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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Three members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are expected to play critical roles have added bulk and muscle this offseason. Wide receiver Michael Clayton, who arrived at One Buccaneer Place last year as a lanky, 6-foot-4, 197-pounder, has filled out and added about 20 pounds of muscle from a year ago.
Clayton has bulked up close to 220 pounds, largely due to the request of head coach Jon Gruden who showed Tampa Bay’s 2004 first-round pick a picture of muscle-bound NFL receiver Terrell Owens and told him that is a physique that he should aspire to have. Clayton told PewterReport.com that he’s “right where he needs to be,” but concedes that he’ll likely lose a couple of pounds once he is cleared to run at full speed after his offseason knee surgery rehabilitation is complete this spring.
Expect Clayton to report to training camp around 215 pounds and start the 2005 season between 212-215 pounds. That will represent an increase of over 15 pounds from a year ago and only make him more difficult for defenders to deal with.
Linebacker Marquis Cooper, who was a skinny, 6-foot-3, 210-pounder as a rookie last season, has spent the winter adding about five pounds of mass to his wiry frame. Cooper is challenging Jeff Gooch for the starting strongside linebacker position this year and the coaching staff wanted Cooper to get bigger.
If he can stay around 215 pounds, or even get to 220 pounds by the time the season starts, Cooper will stand a better chance of dealing with the rigors of playing linebacker in the NFL for 16 weeks.
Nose tackle Damien Gregory, who is competing with newcomer Chris Hovan for the starting spot that was created when Chartric Darby left for Seattle in free agency, weighed 305 pounds last year, but is now closer to 320 pounds.
After years of obstaining from huge, plugging-type nose tackles and settling for smaller, quicker players, the Bucs want to get a little bigger up the middle due to the success that teams had running the ball last year. Tampa Bay likes Gregory, who is coming off of a patella injury in 2004, and has requested that he add some size.
Look for Gregory to play at 315 pounds this year, which will give him a 20-pound advantage over the 295-pound Hovan in training camp and in the preseason. Should Gregory win the starting job or receive some playing time, he stands a much better chance of anchoring against double teams with the added mass.
Last year, the 290-pound Darby was pushed around too easily when doubled by a guard and a center. The Bucs want more size in the middle, but they won’t sacrifice quickness to get it. Gregory, like Clayton, must walk the fine line of adding bulk without losing speed.
FAB 2. New quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett figures to be a great addition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only is he a gifted developer of quarterbacks, whose former pupils range from Joe Montana (San Francisco), Rich Gannon (Kansas City) and Chad Pennington (New York Jets), but he will add wisdom to the offensive braintrust that is made up of head coach and playcaller Jon Gruden and Bill Muir, who is the offensive coordinator in addition to coaching the offensive line.
When developing a game plan, Gruden typically installs the passing game and the routes that go with it, while Muir is charged with the primary responsibility of the pass protections and the line calls that go with the running game. Hackett, a noted West Coast offense disciple who has plenty of experience as an offensive coordinator in Kansas City and New York in the NFL, will be able to help Gruden and Muir by consulting them on the game plan each week.
The fact that Hackett has worked with Gruden before at the University of Pittsburgh in 1991 and with Muir in New York in 2001 is a plus and allows for the three minds to come together much sooner than if Hackett was a pure outsider. In fact, it is that comfort zone Gruden was looking for to help out with the quarterabacks when John Shoop was not retained after spending just one season coaching the QBs in Tampa Bay.
While sitting in quarterback meetings, Gruden must have wondered why Shoop and his predecessor, Stan Parrish, were around when he could do a better job with the signal callers himself. The problem with Gruden revolved around time. Since the arrival of Chris Simms in 2003, Gruden hasn’t found the time to juggle the responsibilities of being an effective head coach, game-planner, playcaller and quarterback developer.
The hope is with Hackett, whose resumé is much more impressive than either Parrish’s or Shoop’s, Gruden won’t have to worry about the progression of his quarterbacks because he knows that they are in good hands. That should give him more time to devote to managing his team and doodling the X’s and O’s with Muir and make him more productive and efficient in those areas.
Hey, the addition of tight ends coach Ron Middleton helped Rich Bisaccia’s special teams last year, and the addition of senior assistant Aaron Kromer is expected to help Muir coach the offensive line. So why not help the head coach by adding Hackett to the coaching staff, too? Smart move.
FAB 3. Although Paul Hackett’s primary job in Tampa Bay will be to aid the development of quarterbacks Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Akili Smith and whoever else the team acquires between now and the season opener, Hackett will also be helpful in trying to kickstart a sagging running game that ranked 29th in the NFL last year while averaging just 93.1 yards per game.
With Hackett at the controls of the New York offense from 2001-04, the Jets produced three of the top five single-season rushing totals in team history behind Pro Bowler Curtis Martin. While the Bucs don’t have a runner with Martin’s talent or production, Hackett will bring some concepts and ideas to Tampa Bay that may give the Bucs’ rushing attack a boost.
Hackett shared some of the reasons why the Jets’ running game was so successful during his tenure.
“I think committing to Curtis Martin and committing that he was going to get 25 touches a game and that he was going to be the guy that drove the team was a big part of that,” Hackett said. “We designed things for him. He was a veteran back and he had been around a lot. I got a feel for him the longer I was there. Bill Muir was there with him initially, and he was a great draw runner. I think it’s finding the things that you do best with the multiple formations. Of course, Coach Gruden is going to be involved in a lot of different formations and shifting and that sort of thing. I think that’s one of the exciting things – to work with Bill Muir again, and to have some input and some ideas and thoughts about what we want to do.”
With the Buccaneers likely poised to select a running back on the first day of the draft, Hackett said that the team is looking for a versatile guy who can compliment Michael Pittman, who despite six costly fumbles in 2004, had a breakout season last year with a career-high 926 yards rushing and 10 total touchdowns.
“I think you are looking for someone who can do it all,” Hackett said. “Obviously, you want someone who is not only an excellent runner, but in Coach Gruden’s scheme of splitting him out and having him be an extended receiver and having to come out of the backfield as a receiver – you’ve got to look at that part of it, too.
“A young guy who can learn within the system, a lot like Michael Pittman, and can compliment him from a backfield standpoint is probably the ideal match.”
That player will likely be a shiftier, faster runner, as Pittman relies more on power and quickness than he does speed and elusiveness. Hackett said that having a backfield loaded with players who have contrasting styles is beneficial when attacking a defense.
“Curtis Martin was always criticized because his longest run was always 20-25 yards,” Hackett said. “But LaMont Jordan would come in as a change of pace and pop one. I think you are looking for the chemistry and the compliment of that position where all of a sudden that speed differential and the style differential puts pressure on a defense. That’s one of the things I know Coach is looking at very carefully in terms of where we go from here.”
The Bucs have had Auburn’s Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, Texas’ Cedric Benson, California’s J.J. Arrington and Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Moats in for private visits over the last two weeks and with the exception of Benson, those running backs aforementioned would provide a change of pace to Pittman’s running style.
FAB 4. Offensive coordinator and line coach Bill Muir is anxious to work with Paul Hackett again. Muir was New York’s offensive line coach in 2001 when Hackett was calling plays for the Jets. Together, they are expected to revamp the Bucs’ struggling running game, which simply put, needs to have better coaching and better execution, according to Muir.
While the personnel may change as right guard Cosey Coleman is gone and younger players like center Sean Mahan, tackle Anthony Davis and guard Jeb Terry could crack the starting lineup to help create holes for the running backs, the philosophy and play calls won’t. Muir says that the Tampa Bay’s playbook doesn’t need to be overhauled, just better taught, studied and performed.
“Our running game, to be perfectly blunt about it, is in essence the same running game that the New York Jets have been running and they lead the league in rushing,” Muir said. “It’s similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs do running the ball. There’s no magic wand that you wave. Basically, what we need to do is do a better job coaching the run and I think we need to do a better job executing what we do have on the table relative to an X’s and O’s approach.
“It works. It’s proven. Look around the league and you’ll see plays like the ones we run. We’ve just got to do a better job coaching it and the players have to do a better job of executing it. I don’t think it’s a question of re-designing anything. It’s just doing a better job preparing and a better job of execution. I believe that what we are doing is the right thing.”
Aside from an offensive line makeover, Tampa Bay wants to upgrade the talent level at running back and wide receiver, too. Adding a premier rusher on draft day, or even a starting-caliber wide receiver that would force teams to defend the Bucs’ passing game first and not crowd the line of scrimmage with eight men in “the box” would be a big help. But the teaching methods of Hackett and new offensive line assistant Aaron Kromer should go a long way, too.
“We worked together with the Jets,” Muir said of Hackett. “I’m very familiar with Paul and his reputation. Having the opportunity to work with him for a second time is a very exciting proposition.”
The addition of Kromer, a hands-on coach who essentially replaces Jim Pyne, who was Muir’s assistant last year, should help the offensive linemen hone their technique and improve the running game, too.
“He has experience in the National Football League coaching the offensive line,” Muir said of Hackett. “In fact, he was the offensive line coach for two years in Oakland. Bringing his expertise in here, along with myself, I think we may be able to give a little more individual attention to specific players just simply because of the numbers we have in our unit.”
There has been some talk around One Buccaneer Place about putting an added emphasis on the outside running game this season due to the arrival of tight end Anthony Becht, who is regarded as a superior perimeter blocker. But Muir said that any discussion of that nature may be premature depending on what personnel the team feels most comfortable with on opening day.
“If you look at the past three years and the distribution of runs, we do have an outside perimeter game, an off-tackle power game and an inside running game,” Muir said. “I think we pretty evenly distributed them and will continue to do that.
FAB 5. Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• Where do the Buccaneers stand salary cap-wise? Team sources tell Pewter Report that Tampa Bay is about $50,000 under the cap. The Bucs had to tinker with the contract of defensive end Bryant McNeal to help clear some cap room needed to sign nose tackle Chris Hovan. McNeal’s salary cap value for 2005 was $497,379, but has been reduced to $343,000. That restructuring netted the Bucs just over $154,000 worth of cap space.
• In an effort to increase flexibility and agility while hopefully cutting down on injuries, the Buccaneers will be beginning yoga and Pilates training next week at One Buccaneer Place. A lot of the younger players seem to be embracing the new method of training while some older veterans will likely opt out of the voluntary workouts.
• Here’s an observation about team chemistry just based on some discussions I’ve had with numerous players this offseason. You can sense a split on this team, but in general, Jon Gruden has not completely lost the locker room. There are some veteran players who are jaded on Gruden as a head coach and some of the things he says, but there are some veterans that are still behind him and following his lead. However, the younger players on the team are united behind Gruden, and that may be why he is anxious to reward their hard work, patience and support and get them into the starting lineup (if they are ready). As for the veterans who are growing tired of Gruden, they are outnumbered and their numbers are dwindling. And with each free agent signing and draft pick added this offseason, the Bucs are getting younger and younger by the day. That bodes well for Gruden, who must weed out any non-believers on the team this year or next for the good of the team – regardless of their status on the team. In 2006, Gruden should truly have his “own team” as many of the holdovers from the Tony Dungy era will have been purged.
• While most of the inside scoop in this edition of SR’s Fab Five has revolved around news that has come out of the team’s OTA (organized team activity) workouts last week, there will be plenty of draft info in the next three installments of SR’s Fab Five, one of which will be shortly after the draft. But just to hold you over, here’s some draft-related scoop. Don’t think that the Bucs are ignoring South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson or Michigan wideout Braylon Edwards just because there has been little said about these two players, especially compared to all the speculation and reports linking the Bucs to former USC receiver and Tampa native Mike Williams. The Bucs met with Williamson at the Combine and will have a pre-draft visit with him. They do like him, but perhaps not as much as Edwards and Williams. As for Edwards, he is likely the highest-rated player on Tampa Bay’s draft board. He would be an ideal fit for what they do in their West Coast offense and they would love to have a chance at drafting him. The Bucs plan on visiting with him before the draft if they haven’t already. The reason why there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about Edwards coming from One Buc Place? The Bucs don’t think he’ll slip past Chicago, who picks fourth – one spot ahead of Tampa Bay.
• Alright, one last draft note. The team has done a lot of homework on Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson, who will likely be the first defensive player taken in the 2005 NFL Draft. I’m not necessarily saying that the Bucs will draft Johnson, but the team is doing its due diligence on him. Another draft prospect to keep in mind is Utah safety Morgan Scalley. Scalley is a fast, undersized safety with great instincts, a nose for the ball, special teams ability and high character. He was a producer on an undefeated Utah team last year and a high-motor overachiever. The Bucs have been paying a lot of attention to him lately and he could be a real possibility on the second day of the draft.
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