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’ PANTHER HUNT BEGINS
A quick look at Tampa Bay’s 2016 schedule would tell you that Panther-hunting season begins in Carolina on Monday Night Football on October 10. That’s when the Buccaneers have their first shot at the Panthers, who are not only the NFC South champions over the last three seasons, but also the reigning NFC champions after their appearance in Super Bowl 50 last year.
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair
But the reality of it is that the Bucs’ hunt for the Panthers began on Thursday at One Buccaneer Place with the start of the 2016 training camp. In the words of Panthers fan and former pro wrestling legend “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair:
“To be the man, you gotta beat the man!”
Over the last three years, the Panthers have been men, and the Buccaneers have been mere boys when Carolina and Tampa Bay have tussled. The Panthers have swept the Bucs over the three previous seasons and it hasn’t even been close, winning by an average of score of 28-13. Last year, in Lovie Smith’s final season in Tampa Bay, Carolina won by an average margin of 37-11.
“Every team [wants to be like Carolina],” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It just so happens that they are in our division. They are the division champs three years running. Until somebody takes them down, that’s who they are.”
The last time the Bucs recorded a victory over the Panthers was in 2012 when Josh Freeman led Tampa Bay to a come-from-behind overtime win, 27-21, in Carolina. The Bucs swept the Panthers that year as they also won 16-10 in the season opener in Greg Schiano’s first game as head coach in Tampa Bay.
That was only one of three season sweeps of the Panthers by the Buccaneers since the inception of the NFC South in 2002. Carolina has swept Tampa Bay eight times – more than any other NFC South foe. In fact, no team has dominated the Bucs since the formation of the NFC South like the Panthers have.
Carolina owns a 19-9 record against Tampa Bay since 2002, followed by New Orleans, who has a 17-11 advantage over the same span. Tampa Bay and Atlanta have a 14-14 mark as NFC South opponents.
What has helped the Panthers become the king of the mountain the NFC South is great drafting and continuity. Head coach Ron Rivera is entering his sixth year in Carolina. Only Sean Payton, who began his stint as head coach in New Orleans in 2006 has a longer tenure.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera and Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
The Panthers have hit on a plethora of draft picks, especially first-rounders that have made it to the Pro Bowl, including linebacker Thomas Davis (2005), running back Jonathan Stewart (2008), quarterback Cam Newton (2011) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (2012), in addition to other star draft picks such as defensive end Charles Johnson, a third-rounder in 2007, defensive tackle Kawann Short, a second-round pick in 2013 and former cornerback Josh Norman, a fifth-round pick that same season, along with Super Bowl 50 star defensive end Kony Ealy, a second-rounder in 2014.
The Bucs are on their third head coach in the last four years and didn’t truly start drafting consistently well until the arrival of general manager Jason Licht in 2014. The 2011 draft gave Carolina its franchise quarterback in Newton, who was the first overall selection that year. He wound up becoming the NFL MVP this past season.
“He’s very talented, obviously, being the first overall pick,” McCoy said last year prior to losing to Carolina 38-10 in a game that would prove to be Smith’s final game as Tampa Bay’s head coach. “He’s had a strong career – he started his career fast and has just kept that going. It’s been a collective effort up there. Everybody just understands what needs to be done, and that’s what they’ve been doing all season. They have been blowing people out, but they also have been pulling out tight games and just finishing, whether it may be on defense or offense. He’s definitely the leader and, in my opinion, the MVP.”
Tampa Bay didn’t get its own franchise signal caller until last year when it drafted Jameis Winston with the first overall pick.
“I see a great team, in the same situation Cam Newton was in four years ago,” Winston said. “The way that he just changed that whole mentality of the program, brought that high spirit, that true love for football to that organization and you see how they just took off – three straight division titles.”
To say that the Panthers have a four-year head start on the Bucs might be a little extreme, but they are certainly further along in the fact that they have won the division and made the playoffs the last three years.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“The continuity with most of them playing together for four or five years in Carolina is the big thing,” Bucs wide receiver Louis Murphy said. “That’s what we have here now. This is my third year in Tampa and being able to gel with the guys and have familiar faces in the locker room and being able to trust your teammates and build that chemistry off the field – that’s what is going to help us over the hump and finally win this division.”
McCoy marvels at the team Carolina general manager David Gettleman has helped put together over the years.
“Defensively, they are incredible,” McCoy said. “I think they’re No. 1 in the league right now at taking the ball away, which is what we’re working toward trying to be. Offensively, they’ve been very dominant. They run the ball and then they finish games. Regardless of who is on the field, they make the plays necessary to win and that’s what we have to do. One thing that they have done that I’ve seen in my few years is that they have matured. They have grown up and they play like seasoned vets, regardless of their ages.”
That’s the Bucs’ task in 2016: grow up quickly – if you want to have a legitimate shot of beating the veteran Panthers.
Tampa Bay is a very young team, especially on offense where just two starters – wide receiver Vincent Jackson and right tackle Demar Dotson – are age 30 or older. The Bucs’ immaturity showed in last year’s meetings with the Panthers. In the 2015 season finale, wide receiver Mike Evans was flagged for two personal fouls and ejected from the game. In a Week 4 loss, Winston had his worst game as a pro, throwing a career-high four interceptions.
Yet, Winston’s low point last season turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the rookie quarterback and the Buccaneers.
“I think it was just a turning point for this whole season,” Winston said. “That first quarter, we went 1-3 and we had, I think eight turnovers. That was against Lovie’s thing – we want to win the turnover ratio. I had to change that for myself, because we had a running back that was getting a least 100 yards a game, we were protecting up front and I was turning the ball over. You bet [it was a turning point] – a reality check, ‘Bro, you need to take care of the football and let your team work for you.’”
Fresh off the franchise’s second-ever Super Bowl appearance, Carolina is the easy pick for a fourth-straight NFC South championship, especially considering the fact that no other NFC South team had a winning record in 2015.
Panthers QB Cam Newton and Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Well, number one, they have the league MVP in Cam Newton,” McCoy said. “When you have the league MVP that puts you at an advantage. Also, they’ve been around. That group has been together a long time. Coach Rivera has had that same group of guys together for a long time. They have gelled and meshed. They’ve learned how to work together. Last year, there were several times where it seemed like they were down and out, but they found a way to win. That’s because they knew each other and they could depend on the man next to them. It’s going to take that and more to dethrone them.”
Panthers wide receiver Devon Funchess, who emerged as a starter during his rookie year last season, doesn’t think there is a big gap between Carolina and Tampa Bay despite the lopsided scores in last year’s games.
“There’s not a big difference between us,” said Funchess, who attended Winston’s ProCamps youth football camp in Land O’Lakes, Fla. as a guest NFL coach. “They’re probably about two years off. I think everything is going to be great for them with Jameis leading that offense and he’s the leader of the whole team. They’re going to put it all together soon. Kwon Alexander is a good friend of mine. He’s going to be a great player and leader for them. He just has to get more comfortable with the game and everything is going to be good for them on both sides of the ball.”
McCoy agrees with Funchess’ assertion.
“The games were much closer than you might think they were, especially the first one [in Week 4],” McCoy said. “If you take away that freak fumble where Ed Dickson caught it and ran it in for a score. We started the second half with two forced fumbles on defense. If we get those back and turn that into points … and not only that, our Rookie of the Year had his worst game of the season that week. If he played like he did against Philly against Carolina, it’s a completely different game. I don’t think we’re far off.”
The key to beating Carolina though is not focusing on the Panthers. It’s the Buccaneers focusing on themselves.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“We’re just trying to find our identity and stick to what we do,” Winston said. “We believe if we play to the best of our abilities that we can be as good of a team as we want to be. Obviously the Carolina Panthers, yes, they have been winning so much, but we are taking it day-by-day and focusing on us.”
Murphy, who started training camp on the PUP list as he continues to recover from his ACL injury last year, concurred with Winston.
“We have to focus on us,” Murphy said. “We can’t focus on them and what we’re doing. We have to hit on all cylinders and gel the way we need to we’ll be fine and we’ll be able to play with the best teams in the NFL like Carolina.”
Tampa Bay gets its first crack at Carolina on enemy territory in the first Monday Night Football game for many of the Buccaneers, including the likes of Winston, Evans, Alexander and others.
“There’s not going to be any better stage to show what we’re about than on Monday Night Football, especially against the kings of the division,” McCoy said. “The NFC South never had a back-to-back champion, and then Carolina won three in a row. It’s time to dethrone them, and I think we have all the pieces. It’s not going to be easy, though. We have a lot – and I mean a lot – of work to do in training camp. We do have the pieces necessary to dethrone them, though. We can beat them.”
Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith is looking forward to his first taste of Monday Night Football this year and the opportunity for Tampa Bay to beat Carolina for the first time in four years.
“It’s going to be great,” Smith said. “Monday Night Football – everybody’s watching. It’s going to be a big game up there in Carolina. We have to go in there, compete and come out there with a ‘W’ and end this streak.”
The Panthers say they’re ready.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston scores a TD at Carolina – Photo by: Getty Images
“Just being at the Big Dance we have the target on our back and everybody is going to give us their best,” Funchess told me at Winston’s youth football camp. “We have to give them our best as well. We have to have a great game every time we’re out there to keep our spot.
“In the NFC South, we’re all hard-nosed teams. You’re going to get high intensity on every play, including the Bucs. That’s the way it is in our division. It’s always fun playing Tampa, though.”
That’s easy to say against a team like the Bucs that have been an easy out. Tampa Bay has a lot of work to do between now and October 10 to get ready for their shot at the title.
“We’re going to play with more swag and we know the Panthers,” Evans said. “We saw what they did, they went to the Super Bowl and we felt like both games, you know, we were there with them, they just had more firepower than us and this year I think we have as much firepower as them.”
In summing up the Bucs’ challenge of dethroning the NFC South kings, Winston channeled his inner Ric Flair.
“One thing I always know: To be the best, you have to beat the best,” Winston said. “Right now, they are the best. As a Buccaneer, as the quarterback of this team, one day – and I know everyone, we want to be the best, so we know we have to play against those guys, but we fear no one. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to fight them to the end.”
The Bucs can’t wait to settle the score with the Panthers and shock the world on October 10 in Carolina.
FAB 2. ONCE A PANTHERS FAN, HUMPHRIES NOW WANTS TO BEAT CAROLINA
Adam Humphries admits it.
Up until last year his favorite team was the Bucs’ arch-nemesis.
“I grew up pulling for the Panthers,” Humphries said. “Growing up in South Carolina we were always more college fans, so I grew up rooting for Clemson. I was a huge Clemson fan, but when I did root for an NFL team it was the Panthers, so it would be sweet to beat them.”
Humphries was on the receiving end of a double beat-down by the Panthers last year. Carolina prevailed in Tampa Bay 37-23 in Week 14, and trounced the Bucs 38-10 in Charlotte in the 2016 season finale.
Over the last couple of years, Humphries’ favorite quarterback was Cam Newton. Now it’s obviously Jameis Winston.
Humphries recently rooted for the likes of Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and safety Kurt Coleman. Now he’s trying to avoid getting hit by them.
Former Clemson WR Adam Humphries – Photo by: Getty Images
Getting together to watch the Panthers play used to be a family affair for Humphries. Now his family’s allegiance to Carolina has fractured with him playing in Tampa Bay.
“It definitely does make it tough, growing up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which is an hour away from Charlotte,” Humphries said. “Carolina is the home-team favorite growing up in that area. My whole family grew up rooting for the Panthers.
“Playing them twice a year is a pretty cool thing because I have friends and family that still pull for them and keep up with them. It would be great to beat them twice next year. That would be fun for all of my friends and family who are still Panthers fans to have to go through what we went through last year.”
While he’ll always remain a proud Clemson alum, Humphries said his loyalty to the Panthers ended the day he signed on as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay last May. Humphries’ rookie season ended with him catching 27 passes for 260 yards and one touchdown as the team’s slot receiver.
Ironically, Humphries didn’t record a catch in either game against Carolina last year. Expect that to change, as he is the early favorite to be the Bucs’ slot receivers, especially on third downs. Even if he doesn’t wind up starting, Humphries will still see some meaningful snaps on offense this year, and he’ll try to take advantage of a retooled Carolina cornerback situation which saw the Panthers release Pro Bowler Josh Norman and Charles Tillman retire.
Veteran Robert McClain is expected to start at left cornerback this year, with a trio of 2016 draft picks – James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez – vying for the other cornerback spot and the nickel position. What was once a position of strength on the Carolina defense could be an area that Humphries, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson can exploit this year.
Panthers QB Cam Newton – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs receivers will get that chance when Tampa Bay invades Carolina for the first match-up between the teams in 2016 on October 10. The fact that the Bucs will play the NFC South champion Panthers on Monday Night Football is not lost on Humphries.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” Humphries said. “That’ll be a big game for us for a lot of reasons, especially being on Monday night. As a division opponent, obviously they are the team to beat year in and year out with what they are doing in Carolina. It’s a great challenge.
“I think we’re excited to play them home and away. We’ll step up to the challenge. It’s fun to take on the Super Bowl teams and we have them back to back this year [with Denver and Carolina]. You see them play on TV and you realize that if we did a couple of things here or there we can compete with teams like Carolina. We’re ready to step up to that challenge.”
FAB 3. VERNER ON THE ROAD TO REDEMPTION
After a sensational offseason during the OTAs and mini-camp and cornerback Alterraun Verner picked up where he left off on the first day of Buccaneers training camp with several pass breakups. He nearly came away with a couple of interceptions.
According to his exclusive Bucs Training Camp Diary for PewterReport.com, Verner was among the top four players that interceptions during the offseason with rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III leading the way. Verner, who has just three interceptions in his two years in Tampa Bay, including only one last year, vows to get more picks this season.
“I’m looking forward to bouncing back,” Verner said. “Looking back at last year it was horrific. No matter how you slice it, for us to only get two picks from the cornerback position and not making enough plays on the ball – you never want to see that.
Bucs CB Alterraun Verner – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“You haven’t seen the best from Alterraun Verner yet. Not by a long shot. I’m disappointed, and I’m looking forward to remedying that. Words aren’t good enough. Action needs to take place. I’m looking forward to proving myself this year.”
Verner’s right. Words aren’t good enough because we’ve heard all of this from Verner before.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season in Tennessee in which he had a career-high five interceptions and broke up a whopping 22 passes, Verner was signed to a four-year deal worth $25.75 million to replace a more heralded Pro Bowler in Darrelle Revis. But Verner has yet to live up to his reputation or his hefty contract, which will pay him $6.75 million this year.
In an exclusive interview for my SR’s Fab 5 column last year, Verner said he was going to bounce back from a difficult 2-14 campaign in 2014.
“The reality is that I came nowhere close to my expectations,” Verner told me last April. “I thought I was going to have at least six or seven interceptions – minimum. I only had two and dropped three or four. If I did my job better and understood the defense better I could have had more.
“It’s nobody’s fault other than myself. Having that season last year is only going to make this year better. That was my expectation, and the reality is that I wasn’t the playmaker creating turnovers that I was supposed to be. I will be this year.”
Instead of bouncing back in 2015, Verner bounced around from the starting cornerback role to the bench to finally the nickel cornerback position in a nightmarish year for the entire Bucs secondary. But here’s why 2016 will be different.
Steelers WR Antonio Brown and Bucs CB Alterraun Verner – Photo by: Getty Images
Verner admitted struggling to learn a new defense – Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme – in 2014. And after a year in that scheme, Verner expected to be better accustomed to playing in it during 2015. But when Smith abruptly took the play-calling duties away from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and made some tweaks to the scheme it was for the worse and not the better.
So after two years in a foreign scheme that didn’t suit his skills, Verner is going back to a familiar defensive system in which he thrived.
“We didn’t do too much backpedaling the last couple of years in Tampa,” Verner said. “I wasn’t accustomed to not doing that. I was used to backpedaling and doing my reads from that standpoint. From a scheme standpoint, in certain defenses like the ones I played at UCLA and Tennessee, the corners were told to try to contest everything and make plays on the ball all the time and rely on your help. It was, ‘Go make plays.’
“Last year, the scheme we were told to make plays, but it had to fit exactly within the framework of the defense. Here’s an example. On one of the interceptions Josh Norman had against us, it was an out route in Cover 4. He wasn’t supposed to come off on that ball and make a play, but he read the play, used his instincts, came off his coverage and made the pick. Certain defenses allow you to make that play and you can go get it. In our system last year, we weren’t allowed to come off our coverage and make that play in the scheme. Even if I read it and I was near the ball, that play would have had to have been made by another person or it would have just been a completion. This new defense is a lot more aggressive in a lot more calls.”
Not only is Verner more at home backpedaling in an aggressive scheme like the one Mike Smith is deploying in Tampa Bay this year, he’s also more at home back on the right side of the field.
“I like to tell myself I can play both sides, but the fact of the matter is that I was always on the right side in Tennessee,” Verner said. “I was never on the left side. Courtland Finnegan was on the left side, and then Jason McCourtey was. I was never on the left side until I came to Tampa.”
Bucs CBs Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes – Photo: Cliff Welch/PR
Once he stepped foot in Mike Smith’s scheme and began to backpedal – and on the right side of the field – Verner felt at ease. He was more confident and began to make plays on the ball in the OTAs. It was just like old times – back at UCLA and back at Tennessee.
“We are definitely looking forward to this season, and you’ve already seen a change in the way we play from the OTAs and the mini-camp with how many passes we picked off and contested,” Verner said. “From Vernon and Brent coming in and doing what they did, to Johnthan Banks, Josh Robinson, Jude Adjei-Barimah on down the line.
“We’re a lot more competitive at the cornerback position, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we eclipse that number of two interceptions in the first game. We’re at Atlanta and you know Matt Ryan is going to be throwing the ball. Brent Grimes will be licking his chops going against his old team. I’m pretty sure wherever Vernon ends up they are going to try to throw the ball at him and test him and he’s going to be making plays. I’m going to make a prediction and say we’ll probably pass the two-interception mark in the first game.”
The guess here is that Verner continues to thrive in training camp and fends off Johnthan Banks for the starting right cornerback job. His road to redemption begins at One Buccaneer Place in late July, but has a big stop on September 11 in Atlanta.
Matt Ryan, he’s coming for you.
FAB 4. SR’s BUCS TRAINING CAMP ANALYSIS
Here are some of my thoughts on the opening of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2016 training camp:
Bucs DE Robert Ayers – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• The most competitive unit at One Buccaneer Place during camp could be the defensive line where there could be three new starters this year. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a four-time Pro Bowler and his spot playing the three-technique is assured. But nose tackle is up for grabs, as Clinton McDonald will have his hands full with improving 24-year old Akeem Spence, who is entering a contract year and has every incentive to play his best football.
The Bucs have four promising defensive ends, including holdovers Jacquies Smith, who is now healthy and fully participated on Friday, and William Gholston, who like Spence, is 24 years old and is on a contract year. The other two are newcomers in veteran Robert Ayers and Noah Spence, an aggressive pass-rushing second-round pick. When the preseason is over, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to see McCoy surrounded by three new starters in Ayers and both Spences.
• As I said in this week’s Pewter Pulse video previewing Bucs training camp, I think the cornerback position could suddenly go from the weakest position last year to a team strength this year. Brent Grimes and Alterraun Verner are safe bets to start at cornerback, and Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson offer the team improved depth over Mike Jenkins and Sterling Moore from last year.
But where the secondary is really improved is at the nickel cornerback position where Jude Adjei-Barimah held off rookie Vernon Hargreaves III all offseason for the starting job. Make no mistake. Hargreaves will eventually take the nickel job, or an outside cornerback position from Verner or the aging Brent Grimes, who just turned 33. As Verner said, Hargreaves led the Bucs in interceptions during the offseason and his skill set is a perfect fit for Mike Smith’s defense. But Adjei-Barimah made a strong impression, too.
“Kudos to Jude,” Verner said. “He was one of the most competitive guys out there during the offseason. If you take me out of the equation, I would say he was the most consistent player we had on defense. He’s been making it very, very, very tough for Vernon to see the field at nickel. I think that’s what Dirk Koetter wants. He wants a bunch of competitive guys to go out there and to have no one feel safe. You never know what’s going to happen with this lineup because we have so much talent. This offseason set up something good to happen to Jude. It could be him bumping outside to play. It could be him being the guy inside and Vernon getting moved outside. Jude is playing so well that it’s forcing the coaches to make a decision. When you saw the team draft Vernon, Jude’s confidence never wavered.
“Something good is going to happen to Jude. I’m so happy for him and proud of him. He went out there and competed and that’s all you can ask a guy to do. In his mind, it’s his job. That’s the way he’s been approaching it and it says a lot that he has stayed with the first team so long, especially with the way Vernon has been making plays. Vernon is going to take some snaps with the ones based on what he’s been doing, and he deserves to – whether that’s inside or outside. But it’s a testament to how Jude has busted his butt to remain with the first team over the six weeks. It’s going to be a fun competition in camp, and it’s going to make all of us better.
Bucs OL Kevin Pamphile – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• I know J.R. Sweezy was signed to replace Logan Mankins at left guard, but if Seattle had re-signed him in free agency the Bucs were planning on installing Kevin Pamphile at left guard. This team is very high on Pamphile, and I’ve been a big fan of his dating back to last year’s preseason and his lone start at guard when he filled in for Mankins against Jacksonville and played so well.
Sweezy missed all of the offseason with a back injury and he’s starting training camp on PUP. The team believes he’s on the mend and will be cleared to return to practice soon. Yet when he does he’ll be behind because he’s missed the entire offseason program and he’s new to this offense. Pamphile took the starting snaps at left guard during the OTAs and mini-camp, and he knows the offense after having played in it last year. Despite Sweezy’s big contract, don’t count Pamphile out. Dirk Koetter and George Warhop will play the five best offensive linemen no matter what.
• Rookie Caleb Benenoch, the Bucs’ fifth-round pick this year, will start his NFL career at guard despite playing right tackle at UCLA. He was seeing time behind Ali Marpet at right guard during Thursday’s initial training camp practice. Like Kevin Pamphile two years ago, Tampa Bay believes that Benenoch is a developmental jack-of-all-trades capable of playing multiple positions over time.
The rookie offensive tackle to keep an eye on is Leonard Wester, who is currently running second team behind Donovan Smith at left tackle. The 6-foot-7, 305-pounder from little Missouri Western college was given a $20,000 signing bonus as an undrafted free agent along with a $15,000 guarantee. That’s a rare sum, especially from the Buccaneers, and so far he’s earned it with a good offseason.
Like all offensive linemen, their bread is buttered when the pads come on, which will be Sunday at One Buccaneer Place. That’s when offensive and defensive linemen are truly evaluated by the scouts and coaches. In my 22 years of covering the Buccaneers this may be the deepest and most talented offensive line that I have witnessed in Tampa Bay. The Bucs will let go of a few offensive linemen this year that will go on and eventually wind up starting elsewhere. Mark it down.
• And finally, PewterReport.com was happy to get our first choice of players for our annual Bucs Training Camp Diaries this year. Each year we look for Bucs players that have compelling stories to tell, and I wanted to give you some insight into how and why we choose them. We try to get a veteran player and a rookie because each has a different perspective. Additionally, we also try to get an offensive player and a defensive player – again for different perspectives.
Bucs WR Kenny Bell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Last year, we chose to spotlight a little known player in defensive end T.J. Fatinikun, who was a long shot to make the roster. We wanted to hear that story and share it with you. We also chose wide receiver Kenny Bell, who came to Tampa Bay with a lot of buzz as a third-day sleeper draft pick. Bell, whose nickname is “Afro Thunder” emerged as a fan favorite despite not playing a down for the Buccaneers last year and has a quite a bit of buzz heading into camp this year.
I had featured interviews with both veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner and rookie tight end-fullback Danny Vitale in editions of SR’s Fab 5 this offseason and they were among the most viewed columns of the year. We’re talking 20,000 views for those columns, which is like a sold out Amalie Arena for a Tampa Bay Lightning game. It’s not that Verner and Vitale are the most popular Buccaneers. It’s the stories they have to tell that makes them interesting.
Verner has a very reasoned, matter of fact way of speaking in a real, direct manner. He makes bold statements without being brash. In fact, he’s quite humble. Verner was at the epicenter of Tampa Bay’s woeful secondary, yet had a bounce-back spring, which he needed with his high price tag of $6.75 million this year. His interviews are quite telling, and between Johnthan Banks and Vernon Hargeaves III, Verner is in for the training camp fight of his life at the cornerback position. Don’t miss the first installment of Verner’s Bucs Training Camp Diary.
Vitale has a similar physical build and background to that of legendary Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, who just happens to be his idol and the reason why he wore No. 40 at Northwestern. The two things that jumped out at me as I watched my first rookie mini-camp covering the Bucs in 1996 was how smooth cornerback Donnie Abraham looked in coverage and how brutish and agile Alstott looked with the ball in his hands. Vitale has made a similar impression on me, standing out with his receiving ability. I rarely tout sixth-round picks, but I think Jason Licht and his staff have a real gem on their hands with this weapon. Read Vitale’s Bucs Training Camp Diary where he talks about Alstott and dreams big as a rookie.
I’m sure some savvy PewterReport.com reader will point out that Bell and Fatinikun ended up on injured reserve coming out of the preseason last year, so I’ll beat you to the punch and recognize that. Of course if that happens to Verner and Vitale this year, I would have to admit that there could be a PewterReport.com Bucs Training Camp Diary jinx and promise never to do this series again.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• The Buccaneers have not entered negotiations with right tackle Demar Dotson on a new contract extension yet. Dotson held out of OTAs last year at the suggestion of agent Greg Hobbs, whom he fired and then re-hired, while exchanging contract offers with the Bucs only to have talks shelved when he suffered an MCL sprain in the preseason opener against Minnesota that caused him to miss the first eight games of the 2015 season. At the time Tampa Bay was being generous even entertaining the thought of renegotiating Dotson’s deal with two years left on his most recent contract.
Bucs RT Demar Dotson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With training camp just underway, the Bucs will be monitoring Dotson’s progress through August and may decide it’s time to rekindle talks in a month or so before the start of the 2016 regular season if he performs well and keeps Gosder Cherilus at bay.
“Now Dot is going into his last year,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht told PewterReport.com over the summer. “If he comes back to training camp healthy and secures his starting spot, then it would be the time to potentially do something with a guy like that. We’ll just kind of want to wait and see.”
• Bucs rookie tight end Danny Vitale said that he, Luke Stocker and Cameron Brate would all be cross-trained at fullback by position coach Jon Embree because Tampa Bay doesn’t have a true fullback on its roster. In addition to Embree, Vitale believes the Bucs tight ends have a few extra coaches in their room in a couple of veterans.
“I would definitely say there are two guys that have taken me under their wing and that’s Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers,” Vitale said. “We have questions and those guys are helping us out, which is awesome to have guys who are willing to do that, especially when we’re all competing for jobs out here. That’s a difficult part of this, but it’s cool to have guys who are willing to help you out day-to-day, answer your questions and bring the young guys along. It’s definitely those two, and Luke is awesome because he’s such a smart guy.
“In terms of football, Luke is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around. A lot of stuff that comes out of his mouth I don’t even understand yet. But he’s a guy I’m looking forward to spending some time with to kind of figure it all out. I’ve learned a lot from him already and I think I’ll be able to take that in and be on his level someday in terms of my football intelligence.”
When told that Stocker has told me that he aspires to get into coaching after his playing days are over, Vitale wasn’t surprised.
“Exactly, he’s definitely that type of guy for sure,” Vitale said. “You can see it. The football intelligence is definitely there – 100 percent. It’s definitely a career I could see Luke having in the future.”
• How much of a thorn in the side of Tampa Bay has Carolina been over the years in the NFC South? Consider that right tackle Demar Dotson, the longest tenured Buccaneer, has a record of 4-10 against the Panthers. Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who arrived in Tampa Bay one year after Dotson, has a 4-8 mark against Carolina. In fact, the Buccaneer that has the most wins against the Panthers is center Joe Hawley with a 5-7 record, but all five of those victories versus Carolina came when he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons from 2011-14.
• Count left tackle Donovan Smith among the Buccaneers that believes that Tampa Bay isn’t too far behind Carolina in the NFC South despite being blown out twice last year on the scoreboard.
“We showed a lot of fight,” Smith said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and beat ourselves in those games. Whether it was a lack of discipline with the penalties or not making the right reads and getting turnovers, and needing to protect better, it showed us that we are right there and we’re not far from them. We have to focus on us, and our discipline to close the gap.
“The NFC South is a great division between the Falcons, the Saints and the Panthers. The Saints and Panthers have both been to the Super Bowl. Going against them twice allows us to compete against great talent. We’re an up-and-coming team and I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re going to do this upcoming season.”
• Football season is here and the back-to-school season is right around the corner. That means our kids will take to the football, soccer fields and tracks to play youth sports. As parents we want to see our children have find and find success on the field, but their safety is our chief concern. If and when an injury to your child does occur, I want to refer you to Dr. Jason Hunt at Kaizen Orthopedics. Not only is Dr. Hunt a big Buccaneers fan and an advertising partner on PewterReport.com, he’s also the orthopedic surgeon I took my son Logan to last year when he broke his leg – ironically playing tag and not football.
I’ve had the chance to have my son as a patient and see Dr. Hunt’s care and expertise up close and I wouldn’t trust my family’s sports medicine health with anyone else. Conveniently located in Tampa just 10 minutes from Raymond James Stadium, Dr. Hunt can get you in and out of his office quickly and with the medical advice you can trust. As it turns out, my son didn’t need surgery, but Dr. Hunt followed through with x-rays and follow-up visits to insure Logan was 100 percent healed and ready for football season this year.
If you or your child suffers a shoulder, ankle, knee, hip, hand or elbow injury, I highly recommend you call Dr. Hunt at Kaizen Orthopedics at (813) 694-0449 or visit them on the web at KaizenOrtho.com, and tell him PewterReport.com sent you.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Man, that sucks for Humphries and all Carolina fans – both teams absolutely choked away championships.
I remember this one play when the Bucs played Carolina last year at home. A back was running with the ball when Conte came up and nailed the guy. The ball was fumbled and it bounced right into a Panther receiver’s hand for a touchdown. I threw up my hands knowing that it wouldn’t be the Bucs’ day.
I hope the Bucs wipe that stupid grin off Newton’s face like the Broncos did in Super Bowl 50. He’s all happy, cocky and rubbing your face in it when he wins. But, man he is a sore loser when it goes bad. To be gracious in defeat doesn’t mean you like losing.
Verner is a talented corner who was a Pro Bowl player for the Titans. He didn’t just forget how to play. So, it had to be poor coaching and their lack of understanding the strengths of a player. Happy to see he is motivated.
Thanks for a great Fab5, Scott. Glad TC is finally here!
Nice Fab5. Enjoyed the read. Carolina is due for a let down. I think and hope we can split with them this year.
We need Evans to be dominant to beat Carolina. It was too easy for Norman to provoke him last game. Evans’ needs to learn how to handle aggressive defenders. He could emulate Michael Irving who would always use one hand to pull down a defender when going up for a jump ball. He would jump just a bit higher while the defender was a bit lower without altering the defenders momentum enough to draw a flag using intelligence and skill to gain an advantage. Hopefully, Evans will gain the same intelligence and skill with maturity. Evans is still very young.
Lets not forget Calvin Benjamin who was a beast his Rookie year and is now back healthy.
I don’t see us beating the Panther’s, but the score should be closer. Go Bucs!
Great Fab 5 Scott.
Don’t know if there are any hunters perusing this site, but there are really 2 ways to hunt Panthers.
Quietly lay in wait or the stealth method.
Or, you can get all your buddies to bring their dogs out and run the dogs on them.
I prefer the dogs. So, bring on the DOGS.
I’ll give The Panthers credit for drafting. They have done well.
If they have had a “plethora” of good picks, we have been abysmal.
Example, with the #8 pick the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Mark Barron. Just imagine if someone with a brain said Luke Kuechly. Kudos to Mr. Licht.
Of course I wasn’t born here, transplanted like most folks. It took some time before I rooted for Tampa teams instead of the Lions, Tigers or Wings.
Now I’m a firmly entrenched Tampa fan, all the teams.
Something tells me that Verner will have a better year. The telling statement in his interview is “contest everything”. I hope Coach Smith “contests” every ball that gets thrown. Sure, we will get burned sometimes, but contest everything. TURN THE DOGS LOOSE.
This attitude that the new coaching staff is instilling to the team is very fun to watch. Because in the end football should be played by players that have a point to prove and don’ just shrug and say “I did my best”. There are just a few players that can pull the nice guy routine and still be great. Think of all the great ones, mean and nasty.
I loved the Ric Flair reference. So I’ll throw another wrestling quote out there.
SMELL WHAT THE BUCS HAVE COOKIN.
I think our whole season is going to be based on how well we get to the QB. If we don’t improve in sacks, than I don’t think we will improve on wins this season. However, I feel that if we can wreak havoc up front, disrupting plays in the backfield, we will see more victories come our way. I’m anxious to see what Noah Spence, and Jacquies Smith can do at both ends on the field together. That would be a fast duo. I think Smith is going to have a breakout year if he can stay healthy.
Any chance the Bucs “sneak up” and catch the Panthers unprepared like what happened to us the 2nd game in 2003? Sapp told the Panthers they weren’t worthy and didn’t belong on the same field as the Bucs. The result was an absolute dog fight and three blocked kicks including what would have been the game winning PAT. Ugly Ugly game for the defending champs and the start of a losing season. The Bucs have been the automatic win on the schedule for so long, I really hope that changes this year! PS, Really looking to next weeks Fab 5 after a week of camp observations!
Another outstanding article, Scott. It shows great Team First Chemistry that our experienced players are unselfishly helping rookies develop despite the fact they are competing against each other for starting jobs.
@Horse – it’s Kelvin Benjamin. He’s a beast but he had the drops too when he played. I wouldn’t be so negative on the Bucs, they are definitely trending in the right direction. All 3 levels on D are now solid. Winston has year under belt and hopefully healthy weapons (VJax, ASJ, Bell) to compliment the top tier rushing attack. Even with a “harder schedule” I can see the Bucs going 10-6, or better this year! Just keep the turnovers down. No 2+ INT game and no Dougie fumbles and we’re looking good! Not to mention nothing could be worse than watching Bobby Rainy handle punt return duty – good riddance.
My bag on mistaking his name especially since I watched him play at FSU. I’m not negative on the Bucs at all. If we beat the Panthers once or twice then we’ll win either 9 or 10 games. Go Bucs!
Fear No one! The Panthers, with their attention craving QB, now departed attention craving CB, fresh off of an embarrassing Super Bowl defeat in which their overly confident offense was completely dismantled by speedy defenders, are going to come into their Monday Night contest against the Bucs treating it as their Homecoming Game. There’s little doubt that while our Pewter Pirates are currently focusing on taking down the Panthers; the Carolina Kitties are thinking about redeeming themselves in their first game in Denver facing the Manning-less (and maybe QB-less) champions. The ill-prepared Panthers will be stunned when our newly schemed, super quick and attacking defense unleashes “Shock and Awe” on the unsuspecting Carolina Pouters. As a famous Carolinian from Mayberry named Gomer Pyle might say, “Surprise Surprise!”
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