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. BUCCANEERS WERE WISE TO KEEP GLENNON
It was Jameis Winston’s night. The charismatic, big-play rookie quarterback lived up to the hype on Monday Night Football, driving Tampa Bay 80 yards to score on its first offensive possession, which was capped off by a gutsy, 1-yard touchdown run as Winston dove for the pylon in Tampa Bay’s 25-11 win over Cincinnati.
The first overall pick was 8-of-13 for 90 yards on the night, including a beautiful 22-yard strike to Russell Shepard down the seam, and scored that rushing touchdown. But after head coach Lovie Smith pulled Winston after seeing the rookie’s ankle twisted on a sack midway through second quarter, he inserted backup quarterback Mike Glennon into the game.
For as good as Winston played, I was equally impressed with the play of Glennon, Tampa Bay’s third-year quarterback, who completed 10-of-15 passes for 121 yards. In fact, Glennon had the Bucs’ best offensive play of the night, a beautifully thrown 22-yards touchdown pass to Shepard on an audible when he saw the Bengals in an all-out blitz.
“It was nice,” Glennon said. “They showed us a Cover 0 look and I got us to a pass and Shep ran a good route. I just trusted that he would run a good route and he did. I threw it up there pretty quick because they were bringing more guys than we could protect. I thought it was great to see Russell have a big night. It was exciting for us and the team.”
The strong-armed Glennon had Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins right in his face, bearing down on him and threw a perfect pass off his back foot. That play – and others – impressed former Bucs coach and Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden.
“When you go back and watch the tape, two years ago under Greg Schiano, he had 19 touchdown passes and some impressive games,” Gruden said. “We had him on Monday Night Football beating Miami here. Last year I watched him play great and beat Pittsburgh on the road. This kid has a lot of production, 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns. He’s just getting started.
“Glennon has had three different offensive coordinators in three years and I’ve seen him function quite well in any system. This kid can throw. All this kid needs is a chance.”
That got me thinking more about Glennon’s potential. Now that he has a legitimate offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter, I wonder what Glennon could do as a starting quarterback in a real offense for two years in an alternate reality?
Winston was drafted to be Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback, and rightly so. He’s a special talent and I had him going to the Bucs in every PewterReport.com Mock Draft beginning in early January – never wavering and suggesting that Marcus Mariota would be or could be the pick. The plan is to have Winston start all 16 games this year with Glennon as the backup, and that’s the way it should be.
But there is a part of me that wishes we could create a parallel universe to see exactly what Glennon could become under Koetter’s tutelage and within a real NFL offense.
Keep in mind that Glennon’s first season was in Mike Sullivan’s offense in 2013 and Sullivan had never called plays prior to coming to Tampa Bay in 2012 as the fourth option on Schiano’s wish list for offensive coordinators. Last year, Glennon and former starting quarterback Josh McCown had to deal with the abrupt loss of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and the abysmal play-calling of quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who was in well over his head.
“It’s been tough across the board, but I can only imagine it for a quarterback with all of the information to retain about the offense,” Bucs tight end Luke Stocker said. “Mike has done a phenomenal job. You wouldn’t know that this is Mike’s first season in this offense the way he’s handling things this offseason. He’s soaked it up. He’s out there like this is nothing new for him.”
Glennon absolutely loves Koetter’s offense, and it’s shown through two preseason games as he has completed 20-of-33 passes (60.6 percent) for 227 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a QB rating of 91.4.
“The more offenses you play in the easier it is for the transition because you learn how to approach an offense and learn the playbook,” Glennon said. “This offense fits me the best, so far, of what I’ve been in. Dirk is a great offensive coordinator and he has a great system. I feel very comfortable in it.”
There are a lot of similarities between the offense Koetter is running in Tampa Bay and the scheme he ran in Atlanta for the last three years. Having coached Pro Bowler Matt Ryan with the Falcons, Koetter sees a lot of similarities between he and Glennon.
“It is a nice compliment, and ironically, I’ve had the Matt Ryan comparison since I was about 16 or 17 years old because my coaches at N.C. State were with Matt up in Boston College,” Glennon said. “It was a comparison then and it’s a comparison now. It’s kind of funny that no matter what level I’m at I’ve had Matt’s previous coaches. I’ve probably watched more Matt Ryan film than anyone, learning the offenses he’s played in in college and in the pros.
“Dirk runs a great offense. He’s as good of a coordinator as there is in the league. We’ve seen his success in Atlanta having played them in the division over the past couple of years. We’re fortunate to have him. I know as a quarterback it’s been great having him call plays and incorporate his system.”
Glennon, a third-round pick in 2013, started the final 13 games of his rookie season after Schiano demoted and released starter Josh Freeman, a former first-round pick. He finished that year with 2,608 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions, engineering the Bucs to four wins and a near-victory in an overtime loss at Seattle.
Last year, Glennon came off the bench when McCown’s sprained thumb caused him to miss five starts. Glennon passed for 1,417 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. He went 1-4 as a starter, but two of those losses came in overtime. Glennon’s win was a come-from-behind thriller at Pittsburgh that was capped off with a last-second touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson.
“The past two years I’ve been in a similar situation that I was in camp as the No. 2 quarterback and both years I wound up starting some games,” Glennon said. “I know Jameis is the starter, but you always have to be ready and I’m going to be ready.”
With shaky quarterback issues around the NFL in places like Houston, Cleveland and with the New York Jets, some have suggested that the Bucs might trade Glennon and fetch a second- or third-round pick for the 25-year old signal caller. But the fact that Bucs general manager Jason Licht didn’t trade him in the offseason or on draft day after selecting Winston speaks volumes about Glennon’s value in Tampa Bay.
Sure, Licht fielded some inquiries from other NFL teams, but never seriously considered trading Glennon. All he had to do was look west to Arizona where good friend and mentor Steve Keim, the Cardinals’ general manager, scrambled to find a viable replacement for starter Carson Palmer, who tore his ACL during a 9-1 start.
Arizona finished 2-4 down the stretch with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley, lost a possible home-field advantage in the playoffs in the process, and was an easy, first-round out in the postseason. Lindley passed for just 82 yards in a 27-16 loss at Carolina. That was a clear enough message for Licht to want to keep Glennon as Winston’s backup.
“Jason told me all along that they want me here and they don’t want it any other way,” Glennon said. “It’s been kind of evident with the way they handled things this offseason regarding the quarterback position and they kept me. I’m happy to be here and I just want to see our team win and continue to do some good things this year.”
Shepard had two big catches for 30 yards from Glennon last year, including a 22-yarder, in the fourth quarter of Tampa Bay’s comeback win at Pittsburgh last year. He’s excited that the Bucs decided to keep Glennon even though the team drafted Winston.
“When you look at Mike – and we are looking at old Atlanta film from last year – he has so many of the similar traits as Matt Ryan,” Shepard said. “Their body posture, the way they go through reads and the throws they make. They are both strong-armed guys. I think Mike Glennon is a proven starter in this league. You can never predict what is going to happen, but people respect him. A lot teams would love to have him, but we’re going to be selfish and have him here. There is nothing like having two talented quarterbacks on your roster, and I’m excited to see both of them grow and learn in this offense.
“It just makes our team better. It’s pretty much a quarterback-driven league, that’s why we have all the rules to protect them, and that’s why they make all the money because of their effect on the game. They touch the ball on every play. Having Mike gives our team a lot of confidence. The coaching staff doesn’t have to change the game plan for Mike if he has to come in. They can run the same plays Jameis knows and that’s huge.”
The fact that Koetter expressed his excitement for inheriting Glennon also helped the third-year quarterback’s mindset entering yet another season as the team’s backup without a legitimate opportunity to compete for the starting job.
“When Dirk came in here he said he liked how I played and how much he expects me as a player,” Glennon said. “Right away I felt like he wants me on this team. He’s been high on me from the get-go, so it’s a great feeling knowing that a highly respected coach is so high on me.”
“Anytime you have a backup who is talented and experienced like Mike it’s a great thing,” Stocker said. “The confidence that it brings the team, knowing that if something happens to Jameis that we have Mike, is great. We have every intention of protecting the quarterback, but this is football. This is the NFL and things happen. It’s great to have a guy like that and have confidence in him.”
One of the primary reasons why Glennon exudes so much confidence is his intelligence. Glennon graduated from North Carolina State with not just his bachelors degree in business management, but also a masters degree in liberal studies, which focused on leadership and sports management in five years, carrying a 3.1 GPA in his undergraduate work and a 3.8 GPA in his masters program.
“Mike is extremely talented and he’s a smart guy,” Stocker said. “Any opportunities he gets he’s going to make the most of. I have great confidence in him, and any time he’s on the field he’s going to do great things for the offense.”
Rookie wide receiver Kenny Bell marvels at Glennon’s cerebral approach to the game.
“In general, we’re really intelligent under center from Jameis to Mike to Seth,” Bell said. “Mike is a very studious guy, a very intelligent guy. To get on the same page with him makes it very easy for guys like me. I love when No. 8 comes into the game because lately that’s when I’ve been coming into the game. He throws a very catchable ball with great spin on it. He’s great in the huddle and gives us confidence. He’s everything you want as a QB. Very smart guy.”
The Bucs want Winston to go wire-to-wire and become a 16-game starter in 2015, but have confidence in Glennon if they need to turn to him at any point this season. While he waits for an opportunity to take the field, he will serve the Bucs well by testing Tampa Bay’s defense in practice as a starting-caliber quarterback.
“It means a lot to have Glennon on our team,” Bucs strongside linebacker Danny Lansanah said. “Glennon has played in a bunch of games and he’s a legit backup. He prepares like he’s the starter every week, and when he gets in the game you can see what he can do. On Monday night we didn’t miss a beat with him. That says a lot about the guy. He’s been here and knows his role, but he goes full force and prepares as if he’s the starter.
“You don’t know where he’s going to throw the ball in practice. He does a good job disguising where he’s going with the ball with his eyes. He’s a leader out there the way he commands the offense. He’s always on top of things. He’s got a strong arm and he can make every throw. When you have a guy like Mike it’s huge for your team. He’s got a bright future in the league. He’s a good player.”
Glennon also relishes the opportunity to unselfishly help Winston any way he can in practice and on the sidelines on game day.
“When I was a rookie I was fortunate enough to have Dan Orlovsky, who I learned a ton from,” Glennon said. “And last year I learned a lot from Josh McCown. I don’t have quite the knowledge and experience those guys have, but what I do have I want to help Jameis out with. He’s extremely intelligent and he’s very smart already, so between an offensive coordinator and a quarterback coach, he doesn’t need a ton from me.
“But if there is anything I can help him out with I’m going to do it because I know how much it meant to me when I was a rookie and I got help from a veteran quarterback. Anything I can do to help I will. It’s enjoyable to help someone out and feel like you’ve played a role in some of their success. That’s what guys like Dan and Josh did for me, and that’s what I hope to do for Jameis.”
Make no mistake. Glennon wishes he were Tampa Bay’s starter. Any competitor would have those thoughts, but his desire to be a great teammate trumps his own personal desires
“Obviously, I want to be in Tampa, and it was my goal from the moment I got drafted and heard that they have never signed a quarterback to a second contract that I wanted to be that guy,” Glennon said. “Now? Who knows what will happen? You never know. I’m just going to prepare to be the guy here and see what happens in the future.”
Glennon has seen plenty of quarterbacks have success well into their 30s and knows that there is plenty of time on the clock for him to become an NFL starter, whether it is next year if the Bucs trade him before his contract expires or in free agency in 2017.
“I’m young and time is on my side,” Glennon said. “I hope things go well and I stay healthy throughout my career. All of the experiences I’ve gone through will continue to help me in my future. I’m just going to remain positive and optimistic and understand that it will all work out for me at some point.”
Until then, the Bucs have one of the strongest quarterback positions in the entire league with Winston and Glennon on the depth chart.
“It’s a very good problem for a team to have,” Mankins said. “Mike is always calm on the field and never gets rattled. He’s a cool, calm guy. He’s smart and he knows what he’s doing. He makes plays and has an arm to make all of the throws.
“Mike is very competent, and if for some reason he has to go in there, this team has full confidence in him that he can get the job done.”
FAB 2. KEY BUCS ON THE BUBBLE
Saturday’s game against the visiting Cleveland Browns will be the final audition for 15 members of the Buccaneers before the Tampa Bay front office and the coaching staff pares the roster down to 75. After next Thursday’s preseason finale at Miami, the Bucs will shave another 22 players off the roster to get down to 53.
With two preseason games left to showcase themselves, several key Buccaneers need to show up or they’ll be shipped out. I’m not talking about some of the team’s undrafted free agents like cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, safety Chris Hackett or defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley. I’m talking about some of the backup players – and even a few starters – that are more household names.
Here is a list of 10 key Bucs that are on the bubble and need a big game or two to avoid the turk next week:
WR Rannell Hall
Hall was the most buzz-worthy of the team’s undrafted free agent receivers and generated a lot of attention during the OTAs and the first week of training camp, but has cooled off since suffering a minor injury that kept him out of the season opener. Hall caught two passes for 25 yards, but needs to produce more and contribute on special teams to win a roster spot.
TE Tim Wright
Wright is the Bucs’ fifth tight end behind Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Luke Stocker Brandon Myers and Cameron Brate, and has yet to catch a pass in the preseason. Wright had a perfectly thrown seam pass by Jameis Winston bounce off his hands on Monday night, which hurts. He also lacks strength and size to be an effective in-line blocker, which also does little for his stock.
G Kadeem Edwards
Edwards is getting a lot of reps as the team’s left guard behind starter Logan Mankins, but he had two penalties against the Bengals and doesn’t have the position versatility to play center like Garrett Gilkey, Josh Allen and Ali Marpet. He needs to step up and play flawless football over the next week.
DT Da’Quan Bowers
Bowers was signed to help the team’s depth at defensive tackle for training camp due to Akeem Spence’s back injury and has actually played very well. However, the Bucs signed veteran Tony McDaniel, a former Seattle Seahawk, and that likely sealed his fate. Bowers played a role in the Bucs’ safety on Monday night and will need to get to the quarterback to help his chances of sticking around.
DE T.J. Fatinikun
Fatinikun has had a leg injury that has kept him out of the first two preseason games and that has allowed Lawrence Sidbury to get value snaps and have a solid showing at Minnesota with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a quarterback pressure. Unless Fatinikun can play in the final two preseason games and make some impact plays the old saying, “You can’t make the club in the tub” will be in effect here.
CB Brandon Dixon
Dixon saw a lot of unexpected action last year as a rookie due to injuries, but the return of Mike Jenkins and the addition of Sterling Moore put his roster spot in jeopardy. Dixon has had decent coverage in the preseason, but he needs to make a big play in the passing game down the stretch.
FS Chris Conte
Conte was signed to bring a veteran presence to the secondary due to his experience in the Tampa 2. A bad hamstring injury has sidelined Conte since the first week of training camp and he’s missed the first two preseason games. Free safety Keith Tandy has four interceptions over the past two seasons and is no slouch. He’s also a good special teamer. Conte needs to get healthy quick to keep his roster spot.
P Michael Koenen
Kicker Pat Murray has been handling some of the kickoffs in preseason, which Koenen did last year. Quarterback Mike Glennon has also done some holding for field goals and extra points during the preseason, and that was Koenen’s job last year, too. The Bucs also have two other punters on the roster, and with Koenen making $3.5 million in 2015 he could be a cap casualty.
K Patrick Murray
Murray, who beat out Connor Barth last year for the Bucs’ kicking duties and had a great rookie season, has struggled in training camp and the preseason with misses. He’s missed two field goals and an extra point in the two preseason games and the team just re-signed Barth to compete with him for the final two contests. The pressure is on for Murray as Barth is highly motivated to reclaim his job.
KR Kaelin Clay
Clay, the Bucs’ sixth-round draft pick, hasn’t show much as a receiver, so he must make the team as a return specialist. Clay hasn’t received the benefit of good blocking on his returns and has only averaged 18.8 yards on four kick returns with a long of 23 yards, and just 4.2 yards on five punt returns with a long of 16 yards. He needs to have an impact return or two to make the Bucs carrying a return specialist worthwhile, otherwise Bobby Rainey will take over the return game.
FAB 3. SHEPARD, BELL HELPING BUCS IN MULTIPLE WAYS
What separated Kenny Bell from other wide receivers in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft was not the fact that he was Nebraska’s all-time leading receiver with 181 catches for 2,689 yards and 21 touchdowns, which ranked third in team history, or his speed, evidenced by the fact that he ran a 4.38 at his pro day. What Tampa Bay liked about Bell was the fact that he was a dominant special teams player.
And not just as a kick returner, where he returned 51 kicks for 1,277 yards (25 avg.) for the Cornhuskers, including a 99-yarder for a touchdown against Penn State. Bell was a regular as a gunner on punt coverage, too.
Bell has shined as a receiver at times through training camp, making some spectacular catches, but also having a few more drops than he would like. In the first two preseason games, Bell has missed on a couple of opportunities to haul in a catch, and he had two holding penalties against Cincinnati on perimeter runs, although one of those calls was very questionable.
Yet he ran down the field and helped down the ball inside the Bengals’ 4-yard line twice in the first half, including a leaping save in which he tossed the ball to Leonard Johnson at the 1-yard line.
“It was good to make that play,” Bell said. “It was really a domino effect for us because then we got the pick-six down there on that drive. It felt good to make that play.”
Bell has two more games to impress as a wide receiver, but sources tell PewterReport.com it would be a shocker if the Nebraska product didn’t make the 53-man roster as a reserve receiver because his value on special teams is so strong. The Bucs’ brass view Bell as the second coming of Russell Shepard, the team’s resident special teams ace.
“It’s excited to have Kenny up here,” Shepard said. “They did a great job bringing Kenny in here. He’s a team-first guy and he’ll do whatever it takes to help us win. From a receiver standpoint, he’s way beyond me as a receiver than I was a rookie. He’s going to be a great receiver for this organization, whether it’s going to be this year or next year. And he’s going to be a great special teams player for us. Kenny Bell can do anything with that afro.”
Shepard was far from the leading receiver at LSU where Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Reuben Randle were the stars over the past few years. He came to LSU as the nation’s top-ranked dual threat quarterback, but a logjam at quarterback that included the likes of Zach Mettenberger, prompted Shepard to switch positions.
“We had three quarterbacks a year apart, and I was the one that could play multiple positions,” Shepard said. “It was an agreement between me and the coaching staff that I could try out elsewhere and I played a little bit of everything at LSU – quarterback, wide receiver, running back and even a little bit on defense. It made me a better football player at the end of the day.”
Russell totaled 733 yards rushing as a Wildcat quarterback and a running back, had 565 yards receiving and 10 total touchdowns (five receiving, five rushing), but being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none didn’t help him out in the eyes of NFL scouts. College coaches will recruit an athlete and find a home for him. NFL teams rarely know what to do with athletes without positions once they enter the pros.
“It definitely hurt my draft stock,” Shepard said. “That’s the reason why I was told by so many teams that I wasn’t drafted. They didn’t know what to do with me. They will find a spot for an athlete in college coming out of high school, but they don’t have time for that in the NFL. Coaches and players get fired after one year in this league – or even during the year. You don’t have time to develop guys you don’t have strong financial ties to, like high draft picks. For me it was find a position and go with it.”
That position was wide receiver and he made a brief splash in the Philadelphia Eagles training camp after being signed by Chip Kelly as an undrafted free agent in 2013. When Shepard didn’t make the team the Bucs swooped in and found an excellent special teams tackler and a great, 6-foot-1, 187-pound athlete that could develop into a receiver.
After failing to record a catch as a rookie, Shepard stepped in at receiver when Mike Evans went down with a hamstring injury at Pittsburgh last year in Week 4 and had two catches for 30 yards, including a big 22-yarder on his first NFL reception on third down to help move the chains late in the fourth quarter. He finished the season with four catches for 63 yards, while leading Tampa Bay with 14 special teams tackles.
“I’m just thankful to have a coach that has speeded up my development process,” Shepard said. “Coming into the league I was a multiple-position guy and a lot of teams didn’t know how I would fit in. I knew that I could make room for myself as a special teams guy. It’s still the most important thing for me at this point of my career, but I whenever my number is called I would love to contribute to the offense.”
Shepard starred on Monday Night Football with his best NFL performance as a wide receiver, catching a pair of 22-yard passes and running an end around for 12 yards to pick up a first down. The LSU product’s first catch was in spectacular fashion on a laser from rookie quarterback Jameis Winston down the seam in coverage. His second catch was a beautifully thrown 22-yard touchdown strike in which he beat a Bengals defender in man coverage to the end zone to catch a fade from quarterback Mike Glennon.
“Coach [Lovie] Smith made it pretty clear that we wanted to win this game,” Shepard said. “Everybody knew what was expected of us and knew what the coaching staff was going to do when the grades came out, and the one thing I did not want to be in question was my effort. Everything else would take care of itself. I just had to play fast and play with effort and I did.”
Bucs tight end Luke Stocker was thrilled to see Shepard take the next step in his career and emerge as a legitimate, big-play wide receiver before a nationally televised audience.
“I’m really happy for Russ,” Stocker said. “He works his tail off and keeps his nose in the playbook. When gets the opportunity to play he has the gifts and the talent to do so. He made it look easy on Monday night. I’m excited for him.”
Glennon, who threw the touchdown pass to Shepard, has thrown hundreds of passes his way in practice over the years and is proud of his development.
“Shep really had a big night and he’ll be the first one to let you know that he was the No. 1 quarterback coming out of high school that year,” Glennon said. “He’s still transitioning from that to playing wide receiver. We were rookies coming in together in 2013 and he was strictly a special teams guy at that point. Last year, he started to emerge as an emergency receiver, and he had two big catches for me in the Pittsburgh game after Mike went down. This year, he’s a wide receiver playing special teams – not a guy who is really good on special teams guy playing wide receiver. It’s good to see him develop as a receiver and get better and better.”
Tampa Bay will likely keep five wide receivers and a return specialist this year. Evans, Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy are locks, and Shepard has moved himself into the fourth receiver spot with his improved play on the depth chart with Bell right behind due to his versatility as the fifth receiver. While he needs to show up more as a receiver in the next two games, Bell’s prowess on special teams should earn him a roster spot just like it has for Shepard over the last two years.
“Shep is the biggest role model for me on the team right now,” Bell said. “Obviously, I came in to play wide receiver. I want to compete to be a wideout on this team, but watching Shep and seeing how he competes on special teams – that helps us win football games. If I can be another Russell Shepard for us I would be more than happy to. Seeing how Shep has developed from Year 2 to Year 3, Shep is a perfect example of what I want to do. I want to make a huge impact on special teams, and when it’s my turn to step up as a receiver I’ll be ready to.”
FAB 4. SR’s GAME NOTES
Aside from noticing the play of Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon and wide receivers Kenny Bell and Russell Shepard, here are some other observations from last Monday’s preseason clash against Cincinnati that can help you gain some insight into the Buccaneers.
• Free agent import Bruce Carter was unseated from the middle linebacker position by rookie Kwon Alexander after the first preseason game, and now he’s competing with Danny Lansanah for the starting strongside linebacker job while being Alexander’s primary backup. Carter doesn’t stand a chance of beating out Lansanah, who keeps stepping up and making play after play on defense after leading the unit with three interceptions last year, including two pick-sixes.
Lansanah had a key safety in the second half of Tampa Bay’s 25-11 victory over Cincinnati on Monday night when he knifed through the line, used great outside leverage when he smashed into fullback Mark Weisman and tackled Bengals running back Cedric Pearman in the end zone.
“I just did what my coaches taught me to do,” Lansanah said. “I read my keys. That’s a play that we practice all the time. I remember running out on to the field and telling my guys we were going to get a safety, I was calling out the play that they were going to run and they ran it. I hit it like I always do and made a play.”
But that’s not the best play Lansanah made. His underneath coverage on Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert was so good that it prompted a high throw by Andy Dalton and resulted in an interception by free safety Bradley McDougald.
“Coach Hardy [Nickerson] tells us all the time to be in position to force the high throw,” Lansanah said. “We have great safeties back there, and if it goes high they make the play. I got back in my coverage and saw the tight end going vertical. I got up on him and I forced the high throw. McDougald made a great play and the way he took it back he almost scored. It showed the kind of athlete he is.
“That’s what the Tampa 2 is about from a linebackers’ standpoint. You have your Mike running down the middle in Cover 2, and on that play I was running down the seam with the tight end. If you can get them to force the ball over the top and you have good safeties you can make plays. McDougald was in position to make that play and he made it.”
Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy once told me that the free safety should really be the interception leader in the Tampa 2 defense if the defense is doing its job correctly, followed by the nickel cornerback. That’s why former Bucs free safety Charles Mincy led the team in interceptions in 1998 and why ex-Tampa Bay free safety Dexter Jackson was the Super Bowl XXXVII MVP with two first half interceptions.
The Bucs only had two interceptions from the safety position last year – from McDougald and Keith Tandy – and that came in Week 17 against New Orleans. Look for that number to climb this year with McDougald as the full-time starter at free safety, especially with a player like Lansanah playing underneath in coverage.
• Bucs reserve center Jeremiah Warren continues to impress me. Warren, who started in place of the injured Evan Smith, was stout at the point of attack against Cincinnati Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins for most of the night, especially in the run game.
Warren, a former star at nearby USF, even got out in front of Charles Sims’ 15-yard screen pass. Bengals cornerback Adam Jones eluded Warren’s block on the screen, but fell down while doing so. Warren then continued downfield and nailed linebacker Emmanuel Lamur to help Sims maximize his reception.
Warren’s only bad play of the night was allowing Atkins to slip by him on an all-out blitz attempt on quarterback Mike Glennon in the second quarter. What was the result of that play? How about Glennon’s 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Russell Shepard.
• The Bucs got very good pressure on starting quarterback Andy Dalton and sacked him three times. Only one of those sacks came on a blitz, which was George Johnson’s first sack when he and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander came on a delay.
Lovie Smith dialed up a six-man blitz with Henry Melton at left end, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy slanting to the right and linebacker Lavonte David screaming off the right edge with nose tackle Clinton McDonald in the middle. Johnson and Alexander came on a delay as Dalton stepped up to avoid the outside pressure and Johnson got to him first.
Tampa Bay only blitzed twice the entire game. Getting pressure with their front four is the key to Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense, and the Bucs did a stellar job on Monday night.
• Running back Doug Martin had a sensational night rushing the ball with 59 yards on six carries while running hard and giving maximum effort. But Martin had plenty of help. There was right guard Ali Marpet blasting into Atkins and driving him out of the play on Martin’s 30-yard scamper to the 1-yard line. Fullback Jorvorskie Lane also had a great night for the Bucs offense in lead blocking for Martin.
Not only did Lane catch a 7-yard pass against the Bengals on the Bucs’ first drive, he also had a crushing block on linebacker A.J. Hawk to help Martin burst off left tackle for a 15-yard gain. Lane put a shoulder into safety Reggie Nelson on Martin’s 30-yard scamper and also had a block on Lamur on the goal line on Winston’s 1-yard touchdown dive. A very good night for a player that too often goes unnoticed.
• How about the play of strong safety D.J. Swearinger against the Bengals? Swearinger’s great hit on Eifert near the goal line to break up a pass was the highlight, but he also had a third down pass breakup on receiver Greg Little on the left sidelines in third quarter that pleased the coaches. The hard-hitting Swearinger also had a big tackle in third quarter on Little on third down to prevent a conversion.
After coming to Tampa Bay with a reputation of not wanting to play on special teams, what did Swearinger do against the Bengals? He recorded the opening tackle on the first kickoff. Keep an eye on this former Houston Texans second-round pick. He’s not only going to make the 53-man roster, he’ll push Major Wright for the starting job this season.
• Bucs rookie left tackle Donovan Smith had a very good game and was physical in the running game. He has a Vine video of a great block he made that is circulating on the Internet that is pretty impressive, but the play that impressed me was when he pancaked Atkins on a play as the Pro Bowl defensive tackle came to Smith’s inside gap. Smith was flagged for a bogus holding call, but that play was a testament to the rookie’s strength and power.
• The Bucs were very fortunate to sign veteran right tackle Gosder Cherlius when Demar Dotson was lost to an injured knee in the preseason opener. Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of football administration Mike Greenberg, the team’s capologist, deserve tremendous credit for getting Cherlius to sign a contract on his visit to Tampa Bay without letting him leave. Cherlius was set to fly out and visit Minnesota next and Kansas City had also expressed interest in signing the veteran.
While Cherilus will be the opening day starter at right tackle there is a reason why the Indianapolis Colts released him. At 31, Cherlius is in the twilight of his career and is not as quick and agile as he was as a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions earlier in his career. In the second half of the game, Cherlius gave up a sack-fumble to Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt, who worked Cherlius over good with a long arm pass rush move on third-and-9. To make matters worse, Cherlius was also called for holding on the play.
Cherlius was the best available option at right tackle for the Bucs, and it’s a good thing they signed him. But don’t expect a flawless performance from him as he enters his eighth season in the NFL.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• In the May 22 edition of SR’s Fab 5, I wrote about how the Bucs hope the franchise’s Day 3 draft struggles are over, and featured linebacker Kwon Alexander, who made a great first impression during the team’s rookie mini-camp. Three months later, Alexander, Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick, is the team’s starting middle linebacker.
Fifth-round pick Kenny Bell has emerged as a special teams ace and is contributing as a reserve receiver and a kick returner, while sixth-round pick Kaelin Clay is attempting to win the return specialist position. So it’s safe to saw that the team’s Day 3 draft woes are over.
But the most rewarding aspect to this year’s draft is that Tampa Bay’s first four picks – quarterback Jameis Winston, left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet and Alexander – will all be starters in the season opener against Tennessee. Any time a team can get three quality starters out of its first three picks it’s a great draft. Getting four quality starters out of a team’s top four picks makes it a phenomenal draft if Winston, Smith, Marpet and Alexander prove they are worthy on the field in 2015.
It’s way too early to suggest this draft rivals the 1995 draft class that boasted a pair of Hall of Famers in defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks, or even the 1997 draft that saw the franchise select running back Warrick Dunn and cornerback Ronde Barber. But keep an eye on this draft class as it has the chance to be quite potent over the next few years.
• The Buccaneers have one of the better quarterback stables in the NFL when it comes to sheer talent. Not only was starter Jameis Winston the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Winston was also considered to be the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school by Rivals.com and the best overall QB recruit by ESPN after winning the MVP award of the ESPN RISE Elite 11 QB camp in 2011.
Backup quarterback Mike Glennon was considered to be the nation’s third-best overall QB prospect coming out of high school and wound up being a third-round pick. But Winston and Glennon aren’t the only star high school quarterbacks on the Bucs’ roster.
Wide receiver Russell Shepard was the nation’s top-rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school and was also the No. 3 athlete in the nation in the ESPN150 for the high school class of 2009.
• One of the most amazing statistics to come out of the Monday Night Football broadcast for the Buccaneers vs. Bengals game is that Tampa Bay is the only franchise in the NFL without a 40-win quarterback. Trent Dilfer posted 38 wins from 1994-99 and is the most winning quarterback in franchise history. Doug Williams is next with 33 wins from 1978-82, followed by Brad Johnson with 26 victories from 2001-04.
Here’s another amazing statistic. No quarterback drafted by the Buccaneers has ever been signed to a second contract by the team. That’s how historically bad the quarterback position has been in Tampa Bay over the last 40 years.
• Last Saturday was a special day for me and my South Pasco Predators Pee Wee football team as we had a very special guest at our Jamboree against the Southshore Longhorns – Xavier Johnson. I was so glad to see X be able to make it to the field in his wheelchair to see his dad, Ross, coach the offensive line and his brother, Zephy, play right guard and defensive tackle.
X would have been a junior linebacker at Sunlake High School, but suffered a traumatic brain injury over 100 days ago when his head hit a boat dock while he was in an inner tube being pulled by a jetski. X has control over the right side of body and he is using physical therapy to learn how to walk again and control the left side of his body, in addition to working with a speech pathologist to regain his ability to speak.
As many of you know, X’s favorite NFL player is Bucs linebacker Lavonte David and the kid loves defense. As the Predators’ defensive coordinator, I dedicated Saturday’s Jamboree performance to X. The result was minus-69 yards of total offense for the Longhorns, two sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, including one for a defensive touchdown, in our dominating, 27-0 victory. The offensive line coached by X’s dad and Doug Murray also did a great job in owning the line of scrimmage. The kids played hard, our coaches gave it all we had and X loved it!
I think we sent a message to the Longhorns, who we will have to play again later this year. Our Pop Warner regular season kicks off this Saturday against the New Tampa Tigers and we’re looking forward to seeing X at our Predators field in Land O’ Lakes again this Saturday.
We are fortunate to have a new quarterback this year in Rocco Becht, who is the son of former Buccaneers and NY Jets tight end Anthony Becht, who also happens to be our assistant offensive coordinator this year with our head coach Frank Mirabile. Rocco was 5-of-6 on the day, with a 50-yard pass and a pair of two-point conversion passes – all to Chase Brownell, one of our star receivers.
The Bechts joined the South Pasco Predators organization this spring for flag football and Rocco and Anthony helped us win the Under Armour Under The Lights championship with a great passing attack. You may have seen the Under Armour Under The Lights banner on PewterReport.com. It’s a great flag football league for kids with a fall/winter season and a spring season.
If you are interested in having your son or daughter play flag football and are looking for a league to join, or if you would like the Under Armour Under The Lights league to come to your football organization, I strongly encourage you to click on the banner or click here to visit the website for more information.
The Under Armour Under The Lights league has their games played on Friday nights at Tampa Bay area recreation fields – rather than on Saturday afternoons, which means parents don’t have to spend half of their weekend baking in the heat at a field. Former Tampa Bay Storm quarterback John Kaleo runs the Under Armour Under The Lights and brought the flag football league to our Predators organization this past spring. It was so much fun and such a hit that we will be doing it again next spring. Sign up today for Under Armour Under The Lights!
• And finally, PewterReport.com is approaching 20,000 Twitter followers! Help us reach that landmark today by following @PewterReport if you haven’t done so already. Thank you!
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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