FAB 2. Toughness Is A Key Trait In Bucs’ Player Evaluation
Part of the reason why PewterReport.com – and Buccaneer Magazine back in the day – was able to hit on so many Bucs’ Best Bets when it came to our pre-draft coverage was the fact that Tampa Bay had certain models the team was looking for at certain positions.
Monte Kiffin was the Bucs’ defensive coordinator from 1996-2008, and if you paid attention, you knew what he was looking for when it came to a Buccaneers cornerback or linebacker when watching college football.
I could literally watch a college football game and say, “That guy would fit in the Tampa 2.”
That’s why linebacker Quincy Black and cornerback Torrie Cox were identified as Bucs’ Best Bets. The Bucs liked fast, athletic linebackers and smaller cornerbacks with great agility, quickness and reaction time.
Players with certain traits helped PewterReport.com nail other Bucs’ Best Bets throughout the years. Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had tried unsuccessfully to land veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia before he signed with Philadelphia in 2006, so he drafted a Garcia-like quarterback that year in Bruce Gradkowski, who was also identified as a PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bet.
Three years later we would accurately forecast the selection of Josh Johnson, another Bucs’ Best Bet, in 2008 because he had the similar traits Gruden was looking for. We also hit (unfortunately) on the drafting of wide receiver Dexter Jackson, who was a Bucs’ Best Bet at wide receiver, because Gruden wanted a speed receiver to replace Joey Galloway.
Quarterback Josh Freeman was easy to project as a Bucs’ Best Bet for a quarterback-needy Tampa Bay team, given the fact that he played at Kansas State where Raheem Morris coached for one season in 2006. So was defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in 2010, because the Bucs needed a defensive tackle and everyone knew that Ndamukong Suh was going to be drafted by Detroit at No. 2, one pick ahead of Tampa Bay. Nailing both Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams in the 2010 draft was easy because the Bucs wanted a pair of big, athletic receivers for Freeman to throw to.
Outside of running back Charles Sims in 2014, quarterback Jameis Winston in 2015, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in 2016 and wide receiver Chris Godwin last year, it has been more difficult for us to hit on multiple Bucs’ Best Bets until recently. That’s because a consistent trait theme has emerged this offseason.
After suffering through a 5-11 season in which the team routinely lost the battle of the trenches on both sides, the Bucs wanted tough, physical players, and that was evident in free agency when the team signed center Ryan Jensen, defensive linemen Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vinny Curry, and traded for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. That theme carried over to the draft.
“Toughness and competitiveness,” said Bucs director of college scouting Mike Biehl. “He’s got to be a competitor. It’s so hard to play in this league and the physical nature of it if you’re not tough and competitive.”
It’s taken Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek and Biehl a few years to hone in on the type of Buccaneer player the team is looking for. Biehl uses the word “competitive” when talking about player traits. Licht has used the word “resilient” when talking about player traits. Put them together with passion and you get toughness.
“When we all came together, especially when Spytek got here – we all have our different backgrounds – so when you first come together, everybody has their own ideas,” Biehl said. “Over the last couple of years we have fine-tuned and figured out what we want to do. All of those ideas had come from other places. Now it’s come altogether for us. Now they are the Buccaneer way.”
Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter have chimed in with their thoughts on Tampa Bay’s 2018 draft class, but I wanted to get Biehl’s analysis, too.
On DT Vita Vea: “Vita is a freak for being as big as he is and moving as well as he does. He’s really untapped. We feel he’s got a high ceiling. He’s big, strong and tough. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to rush the passer in college and we think he can be a three-day player for us.”
On RB Ronald Jones: “We’re excited about Ronald – me in particular,” Biehl said. “He was one of my favorite backs in this draft. You’ve got Saquon, who is probably the clear-cut best one, but I think after that you could ask a lot of people and there are a lot of different opinions – Ronald Jones is right there in that mix if not on top of it. Speed, toughness, runs hard. With his speed he adds a dimension to our team that we don’t have and haven’t here in awhile. He’s a guy that didn’t get a lot of chances to catch the ball, but we see him being a three-down back. Ronald is only 20. He’s still learning. I really liked his interview the other day when somebody said he’s arrived and he snapped and said, ‘I haven’t arrived yet.’ He’s got the right attitude, which I think most of these guys in this draft class do.”
On CB M.J. Stewart: “The thing we’ve tried to do is find guys that are versatile. Jason has talked a lot about that and Coach [Koetter] has talked about that. He’s just a guy that checked a lot of boxes about the type of guys we want around here. He’s tough, smart, coachable, physical and he just plays the game the right way. We just seem him being able to play several positions in our defense.”
On CB Carlton Davis: “He’s different from a lot of the guys we have because of his size. He has the size and length that we haven’t had here in a while. He’s a competitive kid and he’s not afraid to mix it up and get involved in the run. He can run too, for a guy that is big and long. He’s another young guy coming out early that hasn’t even tapped his potential yet. He’s got a pretty big upside.”
On OL Alex Cappa: “You turn on his college tape and the kid is the ultimate competitor. He’s just throwing people around. The first thing you look for when you are scouting small school guys, especially when you are doing offensive linemen, is are they dominating? He’s definitely dominating. You get to see him go to the Senior Bowl like Ali did, and he took his lumps the first day, kind of like Ali did. Ali had a rough start, but by the end of the week he was one of the better offensive linemen there. I think he’s in that category. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know right now coming in from Humboldt. But from the moment he’s stepped on the field the coaches have been excited is his ability to learn and his coachability. That’s the kind of stuff our scouts said, and it’s exciting to get those things validated.”
On S Jordan Whitehead: “The versatility that kid has is appealing. He played some tailback there and was productive. We see him playing safety, and possibly playing nickel. He’s a good athlete. He’s got good speed and he’s tough. If you look at all three of those DBs we took – Stewart, Davis and Whitehead – they’re all tough and physical. They all play the run. They’re all two-way players. We’re excited about him.”
On WR Justin Watson: “We’re excited about Justin. He’s a guy that has been counted out every step of the way. He goes to an Ivy League school and guys don’t pay much attention to him and all he does is go produce three 1,000-yard seasons. Then he goes to the East-West Shrine Game and competes. Then he gets called up to the Senior Bowl and competes. We had him in for an interview and pretty much everyone in the building was unanimous about the type of kid he is. He’s got what it takes to be a Buc. Every year there are guys that slip through the cracks that don’t go to the Combine and he was one of those guys this year. You bring in guys for (Top) 30 visits for different reasons, but one of them is that they weren’t there so we need to get a physical on them. We needed to get a physical because we knew we were going to target him as a draft pick. You don’t want to draft someone you don’t have a physical on.”
On LB Jack Cichy: “Jack is a versatile guy. He’ll be a guy that can come in and be able to play all three spots and play on all three downs – four downs, really, because of special teams. I think we’re pretty fortunate to get him in the sixth round. He’s going into last year and then the injury happens. He looked pretty good in the mini-camp. Jim Leonhard played in the league for a while and he is their defensive coordinator. His fingerprints are all over that defense and I think Jack has learned the right way. He didn’t do much at his pro day because he’s still coming back from that knee injury, but you can watch the movement. We seem him as a three-down guy because we feel he can play in coverage, and he’s big, tough and physical enough to come up and play the run. He’s exciting. The versatility is the thing that stands out there.”
The thing that stands out about all of these draft picks is that they are tough and competitive. After a couple of years of honing in on the traits they are looking for, Licht, Biehl and Spytek have created the Buccaneer way, which is to find tough, competitive players like Vea, Cappa and Watson – who were all Bucs’ Best Bets this year – among others.