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 HOPE DAY 3 DRAFT STRUGGLES ARE OVER
They say that on Day 3 of the NFL Draft is where scouts, personnel men and general managers really earn their money. Given the fact that Tampa Bay has drafted so poorly over the last decade or so, it’s a good thing that there has been a regime change, especially in the area of college scouting, which was largely handled by Dennis Hickey from 2004-2013.
Hickey had the ear of former Bucs general managers Bruce Allen and Mark Dominik – unfortunately – and helped the team select some noticeable busts like safety Sabby Piscitelli in the second round of the 2007 draft, wide receiver Dexter Jackson in the second round of the 2008 draft, second-round defensive tackle Brian Price in 2010 and second-round defensive end Da’Quan Bowers in 2012.
How Hickey became the general manager of the Miami Dolphins with his drafting track record is beyond me. Of course it seemed like nobody wanted that job two years ago and he was not at the top of Miami’s list to begin with. I don’t have anything personal against Hickey, but the Bucs’ overall record of drafting from 2004-13 is quite poor and a key reason why Tampa Bay had to turn to free agency so much under Allen and Dominik – to supplement the roster after so many misses in the draft.
Poor drafting is also a big reason why the Buccaneers have only made the playoffs twice during that span – in 2005 and 2007 – and haven’t been to the postseason in seven years.
For every Davin Joseph, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David there was a Piscitelli, a Jackson, a Price, a Bowers – and a host of others like Adrian Clayborn and Mark Barron, the team’s first-round picks in 2011 and 2012 that failed to live up to expectations. But as bad as those players were, the Bucs’ Day 3 selections under Hickey have been horrendous.
Kyle Moore, Dre Moore, Julian Jenkins, Cory Boyd, Larry Brackins, Greg Peterson, Xavier Fulton, Brent Bowden, Drake Dunsmore – just to name a few – are the more forgettable names the Bucs have drafted in rounds 4-7 over the past decade.
There was a time when the Buccaneers found some starters on Day 3, especially at the safety position where Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson was drafted in the fourth round in 1999, Jermaine Phillips was selected in the fifth round in 2002, Will Allen was drafted in the fourth round in 2004 and Tanard Jackson was chosen in the fourth round in 2007.
Defensive lineman Ellis Wyms (sixth round, 2001), guard Sean Mahan (fifth round 2003), linebackers Adam Hayward (sixth round, 2007) and Geno Hayes (sixth round, 2008) started for the Bucs at times, as did wide receiver Mike Williams (fourth round, 2010) until he decided rapping, partying and clubbing were more important than football and he was traded to Buffalo in 2013. Now Williams is out of the league and will have to rely on his Cave Man Gang rapping skills to carve out a living. Good luck.
Players selected on Day 3 of the draft are long shots to make NFL teams to begin with, but Tampa Bay has simply had far too many misses than hits over the past decade. Consider the 2005 and 2006 drafts under Hickey when Allen was the team’s general manager.
In 2005, the Bucs drafted guard Dan Buenning in the fourth, safety Donte Nicholson and community college wide receiver Larry Brackins in the fifth round, nose tackle Anthony Bryant in the sixth, and fullback Rick Razzano, safety Hamza Abdullah and wide receivers Paris Warren and J.R. Russell in the seventh round.
That’s eight Day 3 players that the Bucs completely whiffed on. Buenning was an occasional starter at guard, but was often injured. The rest were a bunch of nobodies that never contributed. The law of averages would suggest that out of eight players, one might wind up being a starter for a couple of years at least, but certainly not in Tampa Bay’s draft in 2005.
The next year was nearly as bad as the Bucs selected cornerback Alan Zemaitis in the fourth round, defensive lineman Julian Jenkins in the fifth round, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and tight end T.J. Williams in the sixth, cornerback Justin Phinisee, defensive end Charles Bennett and tight end Tim Massaquoi in the seventh round. All of those players were busts except for Gradkowski, who became a serviceable backup in the NFL.
That’s seven more Day 3 players the Bucs essentially wasted draft picks on. Zemaitis and Jenkins were just awful picks that didn’t have a chance in the NFL because of their lack of athleticism.
The Bucs only have four Day 3 selections left from the former regime, tight end Luke Stocker, a fourth-rounder in 2011 and the last player remaining from that draft class, safety Keith Tandy, a sixth-rounder in 2012, and defensive linemen Akeem Spence and Will Gholston from the fourth round in 2013.
The jury is still out on the Day 3 selections from Jason Licht’s first draft in Tampa Bay last year, but the team likes tackle Kevin Pamphile and is undecided about guard Kadeem Edwards, who ended his rookie season on injured reserve with a broken foot. The team was without a fourth-round pick, and both linemen were drafted in the fifth round. Wide receiver Robert Herron, who was selected in the sixth round, will have an uphill battle to make the roster this year unless he learns to contribute on special teams.
However, the organization is thrilled with its Day 3 picks this year, and I agree that there are some real finds in the later rounds. Keep in mind that Licht hired director of player personnel Jon Robinson and director of college scouting Mike Biehl last May, which is typically when NFL teams make changes to their scouting departments. They didn’t have the opportunity to assist with last year’s draft, and this was their first draft as a member of the Buccaneers organization. Licht is thrilled with their contributions and feels this is a complete draft from Day 1 all the way to the Day 3 selections.
“Our staff did an unbelievable job this year, I just have to say that,” Licht said. “This was probably … and you never know how things are going to go … but I’m probably more excited about this draft than I ever have been on any staff.”
LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, the team’s fourth-round pick, is the real sleeper in the Bucs’ 2015 draft class. He was the standout player in the team’s rookie mini-camp and had the team’s scouts and coaches considering him to be even faster and more athletic than Lavonte David, a Pro Bowl alternate.
The Bucs have drafted their share of athletic linebackers in the past from Quincy Black to Hayes to Dekoda Watson, but those three players lacked the instincts, football I.Q. and mental makeup to maximize their physical traits. Alexander really impressed linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson in the classroom with his intellect and he has a real chance to unseat Danny Lansanah as the team’s starting strongside linebacker as a rookie with a great training camp and preseason.
“He’s fast and physical,” Biehl said. “Those are two traits we look for in linebackers. I don’t he think he was put in as many opportunities to cover as he will be in our defense, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it. He’s fast and physical at the line. He can re-route tight ends at the line.
“A big part of this defense is just being smart and knowing where to be. That will be the biggest challenge for him – knowing the defense. But he’s a smart kid. He has the physical traits to be a good coverage guy. The good thing with us with Bruce Carter and Lavonte David we already have two guys that can play in the nickel, so it’s not like he’s going to be thrust in there right away. He can play on special teams, and that’s huge. That’s a big thing we talk about with our scouts is finding fourth down players.”
With first-round pick Jameis Winston set to take over at quarterback, and second-round linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet slated to start as well, Alexander would make the fourth starter to come out of the Bucs’ 2015 draft class, which would be an impressive feat. Wide receiver Kenny Bell, the team’s fifth-round pick, has a chance to unseat Russell Shepard for a roster spot due to his ability to play on special teams as well as play wide receiver or slot receiver.
“Kenny Bell is a fourth down player, but he has the chance to be really good receiver in this league, too,” Biehl said. “He was a guy that when he was sitting there in the fifth round he was kind of a no-brainer. As a receiver he can play inside and out. He’s good as a gunner on fourth down and he’s done kick returns. We have high hopes for him as a fourth down player. He’s fast and tough and takes pride as a fourth down player.”
The Bucs likely found another starter in this year’s draft class in sixth-rounder, Kaelin Clay. At Utah, Clay was an explosive wide receiver and return specialist, returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns last year.
“Kaelin is an impact guy in the return game,” Biehl said. “We kind of had a revolving door in the return game last year. We feel he can shore that up. We feel this guy can take it a step further and make an impact back there.”
Clay was targeted for his supreme confidence, which was on display on tape and also at his pro day where special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea worked him out in March.
“The most important thing for the returner is courage under fire,” Robinson said. “The gunners on punt are barreling down for you, or the kick coverage guys are going at you full speed ahead. You are looking up in the air on punt returns, and you have to have the guts to stand in there and secure the football. Catching the football is the most important thing, which he does very well. Then it’s being instinctive. It’s not about being the fastest player – although Kaelin is fast. It’s just having a feel of the coverage lanes and the coverage guys and where the blocking schemes are going to fit and putting himself in position to get 10 or 15 yards, and then if there is a little bit of a crease there he can take it the distance. Slippery is a good term, and having spatial athleticism.”
If Clay winds up hanging on to the return specialist job, which he should, and Alexander ends up starting at the Sam linebacker spot, Tampa Bay will have procured five starters from the 2015 draft class, which would be an impressive feat. Of course, it’s also a sign of a team that just finished 2-14 and needed an infusion of talent.
Rounding out the draft class is a big running back out of Hawaii named Joey Iosefa that will transition to fullback. Iosefa will have the chance to possibly earn a few goal line and short yardage carries if he can beat out fellow rookie Dominique Brown for that role. But mainly, Iosefa will have the chance to compete with Jorvorskie Lane for the Bucs’ fullback position.
“Joey is just a guy that our scouts targeted a little bit and once Coach [Tim] Spencer got involved, he was excited about him,” Biehl said. “He was more of a runner at Hawaii, but we think he has the traits to be a fullback. He is kind of a short-yardage runner, and he has decent hands. He’s tough. The physicalness that he runs with, we think that will transition over to his blocking. We’re excited to work with him.”
Time will tell how many of these Day 3 draft picks wind up making the team, but there are some exciting new Buccaneers that could end up starting from rounds 4-7 and that hasn’t been the case in quite some time in Tampa Bay.
FAB 2. BUCS VERY EXCITED ABOUT UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT ROOKIES
The Buccaneers’ Day 3 talent acquisition didn’t end in the seventh round with the selection of Hawaii fullback Joey Iosefa. As thrilled as the Bucs are about their draft picks, the front office, scouts and coaches are equally excited about some of the undrafted free agents that Tampa Bay signed.
Former Pro Bowl return specialist Clifton Smith (2008) and current starting right tackle Demar Dotson (2009) are recent names that come to mind that have truly starred for the Bucs as undrafted free agents in recent years. Tampa Bay’s undrafted free agent class was quite strong this year, and there could be three to four of those rookies that end up making the team.
“Defensive tackle Caushaud Lyons out of Tusculum is a late comer after only playing one year of high school football, but he’s a big, athletic guy,” Biehl said. “Our scouts were definitely targeting him and he was considered in the later rounds.”
Other standout undrafted players thus far include defensive ends Ryan Delaire and Jamal Young, defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley, running back Dominique Brown and wide receivers Rannell Hall, Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries.
“We’re as equally excited about our undrafted free agent class as we are our draft picks,” Biehl said. “I think we did a really good job. As an area scout, you take pride in everything we’re doing, but those top four rounds – Jason, myself and the coaches have all seen those guys. But when you get down to the later rounds and the rookie free agents, you’re relying on the area scouts. I saw all of those guys eventually, but our area scouts have been on those guys all along and you take a sense of pride when those guys make your roster. The area scouts are the ones that were targeting them and put them on our radar.”
That’s where area college scouts like Byron Kiefer, Brian Hudspeth, Tony Kinkela, Andre Ford, Donovan Cotton and Andy Speyer become even more important because they are responsible for unearthing some gems and finding more Karl “The Truth” Williams and Shelton Quarles-type players. That’s why it is so important to have the assistant scouting farm system in place at One Buccaneer Place like Licht discussed in last week’s SR’s Fab 5. Having great area scouts is vital to teams like Tampa Bay that believe strongly in building through the draft.
Aside from finding undrafted free agent gems, the area scouts are the ones that develop relationships with those players and get on the phone with them along with the assistant coaches immediately after the draft is over to help recruit them to Tampa Bay. It’s a frenzied atmosphere in the moments after the draft as multiple teams are calling those undrafted players and their agents to make their pitch.
“It’s very competitive getting those guys and it’s like college recruiting because you have to sell the opportunity,” Biehl said. “It helped a lot when they put the cap on the amount of money you could spend [as a signing bonus] because it was getting a little bit out of control. It was like kids were going to the highest bidder, which you could understand to a certain extent. The NFL capped that and it became going to teams where the kids have the right opportunity instead so they could find the right fit. Our coaches and scouts are involved in the process and it’s conveying to the kids and the agents the opportunity that they have here.
“It helps when you don’t draft certain positions [like defensive line], too. Our undrafted free agents know that with Lovie and Jason we’re going to keep the best 53. We’re going to do what’s best for the Bucs.”
Hitting on several Day 3 players, including undrafted free agents, is key to improving the level of competition across the board in Tampa Bay. Better backups and more talent in the reserve ranks will put more pressure on the starters to improve in training camp and the preseason or risk losing their starting assignments or roster spots. The better Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster is the more improvement the Bucs will see in their win-loss column in 2015.
FAB 3. BIEHL BRINGS SCOUTING EXPERIENCE AND EXECUTION TO TAMPA BAY
With college scouting being so important to general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith and drafting being the Bucs’ undoing for so long, finding the right person to fill the team’s director of college scouting role was key. With Jon Robinson hired as the team’s director of player personnel last May, Licht hired Mike Biehl to head up college scouting a short time later.
“Mike Biehl was a guy that I had seen on the road over the last 15 years,” Licht said. “Never did we have any pact where I was going to hire him one day, but I watched him from afar on the scouting trail and the way he conducted his business. When he did talk about players it was clear he knew what talent was. He also came from a winning program, which was important to me. San Diego has had a lot of great drafts. He knew what a good quarterback looked like in Philip Rivers. Jon knew what a good quarterback looked like in Tom Brady, and I’ve been around enough ones in Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady. That was also very important.”
Upon his arrival Licht knew that the Buccaneers needed a franchise quarterback, and the fact that Biehl helped San Diego draft Rivers, as well as other Chargers standouts made him the right candidate for the job. Biehl spent the last 13 years with the Chargers organization, as a Midwest area scout from 2001-07 and as the assistant director of college scouting 2008-13. Over that span San Diego had the eighth-most wins in the NFL, won five AFC division championships and made six playoff appearances.
Biehl, who was trained by former Buffalo and San Diego general manager John Butler, has excelled in finding Day 3 gems to help the Chargers, starting with punter Mike Scifres in the fifth round in 2003. Defensive end Shaun Phillips was added in the fourth round in 2004, in addition to Rivers, who was acquired in a trade with New York immediately after they drafted Eli Manning, and then drafted running back Michael Turner in the fifth round.
After drafting defensive players like linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive lineman Luis Castillo in the first round in 2005, the Chargers drafted wide receiver Vincent Jackson in the second round and came back and got running back Darren Sproles in the fourth, followed by center Scott Mruczkowski, who played in 83 games in the NFL.
In 2006, the Chargers drafted tackle Jeromey Clary, who became a starter and played in 103 games as a sixth-round pick. This after drafting cornerback Antonio Cromartie in the first round and left tackle Marcus McNeill in the second round.
In Biehl’s first year as the assistant director of college scouting, he helped the Chargers select Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle in the second round of the 2007 draft, and then cornerback Antonie Cason in the first round of the 2008 draft.
After choosing pass rusher Larry English in the first round of the 2009 draft, the Chargers selected guard Louis Vasquez in the third round, and he would go on to become a starter as a rookie and a Pro Bowler in Denver in 2013.
In the past five years, the Chargers have added 10 starters through the draft in linebacker Donald Butler (third round, 2010), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (first round, 2011), linebacker Melvin Ingram (first round, 2012), defensive end Kendall Reyes (second round, 2012), right tackle D.J. Fluker (first round, 2013), linebacker Manti Te’o (second round 2013), wide receiver Keenan Allen (third round, 2013), linebacker Tourek Williams (sixth round, 2013), Jason Verrett (first round, 2014) and center Chris Watt (third round, 2014).
With the Bucs’ college scouting system already in place when he got here due to Licht’s presence, Biehl has been executing it with tremendous precision.
“For Mike, who was focused on college scouting, he had to get the plan about how we were going to attack the country,” Licht said. “He had to wait until August to get going and then wait until this draft to see how he affected our roster, which he did. Now we have to see these players turn out, but he definitely affected how we ranked players.”
With a full year to work with Licht, Biehl has a tremendous amount of confidence in him and his vision for Tampa Bay’s scouting department and for player acquisition.
“Jason is a very scout-friendly G.M., and you don’t always get that,” Biehl said. “He started out at the bottom just like I did. We both started out as interns. He was a national scout, a Combine scout and he’s worked his way up. Jason has seen every part of scouting, and it’s the same thing with J-Rob.”
Robinson agrees with Biehl’s assessment of Licht.
“Jason is very understanding and hands-on, yet a polar opposite of a micromanager,” Robinson said. “He’s easy to get along with. He tells scouts their roles and lets them do their job. He and I have a great relationship. He’s really respected by the scouts.”
Coming off the heels of what has been labled “the most important draft in Bucs history,” Robinson said that Biehl has played an invaluable part in leading the college scouting process and delivering a very solid draft from Day 1 to Day 3.
“Mike came in and bought in to the scouting system that Jason and I are the most comfortable with [from New England] and he’s done a great job of translating that or reiterating that to the scouts,” Robinson said. “His success in San Diego and being around Philip Rivers, we just thought that adding him to what we’re trying to do here was really good and that’s proven to be the case.”
FAB 4. BUCS SCOUTS AND COACHES UNITE IN SCOUTING PROCESS
Aside from coordinating the area scouts and mapping out which college players the Buccaneers will be evaluating, Mike Biehl has spent the past year making some institutional changes to the way the Bucs’ college scouting department operates. The first step was to stop asking area scouts to using the draft round grading system that former director of college scouting Dennis Hickey put in place, which was ridiculous.
Hickey asked the area scouts to assign a round grade to each draft prospect. Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David might have carried a second-round grade, for example, while safety Keith Tandy might carried a sixth-round grade in 2012. But with the talent level in each draft differing from a positional basis from the year before, it’s impossible to decide what a round a player will be drafted in in May when an area scout is writing a report in October.
“We don’t even talk about rounds in our scouting system,” Robinson said. “It’s about how he fits into our football team. Is he a starting-caliber player? Is he a role player? Is he a backup player? At some point the rounds come into play, but to ask an area scout to go to a school and say they would take a guy in a third round – that tells me nothing.
“What is he good at? Who is better than on our team? Who is he like that you’ve scouted in the past two or three years? That paints a picture in my head. At the very end we assign a round, but we don’t put that on our area scouts. Just tell us what the player can do and how they can help our football team.”
The area scouts love the relaxed, simplistic personalities that Biehl, Robinson and Licht possess. With all three of the Bucs’ personnel honchos starting their NFL careers as college area scouts there is a strong rapport between Biehl, Robinson and Licht and the Bucs current scouts, who are actually allowed to see the draft board.
That’s right. Under the previous regime, Hickey, who was very secretive in his approach, didn’t make the scouting board accessible to the area scouts. That caused a disconnection between the front office and the area scouts. Just about every NFL team gives the area scouts access to the draft board in the war room, but not Tampa Bay until now.
Licht, Robinson and Biehl also changed the grading scale, emphasizing some of the more important positions over others.
“It’s a numeric grading scale and it’s value-based, based on each position and the depth chart at the position,” Robinson said. “Starting level players have a higher value than the backup players, and certain positions have higher value than other positions. Left tackles have more value than right tackles because left tackles are a premium position. Starting cornerbacks have a higher value than a starting center. Not that all positions aren’t valuable, but the premium positions – quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback – those values are higher values.”
Another big role Biehl plays within the organization is serving as a liaison between the scouts and the coaches.
“Lovie, myself, Mike, Jon and the coordinator and a position coach will watch positions in my office in the weeks leading up to the draft just to make sure we feel the order is right and that everyone takes ownership of the process,” Licht said. “It’s a process I love and Mike is a big part of that.”
Because the area scouts have been working on the draft prospects from months, Biehl makes sure that the assistant coaches get caught up on the process and familiar with the players Tampa Bay is targeting starting in January after the regular season concludes.
“The best part about this organization is the two guys we have at the top in Lovie and Jason,” Biehl said. “They are on the same page 100 percent and that filters down to the rest of this draft process in the organization. When we go through this draft process, it’s not scouts and coaches. It’s the Buccaneers. We’re all on the same page.
“It happens sometimes when scouts have a certain grade on a player and the coaches don’t see it that. When that happens, I’ll take time, or Jason or Jon will meet and take time to spend with the coaches and go through the process and show them what they aren’t seeing that the scouts are. Sometimes we just can’t agree, and sometimes we come together and figure out what a guy is. That’s a big part of it.”
Biehl’s friendly demeanor, ever-present smile and charisma helps the Buccaneers achieve the Smith and Licht’s goal of having a unified draft process between the coaches and scouts. There’s absolutely nothing worse than a general manager drafting a player that he and the scouts like and a position coach doesn’t want.
“It’s awful,” Licht said. “It’s the worst for the organization because it causes division. Steve Keim and Bruce Arians did an incredible job of making the staffs feel like a family in Arizona. I told that to Lovie and he totally agrees. Coaches can come down here and talk to me at any time, and my scouts can go down to talk to Lovie at any time to where they don’t feel like they are stepping on each other’s toes.
“From there it’s the chemistry of the staff between the coaches and the scouts. We are working together as one unit with no division and no friction. Being able to bring everybody together so we can see it the same way. There’s going to be opposition about a certain player, and that’s good. But being able to have a meeting where everyone can say his peace and get on the same page is the unity we’re looking for.”
Biehl plays a large role in helping that process come together. He, Licht and Robinson formulated a plan to send the assistant coaches and coordinators to more pro days and personal workouts across the country than before in Tampa Bay history. That process helped unite the assistant coaches and the area scouts on the road and allowed them to form a singular opinion on draft prospects because they were both there to evaluate the workout and collaborate.
“You don’t ever want to force players on coaches that they don’t like,” Biehl said. “It’s not good for anybody. I’ve been in organizations where it’s not like that. It’s where the G.M. says, ‘We’re drafting the players, and you’re coaching them.’ It doesn’t work. We won a lot of games in San Diego, and there was some dysfunction at times. But for the most part it was smooth, and it was certainly smooth this year here.”
Biehl has also had his area scouts produce comprehensive yet succinct, one-liner summaries on their reports that can help Smith, Licht and Robinson and the assistant coaches quickly get a read on a draft prospect and create a profile of that player in their minds before watching film. Creating and knowing the identity of what a Tampa Bay wide receiver or offensive lineman looks like and letting all the area scouts know what to look for is important.
There were no clear-cut profiles of what the Bucs scouts were looking for in the past as Tampa Bay struggled to find an identity on offense and defense under the Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano regimes.
Biehl also has the scouts watching more film together with he and Robinson so they can be properly trained in a group setting to look for specific traits of a Tampa 2 linebacker, for example. Under Hickey, scouts would oftentimes watch film independently and then do crosschecks of other positions with players from other territories.
The other area where Biehl has helped Robinson and Licht improve Tampa Bay’s scouting department is self-scouting the Buccaneers current roster. The college area scouts spend the spring attending the OTAs and mini-camps to really get a feel for the existing players on the roster and to identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses alongside the assistant coaches.
There is always a danger of overvaluing the existing players on the roster, and that’s been done far too much in Tampa Bay in the past with the likes of Rich McKay, Allen, and Mark Dominik each hanging on to certain players too long instead of admitting a mistake and moving on. The fact that Licht has not been afraid to quickly move on from high-paid mistakes like quarterback Josh McCown, left tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson has earned him a great deal of respect amongst the team’s scouts.
While Licht and Robinson had worked together for years in New England, this past season was the first year that Robinson has gotten to work with Biehl, and he’s come away very impressed with his director of college scouting.
“Mike is very coachable and he’s attentive to detail,” Robinson said. “You ask him to do something and he’s already got it done or he’s going to do it quickly and do it exactly how we want it. He’s a great addition to helping Jason and I change the way they’ve scouted in the past to more of what we’re accustomed to.”
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• The strongest position in Tampa Bay in terms of talent and depth could be defensive tackle, which is led by three-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy and nose tackle Clinton McDonald. The Bucs saw improvement from Akeem Spence last year and added former Pro Bowler Henry Melton to the rotation in free agency this past spring.
Those four players, especially McCoy, will make sure rookie Ali Marpet, the team’s second draft choice in the second round, will be as prepared as possible for opening day. Tampa Bay is expecting Marpet to win the starting right guard spot in training camp and the preseason.
• New England Patriots legendary coach Bill Belichick served as a great mentor to both Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of player personnel Jon Robinson. Licht said that he has taken some of Belichick’s excellent habits and brought them to One Buc Place with the way he is running the organization.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that he’s an incredibly intelligent person, but he has a real knack for compartmentalizing and prioritizing what the issues are and attacking things one at a time,” Licht said. “It’s cool to see how he works and it definitely affects the way you do things. He delegates and empowers. Everyone under him worries only about his job. He does that with his players, too. His ‘do your job’ mentality is well documented.”
• Tampa Bay defensive line coach Joe Cullen discussed the versatility of several of his defensive ends, including Jacquies Smith, George Johnson and Larry English – all of whom are in the mix to start either at left defensive end or right defensive end. While Smith may have the body type and quickness to play the right end spot, Cullen said that sometimes he likes to flip the script and go with a bigger, stronger defensive end like Johnson or Will Gholston on the right side going against a lighter, more finesse left tackle. Then Cullen will match up a smaller, quicker, more explosive end like Smith or T.J. Fatinikun at left end against a bigger, lumbering right tackle to create a mismatch.
“We’re kind of working all of them at both spots, right and left,” Cullen said. “Larry is playing both sides. Jacquies is playing some right, that’s where he’s really more accustomed to playing, but also playing some left. George has played both and he’s probably more accustomed to left but he played a lot of right last year when he was in Detroit and then Will being a swing guy has played both. He’s probably more suited to play left end but he also played some valuable snaps inside as well. So really, when you have your nine, 10 guys that you have, they really have to be able to play both sides and then one of those guys has to be able to come inside in case of an emergency or in rush situations.
“You look at body type and [Smith] probably fits
a little bit better, but he played well on the left last year. We’re trying to look at him on that side. Sometimes you put your best pass rusher on the left, on the weaker tackle, the bigger tackle, the more physical tackle and they have more success and then sometimes you have more success putting the power guy over there on the guy that’s a little lighter and better athlete. So it’s kind of a work in progress and they both guys have to be able to rush from both sides.”
I’ve known X for years as his younger brother, Zephy, has played tackle football with my son, Logan, for the past five years with the South Pasco Predators Pop Warner teams. I’ve coached with Xavier and Zephy’s dad, Ross Johnson, for years on that team with Ross coaching the offensive line while I coach the defensive line. The Johnson family is as good as they come, as Ross is the lead pastor at The Gathering Pointe Church, while his wife, Lisa, is an elementary school teacher at Oakstead Elementary.
Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy and his wife, Lauren, stopped by and visited X and the Johnson family this week at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, as did former Tampa Bay tight end and Buccaneers.com analyst Anthony Becht, who just joined our Predators coaching staff this spring with his son Rocco, who is our quarterback, along with my good friend and media personality, T.J. Rives from Buccaneers.com. I greatly appreciate their support for Ross, Lisa, X and the entire Johnson family.
With X being a huge Nebraska fan, I’ll do my best to see that David, Bucs rookie wide receiver Kenny Bell, who hails from Nebraska, and Tampa Bay general manager and former Cornhusker Jason Licht stop by for a visit once his recovery advances and he wakes up from his coma, which we hope will be this weekend as they are slowing withdrawing some of the medicine that is keeping him sedated while his brain heals and the swelling subsides.
It was great seeing Ross up at the field last night as his middle son, Zephy, Becht and his son, my boys, and the rest of our football team won the Under Armour Flag Football championship game last night by six points on a defensive stand in the red zone. It was an emotional night, and X, who loves defense, would have loved to have been there watching our boys fight so hard for him and win it with a big defensive stop on fourth down. Everybody threw up X’s with their forearms after the big victory to honor Xavier.
For those of you that have left comments on the message board in the update thread and on my initial story this week on PewterReport.com the Johnson family wants you to know that they have printed those out and will share your kind words of encouragement and prayers with X when he wakes up.
Xavier is still recovering and is not out of the woods yet and will have a feeding tube inserted into him today. He still needs your prayers if you are so inclined. If you are looking for a way to help, a gofundme account has been set up to support the Johnsons and provide them with some relief from the daunting medical bills that are surely coming.
Most donations are around $25-$50, which is typically what people can afford. Of course, if you can spare more and care to give more it will certainly be welcome. I know some of you awesome Bucs fans have already contributed, and that’s very much appreciated. Here’s the link.
Thank you, and have a fun, safe Memorial Day weekend, Bucs fans. And if you are going to enjoy water sports this weekend, please be safe, slow down and use great caution. Accidents like the one that occurred last Saturday to X can happen to anyone at anytime.
Dennis Hickey, Kwon Alexander, Kaelin Clay & Kenny Bell, Caushaud Lyons, Jason Licht, Hardy Nickerson, Bucs defensive coaches photos by Cliff Welch/PR – Jason Licht & Jon Robinson and Ali Marpet photos by Mark Lomoglio/PR – Alan Zemaitis photo by Getty Images – Mike Biehl photo by Scott Reynolds/PR – Xavier Johnson photos courtesy of Ross Johnson
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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
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