24 AUG 2014: during the Preseason game of the season between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. BUCS BELIEVE BELL CAN BE TEAM’S SPEED RECEIVER
One of the big reasons why Dirk Koetter’s offense wasn’t as explosive during Tampa Bay’s 0-4 skid to end the 2015 season was the loss of veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson to a knee injury. The Bucs were 4-4 with Jackson in the starting lineup and 2-6 without him, including a 0-4 mark in December.
As PewterReport.com first reported, not only will the 33-year old Jackson return for the final year of his contract in 2016, the Bucs won’t ask him to take a pay cut because of the value he brought to the team despite catching just 33 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. Not just the “veteran presence” kind of value. We’re talking about the on-field production value.
Consider the fact that Jackson averaged 16.5 yards per catch, which was the second-highest average on the team from the receiver position, and that 28 of his 33 catches produced first downs (84.8 percent). That’s second among wide receivers with at least five catches, just behind Mike Evans (85.1 percent) and better than Adam Humphries (66.6 percent).
Bucs WR Louis Murphy – Photo by: Getty Images
But Koetter’s offense not only missed Jackson due to a knee injury, it also missed slot receiver Louis Murphy, who was limited to just the first six games of the season due to a torn ACL against Washington. Murphy tore his ACL on a 29-yard catch – the kind of explosive play that Bucs general manager Jason Licht signed him to produce. In his limited time in 2015, Murphy led the Bucs with a 19.8-yard average on 10 catches for 198 yards. Forty percent of Murphy’s receptions covered 20 yards or more.
So without Jackson and Murphy in the lineup, most of the pressure in the wide receiver room went on Evans, who had 74 catches for 1,206 yards – both career highs – but only three touchdowns in 2016. Only 21 of Evans’ 74 catches (28.3 percent) went for 20 yards or more due to the double coverage he received without Jackson or Murphy on the field.
While Humphries, an undrafted free agent, stepped up with 27 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown, he averaged just 9.6 yards per carry and only had one catch over 20 yards. The same could be said of fellow undrafted rookie Donteea Dye, who averaged just 12 yards per catch on 11 receptions for 132 yards with one touchdown. He also only had one reception over 20 yards. Veteran Russell Shepard had just three catches for 28 yards (9.3 avg.) with one TD, and no catches of 20 yards or more.
Humphries and Dye making the Bucs’ 53-man roster wasn’t part of the team’s original plan. The young receiver that was expected to develop behind Evans, Jackson and Murphy was Kenny Bell, Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick out of Nebraska. Bell was a 6-foot-1, 197-pound speedster finished his Cornhuskers career as the school’s all-time leading receiver with 181 catches for 2,689 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Bell averaged 14.9 yards per catch at Nebraska, including a 16.8-yard average during his senior season. Not only did the Bucs like his production, they loved his athleticism. Bell had a 10-foot-9-inch broad jump, a 41.5-inch vertical leap and ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day after running a 4.42 at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Bucs WR Kenny Bell – Photo by: Getty Images
After a sensational showing in the rookie mini-camp, OTAs and mini-camp connecting with roommate and fellow rookie Jameis Winston, Bell was primed to challenge Murphy for the No. 3 receiver position in training camp. Then came the dropped passes.
A combination of the pads coming on, going against NFL-caliber cornerbacks in camp where physical contact is permitted, adjusting to the heat and humidity of August in Florida and learning a playbook all led to a lack of focus, and ultimately more drops than Bell and the Bucs wanted to see.
“Obviously, if you’ve seen me drop the ball that’s a fair assessment,” Bell told me in an exclusive interview this week. “You hit the nail on the head. I think it’s a combination of everything that goes into practicing that day or playing in a game that day. Was it a lot to handle? Absolutely, but I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. There are 1,700 other guys in the league going through the same thing. I was a rookie and I made those mistakes. I’ll be man enough and say those are areas that I need to improve upon, but in no means am I going to make excuses and say that because I’m a rookie that’s all right. I have work to do.”
Bell was a sure-handed receiver at Nebraska, so those drops caught the young receiver and the Bucs organization by surprise. A preseason hamstring injury further complicated matters because Bell truly hadn’t produced enough on offense or on special teams to legitimately warrant a roster spot by mid-August. The decision was made to place him on injured reserve.
That move would ultimately help his long-term prospects of remaining with the Buccaneers because he was protected from other teams grabbing him if they had tried to slide him through waivers and on to the practice squad, but going on I.R. would stunt his development in the short term because Bell would not be able to practice with the team until 2016.
“There was obviously some disappointment because I’m a football player,” Bell said. “They brought me here to play the game of football and that’s what I love to do. So obviously there was some let down because I had worked really hard. At the same time, they weren’t going to carry a rookie receiver that had unsure hands and wasn’t playing his best football with an injured hamstring into the season when we had guys that were performing well. Hump was playing good football. Murph and VJax were healthy and Mike was Mike. We had talent in the room. Looking back on that, the disappointment is washed away. I’m very thankful that Mr. Licht, Coach [Lovie] Smith and the powers that be kept me around.
Bucs WR Kenny Bell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I thought the [OTAs before the injury] went well. Gosh, it seems like forever ago now. I thought I was taking advantage of my time and I was lucky. Coach Koetter and Coach Smith, my position coach at the time, Coach [Andrew] Stoker – those guys gave me the opportunity to go out there and play in both practice and the preseason games, which I was really excited about. Obviously, I have a lot work that needs to be done and I’ve got a lot of preparing to do for the 2016 season.”
So will Bell be hitting the JUGGS machine hard to work on his hands?
“I think the number one thing that is going to help me is throwing with No. 3,” Bell said. “Having a relationship with your quarterback and not just playing the game, but intellectually knowing what’s going on. That’s what is really going to benefit our team and our offense the most. That’s the number one thing I’m going to be working on this offseason – getting together and working with Jameis. By no means am I alone in that. We have a room full of guys that are looking forward to that.”
Getting Jackson and Murphy back will add to Tampa Bay’s explosiveness in 2016, but the addition of Bell can’t be discounted, either. Of the 10 receivers currently on the Bucs roster, Bell had the fastest 40-yard dash time coming out of college:
Tampa Bay’s Fastest WRs
Kenny Bell – 4.38
Louis Murphy – 4.43
Donteea Dye – 4.45
Evan Spencer – 4.45
Russell Shepard – 4.46
Vincent Jackson – 4.51
Bernard Reedy – 4.52
Mike Evans – 4.53
Adam Humphries – 4.53
Andre Davis – 4.68
It’s probably safe to say that Jackson’s 40-yard dash time is probably slower than 4.51 as he heads into his 12th NFL season and that he can’t be counted on to produce down the field like he could in his youth. As productive as Koetter’s offense was in 2015, recording over 6,000 yards for the first time in Tampa Bay history and ranking fifth overall in the league in total yardage, it can be even more explosive with Bell’s speed on the field.
Only two receivers – Evans and Murphy – logged receptions longer than 50 yards in 2015. Evans had a 68-yard catch against New York and Murphy had a 54-yarder at New Orleans. Neither Bucs receiver scored on those long catches.
That could change if Bell improves his hands and uses what he learned by not playing last year to his advantage in 2016.
Bucs WRs Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye – Photo by: Cliff Welch
“It was very similar to what happened with me at Nebraska during my redshirt year,” Bell said. “I definitely wish I could have had my opportunity last year, but being on I.R., I know my opportunity is coming. I don’t say that in a cocky way, but to see D.D. go out there and catch a touchdown in the NFL after being at Heidelberg, and to see him running out of the tunnel through the smoke as a starter – that’s special. You want that for the guys you play with.
“Obviously, we are going to compete hard for roster spots this year and to make each other better for starting jobs and playing time, but to see something like what D.D. did was special. Or to see Hump – hey, when we needed a first down, Adam Humphries got us a first down this year. To see young guys and teammates in general perform like that with Kwon [Alexander] making tackles and Ali [Marpet] and Donovan [Smith] blocking as well as they did, and to see No. 3, who in my mind is Rookie of the Year, was special. I wish I could have been a part of it, but getting to watch it was special and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
What was frustrating for Bell was the fact that his injury was a hamstring strain – not a serious injury like a broken leg or torn knee ligaments. By the middle of the season he was completely healed, but unable to help his team.
“Obviously, I’m a competitor,” Bell said. “That was the hardest part – being there on Sundays and knowing that I was healthy and I could have helped us win. I had fresh, fresh legs. I hadn’t been through the grind like those guys had.
“I told them all the time, ‘If I could give you my legs, I would.’ That was tough, but at the same time, it was even harder looking guys in the eyes during meetings and on the practice field and not being able to help them my team. Selfishly, I wanted to play football, but it was worse knowing that everyone else was looking at me and wishing I could play.”
Bell saw the Bucs’ 0-4 finish lead to Smith’s firing three days after the 2015 season had concluded. The next week, Koetter was hired as Smith’s replacement as the 11th head coach in franchise history.
As a rookie, Bell was witness to the harsh reality that the NFL is a win-at-all-costs business.
Bucs OC Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Unfortunately, I learned that back in November of my senior year in college after Nebraska fired my head coach, Bo Pellini,” Bell said. “I got to see the business side of coaching and winning and how important that is job security-wise at my college just as I was entering the league. That was tough. By no means did I see it coming. At the same time, I trust in my organization and I trust in my new head coach, Coach Koetter. I would never want to see anything like that happen to Coach Lovie. He’s an amazing man and he gave me my opportunity in this league. He treated me unbelievably well and I thank him for the time we had together. But there are no questions about where we are moving as an organization. We are moving forward.
“It’s all about winning. That’s how it should be, right? That’s what makes the NFL so great. Training camp is hard. It’s ruthless. Guys get cut. It’s hard. But that’s why you see guys making the amazing plays they make on Sunday.”
Bell knows he can go from being a buzz-worthy receiver this offseason to being a failed a draft pick if he doesn’t improve during the spring and summer and put together a better showing in training camp and the preseason next year. The fact that he spent his rookie season studying Koetter’s playbook hard and becoming well versed in the scheme will greatly aid him as he enters his second season in the NFL.
“I want to make this clear – by no means am I happy about Coach Lovie getting fired,” Bell said. “He took great care of me. But as far as the new hire going forward, I couldn’t be more excited to win for Coach Koetter. I couldn’t be more excited. The results speak for themselves. I like Coach Koetter a lot. He’s the right man for the job.
“Through camp he was coaching us hard – really hard. I mean harder than I’ve ever been coached before. I had Coach Pellini at Nebraska and he was a hard coach. Coach Koetter made me a better in just the three or four weeks that I was in camp and the preseason. The professionalism that he demands from offense – it doesn’t matter if you are Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson or Donteea Dye – that is the kind of culture change and the kind of mindset change that he brought to our offense this year. You watched us play and we didn’t execute the best, but dang it, we played the hardest. That type of fire and tenacity that he demands out of his team is what he brings to practice every day. There’s no surprise it shows up on Sundays.”
Bucs WR Kenny Bell – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bell’s enthusiasm for playing for his new coach was evident when he tweeted about receiving an e-mail from Koetter in January and stating how fired up he was to get it. Bell and Tampa Bay’s wide receivers will have a new receivers coach in former Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken, who is the only new hire on the offensive side of the ball. Monken will be in charge of working on the hands of Bell and Evans, who lead the NFL with 11 drops last year.
“I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet,” Bell said. “I’ll be back down in Tampa in the next few weeks and I’m sure I’ll get the chance to meet him. I’m really excited. I was watching Southern Miss play Houston and I saw how well coached that Southern Miss team was. Not only that, Coach Monken is a good friend with the defensive coordinator at North Carolina right now, who was my defensive coordinator at Nebraska. It’s a small world.
“We won’t be back at the facility working with the coaches until April. As far as getting together and throwing the football with Jameis, that will be happening here pretty quick I can assure you.”
While the Bucs can’t rule out selecting a wide receiver on the second or third day of the draft this year, having Bell healthy and ready to go certainly diminishes the need for a speed receiver. Because he didn’t play last year, his presence this season will be like having an additional draft pick in 2016.
FAB 2. WINSTON MADE BELL A BUCS SCOUT WHILE ON I.R.
When NFL players go on injured reserve, their days typically consist of rehabilitation sessions and occasional appearances in team meeting rooms throughout the season. That wasn’t the case with Bucs wide receiver Kenny Bell, whose hamstring injury healed quickly and spent the majority of his rookie season in the film room and in the meeting rooms.
Bell wasn’t allowed to do anything with team on the practice field, so he spent his time at One Buccaneer Place soaking up information from receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and even doing scouting reports on Tampa Bay’s opponents.
“I was in meetings every day, I traveled with the team and I gave scouting reports,” Bell said. “I was much more involved than most guys on I.R. are. I couldn’t practice or work out with the team, which was tough. It’s hard to develop as a player and watch everybody else get better, but I don’t resent the decision to be put on injured reserve and be kept around. I am extremely thankful and excited to be a member of the Bucs organization – last year and moving forward.”
Scouting reports? In my 22 years of covering the Buccaneers I had never heard of a player on injured reserve – much less a rookie – spending his time compiling scouting reports.
“The coaches had nothing to do with that,” Bell said. “Jameis [Winston] and Mike [Glennon] came to me and talked to me early in the season about ways to keep me involved and keep me focused. That was one of the things they came up with and I took it and ran with it.
“It was opposing teams – whoever we played that week. I would give an oral report to the wide receivers and then I would print it out and give it to Jameis and Mike. It was usually Fridays or Saturdays that I would give it to him. Jameis got his a bit early because he was my roommate.”
Consider me impressed with Bell’s maturity and how he chose to spend his time on I.R. during his rookie season. I’m equally impressed that Winston gave Bell that task, although I learned more about the Pro Bowl quarterback’s penchant for having a CEO mentality when it comes to his players and formulating a unique development plan for nearly every player.
“I don’t know how you can’t love Jameis Winston,” Bell said. “Once you get around him and talk to him, not only as a football player, but a man, he’s a special individual. I’m not too sure what some people were expecting and if they thought he was going to fail or wanted him to fail. But people will definitely start to recognize how good of a football player – and how good of a man – Jameis Winston is over the next few years. I’m excited to see it.”
The fact that Bell took the time to not only invest in the scouting aspect of becoming an NFL player for his own development, but also for the benefit of his fellow receivers and quarterbacks speaks volumes about his character, too.
Bucs WR Kenny Bell & QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“The reports I did were on the secondary we were facing,” Bell said. “The corners, the safeties and the nickels – between five and seven guys. Who was active, who was hurt, strengths and weaknesses, leverages in man coverage, favorite coverages – that kind of stuff. What college they came from and what year they were in. The reports were usually three or four pages in length. I was just doing my job. I didn’t necessarily think it was that impressive.
“It was a developmental year for me and I think approached it the same way as I did five years before as a redshirt at Nebraska. The only thing that I didn’t get to develop this year as an NFL player was playing on Sundays. Everything else that goes into being an NFL player I learned quite well because I didn’t have to worry about the playing side of it. I was focused all week on our game plan and I would give my scouting report at the end of the week, but when it came to Sunday mornings I didn’t wake up with those butterflies in my stomach like I was getting ready to return kickoffs that day. When you talk about the pressures leading into Sundays, I didn’t experience that. I had a nice, easy time this year, but it was very tough seeing us lose. At the same time, seeing how we progressed throughout the season was phenomenal. We struggled at the end and we didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but to say we didn’t progress as a football team and as an offense? It would be tough to argue against that.”
Bell made progress as a student of the game and has a complete understanding of Koetter’s offense heading into the 2016 mini-camps and OTAs. That should help him in his battle for a roster spot this August.
“It doesn’t matter where I play,” Bell said when I asked him if he was more comfortable playing at flanker, split end or in the slot. “I had a year of studying the entire offense and not just a particular position. I haven’t been able to play in a while, but mental capacity-wise I would be pretty comfortable playing anywhere.”
One thing Bell learned as a rookie in seeing Winston score a touchdown in all 16 games en route to being named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler was his desire to win. Seeing Lovie Smith get fired after a 6-10 season also drove home the importance of winning in the NFL.
“Jameis is a winner,” Bell said. “Obviously, we didn’t win as many games as we wanted to this year, but that heart, that fire, that drive, that tenacity that Jameis Winston brings to a football field – it will be brought to the rest of the Buccaneers organization. I’m confident in that. I’m very excited about where we are headed.”
As for the speed receiver nicknamed “Afro Thunder,” what does he have in store for us in 2016 when he finally takes the field after several months of inactivity?
“That’s tough,” Bell said. “I’m not going to promise big plays. All that I’ll promise is that I’ll do my job, whether it’s making tackles as a gunner, returning kicks or punts or catching touchdowns. Whatever I can do to help this Buccaneers organization win is what I want to do. The personnel accolades and stuff will definitely be put to the wayside. I definitely want to help us win.”
One personal goal he did share with me was to help Tampa Bay’s mediocre special teams. Led by Bobby Rainey, the Bucs averaged just 24.1 yards per kick return and 9.9 yards per punt return in 2015. That in part led to special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea being fired and replaced by Nick Kaczor.
Bell, who returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Penn State as a junior in 2013, does want to be a factor in Tampa Bay’s kick return game.
“I want that job – there’s no question about that,” Bell said. “I’m just being competitive, I’m not calling anybody out. That’s one of my top goals for this year is to return kicks. With VJax (Vincent Jackson) returning, I’m going to have to play special teams. I’m looking forward to that.
“There’s a lot of excitement right now between guys on the team with text messages, e-mails and phone calls this offseason. It’s an exciting time. We felt we got better last year, and we feel like 2016 is going to be a very bright year.”
FAB 3. WESTBROOK AN OFFSEASON SLEEPER AT TIGHT END
Not only is Tampa Bay excited about its existing wide receiving corps with the return to health of Vincent Jackson, Louis Murphy and Kenny Bell, the Bucs are also ecstatic about the talent they have acquired at the tight end position, especially from a receiving standpoint. Over the past two years the Bucs have not only spent a second-round pick on the talented Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who tied for the time lead with four touchdowns last year despite missing nine games with a severe shoulder injury, the team’s scouts also discovered undrafted free agent Cameron Brate out of Harvard.
Brate caught just one pass for 17 yards as a rookie in 2014, but stepped in for the injured Seferian-Jenkins last year and caught a career-high 23 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs feel like they may have another Brate-like steal in Tevin Westbrook, who spent the majority of the 2015 season on Tampa Bay’s practice squad.
Westbrook is a very interesting story, catching just 11 passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns at the University of Florida where he made the transition from playing defensive line to tight end. To say he’s come a long way fast would be an understatement.
“My freshman year I came in as a defensive tackle and I weighed about 300 pounds,” Westbrook said. “I was new at the position. I only played defensive end in high school and then they moved me to D-end my sophomore year at Florida. Then we had two All-Americans come in Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard, so they moved me to tight end because we had a couple of tight ends transfer. I thought I could make the transition because I’m an athlete. I lost about 40 pounds and gained some speed. When you lose weight you get faster. I’m about 265 pounds right now.”
Running a disappointing 5.0 time in the 40-yard dash and having limited collegiate production cost Westbrook the chance to be drafted. He was signed by Tennessee last year, but was waived after training camp and then signed with the Bucs in September.
Bucs TE Tevin Westbrook – Photo by: Getty Images
“My last two years at Florida I played tight end, but I wasn’t featured or anything,” Westbrook said. “We had some issues at quarterback, so I didn’t get a lot of opportunities. Playing in the NFL was something I wanted to do and I felt like it was obtainable. In order to do that, I have to get better. My last two years I didn’t get the ball very much, so I have to get with our quarterbacks in the offseason and work on catching the ball and doing the drills.”
Bucs wide receiver Louis Murphy, who also went to the University of Florida, watched Westbrook play as he followed his alma mater and is impressed with how far he’s come.
“He’s an athlete and he makes plays in practice,” Murphy said. “He’s made plays ever since he’s come in. He’s definitely a student in the classroom, too. He didn’t have a quarterback that could really showcase his talents at Florida, but the coaches here see it. He makes plays. He’s very athletic and agile for being as big as he is. I think the sky is the limit for him. He’s a diamond in the rough. He’s nowhere near where his full potential will be. Our tight ends coach, Coach [Jon] Embree, is a great coach and will get him to fully develop his game.”
Seferian-Jenkins is a big fan of Westbrook and also sees a ton of potential in the big 6-foot-5, 265-pound tight end.
“If he would have been a year later at Florida and they could have kept the quarterback that got suspended – Will Grier – I think Coach [Doug] Nussmeier would have done some good things with Tevin Westbrook. Coach Nussmeier used to coach me at the University of Washington and now he’s the coach at Florida.
“If you’ve had the opportunity to see him grow and just watch how his body has changed since he’s been here it’s a tribute to his work ethic. His work ethic is really second to none. Sometimes it gets hard for guys that are stuck on the practice squad because they want to get in the game. He’s just gotten better every week he’s been here and he deserves a lot of credit.”
Embree is regarded as one of the league’s best tight end coaches and deserves some of the credit for developing the likes of Seferian-Jenkins, Brate and Westbrook. In college at stops at Colorado and UCLA, he coached the likes of Christian Fauria, Daniel Graham and Marcedes Lewis. In the NFL with Kansas City, Washington and Cleveland, Embree coached Tony Gonzalez, Chris Cooley and Jordan Cameron before coming to Tampa Bay in 2014.
“It’s been great and I’ve been getting better every day and learning from Coach Embree to the best of my advantage,” Westbrook said. “In the meeting rooms I’m trying to absorb everything he’s saying. He’s been a great coach. Even though I’m on the practice squad he’s been telling me what our offense is doing and what I need to be doing.
“I feel like right now I’m still young at the position. I played two years at tight end in college, but the first year I didn’t do much. I would say this is really my second year – my second and a half year – playing the position and I’m still learning. I’m getting better and the fact that they see that too means a lot. I want to develop for myself, but also for this organization because they have given me this opportunity. I want to give them something in return.”
Bucs TE Tevin Westbrook – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin spends a lot of time throwing to Westbrook on the scout team and has seen the rookie tight end’s progression.
“He’s really developed a lot in terms of his route running and his feel for the passing game,” Griffin said. “I didn’t realize until a couple of weeks ago that he didn’t play his whole career as a tight end at Florida and that he was a D-lineman. That development has been huge. He’s very athletic and it’s surprising to see his weight transformation from when he started college until now. He can do it all from catching the ball to blocking.”
In addition to working on his hands and his route running, Westbrook has been hitting the film room and getting caught up on the tight end position.
“I never looked at the offensive side of the ball once growing up,” Westbrook said. “I watched defensive ends like Dwight Freeney, even though he was a smaller guy. Now I watch Gronk (New England’s Rob Gronkowski). He’s killing it all over. He has perfect size, and he’s a big guy just like me. He’s not the fastest guy on the field, so I watch him to see how he uses his body to create separation and what he does in the running game.”
After spending the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad, the Bucs rewarded Westbrook for his hard work by signing him to a contract through 2016 and elevating him to the active roster, which came with a bit of a pay raise for Week 17. After running Tampa Bay’s opponents’ plays all season Westbrook is excited about getting the chance to show what he can do in Dirk Koetter’s scheme running the Bucs offense during the mini-camps and OTAs.
“I can’t wait to work on myself and get better in this offense,” Westbrook said. “I love the offense and the people we have in this offense. I can’t wait for the offseason.”
The Bucs can’t either as they feel they have a real sleeper at the tight end position in the talented Westbrook.
FAB 4. BIEHL PROVING HIS WORTH THIS OFFSEASON
Tampa Bay director of college scouting Mike Biehl was rarely at Buccaneers practice, admiring the handiwork of a stellar draft class that produced four rookie starters in quarterback Jameis Winston, offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, in addition to middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. He didn’t see much of Winston developing into a 4,000-yard Pro Bowl passer, nor did he see much of Alexander wresting the starting Mike linebacker job away from veteran Bruce Carter.
Instead, Biehl was working behind the scenes on finding the next Winston, Smith, Marpet and Alexander in the 2016 NFL Draft. That’s the life of an NFL college scouting director.
Bucs director of college scouting Mike Biehl – Photo by: Scott Reynolds/PR
The draft is your Super Bowl, and then it’s on to the next year of watching, analyzing and evaluating the new crop of college football stars. Bucs general manager Jason Licht has been leaning on Biehl even more with the departure of director of player personnel Jon Robinson, who left Tampa Bay in January to become the new general manager of the Tennessee Titans.
“Mike has done a fantastic job growing into that role,” Licht said. “We gave him an opportunity. He’s never been a director before, and he’s really blossoming in that position. He is just as important as a director of player personnel. Different titles may go out to different guys, but every single guy’s role is almost of equal importance to me, whether it’s national scouts Byron Kiefer and Andy Speyer to Mike Biehl.”
Biehl is in the running for the Bucs’ vacant director of player personnel role along with a few candidates inside and outside of One Buccaneer Place. While Biehl is evaluating college talent for Tampa Bay, Licht is evaluating Biehl as a possible replacement for Robinson.
“I’ll think very thoughtful about that as well,” Licht said. “I’ve got great in-house people working with me and I’ll roll up my sleeves until I do – if I do replace him. He’s a hard guy to replace. You can’t replace Jon Robinson just like I can’t replace Mike Biehl or Rob McCartney or Shelton Quarles. Everybody is unique. We will find someone to do a great job in that role and that person will become a G.M. as well.”
But Biehl has had to do so much more this offseason than just organizing the team’s eight college scouts and the prospects they are scouting. He’s had to interview new Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, new special teams coordinator Nick Kaczor and several new position coaches to ask about the kind of players that best fit their schemes, in addition to getting them up to speed with the way Tampa Bay evaluates players.
Bucs GM Jason Licht & Mike Biehl – Photo by: Eric Dellaratta/PR
“Mike does a great job in-house with getting the coaches on the same page with the scouts and speaking the language to them and getting their ideas,” Licht said. “I don’t have time to talk to each coach every day but Mike does, just so we’re working in concert with them. That’s one thing he does extremely well, in addition to his evaluation skills. To get all these new coaches up to speed in the process … and I don’t want to go into details with our process, but I think we have a very unique process in terms of how we go about handling the draft and the things that we do together as a staff – coaches and scouts – to get things lined up right.
“It’s a very unique system. I’ve taken bits and pieces from everywhere I’ve been, what I thought worked well at other places, and eliminated things that I didn’t think worked. Everyone that’s gone through the process with me here has come away saying that they can’t see us doing it any other way, so we’re going to continue that trend. Mike is going to be critical in that.”
While that could lead to a promotion this year or down the line, Biehl isn’t worried about that. He’s got too much to do right now between integrating the new coaches into the Bucs’ way of scouting and finding five new starters in this year’s draft class.
That’s right – five.
After last year’s class the bar has been raised at One Buccaneer Place, and Biehl has proven to be up to the challenge.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• It’s not uncommon for players that suffer season-ending injuries to hit the weight room hard while on injured reserve and bulk up during the rehabilitation process. Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson added 20 pounds of muscle in 2010 when he was on injured reserve with an ACL tear, and defensive end T.J. Fatinikun looked noticeably bigger and more muscular by the end of the 2015 season as a result of working on his shoulders, arms and chest while rehabbing his knee injury.
However, Tampa Bay wide receiver Kenny Bell was not one of those weight room warriors.
“I can’t say that I did,” Bell said. “I worked out and I stayed in shape, but people are always going to call me skinny and I don’t have a problem with that. I’m never going to be a 200-pound dude. I shot up to 197 pounds for the Combine, but I had a lot of soft tissue issues and I didn’t feel as fast. When I was playing in OTAs at 185, I was playing fast and I was playing well. That’s probably right where I want to be at – 185. We’ve got big body guys in VJax (Vincent Jackson) and Mike Evans – they are friggin’ avatars. I’m never going to be that type of body and keep my speed.”
• You’ve probably noticed that we no longer do the PewterReport.com Chats on Friday mornings. That’s because of the popularity of our new weekly feature where we answer your questions – the PR Monday Mailbag. The PR Monday Mailbag is an interactive feature where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers questions from Bucs fans submitted to us on Twitter on Sunday night with the hashtag #PRMailbag.
Do you have a question you want answered in an in-depth manner? Post it on our @PewterReport Twitter timeline on Sunday using the #PRMailbag hashtag and it may get selected.
If you aren’t one of the over 21,000 Bucs fans following @PewterReport on Twitter you are missing out, and can do so by clicking here. Be sure to check out the @PewterReport Twitter account tomorrow for our new look, too.
• If you haven’t had the chance to check out PewterReport.com’s new regular video feature, the Pewter Pulse, you can do so by clicking here. Produced by Allison Leslie, the first installment featured Mark Cook and I discussing some of what we learned from our conversation at the Senior Bowl with Bucs general manager Jason Licht. This was our first foray into video in quite some time and we want to keep the tone of the Pewter Pulse casual in nature. We’ll get better as we do more of these Pewter Pulse videos in the future, but in the meantime, give us your feedback on the Pewter Pulse in the comments section of that article on PewterReport.com.
• As we approach the months of March and April with NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft on the horizon, PewterReport.com’s web traffic really surges. If you want your business to target an active, sports-minded family man demographic (primarily ages 25-54) and reach nearly a million unique visitors, partner with us and market your business with the power of PewterReport.com. We are running some advertising specials in February for new marketing partners. E-mail me at email@example.com for more information.
• If you or your business are on LinkedIn, please connect with PewterReport.com by clicking here. We always love connecting with business-minded Bucs fans.
• And finally, I want to congratulate two very important people at PewterReport.com on their recent promotions. Kim Roper, who is in her 10th year with our company, was promoted to vice president of business operations and marketing. Roper is an essential part of what we do at PewterReport.com behind the scenes from an administrative standpoint with partner relations and website development. She played an essential role in helping PewterReport.com’s web redesign in September 2014 and continues to grow in her role with the company.
Editor-in-chief Mark Cook has a new title and a promotion. Cook is now PewterReport.com’s vice president of editorial content. Cook presided over tremendous growth in web traffic in 2015 and continues to lead the PewterReport.com editorial team consisting of our writers, photographers and interns. Cook and I have big plans for some new, cool features on PewterReport.com in 2016, including the PR Mailbag and the Pewter Pulse videos, which have already debuted. Stay tuned for more exciting editorial in the months ahead.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Congrats, Kim and Mark! Well deserved.
Fantastic Fab Five as always, Scott. I’m even more excited to see what Bell can do when healthy. I think he may eventually become that fifth starter from the epic 2015 draft.
We need Bell to step up this coming season playing the slot. Speed kills.
Dear Mr Tevin Westbrook, We place a huge emphasis on blocking for our TE’s, don’t spend to much time at the jugs machine, just block and you will have a 4 yr career in Tampa and a lot of fans will love you including PR. If you can catch more than 200 yds in one season you take Stockers Job just some advice to take with you, your welcome
Scott, good report. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook so I’ll just go more to the Bucs.com site for more information. I guess there’s not much need to renew in the future.
renew to what? PR has been a free site for some time now..
Horse, you are not the only one that doesn’t do social media.
Very informative, Scott… If Bell eventually does pan out, I wonder where that draft class would rank in the history of great draft classes since the merger? I’m happy to the PR organization continue to grow. I spent years on the TBT site and didn’t realize how much more in-depth that you guys get… Kudos to PR! I’ll miss the instant interaction on your live Friday feed though.
I do appreciate the back behind the scenes and what the bucs are doing. I think 2016 thru the draft and Free Agency will be very big this year espivally all these new coaches on board and the salary cap money. I would love to get Michael Benneth back from Seattle. the previous coaching staff did a very bad sistutation. I believe Michael Benneth could really be another defensive linemen that was here before. If Michael benneth does come to Tampa. Then the bucs could trade down for more picks. Espically trading with LA Rams. Switching picks in no#1 and picking up a 2nd rd and future picks.
Bell…look, I’m pulling for the kid like I pull for all Bucs, but there’s a reason several receiver-needy teams (including the hoodied-one) passed this guy over 4 times each. Let’s keep our expectations in check and hope for the best.
On Westbrook…okay, I understand we can’t always just read about LvD and Jameis, and I appreciate the looks at the off-the-radar guys, but do we really think this guy is going to see meaningful snaps outside of 1-Buc Place.
Okay – now I sound like a downer and I promised @drdneast that I would be more positive, so congrats to Kim and Mark!…and I’ll leave you with this tidbit…I think VJax still has a chance to lead our team in receiving in 2016…he’s not done yet! Go Bucs!
If Westbrook went to Florida as a D end, it might’ve been good to let him compete there too. Not like we have all pro D ends. I noticed Bell all season on the sideline next to Dirk. Looked like he was more involved then Lovie. Glad to hear the players are looking to prove something this year.
Good article on the receiving corps this week SR. I hope Kenny Bell is able to stay healthy and show what he learned last year. Same thing for Murphy on staying healthy. Bucs could use some more explosive plays that end in a TD. Also, thank you for including a link to Kenny Bell’s college highlight reel. I know we can find that Youtube video on our own, but appreciate the quick and easy link!
Loved to hear what Winston and Glennon had him do on reporting. Not only is it excellent for the team and for Bell’s game learning, but the way Bell ran with it suggests he has a future in any industry he chooses. Preparing coherent multi-page reports is a life skill you need to have. Rooting for you, kid.
I hope those promotions came with a raise in pay because if they didn’t they are pretty meaningless. But that’s how business is done in Florida.
Anyway, great Fab 5 as always. Enjoyed the up to dates on the numerous players.
Depending how the knee injury affects Murphy, I really do think the Bucs are set at WR next year.
It’s great Fatinikun did all that weight work to look good at the beach, but I sure hope he did some work on the legs, too.
Nothing more important for a DL to have great leg strength and drive power.
Surferdude, it might interest you to know my friend used to say his golden retriever was more involved in the game than Lovie.
Jogruden awakes and throws out his usual barb at Stocker. As predictable and unoriginal as the sun setting in the west.
Stocker 9 catches for 61 yds for the season, lol
Too bad Kim’s and Mark’s hard work, dedication and the resulting increase in pay, may put them in a higher tax bracket to, in effect, punish them. Anyway, the PR staff does a great job and I for one, appreciate the long hours you all put in to produce this site.
I must say, that when watching practices at Training Camp last year, I noticed Kenny Bell seemed to be struggling. I thought he was pressing too much and needed to relax. Looking forward to watching him develop. Good info on “Afro Thunder” and Tevin Westbrook. Great attitudes.
Another great Fab 5 as usual. I’m also cautiously optimistic about Bell. Although he didn’t show much on the field, he definitely showed something off the field. Every game he was right there next to Dirk and Jameis, soaking up all the info he could. That’s always a good sign.
Now for the negative…I’m hoping this article is wrong. Just pay the man! http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000635898/article/report-doug-martin-hopes-to-hit-jackpot-as-free-agent
Good Fab 5. Don’t know about Bell. Speed without hands and ability to stay healthy means nothing. Seems like he works hard will see if it pays off. Not too excited about Bell. He needs to bulk up at least 10 lands or so IMO. Westbrook doesn’t seem too exciting either. Another blocking TE doesn’t seem like a big need right now.
Congratulations to Kim and Mark! You and Scott ARE Pewter Report and we appreciate it very much. Loved the Fab 5! Reading about players like Bell and Westbrook is what PR is all about. Same goes for hearing about Mike Biehl. Maybe the Buccaneers CAN go all defense in the draft although another offensive lineman or two would be nice. Great work, keeps the offseason bearable and continues to give me hope for the future…..starting in 2016!
Plopes808, I wouldn’t put to much stock in that story. You didn’t hear Stroud quoting Martin directly but it appeared it was his opinion based on perhaps something Martin’s agent told him.
Or perhaps it was just his “gut” feeling.
Whatever the case, I think Martin would be sought after, but a lot of teams aren’t going to pony up Demarcus Murray money after what happened with him last year.
Besides, few teams feel a RB is the key essential ingredient to great offense anymore.
That is one reason so few are taken in the first round anymore.
If Martin can live with around 6.5 mill he will probably be in Tampa next year.
But if I see the Bucs getting cheap with him it will further reinforce my feelings of ending my season ticket purchase for the first time in 35 years.
Where’s Culverhouse when you need him
I hope you’re right, we need to keep moving forward and losing Doug would be a big step backward
Last I heard his widow Joy Culverhouse wanted to dig him up and shoot him for getting down to business with newscaster David Brinkley’s wife.
Scott – Thank you for this “much needed” mid-February article. Nothing better than a plate of hope and excitement served to we hungry fans waiting at the new season’s table. Go Bucs!
The Bucs definitely need a better slot receiver…someone who can take it to the house. Don’t know if Bell is the answer. He definitely has the speed, but the slot receiver needs quickness (there’s a difference), and must be able to take the hits over the middle. His frame isn’t similar to the more stocky stature of Welker or Edelman.
At tight end, ASJ needs to stay on the field this year and contribute for gosh sake!
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