SR’s Fab Five appears weekly on PewterReport.com
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Here’s five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Here’s a newsflash – the Bucs are 0-3. They aren’t playing well and I am not sure if Tampa Bay can overcome this horrible start to get back to a winning season and the playoffs.
You’ve watched the games. You’ve read the newspaper articles and columns. You’ve listened to the rants on Tampa Bay area sports radio. You’ve heard all of the negativity – some of the criticism is deserved, while some of it is venom-laden and unwarranted.
Folks, some of the criticism and negativity goes beyond covering football. This has become personal, and it is affecting the way the team is being covered by some of the local newspapers. And just so you know, the newspapers have generally set the daily tone and agenda for TV sportscasts and sports talk radio.
What I’m about to reveal won’t make my colleagues too happy, but that doesn’t matter much to me. In the interest of fairness, I won’t necessarily be naming names or particular newspapers because the following statements are my observations and opinions that are formed upon my observations. It’s not fair to them if I have misunderstood where they are coming from with a particular point. I didn’t necessarily interview them about their personal opinions regarding the Buccaneers, general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden, nor do I plan to.
Bucs fans need to know that there is a media bias against Allen and Gruden as I see it, and that the root of the bias is former Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, assistant general manager John Idzik and director of player personnel Tim Ruskell. In the interest of full disclosure, Pewter Report has never relied on McKay, Idzik or Ruskell for hardly any inside scoop or off-the-record background conversation. Did Pewter Report talk to all three on a very limited basis? Yes, but almost everything that we derived from those three was on-the-record. McKay, Idzik and Ruskell were not primary sources for Pewter Report.
We have great connections throughout different channels at One Buccaneer Place and have gotten a lot of our scoop from the players and coaches as we focus a lot on what the Buccaneers are doing scheme-wise on the field and personnel-wise in the locker room. When it comes to salary cap information, we get that through league sources, and those sources do not reside in Tampa Bay, Atlanta or Chicago.
But it is no secret that the local papers were accustomed to going to McKay, Idzik and Ruskell on a weekly, or even a daily basis, for information and with questions such as, “Who is looking good?” or “Who isn’t looking good?” This is not an uncommon practice in covering an NFL team.
But when the perception exists that Gruden, who does not talk as freely off the record, ran off the newspapers’ great sources – McKay, Idzik and Ruskell – the media became peeved. Why? It created more work for them. Instead of asking a willing source to speak off the record about a player or a situation, the reporter actually has to do some … research and some … work. Imagine that? When the Bucs finished 7-9 last season, the already-peeved media piled on Gruden. You could see it in their writing. I heard it talked about amongst the writers.
When Allen came to town on January 9, he arrived with a reputation of being Gruden’s hand-picked puppet. His “yes man,” if you will. That simply isn’t the case. Just because you share the same philosophy with someone regarding football, and genuinely like working with that person, that does not make you a “yes man.” I enjoy working with Pewter Report managing editor Jim Flynn and we both see the game of football and our unique brand of reporting in a similar fashion, but that doesn’t make him my “yes man.”
See, the local Tampa newspaper writers called the Oakland newspaper writers and asked for a book report on Allen. I know because I did the same thing, and conversed about that with other writers who had called their colleagues who cover the Raiders. The Oakland media generally said Allen was slick, crafty and a tough nut to crack. They said he won’t give you a lot of deep info on the record, and he simply doesn’t talk off the record. He comes from the Raiders organization, where secrecy is thought of as a good thing. That turned out to be a bad thing for some in this media market who used to have the personal cell phone numbers for a lot of the old Buccaneers’ brass.
When some members of the media heard this, they shuddered. Their front office sources were gone. Many found out quickly that Allen lived up to his reputation of not being too forthcoming, and some apparently hold it against him. An apparent bias was formed, and this has, in my opinion, been reflected in some of the reporting that has been done since Allen’s arrival in January.
If you don’t believe me, just go back and look at articles and columns written this past offseason that continued to bemoan the loss of players like Warren Sapp, John Lynch and McKay, Idzik and Ruskell, while not reporting the whole story to fans. Those articles and columns would explain how Allen “ripped the heart and soul out of the Bucs defense” and how “unfair” it was to give Lynch and Sapp the cold shoulder during free agency. Granted, Allen and Gruden could have dealt with these Bucs legends more gracefully, but is there any real nice way of saying you are not wanted anymore, especially at the salary you want?
Where was the explanation and constant reminder to Bucs fans that this is part of the current state of the NFL – that San Diego had to release linebacker Junior Seau and that Buffalo had to part ways with running back Thurman Thomas and defensive end Bruce Smith for similar reasons?
Where was the story telling fans that this team had to get Jermaine Phillips and Anthony McFarland to play the “marquee positions” of strong safety and under tackle on the field, and that was just as much a part of the equation as not wanting to re-sign Sapp and passing on Lynch because he failed the team’s physical?
Where was the story explaining how Phillips is scheduled for restricted free agency in 2005 and that the Bucs have to know what this guy can do before they can offer him an appropriate contract to keep him?
Where was the story saying how 95 percent of the Bucs players haven’t been arrested to counter all of the negative stories about “bad Buccaneers” like Darrell Russell and Michael Pittman? Where were the stories reminding Bucs fans that of the fact that some of the players who have been arrested that the media were bashing – Ellis Wyms, Kenyatta Walker, Cosey Coleman and Dwight Smith – were all drafted by McKay long before Gruden and Allen came to Tampa Bay?
Where was the story explaining why the Buccaneers were in such terrible salary cap trouble in 2004 due to the fact that McKay decided to throw big money contracts at McFarland, middle linebacker Shelton Quarles and defensive end Simeon Rice before he bolted for greener pastures in Atlanta, leaving no room to re-sign Sapp with all of the changes that had to be made to the offensive line and by adding speed to an offense that critics deemed to be too slow last year?
Where was the story explaining and reminding fans that the reason the Bucs had to rely heavily on signing free agents because this team was robbed of several high draft picks (two number ones for Keyshawn Johnson in 2000, a number two in the trade up to get Kenyatta Walker, two number ones and two number twos for Gruden) due to several trades prior to 2003?
Maybe those particular writers in the newspapers aren’t smart enough to see the points I’ve raised, or maybe they don’t have access to certain salary cap info that Pewter Report has. Or maybe they choose not to report these stories because that would be fair and balanced. In any case, shame on them. They aren’t doing their jobs, in my opinion.
Allen didn’t create Tampa Bay’s salary cap mess. He couldn’t have. He wasn’t here to do it. Gruden admits that he doesn’t know a damn thing about the salary cap (which should put all of those rumors that he is actually the team’s general manager to rest), and I believe him. I’m pretty sure I know more about the cap than he does. Gruden is uncomfortable talking about the salary cap, and it’s clear he doesn’t have a full grasp of the concept, nor does he want to. So whom does that leave to blame? McKay.
The same McKay who some of the writers and columnists in the local papers have become emotionally attached to. McKay made their lives easier by giving them the answers so they didn’t have to do as much homework. McKay was a feel-good story, especially with his father’s ties to the team and because Rich worked so hard to build a championship defense that, along with Gruden’s offense, made the Bucs Super Bowl champions in 2002. The media liked him more than Gruden because of the access he gave them and because he was more familiar to them.
I have always gotten along great with McKay and have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I went on record publicly, and told him personally, that I thought it was very wrong for the Glazers not to acknowledge him on the podium after Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl win. McKay deserved that in a big way.
I’ve given him plenty of credit for several shrewd draft day moves and for signing free agents like Rice and quarterback Brad Johnson. I’ve also taken him to task for some really bad draft decisions, especially on offense, and for some disastrous free agent signings (such as wide receivers Alvin Harper and Bert Emanuel among others) and for suggesting the hiring of Marvin Lewis instead of an offensive-minded coach like the Glazers, who are his bosses, specifically demanded.
Frankly, Pewter Report never pursued McKay, Idzik or Ruskell as sources because we actually enjoy reporting. We enjoy talking to the coaching staff and finding out what traits they look for in players and then applying what we have learned from them in our own analysis. We enjoy actually learning about the game of football by talking to coaches and players so that we can better educate our readers about the game of football. We would rather learn about the game and why certain decisions are made than get a juicy, salacious quote.
We enjoy watching the Bucs games live and then going back and watching the game on tape for re-evaluation purposes. We like digging up league sources for salary cap information so that we can make our best guesses in forecasting likely roster moves that will be coming in the future. That’s real reporting in our minds. That’s fun. We’d rather do that than have the info handed to us on a silver platter. We’d rather earn it.
Pewter Report has always been fair and balanced in its coverage of McKay, so don’t think it’s a case of sour grapes because he wouldn’t go off the record for us. We never really asked him to. I can’t say the same for the local papers, who have shown some real favoritism and bias towards him, especially since he left. Many personally love the fact that McKay’s Falcons are 3-0 while Allen and Gruden’s Bucs are 0-3. It was recently stated this week in a local paper’s column.
These are the people who are covering your Buccaneers, folks. You should hear the personal assaults they toss around at Gruden and Allen in the media trailer simply because they are not McKay and Tony Dungy (and don’t forget that the media ran Dungy out of town, too). It reflects in their reporting. They don’t need to be homers, but rubbing it in with the Falcons’ success this year isn’t necessarily related to what is going on in Tampa in 2004.
As for Allen and his front office staff, we haven’t gotten squat from them in terms of off-the-record conversations. We have no reason or agenda to aid or benefit Allen and his staff. They don’t show any favoritism, as promised. Remember, Allen and Co. come from the Al Davis regime. There’s nothing wrong with that from our point of view. In our opinion, that actually helps Pewter Report and levels the playing field. We didn’t use the old G.M. as a source, so it’s no skin off our back to not use the current G.M. as a source. The same can’t be said for some in the local media.
The local media have not and will not be giving Allen and Gruden a fair shake in my opinion, and the byproduct with all of the negative stories is that they are attempting to run them out of town. They haven’t been doing a good job of being fair and balanced. They are allowing their personal feelings favoring McKay and disliking Allen to stand in the way of their reporting, in my opinion. As I see it, that’s wrong. I’m going to go into greater detail in my End Zone column in this week’s Pewter Report. Stay tuned.
Pewter Report strives to be fair and balanced. We don’t necessarily root for the Bucs or against them. We’re somewhere in the objective middle. Pewter Report has a vested interest in the success of the team because more people subscribe when they are winning than when they are not, but we’re not homers, and to prove it we have called for the firing of head coach Tony Dungy, the trading of Sapp, and I even picked the Eagles to beat the Bucs in the NFC Championship game. (Shame on me for the Eagles pick). We have opinions, but try to take the emotion out of it and make those opinions as fact-based as possible. I don’t know if that is really going on in other local media outlets. The amount of negativity and venom tells me it’s not.
FAB 2. If there is anyone who should be personally upset with Bruce Allen, Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers, it should be Pewter Report. After all, we had the rosiest prediction for Tampa Bay this season, forecasting a record of 10-6. After a 0-3 start, there is a strong likelihood that the Bucs will fall well short of that record and won’t make the playoffs. But instead of being angry and vindictive, Pewter Report will continue to carefully look at the facts and make our assumptions and determinations based on that.
The media should be criticizing this team after a 0-3 start. We have and will continue to do so where criticism is warranted. The offensive linemen that Allen, Gruden and the front office added to the starting lineup – tackles Todd Steussie and Derrick Deese and guard Matt Stinchcomb – haven’t panned out yet, and may never pan out. Fans and the media may be right to chastise the team for these free agent additions due to the team’s poor start, but I’d prefer to wait longer than three games to do so. I remember that Simeon Rice didn’t exactly light the world on fire during his first eight games as a Buccaneer in 2001 before coming alive during the second half of that season.
Do I think this offensive line could improve? Maybe, but I realize that may not happen. I’d like to think that these players would form a more cohesive unit as the season rolls along. Heck, the average offensive line that consisted off Roman Oben, Kerry Jenkins, Jeff Christy, Cosey Coleman and Kenyatta Walker did in 2002, and helped lead this team to a Super Bowl. The Bucs coaching staff and front office is more patient than the fans and the media, though. That’s why no moves are being made just yet.
If and when the offensive line gets shuffled, what would I like to see? I’d like to see Anthony Davis start at left tackle, Deese move to left guard and Stinchcomb benched. I’d be curious to see how that move would help or hinder the Bucs. I thought Davis was one of the team’s five best linemen in the preseason and am disappointed that he is on the bench.
So why isn’t Davis in the starting lineup? Why hasn’t that story been told? Well, it’s easier, and apparently more fun, to just beat up Allen and Gruden for making mistakes with Deese, Steussie and Stinchcomb. The real story, as I see it, is that it is Allen’s job to go to the Glazers and ask them for the money and approval to sign certain players. Allen has to justify the purchase of big-money players by the Glazers by playing them. While that may appear to go against the grain of coach-speak such as “playing the best players,” it’s only fair to give the new free agents a shot at earning their pay – to a degree. At some point, if the player just isn’t performing changes must be made.
It was no different last year with Kenyatta Walker, who started 14 games despite some poor play and numerous, costly personal foul penalties. Rich McKay had invested a number one draft pick and a lot of money in him and the team had to justify that pick and salary by playing him and giving Walker every opportunity to live up to that billing and salary cap charge. He didn’t, and that’s what led to the Bucs’ decision to sign Steussie.
Pewter Report’s 10-6 prediction was borne out of the idea that the Bucs defense would still be solid (which is true), the special teams would be much improved (which is true), and that the offense would be bolstered by new veterans along the offensive line and more speed at wide receiver (Joey Galloway) and halfback (Charlie Garner). Injuries before (Matt O’Dwyer) and during (Deese, Stinchcomb and Steussie) training camp prevented the offensive line from coming together, and injuries during the season have robbed this offense of its speed, especially when Galloway went down in Week 1 and Garner was lost for the season in Week 3. The imported talent along the offensive line was mistakenly overrated by Pewter Report and others, too.
We also envisioned Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell joining Galloway at wide receiver, with rookie Michael Clayton helping this offense as a fourth wide receiver – not a starter. But then again, Gruden probably envisioned that at the start of the season, too.
Like they were last year, injuries have stymied this team right out of the gate. Injuries, along with blown assignments, poor play, missed opportunities and some questionable play-calling, have the Bucs at 0-3 heading into a big home game against Denver. But some in the media may have drawn some inaccurate parallels between age and injury.
Yes, signing the 32-year old Garner, who was coming off a left knee injury, was a bit of a gamble for the Buccaneers. But that had nothing to do with the torn patella tendon he suffered in his right knee. Age didn’t have anything to do with that, either. Former Buccaneer middle linebacker Nate Webster, who is 26, suffered the same injury on the same day in Cincinnati’s loss to Baltimore.
When Tampa Bay’s offense lost Mike Alstott and Joe Jurevicius, both young, under 30, and in their prime, the team missed two potent playmakers. Age had nothing to do with their injuries. But that is simply an excuse and another reason to bash the team for signing older free agents this year.
Gruden doesn’t like using injuries as an excuse. I’m saying it’s a reason. Ask any team to win and any offense to produce without the top three wide receivers and starting halfback, and that’s a tall task. The bottom line is that injuries have played a big part in Tampa Bay’s 0-3 start and have foiled Pewter Report’s prediction. And this team has not been good enough from an assignment and play-calling aspect to overcome them, especially on offense.
FAB 3. Guess what? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers miss Warren Sapp, but not for the reason you might think. Anthony “Booger” McFarland is completely capable of playing the three-technique, under tackle position. In fact, McFarland is at least as good as Sapp was last year, if not better.
The Bucs don’t miss Sapp at under tackle, but they do miss McFarland at nose tackle. What happened in the games against Washington and Oakland – when the Bucs produced just one sack – was that their opponents were using max protection schemes against Tampa Bay’s front four. By keeping in tight ends or running backs, the Bucs’ opponents could effectively double-team defensive end Simeon Rice and McFarland. It’s easy to take two defensive linemen out of the equation, but it’s hard to get enough people in the right places to double team three defensive linemen.
The point is that the Raiders and Redskins were doubling Rice and McFarland on passing downs and taking their chances in some situations by blocking nose tackle Chartric Darby and defensive end Greg Spires one-on-one. Darby and Spires don’t scare offensive coordinators. McFarland and Rice do. Sapp did too when he was here.
The Bucs’ problem hasn’t been losing Sapp as much as it has been finding a comparable replacement for McFarland at nose tackle. Darby just isn’t as talented as McFarland is. The Bucs have a talent deficiency at nose tackle.
In obvious passing situations, the Bucs have been substituting Ellis Wyms in for Darby and have gotten some decent results, but Wyms is more of an under tackle than he is a nose tackle. I think we are all seeing why the team went after Darrell Russell, despite his character flaws and history of trouble.
Tampa Bay even had trouble getting consistent pressure on Seattle with its front four and had to result to blitzing various linebackers in conjunction with safety Jermaine Phillips. When Spires registered the team’s first sack of the season, it came on a double blitz through the “B” gap (guard and tackle). Linebacker Ian Gold was picked up by the guard, Phillips was picked up by the tackle, and Spires looped around the tackle and sacked Matt Hasselbeck. That may be how the Bucs have to generate a pass rush this season.
But even though elite, “money” players such as Rice and McFarland will be getting a lot of double teams this season, they still need to deliver a couple of big plays per game. That’s what great players do. That’s what Sapp did here in his prime when the attention was focused on him rather than Brad Culpepper, Chidi Ahanotu or Regan Upshaw or Marcus Jones. Great quarterbacks complete passes into double coverage. Great receivers make catches in between two defenders. It’s no different for McFarland and Rice, who must at times beat their double teams and make plays.
FAB 4. I just have the feeling that the Bucs are going to spring a trade or two prior to the NFL trading deadline at 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, October 19. If Keenan McCardell comes crawling back to Tampa Bay this season just so he can maintain his status for his NFL pension plan and to earn an accrued season, he’s still going to want more money in 2005 and I suspect he would hold out again next year until he’s free from the Buccaneers.
The Bucs have to know that, too. That’s why they’ll deal him to either Baltimore or Kansas City for a draft pick and/or a player. It appears as if the Chiefs might deal running back Larry Johnson to Miami, who needs a rusher more desperately than Tampa Bay does.
A draft pick would be most beneficial to Tampa Bay in terms of building for the future, and the Bucs are fishing for more than a fourth-round draft pick that has been rumored to have been offered to Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ feeling is that if McCardell thinks he is worth more than the $2.5 million that he is scheduled to make, than he is obviously worth more than a fourth-round pick.
If the Bucs slip to 0-5, Brad Johnson might be dealt as well. I would put the chances of that happening at about 25 percent, though. However, with Johnson’s salary cap value skyrocketing from $6.8 million this year to $8.5 million in 2005, and the fact that he’ll be 37 years old, Tampa Bay will turn the team over to Chris Simms next year. By trading him now to Baltimore or perhaps Chicago, they can get something of value for him – otherwise they’ll cut him in the spring.
And if the Bucs are 0-5, they will essentially be out of the playoff hunt and have to go with a youth movement that involves starting Chris Simms at quarterback. With Brian Griese as a capable backup, Tampa Bay could part ways with Johnson and then sign Jason Garrett to be the third-string quarterback.
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• If you knew how large of a signing bonus McCardell asked the Bucs for in his renegotiating ploy, you wouldn’t want the Bucs to re-sign him and you would understand why zero progress has been made regarding his holdout status. You would also probably tell this guy to take a hike. While I won’t say exactly how much, it is well upwards past $7.5 million, according to a league source who is not from McCardell’s camp.
• Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was being a bit sarcastic when he opened up his Monday press conference by saying, “The future’s so bright I’ve got to wear shades.” But he may have been referring to the fact that this team finally has its full compliment of draft picks for the first time in four years. Last year, Tampa Bay was without its second-round pick, which was the final installment of two first- and two second-round picks paid to the Oakland Raiders for Gruden’s services. In the 2005 draft, the Bucs will have at least nine draft picks – their own seven in addition to San Diego’s first fifth-round pick they acquired from the Chargers in exchange for left tackle Roman Oben, and an undisclosed pick from the New York Giants for guard Jason Whittle that is believed to be tied to playing time. The Bucs will also have a lot of salary cap room cleared up when Keyshawn Johnson’s $7 million salary is off the books next year. After making do in 2004 without a second-rounder, and facing a very tight salary cap situation this past offseason that forced the team to shop at the used car lot instead of the new car showroom, Tampa Bay may be able to be a real player on draft day and in free agency next year.
• Jon Gruden is not having much luck lately as an offensive coordinator – and it’s so much more than just play calls. Last year, Gruden’s “Anvil” formation which features two tight ends – Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley – with Mike Alstott lined up at halfback, was shelved after Dudley suffered a high ankle sprain in preseason and Alstott was lost for the year with a neck injury after the fourth game of the season. This year, Gruden’s “Rocket” backfield, which features two halfbacks – Charlie Garner and Michael Pittman – has to be scrapped due to Pittman’s three-game suspension and Garner’s season-ending knee injury, unless Jamel White can step up and learn the plays associated with that package and line up next to Pittman. And after designing a specific offensive package in the offseason to take advantage of Joey Galloway’s unique talents and speed, those series of plays have been shelved while the wide receiver mends his torn groin.
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