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. GOLDSON AND BARRON MEAN DOUBLE TROUBLE ACROSS THE MIDDLEWhen Tampa Bay drafted strong safety Mark Barron in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Bucs were intrigued by his size just as much as his physical brand of play, his intelligence and ballhawking ability. With a muscular, 6-foot-2, 214-pound frame, Barron has exceptional size for an NFL safety.
One of the reasons why the Bucs were so aggressive in free agency in pursuing San Francisco free safety Dashon Goldson was his size. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Goldson is a big, hard-hitting force in the middle of the defense.
Now the Buccaneers have two huge, powerful safeties that can lower the boom on opposing wide receivers that dare to come across the middle. Either Goldson, whose nickname is “The Hawk,” or Barron is capable of decleating receivers in a manner that hasn’t been seen in Tampa Bay since former Pro Bowl safety John Lynch roamed the seam.
“I always feel for the receivers,” Bucs rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks said. “I mean I played against Mark for three years in the SEC. I know what he can do, I’ve seen him on tape here, he’s smoked my teammate [wide receiver] Chad Bumphis a couple of times. But I watch the tape on The Hawk and really I feel for the receivers going across the middle trying to catch balls.”
Having one big, intimidating safety patrolling the middle of the field is one thing. For a team like Tampa Bay to have two is double trouble for its opponents.
“Those guys are great Pro Bowl-type players,” Tampa Bay safety Ahmad Black said. “Mark has done great. He’s done everything that the coaches have asked him to do – and even more. Mark is a football player. They put him down in the slot in the dime because they know he could do it. He’s been showing great flashes, and he should do great this year.
“He’s the ballhawk,” Black said. “That’s why he’s called Hawk. When the ball is in the air he’s the ballhawk. I’ve seen him play for several years now. Just to have him in the same room as me is great. To have a guy of that caliber to learn from is a great opportunity for me.”
Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams remembers getting drilled by Goldson in Tampa Bay’s 48-3 loss at San Francisco in 2011. Williams was going to catch a quick hitch pass from Josh Freeman when Goldson plowed into him as soon as he caught the ball, forcing a fumble on the play.
“I don’t even remember the hit – it was that good of a hit,” Williams said. “I keep telling him that it didn’t hurt. It was actually a really good read because he wasn’t supposed to be there. It was two-man and he was supposed to be spread out. I was supposed to catch it and have one of my long runs again. He read it and he broke on it. It was so perfect. He came down hill as I was catching the ball. A guy like Dashon – you would rather have him on your team than have to go against him.”
Goldson’s vast experience playing for the defending NFC champion and his leadership ability were other reasons why Tampa Bay pursued him so hard in free agency. Goldson was just named a team captain by his peers this week and his teammates, especially the defensive backs, rave about the help they receive during practice and in the film room.
“You know I’m just excited to have him out there man, I’m excited to have that knowledge out there with me, “Barron said. “Anybody that can help me and we can help each other, I’m just excited to have out there. You know last year we were last in the league and that’s definitely not where we want to be. So it’s good to have the help and hopefully we can grow as a team.”
Because of similar body types and playing styles, the Bucs view Goldson as a mentor that can help accelerate Barron’s development as an NFL safety.
“He’s a young and strong football player,” Goldson said of Barron. “He’s smart and he’s only going to get smarter. A lot comes from the second year [in the league]. He’s very talented and has a lot of potential.
“When I was young I was just playing football, just using my talent. But as you learn what the offense is trying to do to you with formations and personnel, you’ll play faster.”
Goldson, a fourth-round pick out of Washington in 2007, wasn’t called on to be a starter right away, and notched 15 tackles and a pair of pass breakups as a rookie. It wasn’t until 2009 that Goldson cracked the starting lineup, and he finished with 94 tackles, six passes defensed, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Barron stepped in and started all 16 games as a rookie in Tampa Bay last season and finished with 88 tackles, 10 pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble.
“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Barron said. “I’m just out here working and trying to get better. I have the year of experience under my belt and I feel like that’s going to help me a lot, so I’m just ready to get started.
The former Alabama All-American has already established a great rapport with Goldson and has been a willing pupil, watching and learning from the Pro Bowler in the meeting rooms and on the practice fields at One Buc Place.
“He’s a big hitter, and he’s very smart,” Barron said of Goldson. “I knew he was a great player, but I didn’t know he was as smart as he is.”
The Bucs are looking to unleash Barron and put him in better position to create more turnovers and make big hits across the shallow middle of the field, just as he did in winning two national championships with the Crimson Tide where he recorded 229 tackles, 12 interceptions and four sacks and two forced fumbles in his career. After playing a good deal of free safety last year, which often put him in the deep middle of the field, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will have Barron play more of the classic strong safety position in 2013, which means closer to the line of scrimmage.
In Tampa Bay’s dime defense, Barron will even be playing in the slot, just Ronde Barber did last year, with Black and Goldson playing the traditional safety positions while executing either Cover 2 or Cover 4 zone. By playing so close to the ball in the slot, Sheridan hopes to use Barron as an occasional pass rusher on blitzes.
“I think I’m going to be doing a lot more blitzing, Barron said.” I mean that’s basically what I did at Bama where I did everything. I did a lot of stuff in the box, so I’ll be comfortable with that and hopefully that’ll help the team get better.”
Because Goldson and Barron have very similar body types and abilities, Sheridan plans on switching up his two safeties on occasion in an attempt to try to confuse quarterbacks and thwart opposing offensive coordinators who are trying to game plan against Tampa Bay.
“Sometimes in a game you get in a position where you have to do what you have to do to mix it up,” Barron said. “Sometimes you might not be able to switch. But it’s not necessarily where he’s defined at one safety and I’m defined at the other. But you know what? We’re just going to play where we line up.
“It really doesn’t matter who plays where. We want to strike fear into all of our opponents. Anytime we get that chance [to deliver a big hit] were going to take it.”
Opposing receivers be warned.
FAB 2. ASSIGNMENTS STREAMLINED, CLAYBORN READY TO “KICK ASS”Questions abound on Tampa Bay’s defensive line with regards to pressuring the passer and sacking the quarterback. The Bucs need defensive end Adrian Clayborn to rebound to his rookie form in the worst way and team with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to provide the bulk of the pass rush in 2013.
As a rookie in 2011, Clayborn led the team with 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles before missing the final 13 games of the 2012 campaign with a torn ACL. This season Clayborn is ready to make up for lost time.
“Yeah, it was tough getting hurt or whatever, but I really didn’t start like I wanted to,” Clayborn said. “I didn’t expect to get hurt. I had a rough first three games with the new defense or whatever so my mindset this year was really just learning the defense. They made it easier with us defensive ends only playing one position now so it kind of took half the load off us mentally so that helped. You hear a lot of stories of people coming back from ACLs or any injury like they want to, so my mindset was really just coming back and preparing as much as I could.”
Clayborn looked lost in the preseason and the first three games of the 2012 season. He didn’t record any sacks and admitted he was thinking too much in the first year of Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan’s new defense. “Now I only play the weakside defensive end in our defenses,” Clayborn said. “I go away from the strong side on every play and I can just play without having to worry about the calls. We have a lot of calls in this defense.
“It’s great being able to take half of the defense off your shoulders. The preseason really helped and I got the chance to go live in this defense. Other than my groin keeping me out a week, it’s been going good. I had a little bit of a nagging injury with my elbow last year at the start of the year. I injured it in the Patriots preseason game. I also had a mental overload in playing both defensive end positions. Now that I’m only playing one of the defensive end spots I have it down. I have an easier task mentally and I can just play.”
Last year, Clayborn stayed at right end, but had to play different techniques depending on whether he was the strongside end or the weakside end. In 2013 with the modifications to the defense, Clayborn has the chance to play on the right side or the left side of the line depending on where the tight end lines up.
“I’m still adjusting to it, but it’s fun,” Clayborn said. “It’s fun playing both sides and it’s not that same thing every play, so I’m liking it. It’s definitely going to be different going against the right tackles because they’re mostly bigger guys. I’m definitely going to try and use that to my advantage, but they also got the advantage because I’ve never played on the left, so it’s going to be a challenge. But I’m looking forward to it.” Having Clayborn play left or right defensive end depending on the location of the strong side (tight end) is a new wrinkle, but the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2011 says that more surprises are coming.
“We’re doing different things and we’re not just going straight every time,” Clayborn said. “We’re moving left, we’re moving right, and we’re mixing it up and it’s different. It’s fun to play in.”
With Clayborn’s responsibilities lessened this year, expect the former Iowa standout to attack offensive tackles more decisively and aggressively on the way to the quarterback than he did at the beginning of his ill-fated 2012 season.
“That’s what we get paid to do – go after offensive linemen, try to kick their ass and get to the quarterback,” Clayborn said. FAB 3. NO CAPTAINSHIP IS NO BIG DEAL FOR FREEMAN The Buccaneers players have voted for their team captains, and quarterback Josh Freeman isn’t one of them this year. Don’t read too much into that, and don’t think for a second that the team is losing faith in Freeman.
Linebacker Adam Hayward was once again named the special teams captain, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and free safety Dashon Goldson were named captains on defense. McCoy, who made the Pro Bowl last year, is now a two-time captain in Tampa Bay, while this is the first such distinction with the Buccaneers for Goldson, who has been to three career Pro Bowls as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
On offense, the Bucs players selected right guard Davin Joseph and wide receiver Vincent Jackson as team captains over Freeman, but don’t take that as a slight. Jackson has been to three Pro Bowls, including one last year as a Buccaneer, while Joseph is a two-time Pro Bowler. Freeman hasn’t been to any Pro Bowls yet, and quite frankly, he’s not as accomplished – and perhaps talented – as either Joseph or Jackson.
Joseph is considered to be in the conversation as one of the top 5 guards in the NFL right now. Jackson could be considered to be a top-10 wide receiver. I personally think he’s in the top 5.
Is Freeman a top 10 quarterback? Not yet, and that’s why he didn’t get snubbed as one of the team’s two captains.
Even running back Doug Martin, fresh off a record-breaking Pro Bowl season as a rookie and a year in which he had the fourth-highest offensive output of any rusher last year, wasn’t named a team captain. On defense, last year’s leading tackler, linebacker Lavonte David, who was named Pewter Report’s 2012 MVP, wasn’t selected as a team captain, nor was cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is considered to be the best player in the league at his position when healthy.
The starting quarterback on most teams is named a team captain. Peyton Manning is a captain in Denver, Drew Brees is a captain in New Orleans and Tom Brady is a team captain in New England.
The fact that Freeman isn’t a team captain might bother some, and it probably disappoints the quarterback himself. But it wasn’t like tight end Luke Stocker was named to lead the offense ahead of Freeman.
At the end of the day in the Tampa Bay locker room the players are no different than the fans, media and the front office. Like everyone, the players realize that Freeman has some more work to do to cement his place in the hierarchy at One Buccaneer Place.
If Freeman has a great season, earns a contract extension and takes the Bucs to the playoffs it’s a safe bet that he’ll receive more votes from his peers in the locker room and has a much greater chance of unseating either Jackson or Joseph for a captain’s role once again.
FAB 4. BE WARY OF “EXPERT” FOOTBALL WEBSITESI consider myself a Buccaneer expert. I have been covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 18 years, so I think I have earned that right to that distinction.
I view replays of the games from different camera angles and watch one-on-one matchups. I talk to Bucs players and coaches about offensive and defensive schemes and assignments. I speak with members of the front office about Tampa Bay’s personnel.
But one thing I don’t know is what is supposed to happen on every play.
Did the guard give up the sack in the A gap, or did the center not double team as he should have?
Was that Josh Freeman interception his fault, or did the receiver run the wrong depth on his route?
Did the safety come over late and blow the coverage or did the cornerback get beat?
These are the answers that media – and fans – don’t always know, and can’t always determine from watching NFL games live or even via replays. As a result, some “expert” websites, such as Football Outsiders and Cold Hard Football Facts among others, put together lists of cornerbacks that give up the most yards and offensive linemen that surrender the most sacks. Fans read these and may develop misinformed opinions about their favorite team’s own players or players that are available for their team in free agency.
But without truly knowing the play call, it’s impossible to be completely accurate when assessing blame for blown coverages in the secondary, errant throws that turn into interceptions, and busts in pass protection.
I remember a decade ago when the Bucs played the Panthers in Carolina in 2013 and lost 27-24. Wide receiver Ricky Proehl caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme down the left sidelines to put Carolina up 20-7 in the third quarter. When I watched that play, I saw Bucs strong safety John Lynch and cornerback Ronde Barber both running after Proehl.
Was Lynch late in getting over in Cover 2 defense, or was Tampa Bay playing Cover 3 and Proehl was Barber’s responsibility? After seeing it live and watching the replay on TV it was nearly impossible to determine. I wrote that Barber gave up the touchdown, but a few days later Lynch came up to me and told me that it was actually Cover 2 and that he didn’t get to his landmark in time and that the TD was his fault.
So when websites rank players based on film study alone in terms of surrendering sacks or giving up touchdowns, take it with a grain of salt. I’ve spoken with members of the Bucs’ brass who do not put a lot of stock into those type of websites’ analysis. Neither does New England head coach Bill Belichick, apparently in a story that ran last week on ProFootballTalk.com.
“I don’t know how you can know that unless you’re really part of the team and know exactly what was supposed to happen on that play. I know there are a lot of experts out there that have it all figured out but I definitely don’t,” Belichick said.
Belichick said that when he’s watching film of opposing teams, he routinely sees plays where he knows a mistake was made, but he doesn’t know who made the mistake. If a blitzing linebacker comes untouched between the center and the guard and sacks the quarterback, you know someone on the offense made a mistake, but you don’t know if the center or the guard who was supposed to block the linebacker, or if a running back was supposed to pick up the blitz, or if the quarterback was supposed to recognize the blitz and get the ball away faster.
“I’ve watched plenty of preseason games this time of year and you’re looking at all the other teams in the league and you try to evaluate players and you’re watching the teams that we’re going to play early in the season and there are plenty of plays where I have no idea what went wrong,” Belichick said.
If Belichick, a future Hall of Famer and one of the most legendary coaches of all time doesn’t know, it’s a safe bet that media-types that crunch numbers and watch tape aren’t sure. Enjoy sites like Football Outsiders and Cold Hard Football Facts, but take their analysis – and PewterReport.com’s – with a grain of salt.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• I apologize for the delay in this week’s edition of the SR’s Fab 5. I had some great interviews with free safety Dashon Goldson, wide receiver Mike Williams and defensive end Adrian Clayborn during the open locker room period on Friday at One Buccaneer Place, and felt compelled to include those quotes in this week’s column. I also had the opportunity to add Taco Bus as a new sponsor to PewterReport.com. With five Tampa Bay area locations, Taco Bus has some of the best, authentic Mexican food around! Please look for their ad on PewterReport.com next week, click on it and visit the Taco Bus location closest to you.
• So how did new Buccaneers free safety Dashon Goldson get the nickname “The Hawk? I asked him the origin of his nickname on Friday after practice.
“A couple of years ago, one of my coaches were asking me if I had met [former San Francisco Hall of Fame safety] Ronnie Lott,” Goldson said. “They said I played a lot like him because I hit and I fly around. The coach told me, “I like you because you’ve got ballhawking skills. He started calling me ‘The Hawk.’ It just started flowing and I rolled with it. Everybody since Pop Warner called me ‘The Ballhawk’ because I got a lot of interceptions and I fly around back there. Now I’m just ‘The Hawk.’
• One of the funniest locker room pairings at One Buccaneer Place is Mike Williams and Davin Joseph. The lockers of the two offensive stars are right next to each other and it’s like watching an episode of “The Odd Couple.” The straight-laced, conservative Joseph portrays the legendary character Felix Unger, who was made popular on TV back in the 1970s by Tony Randall. Williams, who is brash, loud and messy is like the class clown of the locker room, resembling Oscar Madison, who was played by Jack Klugman.
“It’s non-stop entertainment with Mike,” Joseph said. “I just wish he would keep his stuff on his side of the locker. I’m going to put up a fence!”
• Some Bucs fans grumbled a bit at my selection of punter Michael Koenen as the preseason pick for Tampa Bay’s Special Teams MVP this year. While the punter is not the sexiest position on the football team, keep in mind that Koenen was second in the NFL with 58 touchbacks on 85 attempts on kickoffs last year.
Koenen is a weapon on kickoffs and will help new kicker Rian Lindell a great deal by keeping him focused on field goals. Without having to worry about kickoffs, Lindell should be able to achieve a Connor Barth-like field goal percentage of 84 percent or more. At least that’s what Tampa Bay’s front office is thinking.
• Tampa Bay was hoping that second-year middle linebacker Najee Goode would clear waivers, but he was claimed off the waiver wire by Philadelphia instead. Goode led the team in tackles with 19 in the preseason and had a pick-six against the Redskins in the preseason finale.
But because Adam Hayward is versatile enough to play all three linebacker positions and has more experience, the Bucs decided to let Goode go. Keep in mind that the Bucs play nickel defense (two linebackers) and dime defense (one linebacker) so much that the team could afford to get away with carrying just five linebackers for the time being. Tampa Bay’s linebackers have a history of staying healthy, so depth isn’t an immediate concern, and that allowed Tampa Bay to stock up on defensive linemen and defensive backs instead.
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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