touchdown,” Miller said. “Shoot, I’ll just fall forward. I will get it.”
“It’s fun to be able to work with guys that really want to get in there and contribute and help the team, and do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Olson said. “Those guys exhibit that attitude and we’re excited about them.”
Whether Miller gets the glory that comes with a touchdown or not, he loves being the security detail for the halfback in goal line situations.
“The thing that excites me about playing fullback is that the guy has to try to run through me to get to the ball,” Miller said. “It’s man-on-man. He can’t go around me. He has to take me on head up. I like that. I’m the bodyguard for the ballcarrier. I like any kind of challenge and when you are telling me that a guy has to go through me to get to the ball. I’ll take that challenge any day.”
• Two defensive players that have come under fire for their lackluster preseason play have been right defensive end Stylez G. White and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. Through two preseason games, White, the only proven pass rusher on the defensive line, hasn’t come close to the quarterback, and Ruud has had difficulty shedding blocks at the point of attack and has just four tackles.
Both White and Ruud are in contract years, and the early guess here is that neither player will be re-signed by Tampa Bay next spring. White will still make the team this year due to his experience, although his performance in training camp and in the preseason hasn’t warranted a roster spot. He may also lose his starting job to Michael Bennett, who has two sacks in two preseason games. The Bucs will likely be spending their 2011 first-round pick on an impact pass rusher as a result.
Drafting another middle linebacker – one who is stouter against the run – also seems like a priority. Several of Pewter Report sources criticized Ruud’s play last year behind the scenes. Although he recorded over 200 tackles in 2009, many of Ruud’s stops came several yards downfield rather than near the line of scrimmage. Tampa Bay lusted after Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes in the 2010 NFL Draft, and was poised to use a third-round pick on the run-stuffer, but he was drafted by New England in the bottom of the second round.
It’s funny how after missing out on Spikes and other impact middle linebackers in the draft, those same sources that were critical of Ruud were hopping back on his bandwagon because they realize they are stuck with him again in 2010. Look for their feelings to change once more and for them to jump off his bandwagon again if Ruud doesn’t start shedding blocks and stuffing the run better.
• For all the talk of the initial success of Tampa Bay’s 2010 draft class, it is actually the 2009 draft class that has made the most headlines this summer. First-round pick quarterback Josh Freeman had a very good training camp and was having a stellar preseason until he broke the tip of his right thumb in last week’s game against Kansas City.
Third-round pick Roy Miller is the team’s starting nose tackle. Fourth-rounder Kyle Moore is a current starter at left defensive end, although Michael Bennett is pushing for more playing time. Seventh-round selections Sammie Stroughter and E.J. Biggers are starters at flanker and nickel corner, respectively.
Kudos to director of college scouting Dennis Hickey, general manager Mark Dominik, head coach Raheem Morris and the team’s college scouts for a job well done with two very good back-to-back draft classes. So far, so good.
• Demoted strong safety Sabby Piscitelli came under fire for his comments on Wednesday, saying that he didn’t think there was ever a competition between he and Sean Jones for the starting spot. He also said he wasn’t happy with how he found out about his demotion, which was through a text message from defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake.
Piscitelli has nothing to apologize for, as he is actually right on both accounts. This was not a real fair competition, but the reason it wasn’t was because of Piscitelli’s poor play in 2009 in which he started all 16 games. In order for him to change the minds of the coaching staff, he had to clearly beat out the newcomer. If the play in the preseason games was even, which it was by my estimation, then Jones would get the nod because the team knows what it has in Piscitelli and wants to give Jones the benefit of the doubt.
Nickel cornerback Elbert Mack and left guard Jeremy Zuttah were under the same type of scrutiny as Piscitelli was. They had to clearly beat out E.J. Biggers and Keydrick Vincent for the nickel corner and left guard jobs, respectively. If it was close, the Bucs were going to give the newcomers the first shot at starting. Is it fair? No, but neither is life.
Also, Piscitelli deserved better than a phone call or text message. I believe coaches should handle demotions in a face-to-face setting. What made Piscitelli upset was that Lake texted him and wanted to talk to him on the phone. Piscitelli, who was at dinner, asked for a face-to-face meeting the next morning, which Lake agreed to. However, a story appeared on Buccaneers.com touting Jones’ ascension and Piscitelli’s demotion. And that’s how he ultimately found out that he was no longer a starter.
I can understand why Piscitelli is upset. I’d be pretty disappointed if I had found out that way, too. Say what you want about Piscitelli as a player, and he was one of several Bucs to have a real poor showing last year, but he does have a lot of pride and he is a competitor. I’d rather have a player like that who cares and is miffed about losing his starting job rather than a playa who doesn’t care at all.