SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. SOLOMON EMERGING AS A REAL CAMP SLEEPER
In last week’s edition of SR’s Fab 5, I listed several potential sleepers heading into training camp based on information from our sources and PewterReport.com’s own observations during the OTAs and mini-camps. Of course, things change once the pads come on in training camp.
Here’s how those players have fared during the first week of camp:
RB Jeff Demps
Has had an inconsistent camp thus far with a few big plays on offense and stretches of practice without making an impact.
C-G Jace Daniels
Has been one of the most stout guards in training camp when it comes to pass protection, and definitely one of the most improved players from a year ago.
RT Matt Patchan
The rookie’s slow feet and lack of proper knee bend have routinely gotten exposed in one-on-ones during practice and he has underwhelmed.
WR David Gettis
Hasn’t made many plays and has been outshined by Tommy Streeter, who has consistently caught the ball, during the first week of camp.
DT Euclid Cummings
Has performed as well as Matthew Masifilo, but has a long way to go in August before he contends for a roster spot.
LB Nate Askew
Askew has looked lost at times and hasn’t stood out during the first week of camp and has been outshined by newcomer Brandon Magee.
NCB Quinton Pointer
Has gotten a lot of reps with injuries to Rashaan Melvin, Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins and has held his own in the first week of camp.
DE Chaz Sutton
Sutton’s light frame hasn’t held up well in one-on-one pass protection and he has a tendency to get tossed around like Steven Means during practice.
When compiling this list of sleepers last week I nearly put another unheralded defensive end, Scott Solomon, ahead of Sutton, but chose the rookie from South Carolina instead because he received a rather large $15,000 signing bonus as an undrafted free agent. During the first week of camp, Sutton hasn’t stood out, but Solomon certainly has.
A whirling dervish on the field, Solomon has uncanny quickness off the line of scrimmage from his tiger-like four-point stance.
“Scott is definitely a hard working guy,” said Bucs offensive lineman Jace Daniels. “He’s one of the hardest working guys out here – on and off the field. His motor never stops. He is always going 100 mph. That is what is going to get him out here in this field. He does everything with good technique. He seems to be in his playbook and learning from his coaches well and he is going to be a heck of a player if he keeps it up.”
Solomon wants to be known for having a high motor, but knows there is more to being an effective NFL defensive end than hustling.
“I want to be known for my high motor, but I also want to be known for good technique and being consistent,” Solomon said.
According to the offensive linemen he faces every day in practice, Solomon is rapidly developing an overall game and has a fierce bull rush to compliment his lightning quick outside rush.
“Solomon is the definition of high motor,” said Tampa Bay guard Patrick Omameh. “He’s a real hard-working kid, who is very technically sound. He has a lot of quickness to him and he is doing everything he can to win himself a job.
“For a guy – any guy – who can get can bend the edge and get low to the ground, it is going to make it tough for some of the taller offensive linemen. Some of the linemen maybe don’t have the flexibility to get down there. It can make for a long day for an offensive tackle. He’s got a few things in his toolbox that can make it difficult for some guys on the edge.”
Omameh roomed with Solomon for a short time during the offseason and has been very impressed with his work ethic.
“He’s a real cool kid, very reserved,” Omameh said. “He’s very committed to fitness and is guy who takes care of himself. He takes this very seriously.
“You could look at him as a little bit smaller, but you don’t want to underestimate him. He has got some pop to him. He is a well-built guy. He is a speed-rush guy, but has a bull rush, too. If you just try and dance with him. He has a few things he can do some damage with.”
Solomon, who is entering his third year in the NFL, was a sixth-round pick out of Rice in 2012 by Tennessee after notching 24 career sacks in college, including 8.5 during his senior campaign. He played in 13 games with the Titans before being released and having a quick, uneventful stint with the New York Jets last year.
“I liked it in Tennessee a lot,” Solomon said. “I had the chance to play in a lot of games during my rookie season but they switched me to linebacker and things didn’t work out. I went to the Jets and had a short stint there, but I’m just glad to be here. I feel like I have a great opportunity here. I love the defensive scheme and I think I fit well in it.”
At 6-foot-3, 262 pounds, the Tampa 2 defensive scheme, which prefers speed and quickness over size, is a haven for undersized defensive linemen like Solomon.
“I think it’s a good scheme for me and I’m really excited about it,” Solomon said. “When I heard Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier were coming I was very excited about that.”
Solomon played left defensive end in college and is competing with the likes of Adrian Clayborn, Will Gholston and Da’Quan Bowers for a roster spot. While Clayborn, the team’s starter, is assured of a roster spot along with Gholston, Solomon has a chance to edge out the likes of Bowers and Steven Means.
Solomon has impressed in the one-on-one pass rush drills, and has been undrafted rookie right tackle Matt Patchan’s personal tormentor. Solomon has single-handedly made Patchan look bad on a daily basis during one-on-ones.
Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen rewarded Solomon’s hard work with some reps with the first-team defense during 11-on-11 drills on Wednesday ahead of Bowers.
While Solomon appreciated the recognition, he was unfazed by the quick, temporary rise up the depth chart.
“It’s just like any other rep – you have to do your job,” Solomon said. “You can’t think about it too much. You just have to go in there and do your job. I hope I’m getting recognized for my hard work [with first-team reps], but the main thing is consistency. I have to be consistent, keep winning battles and do what I know how to do.
“I love Coach Cullen’s passion. He’s real passionate. He’s not afraid to yell at the bigger name guys. It’s fun to play for him and it’s fun to work for him.”
Cullen isn’t the only one who is helping Solomon develop his overall game. Two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy has also taken Solomon under his wing.
“Gerald takes every single guy top to bottom and works with them,” Solomon said. “He will run with you after practice, he’ll do anything you ask in an effort to make you better. He’ll take the guy at the bottom of the depth chart and work with him and I really appreciate that. He cares about getting everybody better. That’s what it’s all about it. Anybody can get hurt at any time, so the next guy has to be ready to step up.
“I’ve been focused on the small things like not seeing too much. Little things like hand placement, footwork and taking a small step and only seeing what you need to see and not seeing too much. That’s helped me the most.”
In addition to McCoy, Solomon has two great role models to learn from at his own position in Clayborn and Michael Johnson.
“I love watching A.C. play,” Solomon said. “He’s got a great motor. He’s always working different moves, and obviously Michael Johnson has had a great amount of success. I’m always watching those guys.”
Solomon’s game resembles that of a less-polished Clayborn. Both defensive ends are compactly built and come off the line with a fury and have a wide assortment of pass rush moves, but Clayborn has more experience at this stage of the game.
The good news for Solomon is that he doesn’t have to beat out Clayborn. Just Bowers, Means and other reserve defensive ends to win a roster spot.
“He is just the type of guy who gives 110 percent and whatever he has he leaves it all on the field every play and every snap,” Gholston said. “He is kind of guy you want to play with and next to.”
There have been plenty of training camp sleepers that have generated some early buzz over the years, only to taper off and fail to have a consistent preseason. Others, such as former Bucs left tackle Donald Penn and current right tackle Demar Dotson, have gone from training camp sleepers to the starting lineup.
While every NFL player aspires to be a starter, Solomon’s goal is fixed on making the 53-man roster and then taking it from there.
“I feel like this camp has been going good,” Solomon said. “I’ve been a little more consistent. I’m just going to keep plugging away, keep working and keep grinding and see where that gets me. I’m excited for the preseason, getting out there and playing in front of the crowd. I can’t wait to hit somebody else in a game situation.”
FAB 2. CAMP LIFE ISN’T EASY FOR DOTSON
Not only is unheralded defensive end Scott Solomon trying his hardest to make the roster, there are several other left ends that grow hungrier with each rep during training camp. Starter Adrian Clayborn is in a contract year and wants to prove to the new Bucs coaching staff and front office that he wants to stay in Tampa Bay with a contract extension.
Da’Quan Bowers is also in a contract year and has underwhelmed since arriving in Tampa Bay in 2011 as a second-round pick. It’s now or never for Bowers to make a stand and earn the roster spot he’s been handed the past three years.
Second-year defensive end Will Gholston got a taste of success during his rookie year as he passed Bowers on the depth chart during the second half of the season. He wants more playing time and is fighting hard in practice every day.
All of this means that life for Buccaneers right tackle Demar Dotson has become incredibly difficult during training camp. There’s never a rep where he can coast or take a breather, which is good because it challenges Dotson to rise up on every play and take his game to a new level, too.
Clayborn is as rock hard and chiseled as he’s ever been in his four years in Tampa Bay. As a result of a radical change in his diet, Clayborn is quicker and has more endurance, which means it’s a long day for Dotson during one-on-ones and team drills.
“He definitely passes the eyeball test,” Dotson said of Clayborn. “The guy is healthy. He eats healthy. He brings his own food and he shops at the Whole Foods store. He stays at the Whole Foods store and he has his own shelf! He’s invested in his body and his health.
“This what he needs. It’s a contract year for him and he’s trying to prove a point on every play. That motivates me because I go against that guy every single snap. He tries to prove a point, which he should. This is his year to take care of his family and get what he deserves. I wish the best for him, but I don’t want him to make me look bad in the process. It’s a daily competition I look forward to.”
Going up against Clayborn and Gholston present two distinctly different challenges for the 6-foot-9, 310-pound Dotson, who is emerging as one of the better right tackles in the NFL.
“With Clayborn, he has a lot more in his arsenal,” Dotson said. “He’s more experienced and he brings a little more to the table than what Will brings. But what Will brings is unique, and you have to prepare for it and be ready for it with his strength and size. The guy is like 6-foot-7, long and strong, and he’s hungry. He’s a young guy and it’s his year to step up and show what he can do.”
“Both of those guys are trying to prove themselves. It’s going to be a long training camp for me! One-on-ones are always going to be tough for me, but it’s exciting because I’m out here to compete.”
Despite the hunger and tenacity displayed by the likes of Clayborn, Gholston, Solomon, and to a certain extent, Bowers, Dotson has won his fair share of one-on-ones during pass rush/pass protection drills, which has pleased both his position coach, George Warhop, and his head coach, Lovie Smith.
“I think he’s a heck of an offensive tackle,” Smith said. “Of course, I’ve been impressed with him just about every day I’ve seen him on the football field. All the OTAs, he comes to work every day and doesn’t say an awful lot – just a good football player.”
Dotson, who played basketball for four years at Southern Miss before playing one season for the Golden Eagles football team as a defensive lineman his senior season, got the opportunity to show off his good ball skills in practice earlier this week as he caught a touchdown pass on a fake field goal pass from holder Michael Koenen.
“You talk about a thrill for a lineman,’’ Smith said.
“Demar is a heck of an athlete and we can do some things with him. It can be practice or whatever – it can be in a drill – but if a lineman gets the chance to cross the goal line, it’s a big thing. Demar is a heck of an athlete. He’ll let you know, ‘Hey, I used to play basketball and I’m not your typical offensive lineman.’ But we can do some different things with him.”
Dotson witnessed former Bucs left tackle Donald Penn catch two touchdown passes in goal line situations, including one last year on Monday Night Football against Miami, and relishes that opportunity on game day. But after catching his touchdown pass in practice and doing an awkward dance for an extended amount of time, Dotson said he’ll skip the celebration the next time around.
“They need to throw it to me in a game,’’ he said. “That’s a precious moment. I don’t even know what you call that celebration – I just need to not do that again.”
FAB 3. FOSTER IS IN SUPREME CONDITION FOR CONTRACT YEAR
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn isn’t the only Buccaneer that has trimmed down this summer in an effort to become faster and more explosive. Middle linebacker Mason Foster has revamped his diet, lost seven pounds and dropped his body fat percentage by eating a lot of vegetables, which he doesn’t like.
Foster, who looks lean and chiseled for the first time in his NFL career, has enlisted the help of his mother to cook healthy meals for him this offseason and it’s paid off.
“I like green beans, corn and my mom makes me eat broccoli,” Foster said. ““Green beans, corn – I did eat some spinach. I don’t even want to know the name of some of it. I’ll eat it if it’s good for you. I’ll sacrifice. [My mom] has been helping, and I appreciate her helping me out. I feel a lot quicker and a lot lighter on my feet. I feel better and healthier.
“I am dieting right and cutting back my body fat. It’s helped me by eating a lot of vegetables. I don’t like too many vegetables, but I’ve been eating a lot of vegetables, turkey and turkey burgers. It was tough at first, but it’s paid off. I’m still around 235 or 236. I lost seven pounds. It’s about getting in shape and being better.”
Foster has been known as a good tackler since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2011, but struggled in pass coverage over the first couple of seasons until having a breakout year in 2013 with a career-high three interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns.
“I really try to focus on getting better all the time in coverage,” Foster said. “People have said that’s a weakness of mine, and everybody is entitled to their opinion. This league is changing into a passing league. My first natural instinct is always to play the run, but I’m working on my pass drops. [Bucs linebackers coach] Hardy [Nickerson] has me working on things he used to do. Even talking to [Bucs director of football operations] Shelton [Quarles] – both of those guys were great middle linebackers here.
“This summer I was working at The Compound with the safeties, just trying to get faster in and out of my breaks. Now it’s all about studying. I feel like I’m physically ready to go. I just have to keep studying and learning about the pass concepts. I feel like I took a really big step last year, though.”
Foster, who has already had an interception in practice, is grateful to have the ideal teacher in Nickerson, who was the best middle linebacker in Buccaneers history.
“He’s a great coach and a great system,” Foster said. “All I can do is be myself and control what I can control. I’m trying not to take a step back, getting better, diet and getting messages and study. I feel like it’s working. Hopefully at the end of the year my name can be up there with some of the great linebackers.”
Aside from preparing to play the deep middle of the field in Cover 2 within the Tampa 2 scheme, Foster will also get to blitz a lot in Lovie Smith’s defense. Foster has six career sacks, including two last year.
“I love it,” Foster said. “Blitzing is what I love to do. That’s all about being physical, having a high motor and being relentless. With guys like Gerald [McCoy], Mike [Johnson], Clinton [McDonald] and A.C. you can’t be soft. You see how much passion they play with. You can’t be the one running up in there soft. You can learn a lot from them about pass rushing.
“In this scheme I feel like it’s back to they way I learned how to play defense in college – sideline to sideline and playing downhill. [Former Bucs head coach Greg] Schiano had a lot of different things – good things that worked – but this is a great defense to be a linebacker in any position.”
Foster is in the best shape of his career at just the right time as he is entering a contract year.
“I don’t think about it,” Foster said. “I know I am in a contract year – everyone knows that. I feel like it’s about this team, though. It’s not about me. When you start thinking about yourself that’s when you mess up due to the pressure. I just want to help this team win. If the team wins and we have a great year it’s going to be good for everybody. That’s how I go about it. I want this team to win, and once the season is over … if it happens, it happens. I’m on this team now, and it’s a great team. I want to be in Tampa for the rest of my career.”
FAB 4. PANTHERS MAY BE RIPE FOR THE PICKING IN WEEK 1
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton missed the entire offseason work in Carolina as he recovered from ankle surgery. At the start of training camp, Newton said, “I can’t stress enough that I’m not 100 percent yet. It’s going to take treatment and time.”
Panthers mainstay Steve Smith was released in the offseason to help Carolina get younger and faster at wide receiver. Carolina overhauled the position with veterans Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery and former Buccaneer Tiquan Underwood. Avant, who is 31, and Cotchery, who is 32, were never fast to begin with and are more like possession receivers. Underwood has some speed, but his frail frame has made it easy for opponents to jam him at the line of scrimmage.
The Panthers spent a first-round draft pick on 6-foot-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin, and have increased the size at the receiver position with the addition of 6-foot-2, 225-pound Marvin McNutt and rookie Marcus Lucas, who is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. The problem is that this trio lacks NFL experience. Even Benjamin, who has loads of potential, isn’t a polished receiver coming out of college and had his share of drops for Florida State last year.
With Newton missing the entire offseason rehabbing his surgically-repaired ankle, the Pro Bowl quarterback was not able to establish any chemistry or timing with his brand new receiving corps. He’ll have to condense five months worth of work with his new targets into less than five weeks in order to be ready for the Buccaneers in Week 1.
In two blowout victories against Tampa Bay last year, Newton completed over 65 percent of his passes for 484 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, along with 118 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 16 carries (7.37 avg.). There’s a chance he won’t be as mobile in Week 1 due to his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. Just in case, the Bucs added more speed to their defense with defensive end Adrian Clayborn and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald up front.
On the first day of Carolina’s 2014 training camp, sixth-round draft pick Tyler Gaffney, a running back from Stanford, was lost for the season when he tore the meniscus in his knee. With starting running back Jonathan Stewart battling a hamstring injury, the Panthers’ running back corps has been thinned out during the first week of camp. Nine-year veteran DeAngelo Williams turned 31 and isn’t as fast as he used to be, but the team does have second-year pros in Kenjon Barner and Fozzy Whitaker, in addition to rookie Darrin Reaves. The Panthers will need Stewart to be 100 percent to have the best chance of beating the Bucs.
Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, the Panthers’ leading sacker last year with 15 QB captures, was sentenced to a 60-day suspended sentence with 18 months of probation stemming from a May incident in which he assaulted his former girlfriend. Hardy, the team’s franchise player, is entering a contract year and has not been suspended by the NFL or the Panthers yet as he has appealed his sentence.
However, there is a chance that he could be suspended by the NFL and miss the 2014 season opener, which would greatly enhance Tampa Bay’s chances of winning Lovie Smith’s first game at Raymond James Stadium.
It seems like the Bucs may be catching the Panthers at the right time to start the season.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Some want to blame former Bucs general manager Mark Dominik for signing Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks to a five-year, $47.5 million deal in 2012. Dominik doesn’t deserve any blame for the fact that Nicks played just nine games in two seasons and had to quit football because he contracted a MRSA infection that required surgery on a previously surgically-repaired toe. It’s neither Nicks’ fault nor Dominik’s that the massive guard got hurt. Injuries happen in the NFL – it’s just a way of life.
If you want to criticize Dominik for some bad signings start with re-signing wide receiver Michael Clayton, signing running back Derrick Ward and cornerback Eric Wright. But don’t include Nicks in that mix. Those players struggled with work ethic issues and character issues – Nicks didn’t. He just got hurt.
• Bucs defensive end Da’Quan Bowers has flashed more than I thought he would during the first week of training camp, but he still has had his missteps. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen screamed at Bowers for jumping offsides twice during Thursday’s one-on-ones with the offensive line. Cullen blasted Bowers for jumping offsides every single day this week and he’s not making a favorable impression.
• Tampa Bay strong safety Mark Barron is having a great start to training camp. Barron has picked off at least three passes in either 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills and has looked sharp in pass coverage. Not bad for a guy who admitted that he still isn’t 100 percent from a knee scope in January.
Dashon Goldson, who is coming off ankle surgery this winter, hasn’t made as many plays as Barron has, and it’s not inconceivable to think that his starting spot is vulnerable if either Major Wright or Keith Tandy steps up in practice.
• The sacred cows are few and far between with a new coaching staff and a new front office in Tampa Bay. Expect to see a lot of roster turnover this year in September and for a couple of real surprise players to make the team. Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said that the entire team – starters included – has been put on notice that there is open competition across the board.
“Lovie Smith is the kind of guy that loves the underdog and he likes to give everyone a shot,” Dotson said. “That’s the type of guy I am because someone gave me a shot when I was the underdog. Underdogs deserve a shot and he pulls for them and he roots for them. It’s going to be exciting because somebody out there is going to turn heads.”
• After an hour lightning delay during the initial late afternoon practice last Friday, the unpredictable Florida weather has been quite tame and there haven’t been any other delays. Bucs middle linebacker Mason Foster was impressed with the way head coach Lovie Smith handled the team’s hour break inside One Buccaneer Place.
“This is what can happen, and it’s happened to us before,” Foster said. “Tampa is Tampa. We play at 4:30 p.m. so you have to get ready for bad weather. This is what it is in Florida. You never know what’s going to happen to you.”
• Tampa Bay’s offensive line definitely has some studs on it. Both tackles – Demar Dotson and Anthony Collins – have been studs in one-on-one pass protection drills, in addition to new center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Collins and new defensive end Michael Johnson have had some epic battles and have continued their on-going practice wars from their days together at Cincinnati.
Dietrich-Smith is an absolute beast in the middle and a supreme technician. He’s like a much bigger, badder version of former Bucs Pro Bowl center Jeff Christy, who anchored Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl-winning offensive line.
The team’s guards are a work in progress as the coaches are trying to find the right combination, but there are some decent candidates to choose from.
While the Bucs defensive line has been stout against the run in 11-on-11 drills, the offensive line dominated during the one-on-one pass rush/pass protection drills on Wednesday. That’s something guard Patrick Omameh and his linemates take pride in.
“We work pass pro every single day right before we go to one-on-ones drills,” Omameh said. “That makes you overall better as an offensive line and that showed [on Wednesday]. It’s been going back and forth between us. That’s a great unit over there [on defense]. Every chance we get to practice against that unit makes us better. We’re enjoying having those matchups.”
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: email@example.com
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