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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. With Tampa Bay owning the 23rd overall pick in the NFL Draft and having strong success in finding players at the Senior Bowl last April with the likes of running back Cadillac Williams, linebacker Barrett Ruud, tight end Alex Smith, guard Dan Buenning and defensive tackle Anthony Bryant, the Buccaneers’ brass will be making the trek to Mobile, Ala. this week to scour some more talent at the Senior Bowl practices.
Pewter Report will be filing daily reports live from Mobile this week and we suspect that the Buccaneers will be targeting offensive tackles, wide receivers and running backs on the offensive side of the ball. Because the Bucs will pick so late in the first round due to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, Tampa Bay likely won’t have a shot at drafting either Virginia left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who figures to be a top 5 pick, and USC right tackle Winston Justice, who is expected to be selected between picks 10-20 in the first round.
However, the Bucs will likely have a chance to draft one of the second-tier tackles – Miami’s Eric Winston, Auburn’s Marcus McNeill and Boston College’s Jeremy Trueblood – and all three will be at the Senior Bowl this week to scout. Also, they’ll be keeping an eye on Boise State left tackle Daryn Colledge, who did a great job of matching up with Boston College’s stud defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka in the MPC Bowl in December. Another player of note is Pittsburgh tackle Charles Spencer, who, like Colledge, might move to guard at the next level.
The wide receiver crop doesn’t appear to be too solid at the Senior Bowl, but the Buccaneers will certainly give Arizona State’s 6-foot-2 star Derek Hagan a thorough scouting, and will also look closely at 6-foot-4 Martin Nance from Miami of Ohio, in addition to Sinorice Moss, who is an undersized speedster at 5-foot-9. Jon Gruden likes big wide receivers and the Bucs only have three on their roster in Michael Clayton, Larry Brackins and J.R. Russell – and both Brackins and Russell are not locks to make the 2006 Buccaneers by any means. Russell came into the league with an attitude problems, and our sources tell Pewter Report that he wasn’t able to shake those problems during his rookie season in Tampa Bay.
The reason why Tampa Bay may be scouting running backs is the fact that backup Michael Pittman is contemplating exercising a buyout clause in his contract that would allow him to void the remaining year by paying the Bucs $200,000. Pittman knows that his opportunities to touch the ball will only decrease in 2006 with Cadillac Williams producing a 1,000-yard season.
But even though Williams won Rookie of the Year honors in 2005, he also didn’t shake pre-draft durability questions and missed two games with a sprained foot and was ineffective in a few others due to that injury. If Pittman leaves Tampa Bay, the Bucs will certainly have to draft a running back to compete with Derrick Watson to serve as a backup to Cadillac.
Memphis’ DeAngelo Williams is a perfect fit for Tampa Bay, but he won’t be there at number 23, and with Tampa Bay already spending a first-round draft pick on Cadillac last year, they won’t draft another running back with their first pick. Some of the running backs that Tampa Bay will focus on at the Senior Bowl include LSU’s Joseph Addai and Jerious Norwood from Mississippi State. Both Addai and Norwood appear to have the size, tough running style and the receiving ability to fit into Gruden’s offense.
The Bucs will also get a look at a familiar face in USF running back Andre Hall, but there are questions about whether he is big enough to hold up in pass protection at the next level. Protecting the passer is one of the vital skills that Tampa Bay running backs must have.
With the success of its two-tight end offense this year, Tampa Bay will also take a look at Colorado tight end Joe Klopfenstein and UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis. Smith, the team’s third-round pick last year, is a keeper, but the Bucs will want to add depth to the team behind he and Anthony Becht. All Tampa Bay has is Dave Moore and Will Heller.
FAB 2.The Buccaneers will also be looking for help on the defensive side of the ball in Mobile. With its top three cornerbacks – Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Juran Bolden – over the age of 30, Tampa Bay could use another developmental cornerback to throw in the mix with promising young players like Blue Adams and James Patrick. Penn State’s dynamic duo of Alan Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips will be attending the Senior Bowl and will be heavily scrutinized by the Buccaneers scouts. Both Zemaitis and Phillips project as late round-one, early round-two selections.
The Bucs also need to find an eventual successor for 32-year old weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, and there will be a couple of prospects in Mobile, including Iowa’s Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, and Maryland’s tackling machine, D’Qwell Jackson, who is a Tampa native. Greenway may not be around by the time Tampa Bay picks at number 23 in the first round, but Jackson, a probable first-rounder, should be there along with Hodge, who is likely a second-round pick.
Tampa Bay will also be doing some recon on a talented group of defensive linemen at this year’s Senior Bowl. With defensive ends Greg Spires and Simeon Rice both over the age of 30 and having high salary cap values, the Bucs will be looking to add some more ends to team with Dewayne White and Andrew Williams in the future. Tampa Bay really likes Tennessee’s Parys Harralson, Penn State’s Tamba Hali, Virginia Tech’s Darryl Tapp and will also scout North Carolina State’s Manny Lawson and the nation’s leading sacker, Louisville’s Elvis Dumervil, hard. Despite tremendous production, Dumervil is only 5-foot-11 and doesn’t have the elite speed and quickness that other smallish NFL defensive ends like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis possess.
There is a slight chance that Boston College’s All-American, Mathias Kiwanuka, could be around at number 23. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Kiwanuka resembles Rice in several aspects, and would be a steal that late in the draft. Most mock drafts have Kiwanuka going in the top 15 picks.
The Buccaneers also need to get more production from the under tackle position where Anthony McFarland has been a disappointment over the last two years given the production that his predecessor, Warren Sapp, put up, and how much McFarland is making in terms of salary. We expect the Bucs to take a close look at Florida State’s Broderick Bunkley, a Tampa native, in addition to Virginia Tech’s Jonathan Lewis and LSU’s Claude Wroten.
FAB 3. You can’t say that Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen isn’t afraid of being unpopular.
One of the first things he did upon coming to the Buccaneers in January 2004 was releasing one of the team’s icons in Pro Bowler and fan-favorite John Lynch for salary cap relief. Then Allen didn’t re-sign another fan favorite in future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp – again due to salary cap reasons that were beyond his control.
Throw in the fact that the success of free agent additions such as punter Josh Bidwell, Ian Gold and Brian Griese and the trade for Joey Galloway was offset by the acquisitions of running back Charlie Garner (torn patella tendon in Week 3), offensive tackles Todd Steussie (benched in Week 5) and Derrick Deese (only a modest upgrade from Roman Oben), and defensive tackle Darrell Russell (released prior to training camp for violating a character clause in his contract) and his first year in free agency was not too favorable.
Of course, the offense’s best player, wide receiver Keenan McCardell, never reported to the Buccaneers in a contract dispute, which forced Allen to continue his “tough guy” role. By that I mean, a guy who makes tough decisions.
Allen also took some bullets from fans and critics after the 2004 season when he had to let the productive Gold go and release the popular wide receiver Joe Jurevicius in salary cap moves. He then denied defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and linebackers coach Joe Barry the right to interview for defensive coordinator positions for other teams in the league – a move that seemed cold-hearted to some.
This week, Allen has added to reputation for making the tough call when he denied the opportunity for Barry, who is Marinelli’s son-in-law, to join his father-in-law up in Detroit as the Lions’ defensive coordinator. Barry pleaded with Allen to make an exception for this “special circumstance” to keep his family together, but to no avail.
While some will call Allen cold-hearted, an objective look will show that he is only doing his job as Tampa Bay’s general manager – and doing it well. He is charged with the responsibility of making the Buccaneers the best team possible, and he has determined that the team is better off with Joe Barry as its linebackers coach than without him. This is the same approach he took several times with Marinelli by not letting him go to New York, Indianapolis and Chicago to become a defensive coordinator. Allen takes the personal aspect out of the equation and looks at what’s best for the Buccaneers.
By denying Barry’s Detroit opportunity, Allen is also looking out for Monte Kiffin’s interests. Kiffin already has to hire a new defensive line coach to replace Marinelli, a new defensive backs coach to replace Mike Tomlin, who left to become Minnesota’s defensive coordinator, and another defensive assistant to replace Raheem Morris, who recently became Kansas State’s defensive coordinator.
By keeping Barry for one more year – it’s a safe bet that Barry will become a defensive coordinator somewhere else in 2007 – Kiffin has to find, teach and groom one less position coach. With Barry’s help, Kiffin should be able to have some assistance in bringing the new position coaches up to speed even faster.
Allen also has to maintain precedent. He has denied Barry, Tomlin and Marinelli opportunities to interview for defensive coordinator positions in the past and can’t make any exceptions now or in the future if he wants this “honor your contract” policy to stay in effect. Getting to make your own rules is part of being a general manager. Allen has made his rules and he’s sticking to them, which shows good, consistent leadership.
Personally speaking, I would have let Barry go to Detroit if I were in Allen’s shoes. I like Joe and think he’s earned the right to be a defensive coordinator and this opportunity should have been the exception to the rule. But that’s me. The bottom line is that while you can fault Allen for not being compassionate, you can’t fault him for doing his job, which is looking out for the Buccaneers’ best interests – like it or not.
Those close to Allen say that he isn’t worried about his reputation or the bullets that may come his way from angry fans or critics in the media. Recent history suggests that’s true.
FAB 4. By now you’ve probably heard a lot of chatter from the national media about how the Detroit Lions “took a chance” on Rod Marinelli. Pundits will point out that Marinelli has no previous head coaching or coordinating experience, but they seem to discount the fact that he has been an assistant head coach at the college and pro level, which is wrong.
Behind the scenes at One Buccaneer Place, Marinelli would frequently address the entire team in meetings at the urging of head coach Jon Gruden. In fact, Gruden allowed Marinelli to address the team in meetings for the first four games in 2002, and it was Marinelli – not Gruden – that came up with Tampa Bay’s popular “Pound the Rock” saying that became the team’s slogan during its Super Bowl run that year.
Buccaneers linebackers coach Joe Barry stresses the fact that Marinelli lived up to his role as assistant head coach.
“Rod is truly an assistant head coach, not just in title,” said Barry. “He has addressed the entire team in team meetings and was a big leader – not just to guys in his room, but to guys like Derrick Brooks and offensive players like Mike Alstott, too. I give Jon a lot of credit for seeing a talent and using that talent to the team’s advantage.”
Aside from being without the league’s premier defensive line coach, the Buccaneers will miss Marinelli’s ability to lead and motivate men. He was notorious for collaborating with the Bucs’ video department to make some motivating films to show the defensive players at the team hotel on Saturday nights. Marinelli would have the video department tape all sorts of Wild Kingdom-type shows – the more gruesome the better. Then he would review it, find the appropriate footage and drive home the message of the week.
Here’s an example, Marinelli had footage of a gazelle being stalked and attacked by a pride of lions. He had numbers such as 55 (Brooks), 56 (Hardy Nickerson), 99 (Warren Sapp), 72 (Chidi Ahanotu), 77 (Brad Culpepper) and 47 (John Lynch)_superimposed on all of the Lions, and a number 20 (Detroit running back Barry Sanders) superimposed on the gazelle. In the video, the gazelle knew it was surrounded by the lions, but used some herky jerky moves to break containment and momentarily escape. When the gazelle did this, the words “Contain! Contain!” appeared on the screen. When a lion lunged at the gazelle and grabbed it by the neck, the wounded gazelle was able to wiggle free due to its adrenaline rush. Then the words “Wrap Up! Wrap Up!” flashed on the screen. With the pack of lions chasing the gazelle, the words “Pursuit! Pursuit!” appearded on screen. Another lion was able to bring down the wounded gazelle and the words “Finish! Finish!” then came up on the video, followed by “Gang Tackle! Gang Tackle!” as all of the lions pounced on the gazelle and brought the animal down as a team.
This video was one of the hundred or so that Marinelli has created over the years to get his troops fired up. Of course, it’s safe to say that Marinelli is not a member of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), but in talking to several Buccaneers defensive players off the record, they love Marinelli’s videos and his approach to motivation.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is a shrewd evaluator of coaching talent and he has an impeccable track record of success for finding great assistant coaches. However, Marinelli will be difficult to replace. Not only was he a defensive line guru who developed the Hall of Fame talent of Sapp and defensive end Simeon Rice, he also got the maximum effort out of overachievers like Brad Culpepper, Chidi Ahanotu, Steve White and Greg Spires, while developing the raw talent of guys like Dewayne White and Ellis Wyms among others.
Replacing Marinelli the defensive line coach will be easier than replacing Marinelli the assistant head coach. His vocal leadership will be missed even more than his guru-like qualities of teaching defensive line techniques.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• The Buccaneers’ chances of keeping nose tackle Chris Hovan off the free agent market rose significantly this week with Tampa Bay defensive line guru Rod Marinelli being named Detroit’s head coach. With the Lions already having talented defensive tackles like Shaun Rodgers, Dan Wilkinson and Shaun Cody on hand, there really isn’t room for Hovan. With his position coach and mentor not having a need for him, Hovan’s best opportunity would be to stick with Monte Kiffin, Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen in Tampa Bay. Hovan is a very loyal guy and appreciates the second chance the Bucs gave him, and should re-sign with the team prior to the start of free agency.
• The Buccaneers were looking at a couple of mid-round defensive linemen in USC defensive end Frostee Rucker, Texas A&M defensive tackle Johnny Jolly and Nebraska defensive tackle LeKevin Smith at the East-West Shrine Game practices last week. Those players are in the high-effort style of Ellis Wyms, a former sixth-round pick out of Mississippi State. Tampa Bay was really scouting Jolly and Rucker hard in San Antonio. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Rucker was USC’s second-leading tackler with 56 stops and led the Trojans with 14 tackles for loss in addition to 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Jolly was the Aggies’ third-leading tackler with 64 stops, and led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. With good post-season showings, Rucker and Jolly could be third- or fourth-round picks. Both fit the Tampa 2 scheme in terms of athletic ability, and have the high motors that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin craves in his defensive linemen.
• On the offensive side of the ball in the East-West Shrine Game practices, the Buccaneers were taking a hard look at New Mexico running back DonTrell Moore, who would be a great fit in Tampa Bay, and wide receivers Mike Hass (Oregon State), Todd Watkins (BYU), Jeff Webb (San Diego State) and Marques Colston (Hofstra). The Bucs really like Hass, who is a cross between Indianapolis’ Brandon Stokely and Carolina’s Ricky Proehl. Hass, whom Pewter Report has profiled before, a great possession-type receiver with deceptive speed and a knack for getting open and making big plays downfield. The most intriguing receiver out of this group may be Colston, who is a man-child at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. His game needs polish, having played at Hofstra, but he’s not near as raw as Pearl River Community College’s Larry Brackins, whom the Bucs drafted in the fifth round last year. Tampa Bay was also taking a look at Auburn tight end Cooper Wallace and Oregon tight end Tim Day. Both players figure to be second day draft picks.
• Pewter Report has begun the process of contacting agents for Tampa Bay players who are candidates to have their contracts restructured or players who may become salary cap casualties. Ethan Locke, the agent for Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber, said last week that Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen has yet to contact him about extending or restructuring his client’s deal. “No one has contacted me,” said Locke. “I don’t know what’s going on, but nobody has contacted me about reworking Ronde’s deal or anything like that.” Richard De Luca, the agent of linebacker Jeff Gooch, expects his client, who spent the entire season on injured reserve in 2005 and has a $2.050 million salary cap value in 2006, to have to rework his deal. According to De Luca, Gooch is willing and able to take a pay cut or restructure, which he’ll have to do considering that he has no leverage and Ryan Nece did a good job as the team’s starting strongside linebacker. “I’m sure he’s a candidate,” said De Luca. “Jeff should be 100 percent healthy in the next few weeks. We’re understanding of the Bucs’ salary cap situation and Jeff’s cap value. We’ll be as flexible as they need us to be.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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