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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. The opportunity for Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff to coach the South team in the Senior Bowl is huge. The Bucs will get an up close look at some of the top senior draft prospects and will be able to see how they respond to their specific coaching styles both on the field and in the classroom for a week. They will get to see the leadership qualities and individual attitudes of over four dozen young men play out before their eyes.
With the 2005 draft being viewed as one of the most critical drafts in team history, this enhanced look at some of the best draft candidates is a major coup for Tampa Bay. General manager Bruce Allen should send a case of bubbly to Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith for deciding not to participate in coaching the game.
The last time the Bucs coached in the Senior Bowl was in 1999 when the Tony Dungy-led South beat Gruden and the Raiders’ North squad. Tampa Bay wound up drafting five players who played in that game – defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, quarterback Shaun King, kicker Martin Gramatica, safety Dexter Jackson and running back Autry Denson. Oakland wound up drafting three players from the ’99 Senior Bowl – defensive end Tony Bryant and linebackers Rod Coleman and Eric Barton.
Although the official Senior Bowl roster for 2005 is still being assembled and has not been released yet, Pewter Report has compiled a list of players who have already committed to playing in the game.
Akron QB Charlie Frye Alabama LT Wesley Britt Alabama LG Evan Mathis Alabama LB Cornelius Wortham Alabama DT Anthony Bryant Citadel RB Nehemiah Broughton UConn QB Dan Orlovsky Fresno State LT Logan Mankins Kansas State RB Darren Sproles Mississippi State OT David Stewart Mississippi State DT Ronald Fields Northern Colorado WR-TE Vincent Jackson Oklahoma WR Mark Clayton Oklahoma WR Brandon Jones Oklahoma LB Lance Mitchell Oregon State DE Bill Swancutt Purdue QB Kyle Orton Southern Miss LB Michael Boley Southern Miss RT Jeremy Parquet Syracuse RB Walter Reyes Syracuse OT Adam Terry Troy DE-LB Demarcus Ware UCLA WR Craig Bragg USC DE-DT Shaun Cody USC DT Mike Patterson West Virginia RB Kay-Jay Harris
Both of Auburn’s standout running backs, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, have received invitations, but Pewter Report does not yet know if either player has accepted the invite and will actually play in the Senior Bowl. Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell is believed to be on a short list to be one of the quarterbacks for the South squad.
LSU center Ben Wilkerson, defensive end Marcus Spears and cornerback Corey Webster are each expected to be in Mobile. Senior linebacker Lionel Turner could also draw a late invitation as well.
During the Outback Bowl week in Tampa, Georgia receiver Fred Gibson told the media that he and fellow receiver Reggie Brown, quarterback David Greene and defensive end David Pollack have been invited to play in the Senior Bowl.
Stay tuned to PewterReport.com for more Senior Bowl and Bucs draft scoop. Once again, the Pewter Reporters will be covering the Senior Bowl live from Mobile with coverage beginning on Monday, January 24.
The 2005 Senior Bowl will be held on Saturday, January 29 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m. ET and the game will be televised on ESPN.
FAB 2. Throughout the fall I’ve tried to talk about a couple of draft prospects who would interest the Buccaneers in my SR’s Fab Five column to make you the most educated Tampa Bay fan around. In the November 4 edition of SR’s Fab Five, I introduced you to Northern Colorado wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is an athletic, 6-foot-6, 240-pound pass catcher who may transition to tight end at the next level. Jackson tallied 177 catches for 3,548 yards (20-yard avg.) and 37 touchdowns while also returning punts (11.6-yard avg.) and kickoffs (23.8-yard avg.).
After a sensational 2003 campaign in which he caught 66 passes for 1,462 yards (22.2-yard avg.) and 21 touchdowns, Jackson completed his college eligibility with 80 catches for 1,382 yards (17.3-yard avg.) and 11 scores despite facing constant double and triple teams. I can’t wait to watch Jackson live in person at the Senior Bowl. You’ll hear a lot of buzz about Jackson, who will be drafted somewhere in rounds 3-5 in the coming weeks. Remember where you heard about him first.
I also talked about Fresno State left tackle Logan Mankins in the November 26 edition of SR’s Fab Five. I’ve seen this guy dominate the competition all year, especially in games against Kansas State, Boise State and Virginia and I think he can be a real asset to Tampa Bay’s plan of kick-starting its running game in 2005.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Mankins was named to the first-team All WAC (Western Athletic Conference) squad and became one of the best offensive linemen to ever play for the Bulldogs. During his senior season, he was one of the premier lineman in the nation. Mankins had over 80 pancake blocks in 2004 and graded out higher then 90 percent for the entire season, according to the coaches. That percentage is 10 percent higher than the normal standard for offensive line play.
Mankins also became the first Bulldog offensive lineman to ever win the season team MVP award.
“For an offensive lineman to the win the Bulldog MVP is unprecedented,” said Fresno State head coach Pat Hill. “That tells you the type of player Logan Mankins is and the type of respect he has among his teammates. I couldn’t be happier for a player who has worked so hard to become, what I think, is one of the best linemen in the nation. This has been a very special year.”
While Mankins will likely project to guard in the NFL due to his size, he does have the strength and aggressive, mauling mentality to bust open holes in the running game, and the tenacity to ably protect the passer. In 2004, the Bulldogs’ running game consistently ran to the left behind big number 74. Mankins, who will likely be drafted in rounds 2-4, is another guy I can’t wait to watch in the Pro Bowl. Hopefully he ends up in Tampa Bay.
FAB 3. Now that I have refreshed your memory about two hidden gems in the 2005 draft class, I’d like to introduce you to two more. The first is Citadel running back Nehemiah Broughton, whom Jon Gruden and the Bucs staff will likely coach on the South squad. The 6-foot, 240-pound rusher ranks fifth in Citadel history with 2,556 yards rushing on 538 attempts. Broughton also ranks fifth in school history in scoring with 28 touchdowns and fifth in 100-yard performances with 11.
In 2004, he came back from a knee injury he suffered during the 2003 season to rush for 788 yards on 179 carries (4.4 avg.) and score five touchdowns. Despite being a big, punishing runner, Broughton did turn on the jets for a 92-yard score. He also caught eight passes for 35 yards as a senior.
Broughton, whose nickname is “Nemo-sapien,” had his best season in 2002 when he rushed for 1,038 yards on 224 carries and scored 11 touchdowns. He also had 18 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown that season. Broughton has a nice mix of speed (4.55), size and power, and also has experience as a lead-blocking fullback. It will be interesting to see how this Citadel running back squares off against a higher level of competition. Expect to hear some stories about Broughton, who will likely get drafted in rounds 4-6, coming out of Senior Bowl week in the next few weeks.
If you haven’t heard of Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley yet, these next few paragraphs will be a treat for you. This defensive standout is one of the fastest movers up the 2005 NFL Draft ladder. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has been one of college football’s most productive linebackers over the last few seasons, finishing his Golden Eagles career with an astounding 433 total tackles. His 59.5 career tackles for loss ranks second all-time in Golden Eagles history, and his 27 career sacks is also the second-highest total ever recorded by a Southern Miss defender. I really like the way this guy attacks on defense.
The quick, athletic Boley finished his college career with a dominating performance in the Southern Miss’ 31-10 win over North Texas in the 2004 Wyndam New Orleans Bowl and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after recording eight tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown.
After recording 151 tackles and 11 sacks as a junior, Boley was named the 2004 Conference-USA Defensive Player of the Year after he notched 125 stops (including a team-leading 20 tackles for loss), nine sacks and ranked second nationally behind Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson with five forced fumbles. He set a school record with nine career forced fumbles.
Boley, who earned first- or second-team honors on six different All-American teams after the 2004 campaign, was also named the winner of the prestigious Conerly Trophy, which is given annually to the top college football player in the state of Mississippi. Boley has all the tools to fit into Monte Kiffin’s defense. Although he is more of a line of scrimmage attacker, he does possess the athletic ability to adequately drop into coverage. Boley could be an ideal candidate to groom behind weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks or middle linebacker Shelton Quarles.
FAB 4. Pewter Report’s coverage on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers routinely consists of hardcore news and straight facts along with our analysis, insight and opinion. In this column there are often a lot of real, straight-up facts about what has happened. Sometimes there are some instances where some educated guesses need to be given about what we likely think will happen in the Buccaneers’ future. We’re not always right, of course, but we’re right a lot more than we’re wrong.
I’d like to warn you that this next part of SR’s Fab Five is pure speculation, and definitely falls under the category of opinion. I may be going out on a limb here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if cornerback Ronde Barber asks for more money this spring either in the form of a pure raise or another signing bonus with a contract extension.
In the act of full disclosure, Pewter Report has not spoken to Barber about this as we have not been able to get a hold of him due to the fact that this is the offseason. We did speak with his representative, Ethan Locke, who told Pewter Report that he does not talk about his clients’ contracts to the media. That was as far as we got on that trail.
But there are some factors that lead me to think the wheels are in motion for either an extension and/or a pay raise. First, Barber was named to the Pro Bowl this year, as well as the AP All-Pro First-Team. Making the Pro Bowl in 2004, coupled with playing at least 75 percent of the defensive snaps, automatically triggered a $500,000 escalator in his contract. Barber’s $4.6 million cap value in 2005 just became a $5.1 million cap value due to making the Pro Bowl.
The fact that Barber makes so much money, coupled with the fact that his contract is up after the 2006 season makes him a candidate to restructure. Expect general manager Bruce Allen to approach him about helping the team’s salary cap situation this winter.
If you remember, Barber’s name was mentioned on the gossipy ProFootballTalk.com website as a player who may be asked to take a paycut. Pewter Report did its due diligence and asked Barber about the speculative report. He told us last spring that he had not heard anything about taking a pay cut, and in fact would not mind asking for a pay raise. That, of course, was before Barber turned in an All-Pro, Pro Bowl season.
Barber has also carved a valuable niche for himself in that he is one of Jon Gruden’s most publicly outspoken, loyal supporters. He preaches the need for teamwork in interviews and on his weekly radio show on WDAE 620 AM and Thunder 103.5 FM during the football season.
The danger of Allen and the Bucs’ giving Barber a pay hike if he asks for it is possibly triggering cornerback Brian Kelly asking for more money, too. Kelly did restructure his contract last year, and received a $2.265 million signing bonus for extending it through 2008. Kelly’s salary cap value jumps from $1.37 million in 2004 to $3.63 million in 2005.
In the eyes of this beat writer and others around the NFL, Kelly’s abilities closely rival Barber’s. If Barber plays the Pro Bowl, All-Pro card on the Bucs and gets a pay raise, Kelly could be close behind, especially because he is represented by Gary Uberstine, who also represented disgruntled, holdout wide receiver McCardell. I’m not saying that Barber will ask for a pay raise or hold out, and I’m not saying that Kelly will also ask for a pay raise or hold out, either. I have no evidence to support that either scenario would take place. But neither scenario is out of the realm of possibility, either.
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• A lot of the Buccaneers’ chemistry issues can be directly traced to head coach Jon Gruden’s refusal to bench Michael Pittman, who despite producing over 1,300 yards this season and scoring 10 touchdowns, had six costly fumbles this season that directly contributed to losses at St. Louis, at Carolina, home against New Orleans and on the road against Arizona. If you listen closely to players like defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber, who publicly questioned the team’s lack of discipline, both players specifically mentioned “putting the football on the ground” or “leaving the ground.” With unproven backs in Earnest Graham and Ian Smart backing up Pittman, Gruden had little choice other than to play Pittman and hope he doesn’t fumble. That was the primary beef that some of the players had with Gruden, who would have benched Pittman if another viable option, such as a healthy Charlie Garner, was present. As you may have read in my story about Joe Jurevicius this week, he is ticked about his lack of playing time, but that is primarily due to the fact that the offensive line needs help in pass protection from the tight ends and that prevents the Bucs from running more three wide receiver sets – not necessarily Gruden.
• At his Thursday press conference, Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen was wise to hold himself accountable for the signing of offensive lineman Todd Steussie, which was a disaster, and projecting him to play right tackle. Allen also admitted that not having competition for kicker Martin Gramatica was a mistake, among other factors that led to his team’s 5-11 mark in 2004. And there was one other mistake that Allen admitted to, albeit in a cryptic comment that needs to be deciphered. When Allen said, “We identified good talent. We need to do a better job – and it’s my responsibility – in making sure we keep the right guys at the final cut,” he was talking about seventh-round pick Mark Jones, who was a versatile receiver-cornerback-return man drafted in the seventh round out of Tennessee. The Bucs have agonized all season over losing Jones to the New York Giants on waivers back in September as they were trying to sneak him on to their practice squad. When Joey Galloway went down in Week 1, Tampa Bay’s punt return game suffered for weeks with the aged Tim Brown filling in as the return man. The Bucs came very close to filling Jones’ void by adding return man Wes Welker to their practice squad a few weeks into the season, but Miami beat them to the punch and added him to its active roster instead. If the Bucs were wise, they would spend a late-round 2005 draft pick on Hawaii wide receiver and return man Chad Owens. I’ll have more about him in a future SR’s Fab Five.
This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport.com. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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 protected]
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