I’ve said it on 620 WDAE, I’ve said it on WFLA News Channel 8, and I’ve written about it on PewterReport.com – JPP is the closest thing the Bucs have had to a superstar defensive end since Simeon Rice last donned the red and pewter over a decade ago.
Some said that Rice was the missing element on Tampa Bay’s defense that allowed the Bucs to reach the Super Bowl in 2002. But the truth is, he wasn’t the missing element.
Bucs DE Simeon Rice and DT Warren Sapp – Photo by: Getty Images
Rice, was a big part of Tampa Bay winning its first and only Super Bowl, but he arrived in 2001 along with quarterback Brad Johnson and was part of a Buccaneers team that lost 31-3 in the playoffs in Philadelphia that same year.
Who else was on that 2001 Bucs team? Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Keyshawn Johnson, Dexter Jackson, and a few other star players and recognizable names. Yet those players weren’t enough to stave off another first-round playoff exit.
It wasn’t until a group of players that arrived in 2002 – along with new head coach Jon Gruden – that pushed Tampa Bay over the top.
The problem with the Bucs wasn’t a lack of talent. The team had talent, evidenced by six Pro Bowlers in 2001 – Alstott, Barber, Brooks, Sapp, Lynch and Keyshawn Johnson – along with Brad Johnson and Simeon Rice, who had been to previous Pro Bowls with Washington and Arizona, respectively.
There were plenty of “A grade” players in Tampa Bay. The problem was there were too many “C grade” players, too. NFL football is all about finding and exploiting match-ups, and despite all of the pewter Pro Bowlers, there were too many holes on the roster, especially on offense.
What the Bucs needed were “glue guys” – guys that were “B grade” players that were solid and dependable on the field and in the locker room. While the arrival of Gruden gets a lot of the credit for making the Bucs Super Bowl champions, it was also the arrival of a lot of “glue guys” to help upgrade some of the deficient holes on the roster from a talent and a team chemistry perspective.
Tampa Bay had a couple of these players in place like linebacker Shelton Quarles, wide receiver and punt returner Karl Williams, cornerback Brian Kelly and special teams ace Corey Ivy, but needed more. So Gruden and general manager Rich McKay brought in a host of “glue guys” to upgrade some spots on the depth chart and complement the team’s star players.
Former Bucs CB Dwight Smith – Photo by: Getty Images
“Glue guys” like wide receivers Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell, running back Michael Pittman, tight end Ken Dilger, left tackle Roman Oben, left guard Kerry Jenkins and defensive end Greg Spires were added in free agency, and rookie role players like cornerback Dwight Smith and linebacker Ryan Nece were added in the draft.
Imagine the Bucs’ championship run without Jurevicius’ 71-yard catch-and-run or Oben handling Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas in Philadelphia? Imagine the Super Bowl without Pittman running behind Jenkins for 124 yards, or McCardell’s two touchdown catches, or Spires’ sack or Smith’s two pick-sixes?
Those players’ performances were just as necessary as the efforts of Rice, Sapp, Alstott, Barber, Brooks, Lynch and both Johnsons – Keyshawn and Brad.
I’m using the phrase “glue guys” because it’s a term used in Sam Walker’s book, The Captain Class. I first heard of the book when Bucs general manager Jason Licht mentioned it to me in a conversation after one camp practice. He had read The Captain Class during his summer vacation and recommended I read it.
Licht has done a very good job of bringing in some “A grade” talent to Tampa Bay since becoming the team’s G.M. in 2014. Pierre-Paul, the most recent “A grade” addition, has been to a pair of Pro Bowls and young stars like quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receiver Mike Evans and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander have all been to one Pro Bowl. Left guard Ali Marpet and tight end O.J. Howard also have Pro Bowl-caliber talent.
Licht knew the importance of having “glue guys” on a football roster prior to reading The Captain Class. But his summer reading only validated his belief that a new round of “glue guys” like center Ryan Jensen, defensive tackles Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein, defensive end Vinny Curry to a roster that also features existing “glue guys” like quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Adam Humphries, tight ends Cameron Brate and Alan Cross, offensive lineman Evan Smith and safety Keith Tandy.
Bucs GM Jason Licht and DT Beau Allen – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jensen, Allen, Unrein and Curry are “B grade” players who will serve as upgrades at their respective positions, and bring toughness to Tampa Bay. Allen, Curry and Unrein bring Super Bowl experience, while players like Fitzpatrick, Humphries, Brate, Smith, Cook and Tandy are all excellent teammates and solid contributors.
For years the Patriots have won Super Bowl after Super Bowl, not just because of star players like quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowksi, but because of less heralded players like wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back James White and offensive tackle Nate Solder, who have never made the Pro Bowl.
Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Winston, Evans, Alexander, Marpet, Howard and others haven’t been enough for the Bucs to make the playoffs yet. Another superstar was added this offseason with the trade for JPP.
But don’t be surprised if players like Jensen, Curry, Allen, Unrein and other “glue guys” play just as big of a role in turning around Tampa Bay as the Bucs’ star players.
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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