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. WINSTON’S COMPETITIVE, “TYPE A” PERSONALITY SOUGHT AFTER IN TAMPA BAY
The doubters would believe that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the leading contender to become a Buccaneer and the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, was scripted and well coached when he took over the podium on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine and faced the media. Winston came across as confident, and perhaps a bit cocky – just like he was on the sidelines at Florida State.
In his first press conference since losing to Oregon in the College Football Playoffs, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and national champion was jovial and charismatic, just as he was in the huddle, on the practice fields and in the locker room with the Seminoles.
Winston wasn’t flustered by any question and was in complete control – like he was on every Saturday over the past two years during the college football season.
Winston won Friday’s press conference, and likely every interview he had with NFL teams in Indianapolis, just like he won 26 out of the 27 games he played in at Florida State. And Winston’s answers weren’t scripted, rehearsed or coached. They were genuine.
Those who know Winston, have observed him at Florida State and have done their research and homework on the talented quarterback know that what you is what you get with him.
“I was being real,” Winston said on NFL Network shortly after he finished his workout at the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday. “I wasn’t putting on a show or painting anything. I didn’t even get coached up like I should have gotten coached up. I took responsibility for everything and was being real.”
Winston didn’t just win the press conference, the team interviews and the on-field performance with a perfect 16-of-16 passing day. He also won the post-practice interview when he and his primary competition to be the first overall pick, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, sat down on the NFL Network set and answered questions for about 20 minutes.
I’ll put it bluntly. With his body language and his words, Mariota came across to me as timid and even a bit meek in that interview. I saw Mariota defer to Winston several times when Brian Billick, Daniel Jeremiah and Charles Davis posed a question to either quarterback.
I saw Winston naturally overtake the spotlight with his commanding presence. He wasn’t interrupting Mariota and trying to hog the interview, but seemed to have the attitude of “well, if you aren’t going to step up and answer the question, then I will.”
There are two types of leadership in football – leading by example and vocal leadership. The soft-spoken Mariota definitely leads by example. But Winston has demonstrated that he is both a leader by example and a vocal leader.
I read Greg Bedard’s piece about how he thinks the quiet, soft-spoken Tampa Bay head coach, Lovie Smith, wants his mirror image at quarterback. After covering Smith for a year I can tell you that’s not true.
Despite his high character, faith-based persona, Smith isn’t afraid of taking on some players whose character could use some improving. In Chicago, he took a chance on Cedric Benson in the first round in 2005, and it didn’t work out, as Bedard explained. But he also traded for Brandon Marshall, who had a domestic abuse issue in his past, with the Bears and that move did work out, as he became a Pro Bowler for the Bears.
Last year, Smith wanted to sign controversial guard Richie Incognito and was flabbergasted by the local media’s instant negative reaction and uproar to the Bucs even considering the lineman with a checkered past. Ultimately, Incognito wasn’t signed – either due to general manager Jason Licht not being on board with the signing or the Glazers vetoing the move.
I can tell you that the notion that Smith wants nothing but Boy Scouts on the Buccaneers is not true. After signing a bunch of them last year in free agency, Tampa Bay was a team that was without an edge. The defense was soft. Even Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has been criticized by some for himself being too nice, said it was soft.
The Bucs’ offense was lifeless, leaderless and was bullied by opposing defenses all season. Yes, Josh McCown was lauded for being a nice guy and a vocal leader, but vocal leadership quickly loses its luster when you can’t back up your talk on the field with solid play and you keep throwing interceptions.
The edgiest player on Tampa Bay’s offense last year was also its best – rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, who showed his toughness often by run blocking on the perimeter and outmuscling cornerbacks for jump balls. With a great rookie season under his belt, the team is looking for Evans to become more of a vocal leader in 2015 and spread his edginess across the offense.
But leadership on offense truly has to come from the quarterback position. Do you want to know why the Bucs didn’t draft a quarterback last year, passing on the likes of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garappolo? They didn’t pass the Bucs’ interview test.
Blake Bortles, Bridgewater, Carr and Garappolo weren’t assertive enough in the interviews for the Bucs’ brass. Manziel was full of confidence, but his sandlot playing style, love of the night life and alcohol problems, which were well known in the scouting community last year, disqualified him from being selected by Tampa Bay.
Let’s be clear. The Bucs aren’t looking for a quarterback. They had two quarterbacks last year in McCown and Mike Glennon.
Tampa Bay is looking for a true franchise quarterback, which is something the Bucs have never had in their 39 years of existence. Doug Williams, Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer were all first-round picks, yet only played five years in Tampa. The team needs someone capable of leading a franchise – a true leader.
The Bucs are looking for a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees-type player. That’s the type of franchise quarterback Smith and Licht are on the hunt for after passing over last year’s crop, which didn’t measure up to their standard.
When asked at the NFL Scouting Combine what are the traits he looks for in a quarterback, Licht rattled off: “Mental toughness, football intelligence and decision-making.”
Mariota has the second two, but I haven’t seen a lot of mental toughness from Oregon’s Heisman Trophy winner in games. Certainly not to the degree that Winston has shown over the past two years while leading Florida State to 26 straight wins and a national championship while being in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Winston had to compartmentalize the alleged rape investigation during his Seminoles career and was still able to go out and perform at an extremely high level on the field every Saturday. Licht alluded to that fact in a recent interview with Monday Morning Quarterback’s Peter King.
Yet in the biggest moment of his playing career, with Ohio State on top of Oregon by 15 points with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter of the national championship game, I got the sense that the game was over. Others in the NFL community agree with me. I just didn’t have the confidence in Mariota to rally his troops against the Buckeyes and prevail. Did you?
I didn’t see Mariota inspire his teammates on the sidelines or elevate their level of play with the national championship on the line. Ultimately it didn’t happen and Mariota got hurt as his shoulder was slammed to ground by Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa.
Yet we saw that from Winston a year earlier in the Rose Bowl against Auburn, making several clutch throws in the fourth quarter to lead Florida State’s comeback, including the game-winning pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left.
Winston lives for those moments. He’s eager. Winston wants it. He’s not meek. He’s confident in his abilities and projects that swagger to his teammates in a positive way that inspires confidence throughout the squad in moments where it’s needed the most.
I believe that Winston has that “type A” personality that Licht and Smith are looking for. He checks the first two of Licht’s boxes – mental toughness and football I.Q. While he usually makes very good decisions on the football field – you don’t win 26 games in a row without doing that – Tampa Bay is using the next two months to fully investigate some of the poor decisions he’s made off the field.
Yet Winston isn’t shying away from his checkered past. He’s eager to address it with NFL teams. He’s eager to get it behind him. He’s eager to prove himself.
“This is what I live for,” Winston said. “As a quarterback, the position is the most criticized and scrutinized position in all sports. I accept that role. I am ready to show you what I’m capable of, ready to gain that trust a quarterback has to have from his team.”
I give Mariota credit for being honest during his press conference in Indianapolis. He admitted he’s far from a finished product and will have to learn to do things in the NFL that he didn’t do in college, such as call plays in the huddle and make checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage rather than look to the sidelines at Oregon’s play cards.
“It’s new, I haven’t done it since high school,” Mariota said.
And huddling and taking snaps under center.
“For [me] it’s going to be huddling, I haven’t huddled in a while,” Mariota said. “To everyone it seems like a little detail, but you know that is kind of a big thing. There are other things like the three-, five- and seven-step drop from under center.”
And learning to go through progressions to become a better pocket passer.
“It’s going to be tough, but for the most part it’s just learning from people like Philip [Rivers] and Kevin [O’Connell] and finding ways to continue to make good decisions with the football.”
Mariota believes he can do it – even if he has trouble projecting that in interviews with his quiet, monotone delivery.
“As an athlete and a competitor, any person will tell you that they are the best. I truly believe that myself,” Mariota said. “Any player will stand in front of you and tell you they are confident in their abilities. I’m no different. I feel that what I’ve done at the University of Oregon and what I’ve learned has prepared me for this level.
“For me, I don’t really compare myself to others. I really just try to make myself the best player that I can be. You really limit yourself if you compare yourself to others.”
The outspoken Winston is the opposite. He doesn’t mind comparisons – just don’t compare him to Mariota. Compare him to some of the all-time greats because that’s where he seems himself in the NFL.
“This is no competition between just me and Mariota, because one thing about me, I plan on winning the Super Bowl next year so it’s going to be me versus Peyton Manning and Jameis versus Tom Brady,” Winston said. “I want to be viewed like that.”
Do you see the difference? Because that’s the main difference between these two supremely talented quarterbacks – other than the fact that Winston is a better pocket passer and Mariota is a better athlete. I do see the difference and when the Bucs sit down with both quarterbacks for separate interviews they will see the difference, too.
If Winston’s character is fully vetted and checks out, his mental toughness, his vocal leadership, his fire and desire, and his confidence will make him Tampa Bay’s quarterback.
At every level from Pop Warner to the NFL, football is a game played with emotion. Teams that come out flat typically lose because they “weren’t ready to play,” as head coaches often say in post-game press conferences.
It seemed like at Florida State Winston made sure his Seminoles were always ready to play. And even when they weren’t, Winston rallied the troops at halftime. Twenty-six straight wins was evidence of that.
In high school, Mariota’s coach was trying to develop the quarterback’s vocal leadership abilities and threatened to have him run five 110-yard wind sprints unless he yelled at someone during practice. In the interview below, which I encourage you to watch, Mariota admits that instead of attempting to do that, he opted to run.
At Oregon, the coaches had to coax Mariota to become more vocal. While he acknowledges that he has made progress in that area, he still has a ways to go because that’s not natural for him.
This interview of Mariota is off-putting to me. I don’t want a quarterback that is afraid to get in a teammate’s face if necessary. All eyes are on that position and I don’t want vanilla milquetoast. I don’t think the Bucs do, either.
Now if Mariota is Tampa Bay’s pick, I will support the Bucs’ decision wholeheartedly and will understand that there was something in Winston’s background check that didn’t pass muster – just like I had no problem with Tampa Bay drafting Gerald McCoy even though I though Ndamukong Suh was the better defensive tackle prospect in the 2010 NFL Draft.
I can’t and won’t deny Mariota’s skills, even though I think it will take some time for him to develop into an NFL quarterback because of the system he played in at Oregon and
For those Bucs fans who abhorred Josh Freeman’s docile, non-fiery demeanor and wanted a quarterback full of vigor and swagger like Brett Favre and Tom Brady, Mariota is not your guy. And for that reason, he may not be Tampa Bay’s first-round pick.
Mariota and Winston have different abilities on the field, but the talent level is ultra-close. That’s why both quarterbacks are being considered by Tampa Bay with the first overall draft pick. But it is Winston’s “eye of the tiger” demeanor that has him in the leadership position on the Bucs’ board two months prior to the draft.
FAB 2. WINSTON’S NFL FUTURE HAS BEEN A LONG TIME COMING
Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht’s carrion call at the NFL Scouting Combine was to be wary of “late risers,” which are players that didn’t necessarily stand out on tape with the football pads on, but excel in the underwear Olympics in Indianapolis and surprise with their athleticism.
The fact that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the leading prospect to be selected first overall by Tampa Bay in the 2015 NFL Draft, had a masterful performance at the Combine throwing the ball and impressing both the media and NFL teams doesn’t qualify him as a late riser. In fact, Winston is the furthest thing from being a late riser.
Winston has been destined for stardom for years now. He was named the Under Armour All-American Game MVP after completing 7-of-8 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder to Amari Cooper. Winston was a five-star recruit by Scout.com and the top-rated QB by Rivals, Scout and ESPN in 2011.
He was also named the MVP of the Elite 11 QB challenge, which was hosted by former Bucs quarterback and current ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer in 2011. Prior to playing a single down at Florida State in 2013, Dilfer forecasted Winston as the No. 1 overall pick.
“I know what’s coming,” Dilfer said. “I know the kid at Florida State, Jameis Winston, will be an absolute rock star.
“He’ll be the first pick of the draft if the first pick goes to a team that wants to run the pistol, zone-read, have a passer. He’s that kind of kid.”
Warchant.com, the top Florida State news website, accurately foretold Winston’s greatness before it even happened in this article in 2013.
“I’ve never seen anything like that guy. I’m not even talking about his talent,” former Hueytown High coach Matt Scott told Warchant.com. “There’s a lot of people that can throw the ball. What people don’t understand is the difference with him. His football IQ is through the roof. If they had some kind of scientific study for it they’d have to do a special on CNN. It’s unbelievable.”
The same article featured quotes from Winston’s father, Antonor, as well as a photograph of hand-written letter from Winston when he was attending Hueytown Middle School. Winston took it upon himself to write down seven traits for being a great QB:
5. Mental Toughness
That letter was part of a QB notebook Winston compiled on his own at age 13. The article on Warchant.com also highlighted the fact that Winston graduated high school with a 4.0 average and turned down Stanford and Alabama to go to Florida State.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Warchant.com article was from Winston’s high school coach, who talked about his volatility. Seminoles fans and Winston observers have seen the talented quarterback have a few heated exchanges with Florida State head coach and playcaller Jimbo Fisher, including one in the Rose Bowl playoff game against Oregon where Fisher told Winston to cool it or he would bench him.
“There are times when that fire burns out of control,” Scott said. “What they don’t understand is, they want him to be that guy, but they don’t realize that mentality is what makes him great. They want him to be that (nice) guy but they don’t realize you almost don’t have one without the other.”
But as much as that competitive fire burns inside Winston, the 21-year old quarterback never gets down. He always has a smile on his face and is the most positive person on the team, according to offensive linemen Tre Jackson and Bobby Hart, the Seminoles offensive linemen that PewterReport.com has interviewed this offseason.
Winston’s ever-present smile and positive personality will fit in nicely with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs’ team leader, and head coach Lovie Smith. Winston’s supreme confidence would have fit in nicely next to the U.S. hockey team in 1980, poolside next to quarterback Joe Namath in 1969 or on the battlefield next to David as he took on Goliath – although Winston would have likely preferred to use a BB gun rather than a slingshot.
While Winston’s swagger and fiery demeanor can be off-putting at times, they serve him well on the gridiron – and on the scoreboard.
“You can ask anyone who played on the Hueytown football team that Jameis was a hard worker and the things that he did on the field, he might get a 15-yard penalty but on the next drive he’s going to throw an 80-yard touchdown,” Scott said. “A lot of people just didn’t get that about him. I’ve seen him every day. That’s just Jameis. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to do what he wants to do. But you can guarantee he gets the W.”
FAB 3. FREE AGENCY FORECASTING FOR THE BUCS IS TOUGH TO DO
If you think doing a seven-round Bucs mock draft is difficult, forecasting free agency is even more challenging. Typically, we at PewterReport.com pump the brakes on free agent signing speculation because when free agency officially opens on March 10, a lot of players could wind up re-signing with their clubs or be hit with the franchise tag.
We can tell you which players will likely be available in what rounds in the 2015 NFL Draft. We have a much more difficult time telling you what free agents will actually hit the market. In my 20 years of covering the Bucs I’ve seen players I thought Tampa Bay would target in free agency get re-signed at the last minute. It happens every year.
I’ve championed the possible pursuit of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who would be the top free agent prize if he were to hit the open market. But that’s a big if. Detroit can’t use the franchise tag on Suh, but has every intention on trying to re-sign him before his agent can speak to other teams on March 7.
PewterReport.com believes that Tampa Bay will part ways with overpaid free safety Dashon Goldson, and New England’s Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty would make a great replacement. But will McCourty become a free agent or will he receive the franchise tag?
There is talk that New Orleans may have to part ways with Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans if it can’t restructure his salary so that the Saints can get under the salary cap that is projected to be between $140-$143 million, or that fellow guard Ben Grubbs may get released instead. Either player would help the Buccaneers, and guard may be the team’s weakest position in terms of talent and experience on the roster. But will Evans or Grubbs even make it to free agency?
Philadelphia released 32-year old guard Todd Heremanns on Thursday, and that could be a veteran stop-gap addition for Tampa Bay. Bucs general manager Jason Licht was in Philadelphia at the time Heremanns was drafted, and connecting the dots with him going to Tampa Bay is a little easier to do right now than penciling in either Evans or Grubbs in red and pewter.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa Bay signed New England guard-center Dan Connolly, whom Licht knows from his days with the Patriots. The 33-year old Connolly still has another year or two left in the tank and could be the bridge the Bucs need for a year or two until a player like Kadeem Edwards or a rookie the team drafts this year can develop into a starter. Connolly, who would be a welcome addition by former Patriots guard Logan Mankins, could start at right guard and also gives the team a veteran backup at center in case something were to happen to Evan Dietrich-Smith.
Quite a few Bucs fans like my most recent PewterReport.com 2015 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, but would rather see a first- or second-round pick used on a rookie offensive lineman, and if a player like Florida State’s Cameron Erving slips into the second round, that could very well be the pick. But given the fact that the Bucs would need their second-round pick – and possibly their third-rounder – to step in and start as a rookie, it might not be ideal to draft an offensive lineman in the second round and have a rookie quarterback – likely Florida State’s Jameis Winston – play behind him.
Instead, I think the Bucs will fortify their offensive line in free agency again this year and spend another draft pick or two in the middle or late rounds to add more depth at guard and/or tackle. Even highly touted rookie offensive linemen struggle against NFL defensive linemen. CBSSports.com’s Pat Kirwan revealed some interesting statistics about the top offensive tackle prospects from the 2013 NFL Draft:
“Look no further than the 2013 first round when Eric Fisher went No. 1, Luke Joeckel No. 2 and Lane Johnson No. 4. In two seasons, Fisher has given up 17 sacks in 30 games, Joeckel 12 in 21 and Johnson 11 in 28. Forty sacks by three top tackles in the first two pro seasons is an indication of just how hard the transition can be for tackles.”
Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota would likely be better served throwing behind a veteran offensive line in Tampa Bay – albeit a better veteran offensive line than the Bucs trotted out last year when Josh McCown and Mike Glennon were sacked a collective 52 times.
I’ll have more on what the Bucs might do in free agency in next Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 column when which players might actually hit the market becomes a bit clearer, but I wonder if Eagles defensive end Trent Cole would be a nice stop-gap pass rusher to replace Michael Johnson. The 32-year old Cole will likely be released by Philadelphia in a cap-related move and had 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his ninth season with the Eagles in 2014.
FAB 4. McDONALD GOT WRAPPED UP IN HIS CRITICISM OF NICKERSON
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.
The year was 1999 and I was interviewing rookie wide receiver Darnell McDonald, the Bucs’ seventh-round pick, for a feature in Buccaneer Magazine. As a Kansas State alum I have to admit that I was excited that Tampa Bay had drafted McDonald. After all, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass to beat Nebraska, which was something K-State hadn’t done since 1969. That victory propelled K-State to the top of the Coaches Poll in 1998.
I remember sitting outside the back porch area at the University of Tampa after a morning training camp practice talking to McDonald, who was one of the cockiest NFL players I’ve ever met. I asked him how familiar he was with the Buccaneers before he was drafted by Tampa Bay and he said he had heard of Hardy Nickerson, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, but that was about it.
Unprompted, McDonald said that he thought Nickerson would be tougher than he was. I was kind of shocked to hear that from the rookie wide receiver because I thought Nickerson was the baddest Buccaneer on the team, and was as tough as they come. Then he laughed and said that Nickerson looked kind of soft with his jheri curl. I was stunned. All of this was on the record and I had several different thoughts running through my head at the time.
Do I edit the interview and leave the salacious quotes about Nickerson out to save McDonald from an unfriendly confrontation with “El Dragon?” I couldn’t leave a fellow K-Stater out to dry like that, could I?
Of course I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let any bias interfere with my work. Besides, I didn’t like what McDonald said about the Pro Bowl linebacker and the Bucs’ resident badass. McDonald said what he said – stupid or not – on the record and he had to be a man and own his own words. So I published the interview in Buccaneer Magazine that week.
The publication was circulated to all the players each Monday after it was published during the open locker room session, and was widely read by the whole team. The players have the day off on Tuesdays, so when I returned to the Bucs locker room on Wednesday I was shocked at what I saw.
There were clips of McDonald’s interview in Buccaneer Magazine – the part where he was criticizing Nickerson – cut out and taped all around the locker room for everyone to see. And right above those clippings were various Polaroid pictures of Nickerson standing next to McDonald with a big grin on Hardware’s face and Nickerson’s arm wrapped around the rookie’s shoulders.
Of course McDonald was nearly taped from mouth to toe. Nickerson had obviously confronted McDonald over his not-so-nice comments about not being tough and having a jheri curl and decided to forcefully mummify the rookie in trainer’s tape.
I laughed out loud in disbelief when I saw the pics in the locker room, but I started to feel bad, too. I also grew a little bit worried that McDonald would find me and seek some vengeance on me for publishing those quotes. Little did I know but McDonald would be arrested for a road rage incident the following summer and be released by the Buccaneers.
Moments later, I happened to exchange a glance with McDonald from across the locker room. I decided to go over to his locker and get any confrontation with the former Wildcats star over with.
Instead of feeling McDonald’s wrath, he looked at me, laughed a bit, humbly shook his head and said, “I guess Hardy is a little tougher than I thought!”
I laughed and said, “Hey, Darnell. I felt bad publishing your quotes about Hardy … but you said it.”
“Yeah, obviously he didn’t appreciate that too much,” McDonald said. “I’ve definitely learned my lesson. I’m going to keep my mouth shut around here.”
Otherwise Nickerson would tape it shut again.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Speaking of reporting, it will be fascinating to see what transpires from a media perspective if the Bucs indeed draft Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. After all, the reporter who started the investigation of Winston is Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times, who helps Rick Stroud and Greg Auman with the Times’ Bucs coverage. Baker has written an emotional piece on the threats he has received from some angry Seminoles fans since breaking the news on Winston.
If he is drafted by the Bucs, would Winston ever want to speak with Baker, or will he let bygones be bygones? Would Winston boycott talking to the Tampa Bay Times altogether if Baker is still covering the team? For all of the distress Baker has received from filing the story, Winston’s name and reputation have been crucified in the public square. Would the Times be better off reassigning Baker to cover another sport?
The Tampa-based Baker did cover Florida State games last year for the Times, but was not a daily beat writer up in Tallahassee like he is for the local Buccaneers. It will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds.
• Just a thought, but what are the chances that the NFL heads to Tampa Bay with Hard Knocks? Knowing Lovie Smith, he certainly wouldn’t volunteer the Buccaneers for the distractions that come with having HBO cameras all over One Buccaneer Place for the month of August.
Yet if an NFL team doesn’t volunteer for the annual HBO series the league gets to pick one. And with superstar quarterback James Winston likely ending up in Tampa Bay and the Buccaneers instantly becoming a team with the national spotlight on it as a result, the Pewter Pirates would likely be the NFL’s top choice.
For the record, a team has volunteered to host Hard Knocks every year with the Atlanta Falcons as the subject last year.
• One thing is for certain, drafting Florida State QB Jameis Winston will likely generate more primetime games in 2015 for Tampa Bay. Last year, the Bucs only had one primetime game on national television, and that was a 56-14 loss at Atlanta on Thursday Night Football.
Aside from moving the needle at the Bucs’ ticket office, drafting Winston would also make Tampa Bay relevant on the national landscape again. Winston would generate high ratings and there could be a few primetime games for the Bucs in 2015 as a result.
• Bucs general manager Jason Licht shot down speculation that the hiring of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who has a relationship with Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, would lead to getting additional insight that would lead the Bucs to select Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“It’s helpful, but it absolutely wasn’t the reason we hired Dirk Koetter,” Licht said. “We also have a lot of coaches that have long-standing relationships with other players in the draft, too. We felt he was the best offensive coordinator – not just at the time, but one of the better ones in the league. We’re excited about him. That was our biggest offseason acquisition.”
• Despite coming off a 2-14 season, Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith is full of optimism that the Bucs will have success luring players in free agency.
“First off, how long have you lived here? A long time, right? You love it here? People love bringing their family down here. When they start looking inside of our program though, I think they’re going to like what they see. No matter what position or what side of the ball, I think they’re going to like the guys we have in place.
“The foundation that we talked about, it’s just not going to be me. It’ll be the Gerald McCoys and Lavonte Davids. We’re all going to be recruiting guys to come down here and I think they’re going to like what they see. They’re going to like the foundation, again, they’re going to like how close we’ve been and they’re going to assume that we just need a little bit more, which they can give us. For the same reason we’re all here and I’m talking about our organization, I think guys in free agency will look at it the same way.”
• The hiring of former Jacksonville defensive end Paul Spicer appears to be a good one. Spicer replaces Mike Phair, who coached the Bucs’ defensive ends last year, and is reunited with Tampa Bay defensive line coach Joe Cullen. Spicer served as Cullen’s assistant for two years in Jacksonville from 2012-13. Having a former NFL player like Spicer aboard can only help the Bucs’ edge rushers, who were led by Jacquies Smith’s 6.5 sacks last year.
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