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. INSIDE LICHT’S BOLD PLAN TO DRAFT WINSTON
To properly appreciate Tampa Bay’s 2015 draft class it’s best to fully understand how and why the Buccaneers got to the point where they had the first pick of the NFL Draft and what led the team to choose Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston instead of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, and why the team was never considering trading down in the first round.
I’m not going rehash the 14 losses of the 2014 season. Instead I’m going to take you inside the mind of Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, the man who had the full authority to make Winston a Buccaneer and this may be one of the most important SR’s Fab 5 columns that you read in some time.
The reason? Because Licht is going to be presiding over the Buccaneers for quite a long time with the selection of Winston with the first overall pick and it’s necessary for you to gain a greater understanding of your favorite team’s general manager. I believe that Licht – along with Bucs’ brass, which consists of head coach Lovie Smith, director or player personnel Jon Robinson, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and others – is in the process of turning the Bucs’ ship around and will send Tampa Bay to the playoffs with Winston and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy at the helm.
I actually believe in Licht more than I did in his predecessors Bruce Allen or Mark Dominik for two big reasons, which were on display this offseason. The first is the immediate willingness to admit personnel mistakes and eager desire to correct them. Allen and Dominik dragged their feet in that regard. The second is the commitment to building through the draft and the emphasis on the Bucs’ college scouting department.
I had the privilege of speaking exclusively with Licht, Robinson and Biehl shortly after the draft about those two factors and Tampa Bay’s franchise-changing draft. The release of the team’s three biggest acquisitions in free agency last year – quarterback Josh McCown, offensive tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson – was a clear indication of a philosophic shift in the personnel department and a failed experiment.
“What we did last year was unique and it was different from what either Lovie or I had ever been a part of wherever we had been,” Licht said. “Spending all that money and trying to create a team in free agency. I’ve never been for that, and neither had Lovie. We thought it was a unique situation where the players’ contracts had come up and there was no guarantee money at all. We had money going out and we just kind of equaled the money going in. Those players didn’t work, but we got an ‘A’ for our first free agency class. One highly respected former G.M. said on radio that it was the best free agency class since the Packers got Reggie White. Now we tempered that around here.”
Robinson and Biehl didn’t play any part in signing the Bucs’ failed free agent class year as they were hired last May following the draft. Yet they understood why Licht and Smith wanted to see if they could jumpstart a program in their first year that was slipping well past mediocrity.
“All of the free agent guys that were signed last year – they were talented players,” Robinson said. “Other teams were after those guys – Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson. In free agency sometimes it just doesn’t work out for whatever reason just like in the draft. You’re going to hit on some picks and miss on some picks.”
In the midst of last year’s 2-14 season, Licht realized the organization made a mistake by relying on free agency to fill some holes.
“Maybe some people would have kept them just to prove that we were right, but we weren’t afraid to admit we made mistakes,” Licht said. “It’s better to let a guy go a year too early than a year too late.”
Licht was prepared to take the heat and make the tough decision to cut Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, left tackle and right defensive end – all premium positions on the team. His predecessors have all hung on to draft picks and free agents too long out of pride and ego, dating back to when Rich McKay hung on to first-round defensive end Eric Curry for five years despite the fact that he was a bust after the first season.
“I don’t want to say we had buyer’s remorse during the season,” Licht said. “There were a lot of things that just didn’t go right during the season. I don’t want to put it all on the players we’re talking about. We just waited until the end of the season to make our final evaluation. There were times during the year where you were hoping someone would step it up from an effort standpoint, and you knew we were going to have to make some tough decisions.
“Buyer’s remorse is always a tough phrase because we’re not going to be afraid to make some tough decisions based on what the fans and the media think. We don’t worry about what our reputations are. We’re going to make decisions based on what’s best for the team. If a player isn’t playing up to his standard, he’s keeping reps away from somebody who could. We’re really excited about T.J. Fatinikun and Jacquies Smith and all of those guys. I think we’re a better team. Sometimes you are in an addition by subtraction situation.”
Licht’s first controversial move releasing cornerback Darrelle Revis, followed by the mid-season trade of strong safety Mark Barron, a top-10 pick in the 2012 draft. The problem with Barron was that behind the scenes he was being outperformed in practice by young safety Bradley McDougald, a player who was a better fit in Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme and had more promise.
“[Trading Barron] allowed us to see more of Bradley McDougald,” Licht said. “Bradley McDougald is one of the guys we’re really excited about. Lovie sees something special in Bradley, and so do I. Sometimes it’s about position fits for this defense, and we didn’t think Mark was an ideal fit for this scheme.”
The Barron trade highlights a key point about the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay’s drafting has been atrocious under Allen and Dominik with only three Pro Bowlers coming from the draft over the past decade and a half – former guard Davin Joseph, McCoy and running back Doug Martin, who is currently falling out of favor with the team after two unproductive, injury-filled seasons. It is worth noting that linebacker Lavonte David was an All-Pro in 2013 and a Pro Bowl alternate last year.
The problem, however, was that outside of a few players – namely McCoy, David, offensive tackle Demar Dotson, cornerback Johnthan Banks and others – Tampa Bay’s cupboard was bare when Licht and Smith took over last year largely due to poor drafts. Last year’s draft brought a star receiver in Mike Evans, a starting tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and a running back the team believes is a starting-caliber player in Charles Sims.
A year after trying to upgrade the team’s premium positions in free agency, Licht has returned to his roots from his days in New England with Robinson, which was finding stars in the draft and finding role players in free agency.
“This year we went heavy into the draft and signed some role players in free agency,” Robinson said. “We have to get on that train of getting young guys in here that can grow and win together, and then improving with claim pick-ups once guys get cut.”
That’s when the decision was to use this draft to find a franchise quarterback and a left tackle to protect him. Winston came with some risks born from well-documented off-field incidents that the Bucs thoroughly investigated by conducting well over 75 interviews with players that knew the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and national champion.
When he was asked at the Senior Bowl in a casual conversation if he would almost rather have Tennessee have the first overall pick so the Titans could make their selection of which quarterback they would take and which one would be left over for Tampa Bay to alleviate some of the pressure off him, Licht said no way. That’s when Licht first uttered one of his favorite catch phrases to PewterReport.com.
Winners take chances. Losers wait for chances.
It’s a phrase a giddy Licht repeated to the media in his press conference just after selecting Winston on April 30 and to me again in his office this past week.
“We can’t sit on our hands and wait for opportunities to come to us,” Licht said. “We have to go create those opportunities. It’s just like Lovie and his scheme – it’s about creating turnovers. Don’t wait for them to throw an interception. Let’s go force them to throw one. It’s a ‘takeaway’ mentality. It’s the same thing when we go looking at players. Sometimes we’re going to take a chance.”
Licht and the entire Tampa Bay organization took a chance with the selection of Winston. If he’s right and the decision to draft Winston pans out, Licht and Smith should be able to navigate the Buccaneers through the NFL waters for the next decade or so. If he’s wrong, Licht knows he’ll be fired.
There’s nothing that will get a general manager or a head coach fired fast enough that when a first-round quarterback doesn’t pan out. Just ask Dominik. He survived the firing of head coach Raheem Morris in 2011, but when Josh Freeman’s career headed south in 2013 it was only a matter of time that he would be let go, too.
Licht is bold, but he isn’t brash. His moves are well-calculated, and they are orchestrated in concert with Smith, Robinson, Biehl and others within the organization. One thing is clear about Licht. He’s is 100 percent about helping the organization get better and he’s not about self-preservation as other general managers are around the NFL.
“Do you mean survivor mode?” Licht said. “I don’t think either Lovie or I are afraid to get fired. We know that inevitably it could happen. I’m not saying we think we’re safe. We just can’t let that alter our decisions. Survivor mode does exist in some quarters around the league, but I think that those that go into survivor mode are the first to get fired.
“[Cardinals head coach] Bruce Arians, whom I love, once said, ‘No risk it, no biscuit.’ You can’t look in the rearview mirror. You have to look forward and you have to do some things outside of the box and take some chances.”
FAB 2. WINSTON REMINDS BUCS OF BRADY, MARINO, RIVERS
Tampa Bay’s new quarterback, Jameis Winston, who was the first overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, started off as a Jason Licht pick. The Bucs general manager had been on his trail since his days in Arizona working for Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians, scouting Winston as a redshirt freshman in 2013 while he was guiding Florida State to a national championship.
Winston then became a Lovie Smith pick after the head coach joined the scouting process in January after the conclusion of the 2014 season. Smith saw Winston first hand in the Rose Bowl as he outperformed Oregon’s Marcus Mariota despite the end of his 26-game winning streak due to the Seminoles being routed by the Ducks.
After meeting with ownership in March, Winston became a Glazer pick, and after his pro day and a private workout in April when the rest of the scouts and coaches had a chance to evaluate him, Winston became a Buccaneers pick.
But make no mistake, Licht, director of player personnel Jon Robinson and director of college scouting Mike Biehl started the process in the fall, and Winston was their guy all along. Yet it didn’t take any arm-twisting by Licht. Winston’s tape spoke for itself for Smith, and his natural leadership abilities, personality and charisma took over and shone through in meetings with the Glazers, scouts and coaches.
“I made the decision to bring in Jameis right away after the Combine because there was a perception of him by people who had never met him, or done any work or research into him and that perception was different than who he was,” Licht said. “I wanted everybody – before we started to get to the final stages of making our decision – to see him, hear him, feel him out and make their own impression.
“This is a monumental decision and Lovie had to like him, which he did. The owners had to be on board with the number one overall pick, which they were. The staff has to like him – Dirk Koetter and Mike Bajakian had to like him, which they did. We all did. We had to take a shot. We all liked him.”
Winston won over the entire building during that visit, and he solidified his status as Tampa Bay’s leader in the clubhouse during the 2015 offseason. But Mariota made a favorable impression, too, and Licht revealed that he would have been Tampa Bay’s pick had another off-field incident popped up and negatively affected Winston’s draft grade.
“We ended up really liking Marcus,” Licht said. “I think he has a good chance of being a good quarterback. His leadership style is definitely different. It’s unique. I can’t pinpoint any quarterback that is like him. I think there is a fire within him, a competitor within him. It’s just different. We just really liked Jameis.”
Mariota wound up being the second-best player on Tampa Bay’s draft board, but it wasn’t close between he and Winston. Licht had passed on drafting a passer last year because none were viewed as a true franchise quarterback. Having been around the likes of Dan Marino in Miami, Tom Brady in New England and Kurt Warner in Arizona, Licht knew that last year’s QB class didn’t measure up to what his vision of a franchise quarterback was.
To Licht, Winston has some Brady-like leadership skills.
“Brady – we took him in the sixth round, and if we knew he was going to turn out like this he would have been the first overall pick,” Licht said. “But you could see it right away in training camp. The way he sat in the lunchroom at the cafeteria. Within two weeks, this rookie would sit down and all of the veteran offensive linemen would sit down around him, and he would be holding court. He loved football. That’s all he talked about. He would tell stories. He has a leadership charisma about him. Drew Bledsoe was a great guy, but he was a quieter type of guy. Nothing against Bledsoe, but Brady was special. You see that in Winston.”
Robinson, who spent a decade in New England, sees where Licht’s comparison of Brady comes from, but isn’t willing to go that far.
“It’s really hard to compare anybody to Tom because he’s such a special player,” Robinson said. “He’s the hardest worker on the team. He’s extremely intelligent and very demanding of his teammates offensively and defensively. His teammates love him. There are some similarities there between he and Jameis, but I reserve judgment on comparing him to Brady because he’s such a special player.
“With Jameis, you see a lot of the qualities we’re looking for in a quarterback. You see toughness and the ability for him to stand in the pocket and face pressure and still deliver the football to the target under duress. You see that he has mechanically improved since last fall after working with George Whitfield. That’s something that we saw that was good – quickening his release. From a directing traffic standpoint, he’s audible at the line of scrimmage, recognizing coverage, recognizing blitzes. Seeing him physically do that at the line of scrimmage, that’s what a pro quarterback has to do. There are a lot of systems where the quarterbacks are told to go here or there with the ball. That wasn’t the case with Jameis. He had full-field reads and he had half-field reads, as did Marcus Mariota. I think Marcus was kind of unfairly judged because of the system. Marcus had a lot of full-field reads and the ability to change protection at the line of scrimmage, but at the end of the day we felt more comfortable with Jameis.”
In terms of a true comparison, Winston reminds Licht most of Marino.
“I’ll take it back even further to 1995 and what I saw in Dan Marino,” Licht said. “Marino threw 23 picks his senior year in college. But he was a gunslinger that trusted his arm and he had a fire like no other. I remember one game Bruce Smith sacked him and was facemask-to-facemask on top of him on the ground, and Smith was getting off him and said something to him. Marino heard him, grabbed his facemask and pulled him back down on top of him so he could say something back to him. It’s the same as Brady, you don’t want to rattle his cage. Jameis has a little Dan Marino in him, too. He’s more mobile than Marino, but still not known as a running quarterback. He’s a pocket guy who trusts his arm and is as fiery as they get – and clutch.”
Biehl spent 13 years in San Diego as a scout and director of college scouting for the Chargers, and helped draft Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers. In my interview with him, Biehl laughed off media comparisons between Winston and former LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who went first overall in 2007, and sees some of Rivers’ best traits in Winston instead.
“Jameis is such a rare guy in the way that competition brings out the best in him,” Biehl said. “You’re talking about the things you need to be successful in this league, and at the top of the list is how you perform under pressure. He’s rare in that way. His accuracy is really good, the ability to read defenses, his football intelligence, his competitiveness, his ability to perform in clutch situations – he’s got all those things. That’s what you need.
“Arm strength and 40-yard dash times – some of those things are overrated when you are talking about a quarterback. You have to have some athletic ability to play quarterback, but he’s a lot more athletic than Philip Rivers ever was. Yet Philip had all those traits that I just described. Jameis is on par with all that stuff. Time will tell, but he has the chance to be a really, really good player in this league.”
In my interview with Licht, Robinson and Biehl, the Bucs’ top three personnel men, it’s easy to see the enthusiasm they have for the team’s selection of Winston, and the hope that the 21-year quarterback brings to the organization. Yet as highly as he graded out, Tampa Bay feels that the best is yet to come for Winston, who only played two years of college football and has never had a true football offseason to get better due to his commitment to playing for the Florida State baseball team in the spring.
“We feel like he as a very high ceiling as a football player,” Robinson said. “I love his toughness. I love his leadership. I love the command he brings in the locker room. That, coupled with his physical skills, I think he’s going to be a really good player.
“He’s definitely faced adversity and he’s kept fighting and scratching and found a way to win. He was able to make the adjustments to put the team in position to win as possible. Having played and had a lot of success in a major program was key. The national championship game against Auburn, it probably doesn’t get any more stressful than that. You’re down and you need a touchdown to win the game and he stick it on a guy perfectly – high on the end line so only Kelvin could get it – and they win the game. Having that type of moxie is great. There it is. There’s the evidence he can do it.”
I interviewed Miami defensive back Ladarius Gunter at the Senior Bowl, who was the victim of one of Winston’s second-half comebacks. To hear the way Winston’s opponents marveled about him makes it seem like Gunter and the Hurricanes died a respectful death on the gridiron battlefield.
“It was an honor to play against him,” Gunter said. “He’s a very smart guy with the ball. He has an arm and he zips it into tight coverage. I have much respect for him. Not too many people have the ability to will a team back like he does, but he has that ability. You could feel it on the field in the fourth quarter. As they gained momentum you could feel it slipping away from us. You could feel him rise to the occasion.”
Biehl, an Illinois native, grew up a Chicago Bulls fan and idolized Michael Jordan. While Jordan was one of the greatest scorers in NBA history, one of things that made Jordan unique was the fact that he made his teammates better players. Jordan was an “elevator,” and Biehl believes Winston has that special quality, too.
“Jordan rising to the occasion brought everybody else up, too, because he was an elevator,” Biehl said. “He didn’t give his teammates a choice. They were coming with him and they were going to play better. Jordan didn’t always make the best of friends on his team, but when it came to crunch time they knew they had to come along with him and be great, too. They had no choice. Jameis is much the same way. That’s the way he is – he’s special in that way. From that perspective, it was a no-brainer. It was just getting through the other stuff and we are all comfortable with the decision.”
FAB 3. BUCS HAD TO PROTECT THEIR INVESTMENT IN WINSTON WITH SMITH, MARPET
The Bucs’ plan all along was to make Florida State’s Jameis Winston the team’s franchise quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft. The second part of that plan was to protect that investment literally and figuratively.
While finding a pass-rushing defensive end was among the team’s top priorities, and passing up on UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, the top linebacker on Tampa Bay’s draft board, was tough to do in the second round the Bucs had to draft a left tackle with the 34th overall pick. While the team liked Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings, a medical report revealing a stress fracture in foot caused his stock to drop to the fourth round.
Penn State’s Donovan Smith was rated just as highly and his three year’s worth of experience at left tackle made the difference as wound up being the player charged with protecting Winton’s blindside. After choosing not to sign an offensive tackle in free agency due to the lack of quality at the position, Smith replaces Anthony Collins, who was released this offseason.
“Left tackles are too hard to find, and you don’t let them go [in free agency],” Bucs director of player personnel Jon Robinson said. “They are usually premium picks in the draft. They are first- or second-round guys and they have to be the mainstays of your front. You just don’t let them leave.”
Tampa Bay believes that Smith could have been a top 15 pick had he stayed for his senior year and possibly got a franchise left tackle in the second round.
“Talent-wise, potentially, but it’s all up to him,” Robinson said. “Once he gets here and if he buys into our program he definitely has the potential. He’s got the size and he’s got the girth. He’s a big man to try to get around. He’s got really good feet. He can run for a big man. He just has to continue to improve on his technique and his consistency as a player. When he does it right he looks as good as some of the ones on Sunday. He had a really good week at the Senior Bowl. He’s got an extremely high ceiling. As with every rookie, it’s up to them once they get here and what they do with that. In the end, it’s what they make of it. It’s their career.
“[Bucs defensive end] T.J. Fatinikun was working security in a hotel last year when we signed him. We gave the kid an opportunity and he maximized it. I kept waiting all fall during practice to check him and remind him of where he was. But he never gave me that opportunity because he was 100 miles per hour every single day, every single rep during practice. That’s the kind of attitude that all these rookies have to come here with – Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and on down the line if they are going to have a good career in this league.”
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Smith graduated from Penn State as a junior, which allowed him to play in the Senior Bowl where he shined and had some dominating performances after struggled with bouts of inconsistency last year for the Nittany Lions. Tampa Bay director of college scouting Mike Biehl believes that his experience playing left tackle and his unlimited potential warranted a high second-round selection.
“He’s really talented,” Biehl said. “Donovan’s a big, powerful guy and he’s athletic. He could play left tackle or right tackle. He can do whatever he wants. He’s another young guy as an early commitment that has a ton of upside. We were really excited about him being there in the second round.”
Perhaps no position on offense was weaker than right guard last year where first-year starter Patrick Omameh got the nod but turned in a non-descript season before giving snaps away to Garrett Gilkey and Josh Allen down the stretch. Shoring up the guard position in between Evan Dietrich-Smith and right tackle Demar Dotson became a priority the moment the Bucs drafted Winston.
Marpet was another Senior Bowl standout that the Bucs adored. Despite playing at a Division III school like Hobart College, Tampa Bay not only felt like Marpet was worth a second-round pick, the Bucs traded up in the second round to get a player widely regarded as a “favorite” of the scouting staff.
“Perhaps my favorite guy, and Lovie [Smith] will tell you the same thing, in the draft of O-line was Ali Marpet,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “Just in terms of him being a small-school guy that you rooted for. “Not saying that we liked him better than Donovan, but just a guy that we rooted for.”
Robinson said that Marpet had all the traits the team was looking for despite playing at lower level of competition.
“He’s smart, very tough and very mature,” Robinson said. “He stepped up to the challenge. Nothing against Hobart and its opponents, but the level of competition he faced in Mobile was substantially better than what he faced on Saturdays. If you watch the Hobart film and he was physically more talented than the guys he was blocking he was still competing and if he had the chance to corkscrew a guy into the ground he would. He brought that same attitude to Mobile.
“You could see there was some technique flaws he had to correct, but when he would overset the three-technique, and he would cross-face him, you could see how loose Ali’s hips were and how quick his feet were from an athletic standpoint and how quickly he would recover and bury the guy inside and open up a throwing lane for the quarterback. For him to be able to transition that quickly from Hobart to Mobile and respond the way he did was impressive. Then he had an extremely impressive Combine performance. Sometimes that gets over-analyzed in terms of the numbers, but it validated what we saw on tape.”
Marpet became a household name during the Senior Bowl due to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who said, “I believe he can be a starting center in this league. He’s checking off all the boxes.” But the Bucs’ area scouts were on Marpet’s trail long before Mobile, Ala. in January.
“Andre Ford identified him early on as a guy that he thought had a chance to be a really good player in this league,” Biehl said. “When you watch the Division III film that’s one of the hardest things to project is how well he’ll do against better competition. But when a kid dominates, that’s a great start. We saw Ali dominate there, and he gets a Senior Bowl invite and you could see him get better and better and better throughout the week and play great in the game against really good competition. That was a really big selling point for us. He has tons and tons of upside. He’s a smart kid and he’s like a ball of clay that is eager to be molded. He’s eager to be really good.”
Marpet had the quickness and athleticism to play left tackle at Hobart, but at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, he has a frame better suited to play guard where his strength (30 reps of 225 pounds) matches up well against defensive tackles.
“Ali is the poster boy in terms of traits for the kind of guy we want in this organization,” Biehl said. “We want smart, tough, dependable, coachable kind of guys that love football. Those are core traits. We need that across the board, but you really need that along the offensive line. Logan Mankins is like that. Evan Dietrich-Smith is like that, too. Ali is also a really good athlete. He has shorter arms than you would like, but he’s a bulldog. He’s powerful and he has super-strong hands.”
With Tampa Bay’s second-rounders Smith and Marpet scheduled to play alongside Mankins, Dietrich-Smith and Dotson, the Bucs have once again revamped their offensive line. While there is a risk to starting two rookies upfront to block for a rookie quarterback, the Bucs believe their two second-round picks are just what Tampa Bay – and Winston – needs.
“One of the things we needed to do was get faster, more athletic up front, but we also needed to get tougher,” Licht said. “We needed to get more physical and we needed to get more mature guys. And we accomplished that, that’s for sure.
“You bring these guys in together. They’re young and they have each other’s backs. They just get used to the environment here together, and it will just be fun to watch them ascend. We’ve got some young players on that offensive side of the ball now. I think we’re going to prove to a lot of people that we’re a lot better than what we were last year.”
FAB 4. DEFENSIVE LINEMEN HIGHLIGHT BUCS’ UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
The Bucs had four selections on Day 3 of the 2015 NFL Draft, and return specialist Kaelin Clay was my favorite pick by Tampa Bay. I’m not quite sold on the selection of LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander in the fourth round, and Hawaii fullback Joey Iosefa was a head-scratcher in the seventh round.
In fact, I like several players in Tampa Bay’s 2015 undrafted free agent class a lot better than some of the team’s picks in rounds 4-7, especially the defensive linemen the Bucs acquired. By choosing to fortify its offensive line on Day 2, there were very few pass-rushing options for Tampa Bay on the third day of the draft.
“By the time we addressed some of the needs – and we had them where we picked them, it wasn’t like we just drafted for need – but by the time we addressed that, for lack of a better cliché, the well had dried up on the guys that we thought could really make an impact,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “We can’t solve everything. We know that. But we do know that we can compete, we can compete for this division with what we’ve got and we’ll continue to add those pieces here incrementally, but as we’re seeing some of these guys get drafted that we liked in the later rounds at any position we also know we’ll get the first shot at them when their team lets them go.”
A few of those pieces might come from undrafted free agency as the Bucs signed a pair of defensive tackles – Idaho’s Quayshawne Buckley and Tusculum’s Caushaud Lyons – and a pair of defensive ends – Towson’s Ryan Delaire and Jones County Junior College’s Jamal Young.
Of the undrafted free agents, the Bucs are the most high on TCU safety Chris Hackett, who had seven interceptions last year and 12 in his career along with five forced fumbles, Buckley and Delaire. If Buckley and Delaire sound familiar it’s because Buckley was one of PewterReport.com’s Bucs’ Best Bets, and Delaire was in PewterReport.com’s second-to-last Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft.
The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Delaire recorded 151 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 25 sacks and six forced fumbles over the past three years and is coming off back-to-back seasons of 11.5 and 11 sacks. He has an explosive first step, a great closing burst and the athleticism to redirect behind the line of scrimmage.
“We were fortunate to get Ryan there at the end of the draft,” Bucs director of player personnel Jon Robinson said. “There was some competition there and he is a long player. He played down in an odd-man front at Towson, but he also played standing up. He’s got a good first step and good closing speed. He needs to improve his pass rush moves a little bit, but he certainly can. He has real strong hands and good length so he can set the edge. He has really good lateral agility with tight ends.”
There is a real chance Delaire pushes for a roster spot, or at least a place on Tampa Bay’s practice squad with a good training camp and preseason. The Bucs feel the same way about Buckley.
The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Buckley is very athletic for his size, possessing explosive hips and outstanding hand quickness. He notched 181 tackles, 41.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks for the Vandals, including 30.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks over the past two years. Buckley will have to adjust to the talent level of the NFL, but the Bucs believe
“He’s a pass rusher,” Licht said. “I really like him a lot. He’s a really good football player. Our scouts are really excited about him.”
Lyons notched 89 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and nine sacks last year for Tusculum.
“The two inside guys, including Caushaun Lyons from Tusculum – he’s 6-foot-4, 290 pounds and he ran a 4.80, which is really good for a big man,” Robinson said. “That’s really, really good. He’s kind of like Will Gholston in that he played some five-technique and some three-technique. We’re excited about him.”
Perhaps the most intriguing rookie at Tampa Bay’s rookie mini-camp will be the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Young, who only played a year of football at Jones County Junior College for former Bucs head coach Ray Perkins. He ran track at Southern Miss and then played JUCO football. Young was a meat cutter at Wal-Mart before signing with Tampa Bay last week.
“We had a relationship with the agent – Bus Cook,” Licht said. “Bus lives down there in Mississippi. Jamal couldn’t be anymore raw. He ran a 4.67, but I know he’s faster than that – even at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds. This is a T.J. Fatinikun-type. T.J. was more productive and played more in college, but he’ll get a look at defensive end.”
Tampa Bay beat New England to the punch to sign Young.
“He’s best friends with [Patriots linebacker] Jamie Collins,” Robinson said. “They’re good friends from their days at Southern Miss. New England texted me and asked if I signed Jamal Young and I said yes. They weren’t happy.
“Jamal went to the pro day at Southern Miss and he had a vertical jump of 37 inches at 245 pounds and broad-jumped almost 11 feet and he ran a 4.67. We watched his tape on Hudl on an iPad and 20 or 30 plays nobody could block the guy. The tackle couldn’t block him. He’s running around the tackle and it looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but from an athletic standpoint with the speed, the length and the quickness you’re like, ‘Whoa. There’s something to work with.’ He’s a great guy and very humble. We knew about him back in January or February. We’ll get him here and see what he’s got.”
With the proven depth at defensive end a little light with Jacquies Smith, Will Gholston, T.J. Fatinikun, Larry English and Lawrence Sidbury, Delaire or Young has a shot of helping the Bucs this year. Because of the addition of Henry Melton to a defensive tackle rotation that consists of Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence, in addition to the signing of Buckley and Lyons, Tampa Bay has moved veteran tackle Matthew Masifilo from defense to offensive guard, which says a lot about what the Bucs think about their newcomers.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• The biggest difference between the Bucs’ scouting efforts this year was sending more assistant coaches to pro days and individual workouts to have them side-by-side with the area scouts when evaluating players. That allowed the coaches to establish a rapport with the draft prospects and it brought the coaches and scouts into unison during the evaluation process.
“We wanted to make sure our coaches were seeing the right guys,” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said. “That relationship between the coach and the player is what drives the whole team. We wanted to make sure that with the players we were targeting that the coaches had some kind of relationship with the players we were going to draft so there would be an easier transition. [Director of college scouting] Mike Biehl and [director of player personnel] Jon Robinson helped set up when the coaches were going to go work out t