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. THE DAY WINSTON’S CHARACTER CHANGED
By most accounts, the day Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston did his last publicly known stupid thing was on September 16, 2014 when he stood on a table in the student union and shouted out a profane statement – that is derogatory towards women – made famous from an Internet meme.
Winston had done other stupid stuff before. Aside from the very serious alleged sexual assault for which he was investigated and no charges were ultimately filed, there was not paying for a soda at Burger King, his alleged participation in on-campus BB gun fight with other Seminoles players and stealing crab legs from a Tallahassee Publix grocery store.
In all of those instances Winston was relatively unpunished aside from public embarrassment. Of course the sexual assault allegations defamed his character, caused a great deal of stress and made him Public Enemy No. 1 in college football outside of the Florida State program. But shouting a profanity on-campus was the final straw for head coach Jimbo Fisher and the athletic department and Winston was suspended for the first half of the Clemson game, and then it was changed to the entire game before kickoff.
Winston didn’t show the best judgment by coming out for pre-game warm-ups fully dressed in his uniform, shoulder pads and helmet despite being told he was suspended for the game. Winston meant no harm and the Seminoles’ undisputed leader desperately wanted to warm-up with his teammates, but head coach Jimbo Fisher scolded him and sent him to the locker room to change into street clothes.
September 20, 2014 is the day Winston changed. That was the day that football was taken away from him. Without Winston in the lineup, top-ranked Florida State struggled mightily against No. 22 Clemson with backup quarterback Sean Maguire at the helm. The Tigers took a 10-3 lead into halftime at Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium before the Seminoles rallied to tie the game and send it to overtime where they would win 23-17.
For the first time in Winston’s football career he was relegated to the role of cheerleader, he was helpless. He was a leader unable to lead his troops.
Suddenly, life without football, which is something Winston had done since elementary school, was real. And it hurt.
“I changed after the Clemson game drastically because that’s the first time I’ve been told that I can’t play,” Winston said. “When you see your teammates on that battlefield, and you’re told, ‘No dog, you can’t play.’ That hurt me. I’m a fun-loving guy, but all that stuff is behind me. After that Clemson game, when you love the game so much and you have a passion for the game and you see your brothers out there and when they won that game … if they would have lost that game everybody would have been talking about ‘Jameis wasn’t playing.’”
In 2013 as a redshirt freshman, the Clemson game served as Winston’s coming out party on a national stage. A year later, Winston’s actions landed him on the sideline rather than in the huddle and the Seminoles nearly paid dearly for it.
“When I see my brothers fighting for me – because I was still playing in that game (from the sidelines) – motivating them and being there for them, I knew I had to be there all the time. I don’t need to be the center of attention.”
On September 20, 2014 Winston grew up. There hasn’t been a single incident since. Only time will tell if he truly learned his lesson and matured.
Despite his use of slang and broken English, Winston is very intelligent. He was an honor student in high school and turned down a scholarship at Stanford to play at Florida State. Amidst all the turmoil during his redshirt season Winston was wise enough to hire a public relations manager to help him learn how to deal with living in the national spotlight at the age of 20.
“I hired a speaking coach, Coach Shimbaugh, who said, ‘Jameis, don’t add sugar to sugar,’” Winston said on NFL Network. “I already have charisma. I can already talk, and I’m the guy everybody wants to be around. Don’t add sugar to sugar. I don’t have to be in the spotlight. I think that helped me grow as an individual and as a grown man.”
Winston realized that he’s already the center of attention whether he likes it or not and he doesn’t have to do anything special or try to be funny to seek the spotlight.
“I haven’t changed, but I’ve grown,” Winston said. “I’ve grown into the role of being a quarterback, and not just one of the guys. As a quarterback you have to carry yourself in a certain way. You can be one of the guys when the cameras aren’t around. One thing my dad always taught me was character is what you’re doing when no one is looking.”
The fact that the star quarterback hasn’t had a negative off-field incident in the past six months bodes well for Winston and the Buccaneers and has the young playmaker and Tampa Bay on a collision course to join forces on April 30. When asked if he’s gotten any indication from the Bucs that the team will make him the first overall pick, Winston said no.
“No indication,” Winston said. “Actions can speak so loud that you can’t hear what other people say. I’ve been trying to do my thing on the field. Right now I can’t convince somebody that I’m different, but what I can do is move forward, put things behind me and get better every day.”
FAB 2. WINSTON’S INTERCEPTION TOTAL FROM 2014 WILL HELP HIM GROW
It’s no secret that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has some well-documented off-field character concerns. The redshirt sophomore has some on-field concerns, too.
Winston threw a freshman-record 40 touchdowns in 2013 with just 10 interceptions while leading the Seminoles to a national title and winning the Heisman Trophy. But in 2014, Winston’s touchdowns dropped to 25 and his interceptions nearly doubled as he threw 18.
“I keep going back to the point that he throws too many interceptions, and ball security is the most important thing to me for a quarterback,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Off the field, do you trust him or not? There’s still some homework to do on that.”
I’m told that the Bucs have gone over all of his 18 interceptions from last year and attribute some of them to Winston being rushed due to inconsistent offensive line play, especially in the first half of the season as the Seminoles clearly missed center Byron Stork, who was drafted by New England in the fourth round last year, until Cameron Erving was moved to center from left tackle mid-season.
Throw in the fact that Winston’s go-to receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, the player who caught his game-winning touchdown with seconds left in the BCS Championship Game against Auburn, was drafted in the first round last year by Carolina also played a part in Winston’s higher interception totals, according to the Bucs. Playing across from senior Rashad Greene were three untested players in sophomores Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson and freshman Travis Rudolph. A few wrong routes and a few dropped passes turned into inflated interception totals for Winston by Tampa Bay’s estimation.
“Going into the season I had the wrong mindset and that was to try to do too much,” Winston said. “At Alabama they have perfect game managers. As a quarterback you can’t put everybody on your back and say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ This is a situational game and you might get different types of situations. I tried to force things and make plays when I shouldn’t have.
“But in big-time moments, habits come up to the surface. When I’m feeling pressure or my back is to the wall, I feel like I need to rise to the occasion because we’re already down. I do bigger things when I’m down, but I can never try to be bigger than the game.”
The fact that Florida State’s running game wasn’t as potent without Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, who left for the NFL, until Karlos Williams and freshman Dalvin Cook came around at the end of the year hasn’t gotten lost in the Bucs’ evaluation, either. That put more pressure on Winston to make plays in the passing game, especially in the first half of games.
Thirteen of Winston’s 18 interceptions came in the first half of games, including multiple picks against Louisville and Florida in the first 30 minutes that helped dig the Seminoles in a hole. Winston threw two interceptions in the first half of against the Cardinals and three in the first half versus the Gators.
“It was just in the first and second quarter,” Winston said. “In the first and second quarter I tried to do too much. When you are a quarterback and you try to do too much and you don’t let those great guys around you help you, that’s when you make mistakes. I believe I did that [better] my first year playing because I had great guys around me. I let those guys make the plays. There is a time and a place when I need to step up.”
Looking back on his 26-1 record at Florida State, Winston is grateful for all of the pressure and the trials and tribulations he had to go through – even the interceptions – as he will be a better pro because of the adversity he went through.
“Everything happens for a reason and I believe that whole season helped me prepare for the next level in a way that I’ve been thrown in the fire,” Winston said. “People would say, ‘It’s a sophomore slump’ and people were waiting, just waiting for us to lose a game. But I’m a competitor and that’s what I love to do. I know I am able to lead guys to a win.”
With just 14 interceptions in his three-year career as Oregon’s starter, I wonder how Marcus Mariota will fare when he throws 14 interceptions in one season in the NFL? Winston has already had a supposedly “bad season” in terms of interceptions yet was able to go overcome them and finish with a 13-1 record last year.
If he is indeed drafted by the Buccaneers don’t be surprised when Winston throws a sizable number of interceptions during his initial season in Tampa Bay. It happens to most rookies. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles threw 17 picks last year with only 11 touchdowns. Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater barely threw more TDs than interceptions in 2014 with 14 scores and 12 picks. Only Oakland’s Derek Carr had a respectable TD:INT ratio with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
When he sat down to go over some film with former NFL coach Steve Mariucci for the NFL Network “Game Changers” show, Winston watched his reaction after throwing an interception at Clemson during his redshirt freshman season. Maruicci said, “What do you call that?”
“That’s a hissy fit,” Winston said.
“That is a hissy fit,” Mariucci said. “Keep your poise. That’s where you gain respect. Everybody knows you made a mistake, but you show that you can handle it. You can bounce back. You’re mentally right.”
Even that film session with Mariucci will serve Winston well in the NFL as it is sage advice from a respected offensive mind that had success in the pros.
“When I step on the field for my first game I’m going to be shocked,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a surreal experience for me. I’m going to have some butterflies. I’m not going to lie. But I’m going to be ready. I’m going to be ready for whatever.”
Bucs fans better be ready for some interceptions from Winston because they’ll be coming – along with the winning. That was Winston’s rap at Florida State.
FAB 3. A CLOSER LOOK AT WINSTON’S ALARMING INTERCEPTION RATE
While the Bucs’ brass is offering reasoning – or excuses – for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s high amount of interceptions last year (18), a sheer examination of the stats regardless of how or why the picks happened is worth a look. I had a conversation with PewterReport.com president Hugh MacArthur, who dabbles in analytics, about Winston’s alarming number of picks last season, which was the second-highest total in all of college football, and this is what he concluded.
The worry isn’t the number of picks. Rather, it’s the interceptions as a percentage of pass attempts.
During Winston’s redshirt freshman season at Florida State in 2013 he threw 10 interceptions in 384 attempts, which is a 2.6 percent interception rate. This number would have been about average for a starting NFL quarterback in 2014.
Some notable quarterbacks having INT percentages in that range included New Orleans’ Drew Brees (2.6 percent), Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (2.6 percent) and Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning (2.5 percent). That’s some pretty good company, especially because Winston compares himself to Luck and Manning.
Winston’s second season with the Seminoles tells quite a different story. Winston threw 18 interceptions, which was eight more than the previous year. He also threw 467 passes in 2014, which was 83 more passes than he did in the prior season.
Yet throwing 18 interceptions in 467 attempts is a 3.8 percent INT rate. To put that figure into context, only two NFL starting quarterbacks had a rate higher than that last season. One of them you know quite well, as Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown clocked in at 4.3 percent with 14 picks in 327 attempts, and then Washington’s Kirk Cousins, who was at 4.4 percent with nine picks in 204 passes.
That’s right. Every other NFL starter with a meaningful number of attempts was under Winston’s 3.8 percent number. Even Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blake Bortles had a 3.6 INT rate after throwing 17 picks in 475 pass attempts. The Bucs are shrugging off Winston’s number of picks, but that’s why NFL Network’s Mike Mayock is concerned about the amount of interceptions he throws.
What does a great interception rate look like? Well, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, last year’s NFL MVP, had a one percent INT rate that was pretty spectacular, as was New England’s Tom Brady and Seattle’s Russell Wilson’s 1.5 percent rate. Rodgers also set a Packers and NFL record for not throwing an interception in a home game last year.
Throwing for a low or reasonable amount of interceptions per attempt alone will not make you great. Heck, Buffalo’s Kyle Orton threw for 2.2 percent INT rate in 447 attempts.
However, the data shows that throwing nearly four percent of your pass attempts to the other jersey is extremely rare, and that’s why teams like the Bucs, Redskins and Jaguars had atrocious records as a result. This is why the answer to the question “Why did Winston throw so many picks per attempt in 2014?” is a very important one.
Those defending Winston’s high amount of interceptions argue that Matt Ryan threw a lot of interceptions at Boston College during his senior year (19), but he threw 654 passes that year and has been a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in the NFL after being the third overall pick in 2008. Ryan’s interception rate at BC during his senior campaign was a respectable 2.9 percent to put his 19 picks into perspective.
Ryan’s rate in the NFL has been between 2.2 – 2.6 percent during his entire NFL career. Yes, Ryan has thrown plenty of picks, but also plenty of big completions in a downfield passing attack that has featured his arm.
If Tampa Bay drafts Winston and pair him with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who spent the last three seasons with Ryan in Atlanta, the Bucs coaches will need to get the talented Seminoles star back down to a more reasonable interception rate as he had as a redshirt freshman (2.6 percent) and prove that the number of interceptions he threw during his second year at Florida State was a fluke.
With Koetter running the offense in Tampa Bay, the Bucs will deploy a vertical passing game and sling the ball around quite a bit. The fewest number of passes Ryan has thrown in Atlanta over the past three years is 615.
It’s foolish to have a rookie quarterback throw that many passes, but if Tampa Bay drafts Winston, having him throw 450 passes in Koetter’s offense wouldn’t be unreasonable given the fact that the Bucs’ best offensive weapons are 6-foot-5 receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
Following his pro day at Florida State, Winston was asked by ESPN’s Sal Palontonio how he would fit in to a downfield passing game like the one Koetter likes to operate.
“That’s what we did at Florida State,” Winston said. “I think over the past two years we had the most explosive plays probably in the history of college football. That’s one thing we do. We like to attack vertically and make big plays.”
Winston just has to avoid the big number of interceptions in doing so.
FAB 4. THE PERSONAL DRAMA SURROUNDING THE DRAFT HAS ALWAYS INTRIGUED ME
To celebrate my 20 years of covering the Buccaneers I’m going to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes encounters I’ve had over the last two decades. These stories will appear in the first 20 SR’s Fab 5 columns of 2015, which encompasses much of the offseason.
Because of my love for college football I’ve always had a fondness for the NFL Draft dating back to age 10. I’ve always been curious where my favorite college players would wind up, and I remember in 1997 I latched on to the Cincinnati Bengals because they had two of my favorite linebackers, Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons, and had just drafted Washington running back Corey Dillon, a player I wished the Bucs had drafted instead of Warrick Dunn at the time.
Because I was born on April 23, the NFL Draft typically fell on my birthday or around it. When I was 16 my birthday fell on a Saturday, which was the first day of the draft that year. My girlfriend, who didn’t happen to like football, was so excited to spend the day with me and came over that morning to see what I wanted to do.
You should have seen the look of disappointment when I said all I really wanted to go in the basement and sit on the couch for about 12 hours and watch draft coverage ESPN and ESPN2. That look of disappointment turned to anger when she suggested we celebrate my birthday on Sunday instead and I told her that Sunday was Day 2 of the draft and that I wanted to continue to hunker down and watch the conclusion of the draft.
In case you are curious, she did forgive me and we continued to date for two more years.
In my 20 years of covering the Buccaneers I’ve had three prevailing thoughts regarding the draft. The first is that hope springs eternal in the offseason for NFL fans, especially those of downtrodden teams. The player that could help turnaround the franchise – or at least make the team better and more tolerable to watch – could be on the way in the first or second round.
It’s no secret that the teams that draft well usually win and compete for the Super Bowl every year. Franchises like New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Green Bay and Indianapolis have fielded perennial playoff teams due to their success in the draft.
The second enticing element of the draft is the sheer drama and surprise that unfurls on live TV. It’s Edgerrin James getting selected ahead of Ricky Williams, and then Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints trading every draft pick to move up and get Williams. Unfortunately, it’s the Bucs artfully trading down in 2012, but bypassing middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and drafting safety Mark Barron instead to the shock of thousands of Tampa Bay fans.
It’s Buffalo mortgaging the future to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins last year. It’s Jacksonville surprising everyone and drafting Blake Bortles with the third overall pick. It’s seeing how far controversial quarterback Johnny Manziel slides in the first round, and if Tampa Bay or Dallas will end his free fall.
The third thing I find so exciting about the draft is the human element. Imagine being a top college player the night before the draft and all of the feelings associated with that. The excitement of fulfilling your childhood dream is about to come true. You could wake up the next morning and suddenly become a millionaire. How could you possibly sleep?
You are also about to not only be drafted by team, but by a city. If you grew up in Florida and never seen snow before and get drafted by Minnesota, you’ll be introduced to something called winter and sub-zero temperatures for the first time. If you grew up on a farm in Hutchinson, Kan. and get drafted by the New York Jets you’ll be in for quite a culture shock. It will be the same way for a player that grew up in the inner city of Compton, Calif. and is drafted by a rural team like Green Bay.
Think about it. Most of us can choose where we want to work and live. We have the freedom to quit our jobs and find work in a similar field in another state in different part of the country if we wanted to. When you are drafted, a team owns your rights and if you want to play in the NFL you have to play for that team until they release you, trade you or you hit free agency.
Imagine if Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Hawaii native, gets drafted by Tampa Bay and he has to move all the way across the country to Florida. If his parents thought it was a long flight from Hawaii to Oregon they can tack on another five hours or so to fly to Tampa to see their son play. If Mariota wants to go home for the bye week weekend he’ll spend half of his time off on an airplane commuting to and from Hawaii.
For the soon-to-be NFL rookies, the draft is the first time they will be out of the element in about three or four years. They will have to find a place to live, move themselves or their families, navigate a new city, befriend new teammates and miss former ones, get used to putting in about double the amount of football time than they did in college, get used to the money they will be making and then experiencing the pressure of performing or being cut.
That last element wasn’t present in college. In the NFL, if you aren’t good enough, you’ll be replaced. Draft status will only carry a player so far these days. Draft busts like Eric Curry, a former first-round pick of the Bucs in 1993 was given every last chance to live up to his draft billing. Curry somehow hung on for five years in Tampa Bay.
In the present day NFL where the pressure to win is so intense that coaches can be gone after one or two years, as was the case with Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano (two years) and Jacksonville’s Mike Mularkey (one year) and Cleveland’s Rob Chudzinski (one year), or fired after one down year following repeated berths in the division championship game, such was the case with San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh. In college, players may lose their starting spots, but they don’t lose their spot on the team or their scholarships. In the NFL, a player can lose their job very quickly due to injury, attitude or performance. The NFL Draft starts the ticking clock on so many players’ fleeting pro careers.
Former Florida Gators quarterback-tight end-utility player Trey Burton spoke at North Pointe Church last Sunday talked about the relationship of faith and football – two very important things in his life. What struck me was how he heard from his agent that he could go as high as fourth in the NFL Draft two years ago and had a big party on Day 3 to celebrate getting drafted. Burton had family and friends fly in for the big day, only to agonize with him after going through rounds four through seven without hearing his name called.
Burton fielded several phone calls from NFL teams telling him that they were considering drafting him in the sixth round, but the calls he took in the seventh round were from teams beginning to court him for undrafted free agency, which takes place at the conclusion the draft. Burton is not alone.
There are scores of players – perhaps a hundred or so – that have aspirations of getting drafting and have to go through the hurt, shock, embarrassment and sadness of not being able to celebrate being selected by an NFL team. Burton talked about the disappointment about not getting drafted and then feeling bad that so many friends and family essentially flew in for nothing.
The emotional toll that Day 3 prospects go through is intense. One minute you are on the verge of realizing your NFL dreams and finding out what part of the country you will be moving to. The next minute you are going undrafted and hoping that a team – any team – is interested enough in you to want to sign you as a free agent. For players like Burton that had multiple teams wanting to sign him after the draft, the tables are briefly turned. For a moment, the player has the power to decide which team to sign with.
Burton told the congregation that he literally had 15 minutes to decide between four teams, who were in the mad-dash process of trying to sign several undrafted free agents. He had 15 minutes to consult with his wife and make a decision that involved which team he wanted to play on, which coach he wanted to play for and what city he wanted to move his wife and two kids to.
Time is of the essence because the Eagles and the other teams that were courting him were also talking to other tight end prospects. Sometimes in the frenzy of undrafted free agency it’s first come, first served. If you snooze, you lose.
Burton prayed about the decision and then chose the Eagles due to Chip Kelly’s heavy use of the tight end position rather than that of Denver and two other teams that were interested in signing with him. But the process happened so fast that neither he nor his agent had time to glance at the Eagles’ depth chart that already featured three experienced tight ends. NFL teams typically only keep three tight ends.
Burton made the team due to his position flexibility and special teams ability, and made Kelly look smart by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against the New York Giants last year. But as the fourth tight end on the Eagles’ depth chart, Burton is living day-to-day life in the NFL, knowing that he has to compete for his roster spot – and his NFL dreams alive – daily.
The NFL is full of first-round draft busts like Curry, and diamond-in-the-rough players like Demar Dotson, an undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss with one year’s worth of college football experience that made the Bucs’ roster as a try-out player at the rookie mini-camp in 2010 and developed into a starting offensive lineman. The drama-filled journey begins for a new crop of NFL players in less than one month.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• The Bucs have been pleased with the strides Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has made this offseason in terms of his mechanics, footwork and throwing motion. That’s another advantage that Winston has over Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. As good as Winston is now, the Bucs believe he has a bigger upside because he has never gone through a football-oriented offseason as he has opted to play for the Seminoles baseball team for the past two springs.
“People don’t realize this but I’ve never been a quarterback year-round,” Winston said. “I’ve been a pitcher and an outfielder, and as an outfielder, you have to have a long release. As a pitcher you have to be long and smooth to the plate. Now I’m a full-time quarterback. I have the best feet I’ve had in a long time. At Florida State we worked on a lot of footwork, but in the offseason when everybody else is working, I’m playing baseball. This is my first-time being a quarterback year-round and I’m looking forward to that for the rest of my life.”
The big reason Winston did so much crazy stuff with his footwork and being swatted by brooms at the beginning of his scripted pro day workout was to prove to NFL teams that he has been working on his escapability from the pocket.
“I have to improve on my pocket management and I have to know when to move one step and when to move six yards,” Winston said. “Throwing on the run is different than managing the pocket and taking a step back and letting it rip accurately. Throwing on the run is different, and I’m going to work on that hard. This is my first time having a football offseason. When I’m doing drills I’m not doing five- or seven-step drops and just hitching. I’m moving all around. That’s probably where I lost 20 pounds. I’m moving because I want to be great. I want to be the best.”
• It’s not uncommon for a team like Tampa Bay to be interested in a particular quarterback or a receiver, and wind up inviting that prospect’s QB or pass-catcher to the pre-draft workout for an evaluation, too. Such was the case with Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley, whom the Bucs are interested in. Tampa Bay scouts also got a good look at Bulldogs senior quarterback Hutson Mason, who was throwing the passes during the workout.
Because of the rapport between quarterbacks and wide receivers in college, it’s commonplace for those players to want to throw and catch with their familiar teammates. It winds up helping the performance of both the wide receiver and the quarterback during the evaluation process and reduces the number of throws behind receivers due to the established rhythm and timing, as well as the number of dropped passes.
The Bucs are interested in Duke wide receiver and return specialist Jamison Crowder and will get a look at Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone at the same time when Crowder works out. When Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has a private workout with Tampa Bay he will be throwing to the Seminoles’ all-time leading receiver Rashad Greene.
That might help Greene get drafted by the Bucs as a slot receiver in the third or fourth round, and the exposure to Tampa Bay’s scouts and coaches may allow Hutson or Boone to get an invite to the team’s rookie mini-camp and possibly be signed for training camp.
PewterReport.com is reporting that another wide receiver the Bucs are interested in and will be working out privately is Kansas State’s dynamic playmaker, Tyler Lockett. A visit with Lockett will happen either this week or next week. The Bucs need a return specialist and a slot receiver, and that’s why the team is interested in Lockett, who will be a third-round pick, and Crowder, who is slated for the fourth round.
• Although the current plan is to start free agent acquisition Bruce Carter at middle linebacker this year, if the Bucs happen to draft UCLA middle linebacker Eric Kendricks in the second round Tampa Bay could keep Carter at strongside linebacker, a position he played along with weakside linebacker in Dallas. The Bucs signed Carter due to his speed and athleticism, and the fact that he can play multiple positions is also appealing.
Tampa Bay has been working out some middle-round middle linebackers this offseason, including Kansas’ Ben Heeney and Georgia’s Ramik Wilson. Both are athletic Mike linebackers that could initially replace reserve middle linebacker Dane Fletcher, who was not re-signed this offseason, and compete on special teams. Heeney and Wilson were very productive middle linebackers in college and could develop into starting-caliber players in the NFL in time.
• Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen conducted the defensive line workouts at the University of Washington on Thursday. Tampa Bay is smitten with powerful nose tackle Danny Shelton – as are a lot of teams – but the real target of Cullen’s interest in Washington may have been defensive end-outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who led the nation with 19 sacks.
Kikaha is said to have impressed as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker during his workout, although his 4.97 time in the 40-yard dash at 243 pounds will give some scouts pause. Kikaha is a tenacious, high-motor pass rusher that led all of college football with 19 sacks last year. Kikaha finished his Huskies career with a school-record 36 sacks, beating former Bucs defensive end Daniel Teo-Nesheim’s former record of 30.
Kikaha could be an option for the Bucs in the third round if he’s still on the board. He’s torn his ACL twice (2011, 2012), and that coupled with a slow 40-time may keep him out of the second round. But fierce pass rushers are always in demand, and the fact that he could add 10 pounds and play defensive end in a 4-3 as well as stay at his current weight and play in a 3-4 means he could be in demand by a lot of teams on Day 2 of the draft.
• Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has caught a lot of flack for his less than chiseled physique. Pro Football Talk called Winston flabby during his pro day workout in Tallahassee, Fla. on Tuesday. I actually thought Winston looked pretty trim compared to late in the 2014 football season when he gained 20 pounds due to the fact that his conditioning was limited because of an ankle sprain.
Could Winston be in better shape? Yes, and I believe he will get there with an NFL training program. Is his physique worse than that of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, both of whom have won two Super Bowls? No, not really.
I remember Bucs head coach Jon Gruden talking to me and criticizing former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn after his pro day in 2006 for being too muscular and ripped. Having big, tight muscles negatively affects a quarterback’s accuracy and release, which is supposed to be smooth. Quinn’s release has always been too mechanical, and that is attributed to having too much mass. That could explain why San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick struggled last year as he continued to add muscle and lift weights, and why Tim Tebow will likely never be an accurate quarterback.
That’s why some of the best quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco and Tom Brady don’t wow you with their physiques. Heck, Jim Plunkett and Mark Rypien might have been considered a bit flabby by the same standard applied to Winston, and they won Super Bowls, too.
• Bucs general manager Jason Licht deserves kudos for trading free safety Dashon Goldson, a big free agent bust from 2013, to the Redskins for a sixth-round pick in 2016. Tampa Bay surrenders its seventh-round pick in 2016 in return, but the fact that the Bucs got any value whatsoever is quite a feat. I thought for sure the Bucs would have to cut him.
The Bucs will likely start Bradley McDougald at strong safety and have Chris Conte and Major Wright compete at free safety. Don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay drafts a safety in the middle rounds, too, as Conte and Wright are currently considered to be short-term fixes.
• Tampa Bay brought in veteran New England offensive lineman Dan Connolly and former Bucs defensive end George Johnson for a visit on Thursday. The Bucs should sign both players. If the Bucs draft Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota having a more veteran offensive line in front of the rookie QB will help his transition to the NFL. Connolly, a former teammate of Logan Mankins, could be a stop-gap right guard for 2014 and help Kadeem Edwards and other young guards develop. Because he has extensive playing time at center he would be a much better backup behind Evan Dietrich-Smith than Garrett Gilkey is.
As for Johnson, the 6-foot-4, 263-pound defensive end would be a welcome addition in Tampa Bay. He’s young (27) and still has some upside. He recorded his first six NFL sacks last year as a wave pass rusher in Detroit, but I remember him shining in the 2011 preseason in Tampa Bay, recording three sacks. I think he’s worth taking a chance on with an inexpensive contract, and I’d love to see what defensive line coaches Joe Cullen and Paul Spicer could do with him in training camp.
• And finally, congratulations to former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman for signing a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. Freeman, who is one of the nicest guys in the NFL, is reunited with Dennis Hickey, the Dolphins general manager that was Tampa Bay’s director of college scouting and player personnel for many years under Mark Dominik.
In order for Freeman to stick in Miami he needs to eat, drink, sleep and live football – and nothing else. Staying away from the South Beach nightlife and living in the film room at the Dolphins compound would serve him well. He’ll likely battle the Bucs in the preseason, too, which should be interesting. Good luck, Josh.
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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