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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. So where did Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager “Bruce Almighty” Allen conjure up the salary cap room to sign all 12 of the team’s draft picks while cutting just right tackle Todd Steussie, which only saved the Bucs around $2 million? It was widely reported by Pewter Report and others that the Buccaneers were about $1.4 million under the salary cap and needed to free up several million dollars in order to accommodate the team’s $6.035 million rookie salary pool.
At an impromptu press conference with the media on Friday afternoon, Allen was repeatedly grilled on how he came up with the necessary cap space. Did he cut any additional players? Did he restructure any players in the last weeks prior to training camp? Did running back Charlie Garner’s status on the active-PUP (physically unable to perform) list give the team some temporary cap savings? Allen answered “no” to all of these queries, but never revealed the answer.
So how did Allen work his cap magic to squeeze $6.035 million worth of rookie salaries into just roughly $4 million worth of salary cap space? As it turns out, he didn’t. By saying “no” to all of the questions posed by the media on Friday, Allen essentially said he didn’t have to create any cap room, which got us thinking. Without further adieu, Pewter Report has the answer to the biggest yet unanswered question at Buccaneers training camp.
Although the Bucs used the $6.035 million to sign its rookies, only the first five out of the team’s 12 draft picks actually count against the salary cap. The NFL salary cap rules state that only the cap values of the top 51 players actually count towards the salary cap in the offseason. Technically speaking, training camp and the preseason is part of the offseason.
Tampa Bay has 48 players who have more than a $305,000 cap value in 2005, which is the magical number in this story, including rookies Carnell “Cadillac” Williams ($2,869,079), Barrett Ruud ($743,000), Alex Smith ($423,000), Chris Colmer ($385,000) and Dan Buenning ($340,000). The Bucs have 13 players who have $305,000 cap values, while the rest of the players, including the final seven draft picks, have lesser cap values and thus currently don’t count against the Bucs’ salary cap.
Fifth-round picks Donte Nicholson ($276,200 cap value in 2005) and Larry Brackins ($271,000) don’t count against the cap. The same can be said for sixth-rounder Anthony Bryant (254,000), and seventh-rounders Rick Razzano ($244,500), Paris Warren ($243,333), Hamza Abdullah ($242,400) and J.R. Russell ($239,125).
It looks like the local Tampa Bay media needs to do its salary cap homework, including Pewter Report – although we were the first to figure out where Allen and the Buccaneers “created” the needed salary cap space.
FAB 2. There was something strikingly different about Jermaine Phillips as he entered his fourth training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No, it wasn’t that Phillips was permanently moved from free safety to strong safety. It was the added muscle he put on after some grueling offseason workouts that were designed to increase his size by 10-15 pounds.
“I’m up to about 230 pounds right now,” Phillips told Pewter Report. “I came into camp a little heavier to see if I could carry the weight. I’ve done well with it and feel like I’ve always felt. There has been no dropoff, so I’m going to try to maintain it.”
Because he will be playing closer to the line of scrimmage in the role that the legendary John Lynch made famous in Tampa Bay, the added bulk should serve Phillips well. Aside from being in position to make more tackles in the running game, Phillips must also contend with offensive linemen pulling and trapping and trying to block him near the second level of the defense.
Phillips made the leap from the University of Georgia to the NFL as a wiry-looking player. These days, Phillips’ shoulders are broader, his chest and torso have filled out and his arms are noticeably bigger.
“I came in as a rookie at about 215 and played about 215-220 last year,” Phillips said. “(The weight) has come on. I’ve been working out hard, trying to put some muscle on. If I’m heavier and I can still maintain my speed, that’s a plus.”
Phillips’ added size might result in more forceful hits and tackles, which could help in the turnover department, too. The Bucs want to see Phillips, who has forced just one turnover in his NFL career, cause more fumbles like his predecessor did. Lynch had seven forced fumbles in 10 years as a Buccaneer.
“There’s a variety of ways to force fumbles,” Phillips said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and knowing which technique to use in the right situation. It’s fundamentals, too, but you don’t necessarily think about causing a fumble. You think that you’ve got a chance for a close-quarters hit and you want to bring the wood, and whatever happens, happens. Hopefully, the ball comes loose.”
FAB 3. The Buccaneers may rue the day they spent their 2005 second round pick on Nebraska middle linebacker Barrett Ruud – not that we don’t like Ruud or don’t think he will be a good linebacker for the franchise. We do. In fact, Tampa Bay’s drafting of Ruud made us look good as our publication had picked him as a Bucs’ Best Bet in Pewter Report’s Bucs Draft Preview. While the selection of Ruud was necessary given the age of the Bucs’ current starting linebackers, who are all over the age of 30, the Bucs could have used another player at another position this year.
Namely, Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent, whom the Tampa Bay organization fell in love with at the Senior Bowl and courted in the months leading up to the draft.
Yet the Bucs didn’t pull the trigger on Nugent in the second round on April 23. Instead, they hoped he would slip to them at the top of the third round, despite the pre-draft buzz that indicated that the New York Jets would draft him near the end of the second round – which is what happened.
Heading into the 2005 season, the Bucs had pressing needs at running back, kicker, offensive line and tight end, and wound up addressing three out of the four needs with four out of their first five draft choices. Granted, Tampa Bay will have a need at middle linebacker in 2006 or 2007, but the Bucs desperately needed an upgrade at kicker now and Nugent would have fit the bill.
Ruud may not see the field much in 2005, but Nugent will be the Jets’ leading scorer. He could have been the Bucs’ leading scorer, too. Word out of Jets camp is that he is as good as advertised, which is saying something considering that it is rare that teams will use a second-round pick on a kicker. The Chargers used their third-round pick on Iowa kicker Nate Kaeding last year, which was the highest a kicker has been selected since Oakland used its first-round pick on Florida State’s Sebastian Janikowski.
The fact that general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden played a big part in drafting Janikowski while in Oakland in 2000 makes the Bucs passing up Nugent for Ruud all the more curious. Again, not to knock Ruud, who should develop into a very good middle linebacker, but middle ‘backers’ are available in virtually every draft every year. Franchise kickers are not.
As Tampa Bay kickers Matt Bryant and Todd France have their ups and downs in training camp and have the coaching staff and front office on edge, it is hard not to wonder why the Bucs passed over such a quality kicker who would have been an instant starter as a rookie for a player who will be a backup linebacker for the first year or two he’s in the NFL.
I kidded Allen about passing up Iowa under tackle Jonathan Babineaux in the second round – who went to Atlanta of all places to become the next Rod Coleman – to draft Ruud. Babineaux became one of my favorite players in college football last year after scouting him on film several times. But perhaps I should have chided Allen for not addressing the team’s field goal kicker position in the second round with the selection of Ruud.
Here’s hoping Bryant or France prove me wrong and prove Allen and the Bucs right.
FAB 4. One of the biggest surprises of Bucs training camp thus far has been how quickly first-round draft pick Carnell “Cadillac” Williams has ascended to the top of the depth chart at the halfback position. In fact, Williams was atop the first depth chart that was released to the public on Saturday, July 30.
So why has Williams supplanted Michael Pittman, who led the Bucs with 926 yards rushing in 2004, so early in training camp? There are two reasons. First, it was kind of a reward for getting to training camp on time while the two other first-round running backs who were selected before Williams – Ronnie Brown and Cedric Benson ¬- are still unsigned due to contract squabbles.
The second reason is because Williams has done an uncanny job of picking up the Buccaneers offense, which is pretty complex. While it helps that Williams got an early orientation to Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense at the Senior Bowl, played in a West Coast scheme his final season at Auburn, and has a great study partner in roommate Michael Clayton, who studied hard to ensure a sensational rookie season in 2004, Williams is a studious person by nature and has done a great job of absorbing the playbook on his own.
It’s obvious that Williams has a solid grasp of Gruden’s system because he hasn’t been yelled at yet by Gruden or running backs coach Art Valero since camp began. Usually, it’s pretty apparent which players know what they are doing and which ones don’t. Williams is assignment-sound, and that knowledge allows his instincts and physical abilities to take over.
But while Williams is listed as the team’s number one running back, it is still the team-oriented Pittman who typically gets the ball first when the offense begins its drills. That means that Williams’ number one status may be on paper only right now until he proves himself worthy in the preseason. In the meantime, Pittman will still get the ball early and often and he and Williams will share time and the workload.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• The Bucs cut one of Pewter Report’s Training Camp Sleepers (from the July Training Camp Issue) on the eve of training camp. Tight end Robert Johnson was axed on Thursday, one day before camp officially opened on Friday. While Johnson had a lot of physical ability, he apparently let a minor injury keep him out of several offseason OTA sessions, which ticked off head coach Jon Gruden. Once in Gruden’s dog house, Johnson, a minimum wage player who did not fully grasp the Bucs’ offense, didn’t stand a chance. The emergence of Will Heller and Nate Lawrie also had something to do with Johnson’s departure.
• The two best players in the first week of training camp may be offensive lineman Sean Mahan and defensive lineman Dewayne White. Mahan is performing better and more consistently than Jeb Terry at right guard, and may wind up starting there or at center if he can beat out John Wade, which is less likely. White has been virtually unblockable at left defensive end behind Greg Spires, but he’s also been getting plenty of reps inside playing the three technique as a pass rusher in nickel defense. Quarterback Brian Griese may not be far behind Mahan and White in terms of being impressive. The starting quarterback job is clearly his as Chris Simms has yet to elevate his game anywhere near Griese’s during the first week of camp. However, Simms has a stranglehold on the backup spot as he is superior to newcomer Luke McCown.
• Along with the kicker position, I’m worried about the play at defensive tackle. Nose tackle Chris Hovan is making the transition from the three technique to the one technique, and while he can penetrate the line of scrimmage on occasion, he does not anchor exceptionally well against the run. Under tackle Anthony McFarland has flashes of brilliance, but also has been blown off the ball too often, especially in short yardage and goal line situations. Veteran backups Ellis Wyms and Damian Gregory have had their moments, but have yet to make a serious move for starting assignments yet. Rookie defensive tackle Anthony “Bear” Bryant has the physical tools to be special, but has problems with conditioning and keeping his motor running from down to down. The Bucs defense has only won two of the team’s 10 goal line drills, and one occurred today when running back Derek Watson fumbled the handoff from quarterback Brian Griese. That turnover was not created by the defense. It could be a long year for the Bucs run defense after the team finished 19th in the league in that category last year. Expect every Tampa Bay opponent to spend the first quarter probing the soft underbelly of the Bucs defense with a rushing attack right up the middle.
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