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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. As it turned out on draft day, there were very few surprises at One Buccaneer Place. It turned out to be a very safe draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (see Fab 2) with the only real newsy item on April 23 being that the team may move promising young left tackle Anthony Davis to guard due to the drafting of North Carolina State left tackle Chris Colmer with Tampa Bay’s second third-round pick.
The selection of Colmer caught Pewter Report off guard. We would have thought Tampa Bay would draft a guard before selecting a left tackle prospect – mainly because of the improved play of Davis over the 2004 season in practice. But Tampa Bay apparently had Davis in mind when it was thinking of using a pick on Colmer, who is an aggressive, physical player much like Davis.
I have stated for a year now that the guard play has killed the Bucs’ running game, and when I said that to head coach Jon Gruden late last season, he said, ‘You won’t get an argument from me.'” Without better play from Tampa Bay’s guards, the Bucs will never have a good inside running game. Getting rid of left guard Cosey Coleman was a good start, and with the drafting of fourth-rounder Dan Buenning, left guard Matt Stinchcomb has definitely been put on notice.
Tampa Bay was absolutely smitten by Fresno State left guard Logan Mankins, whom Pewter Report listed as a Bucs’ Best Bet at guard in its Bucs Draft Preview. The Bucs were poised to take him with their second-round pick before New England snatched him up at the end of the first round. With Michigan’s David Baas also off the board, Tampa Bay pulled the trigger on Nebraska middle linebacker Barrett Ruud – another player Pewter Report listed as a Bucs’ Best Bet in our pre-draft issue.
The reason Tampa Bay avoided drafting a guard in the third round was because the next guard worthy of selecting early was Buenning, who carried a fourth-round grade, which is where he was selected by the Bucs. But Colmer was too good to pass up, and Davis is too good to sit on the bench in 2005, which is why the team is apparently trying to find a place where he can crack the starting lineup this year – whether it is at left tackle, right tackle or at guard.
“Yeah, I kind of think that, to be honest with you,” said Davis, regarding why he may be shuffled around the O-line this offseason. “I know that Coach (Bill) Muir and Coach Gruden have told me they want their best people on the field at all times. My whole thing is that there is a big transition from going to left tackle to left guard. I’m used to not having anybody on the outside of me. It would be a big adjustment for me. Even the stuff we’re doing on the field (at the OTAs), I’m still at left tackle. Maybe it’s because Colmer isn’t here (yet) or (starting left tackle Derrick) Deese isn’t here. I’ve played some right tackle at times, too. I’ve talked with Bill and he said he’s going to give me every opportunity to start – but where … we just don’t know yet.
“I’ve talked to Coach Muir and he wants me to play all over. He wants me to learn how to play everything – both guards and both tackles. Nothing’s set in stone yet. I’m not done at left tackle, either – not with Deese or the draft pick.”
Davis, who made the 53-man roster last year after spending the 2003 season on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech, said he wasn’t shocked or upset that the Bucs drafted a left tackle like Colmer on the first day of the draft. He’s ready to compete against him and against the other players at different positions, too.
“Actually, I didn’t even know they drafted him,” Davis said. “Somebody called me and told me. I asked how many linemen (the Bucs) got, and he said, ‘They got two – a tackle and a guard.’ But you know what? Last year, we had 17 or 18 linemen in camp. It didn’t bother me at all. We were so deep last year with the (returning) starters and all the free agents and practice squad guys. I think right now we have a little bit less, so it’s better than last year.”
Davis’ goal is to become a starter in 2005, even if it comes at a position that is not his familiar left tackle spot. The fact that the talents of the 6-foot-4, 329-pounder are so well thought of at One Buccaneer Place led them to consider moving him inside where his size and physical nature could provide the Bucs with the power necessary to combat the tough defensive fronts of division rivals Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans, who won more line of scrimmage battles than they lost last year against Tampa Bay.
Davis is not opposed to being moved, but he told Pewter Report that he wants to start the transition sooner rather than later – if there is going to be a position switch.
“I want to get going,” Davis said. “I know what I’m doing at both tackle spots. I know what I’m doing at guard, too. When I say I want to get it going, it’s from a technique standpoint. I learned a lot from Roman (Oben) when he was here. I learned a lot from Steussie and Deese as far as tricks of the trade at tackle. I just want to learn those things at guard from a technique standpoint, too.”
Although Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, running back Carnell Williams, helped Auburn beat Davis’ Virginia Tech Hokies in the Sugar Bowl in January, he is jazzed about the fact that he’ll be blocking for the back known as “Cadillac.”
“I’m excited,” Davis said. “I know they’re going to hand the ball of to him because he’s a high draft pick. They are going to let him get his yards on the ground, and that’s my style – that run-blocking kind of style. Be aggressive. Be physical. I can’t wait.”
However, Davis will have to wait just a little bit longer before he knows where to line up to block for Williams. The next round of OTAs will take place in two weeks and Davis will likely know if he’ll stay a tackle or become a guard. The guess here is that he winds up at right guard where he’ll compete with Jeb Terry or right tackle where he’ll compete against Kenyatta Walker, especially with Todd Steussie likely becoming a salary cap casualty after June 1.
FAB 2. As I mentioned in Fab 1., I thought the Buccaneers played it safe in the 2005 NFL Draft. Tampa Bay spent its first-round draft pick on Auburn running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who was the closest thing character-wise to star wide receiver Michael Clayton.
With the Bucs in rebuilding mode, they needed to hit a home run in this draft and come away with two or three immediate starters (Williams and tight end Alex Smith) and some real solid, building blocks for the future (linebacker Barrett Ruud and offensive linemen Chris Colmer and Dan Buenning). It is my opinion that they did just that and came through with a solid draft that betters last year’s draft class only because the sheer number of picks the Bucs had.
Although the Bucs were tempted by talented players such as Georgia middle linebacker Odell Thurman and Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson, they steered clear of those players and others like them with questionable character through the first six rounds of the draft. Tampa Bay was high on Thurman, whom some within the organization think could be the second coming of a poor man’s Ray Lewis. But they didn’t trust Thurman enough due to several suspensions he faced while at Georgia for academic and off-field issues. The thinking in the Bucs’ war room was that if the team can’t trust a player – especially a middle linebacker who is supposed to be a leader on defense – then he’s not worth drafting, especially on the first day.
That also was true of McPherson, whom the Bucs cooled on noticeably in the weeks leading up to the draft. In fact, Tampa Bay did not have the local product in for a pre-draft visit, nor did it attend his pro day workout at a nearby high school in Bradenton, Fla.
It boiled down to trust. The quarterback is the leader of the offense, and in most cases, the football team. Head coach Jon Gruden, who works closely with the quarterbacks, cannot have a player he can’t trust in an important, leadership position. McPherson was charged with theft and forging a check while with the Seminoles, and also was under the suspicion of Internet gambling.
That caused him to be expelled from Florida State. That caused the Bucs to avoid him on draft weekend and ultimately craft a plan to trade for Cleveland’s second-year passer, Luke McCown, on Sunday, April 24.
Despite McPherson’s athletic ability, there were also concerns that even after a good year in the Arena Football League, he would need some time to develop due to a lack of playing time at Florida State. But it really was about Tampa Bay wanting to travel the safe path in the 2005 NFL Draft.
The seventh round is where a team can afford to take a chance on a player with questionable character as most seventh-rounders don’t end up making the 53-man roster, and that’s where the Bucs drafted Ole Miss fullback Rick Razzano, which caused some hand-wringing amongst some in the media and with some fans due to his assault trial, which ended in a hung jury during the week following the draft.
Tampa Bay also signed two quality, undrafted free agents that come to One Buc Place with some character questions in Wisconsin guard Jonathan Clinkscale and Oklahoma defensive tackle Lynn McGruder. Both players have faced the consequences of smoking marijuana with McGruder being kicked out of Tennessee earlier in his career and Clinkscale going undrafted due to a positive result for marijuana on the drug test he took at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Generally speaking, the Bucs erred on the side of caution when it came to character, which was a wise move. Williams and Clayton will be leaders on offense and in the locker room for years to come – not to mention productive, winning players.
FAB 3. Since we didn’t have room for it in our Post-Draft Issue, I’d like to offer up some draft analysis on what the other teams in the NFC South did this year. Of Tampa Bay’s three divisional foes, I like what Carolina did the best. I’ve watched Georgia safety Thomas Davis, the Panthers’ first pick, for two years now and absolutely love the player.
He’s a tremendous hitter that I feel will be a better linebacker in the pros because he’ll be closer to the line of scrimmage. Davis struggled in coverage a little bit at Georgia, but Carolina will experiment with him at both safety and weakside linebacker (especially with Mark Fields out for the year due to cancer) in the offseason.
Carolina’s second-round pick Eric Shelton is a beast of a running back at 247 pounds. I saw him go 80 yards on the first play from scrimmage against Cincinnati last year and the guy scored close to 20 touchdowns for Louisville. He would not have been a good fit in a West Coast offense, but Shelton is a great fit for Carolina’s scheme. He’ll team with DeShaun Foster to present matchup problems for the Bucs for years to come. Expect him to have some big days against the Bucs. We all know that big backs can do some damage against Tampa Bay’s undersized defense.
I really liked Carolina’s selections of guard Evan Mathis (Alabama), quarterback Stefan LeFors (Louisville), defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison (Missouri) and center Geoff Hangartner (Texas A&M). Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, I think Carolina had a strong draft.
With Rich McKay running the draft in Atlanta you know two things are a given. First, he will draft some really good defensive players. Second, he will make some questionable picks on the offensive side of the ball. For three years in a row now, Atlanta has used its first round pick on a wide receiver. Team owner Arthur Blank traded away the Falcons’ first-rounder to acquire Peerless Price, who has been a bust.
Last year, in McKay’s first draft in Atlanta, the Falcons drafted Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins, who flopped in his rookie season. So it was back to the drawing board this year with the selection of UAB receiver Roddy White. I happen to like Jenkins and White and they should develop into better players than Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green, who were the last two receivers McKay drafted first in back-to-back seasons (1997-98). But will they be the elite receivers that the Falcons need to pair with tight end Alge Crumpler to give Michael Vick some options downfield? Time will tell.
I love the pick of defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (Iowa). Now, when terrorizing under tackle Rod Coleman leaves the game there will not be any drop off in pass rush ability at that position. Babineaux could have six sacks as a “wave” defensive lineman during his rookie season.
Defensive tackle Darrell Shropshire (South Carolina) was a nice way to end the draft and has good traits, but their best pick could be Southern Miss linebacker Michael Boley, whom the Bucs really liked. Boley will team with Demorrio Williams to give the Falcons two potent outside linebackers for years to come. Michigan State running back Deandra Cobb is a deadly kick returner who could make the team and have an immediate impact.
Usually New Orleans does something to bungle their draft, but this year they were pretty solid. Putting the draft day maneuvering aside, Oklahoma right tackle Jammal Brown is a good player. I don’t know if he’s an elite player who will go to Pro Bowls, though. It was a bit of an odd selection at number 11.
Safety Josh Bullocks (Nebraska) and linebacker Alfred Fincher (UConn) were safe picks that will help the Saints defense and special teams. Wide receiver Chase Lyman (California) and quarterback Adrian McPherson (Florida State) are boom or bust projects, but the second day of the draft is the appropriate time to take these kind of risky players, which the Saints did.
FAB 4. Pewter Report has finally gotten some numbers on Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese’s contract, even though the deal was executed prior to the start of free agency back on February 28. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen gave Griese a $3 million signing bonus and restructured his 2005 base salary, which is now $665,000 and includes $1.6 million in “not likely to be earned” bonuses for such milestones such as playing time, a playoff berth, and Pro Bowl and league honors.
Griese’s 2005 salary cap value is $1.398 million and increases to $7.083 million in 2006. As it has been previously reported, Griese’s contract extension with the Bucs is really a series of one-year deals. Griese is due a base salary of $3.5 million in 2006 in addition to a $2.6 million roster bonus, which is payable on the third day of the new league year (in March, 2006). Griese also has the chance to earn a similar bonus package of $1.35 million for “not likely to be earned” incentives, and has an additional $250,000 bonus in his contract for Super Bowl MVP honors.
Griese’s contract is laid out in a similar fashion each year with a big base salary that continues to escalate, coupled with a declining, yet sizeable, roster bonus that is paid on the third day of the new league year. His salary cap values increase to $7.350 million in 2007, $8.350 milllion in 2008 and $9.35 million in 2009.
Tampa Bay will have a better idea of the type of quarterback Griese is and can be after this season. If he performs well in 2005, look for Allen to turn Griese’s current deal into a longer deal that is structured better for the long haul.
FAB 5. Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• Here’s an interesting statistic for you. Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback Brian Griese was drafted in the third round (by Denver) in 1998 with the 30th pick in that round. Griese’s backup, Chris Simms, was also drafted in the third round with the 32nd pick in that round (by Tampa Bay), but several years later in 2003. I knew Griese was a third-round pick, but didn’t realize that he was selected in almost the identical spot that Simms was drafted at.
• Aside from really getting to know to Auburn running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams during the week of the Senior Bowl, there were two elements to Williams’ game that caught Jon Gruden’s attention. The first was that he didn’t drop a single pass during the Senior Bowl week, even when flanked out as a receiver and running routes downfield. Gruden even noted how Williams had success fielding punts behind his back without dropping the ball. The second aspect was Williams’ toughness in short-yardage and goal-line situations, despite his 5-foot-11, 217-pound frame. “If you watch Auburn, he’s the one with all the touchdowns,” Gruden said. “He’s the guy playing on the goal line and carrying the ball on third-and-1. That was one of the things that was loud and clear to us. This guy scores touchdowns and he converts third downs and he runs the clock out when they have the lead late in games. I’m not concerned about him carrying the ball in any situation. I’m certainly not worried about the physical status of Carnell Williams. This guy is a load. I think he’ll prove that when he gets here. Physically, he’s very put together and he’s 217 pounds. I think that’s a comfortable weight for him.”
• A player to keep an eye on is center Scott Jackson, who was a practice squad player in 2004. Jackson participated in the rookie mini-camp last weekend and has really come into his own physically and has a better grasp of the offense. He shined at both center and right tackle, much the same way as Anthony Davis did at left tackle in last year’s rookie mini-camp. Davis said the book report on Jackson has been very favorable this spring. “He was put in the same situation I was put in last year, and I heard he had a good camp,” Davis said. “The thing about Scotty is that he plays all over. He can play left tackle, right tackle, center and guard. He has a couple of notches up on me from where I was at this point last year. They’ve got him all over. I’ve talked to him and told him that when he gets his opportunity to go out and compete and play football. He’s a real smart guy.” Jackson will be competing with John Wade and Sean Mahan for the center position, but could also factor into the mix at right tackle when training camp rolls around.
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