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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Good luck trying to talk to Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden about what is wrong with second-year wide receiver Michael Clayton, who is way off the pace he was last year when he produced 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. Gruden made some subtle suggestions back in training camp that Clayton wasn’t in peak condition, which could be expected after missing most of the offseason workouts due to minor knee surgery.
Gruden has hinted that Clayton’s performance has dipped this season, but hasn’t come right out and said it. The latest example of this was his comments on Friday when asked if new starting quarterback Chris Simms would be more apt to spread the ball around.
“There’s a lot of people counting catches right now instead of just watching the film. A new quarterback’s not going to get a guy going,” Gruden said of Clayton, although not mentioning his name. “That isn’t going to happen. And a play-caller isn’t going to get a guy going. You’ve got to get yourself going, I don’t care what anybody says. The film doesn’t lie; practices don’t lie. Players know players. If you’re a good player, if you’re a great player you’re going to get open and you’re going to get the ball. The arrival of Chris Simms doesn’t mean somebody’s fantasy football stat is going to be [improved]. ‘Gee, we’ve got a new quarterback, let’s buy this stock.’ I’m tired of that.”
Clayton doesn’t know why he hasn’t been more involved in the game plan this year. After all, he is the flanker, or “Z” receiver, which is supposed to be the main cog in Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense. After catching 31 passes for 443 yards and one touchdown through six games last year, Clayton has only 19 catches for 223 yards and no touchdowns in 2005, and he is currently on pace to finish with just 50 catches for 595 yards and no scores.
Ironically, it is split end Joey Galloway who has posted “Clayton-like” numbers through the first six games of the 2005 season with 31 grabs for 499 yards and four touchdowns.
I have a theory as to why Clayton has not gotten involved with catching the ball as much as many expected him to early this year, and it is based on some facts. Fact number one is that Gruden raved about how Clayton didn’t miss a practice last year despite a troublesome knee. This year, Clayton has missed some practices due to a separated shoulder, which Gruden doesn’t like. Gruden understands why injured players miss practice, but he doesn’t have to like it.
Fact number two is that he wanted Clayton to beef up in the weight room, which he did. He went from a lanky, 197-pounder as a rookie to a bulked up 215-pounder this year. Yet Gruden wants him to play faster, which is something that was often overheard in training camp practices and even when Gruden was mic’d up for the Detroit game. The guess here is that due to the added weight and the slow recovery from his knee surgery Clayton may be a tick slower and may have lost a little burst, which if true – and only Gruden and Clayton would know for sure – would be understandable in my eyes.
Fact number three is that Galloway had a much better camp than Clayton did. If you Pewter Insider subscribers remember from our training camp insider reports in August, Clayton dropped a surprising number of balls. Galloway, on the other hand, dazzled every day and stayed healthy. At the end of camp, yours truly gave Galloway an A- grade while Clayton and Ike Hilliard received B+ grades. In hindsight, Clayton and Hilliard should have received B grades to better emphasize how clear it was that Galloway was the best receiver in camp.
Gruden probably did the wise thing by forgetting about 2004 and constructing this year’s playbook around who was performing well in camp in 2005, and that was Galloway. Based on this logic, it should come as no surprise that Galloway has been the primary option on most passing plays. It was obvious that Brian Griese established a strong rapport with Galloway in Orlando this past summer, and Gruden took notice, too.
But don’t subscribe to the notion that Gruden is deliberately doing anything to punish Clayton. That’s simply not the case. Gruden is not about to hinder his offense to prove a point to Clayton, but perhaps one point he’s trying to get across to Clayton is to practice better, play faster and you’ll get the ball more when you deserve it. Gruden has never been known to hand anybody anything, regardless of a player’s status on the team. In other words, this is more about what Galloway is doing right rather than anything Clayton may be doing wrong. Right now, Galloway deserves the ball more because he put the work in during the offseason and in training camp.
Come to think of it, the fact that Clayton dropped a couple of catchable balls in the season opener at Minnesota didn’t help his cause this year, either.
FAB 2. There is a sense of excitement with third-year quarterback Chris Simms poised to get his third career start in an NFL game on Sunday when the Bucs head west to face the San Francisco 49ers. Tampa Bay’s suddenly young locker room is buzzing over Simms’ confidence, which borders on cockiness, and his rocket arm, which has the potential to make the Bucs’ offense a little more dynamic and explosive.
There has even been some talk that he will spread the ball around more to receivers other than Joey Galloway, who is currently leading the Bucs with 31 catches for 499 yards this season. That may be the case, but don’t expect Galloway’s production to drop off just because Simms is now pulling the trigger.
Why? Galloway and Simms are very good close friends and have spent countless hours together after practice playing catch, especially in the offseason. Galloway loves to go deep and Simms loves to throw it deep. That’s a recipe for some big plays.
And don’t forget that in the first game that Simms and Galloway played together in – last year’s season finale at Arizona – Galloway led the Bucs with three catches for 48 yards, while Clayton had two receptions for 86 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown.
“I definitely won’t overlook him, but sometimes I think Joey needs it to be spread around so he doesn’t get a safety over top of him all the time,” Simms said. “He’s a great receiver with unbelievable speed. He may be the fastest player in the NFL. I’ll always be on the lookout for him.”
Brian Griese was certainly on the look out for Galloway as he was quick to lock on him during the first six games of the season, largely because Galloway was producing. But Simms will take a longer look around and won’t hesitate to throw the ball to Clayton, even if he is covered. The 6-foot-4 receiver doesn’t get the separation that the quicker Galloway does, and Simms has so much confidence in his arm that he won’t hesitate to thread the needle. Griese was more apt to not take that chance and throw to Galloway, who has a knack for quickly finding the holes in zone coverage, settling down in those zones and presenting himself as an open target.
But Galloway and Clayton won’t be the only ones benefiting from Simms’ ability to spray the ball around the field. Rookie tight end Alex Smith, who has a good rapport with Simms from the offseason, expects to get more looks his way during the last 10 games of the season. Simms said he will be looking for him, too.
“He’s a downfield, vertical threat,” Simms said. “I got a lot of reps with him in the summer, so that should help me out. I got to throw one ball to him the other day against Miami. He got called for offensive pass interference, which was a B.S. call.”
Aside from his weapons, Simms also expects to get some help from new quarterback Tim Rattay, who is castoff from San Francisco. Rattay has aided Simms while studying 49ers film this week, pointing out some tendencies from some of San Francisco’s defensive players.
“Through watching film he’s said, “Look for this route. They have problems covering it,” Simms said. “Everything else, he’s relayed that to Coach Gruden and he’s put it in the game plan. He’d definitely be a help when I’m out there on Sunday, coming off to the sidelines. I think he’ll be able to tell me what to look for.”
Tampa Bay’s players have rallied around Simms this week, which is exactly what Gruden wanted.
“We’ve got to rally around Simms,” Gruden said earlier in the week. “Whether we’re running the ball or throwing the ball or whatever we’re doing, we’ve got to rally around him. It’s his third career start. In his first start he got hurt and in his last start he was rusty a little bit, (and) didn’t have his best stuff. Hopefully we’re ready to roll.”
“I think he’s matured a lot as a player and as a person,” said Bucs defensive lineman Ellis Wyms, who has faced Simms in practice over the last three years. “I think he takes the job a lot more serious than he did his rookie year. He’s a lot more focused and a lot more confident in running the offense.
“You have to have a presence to play quarterback. You have to have the presence of mind to do your job under a lot of duress because a lot of things aren’t going to go your way. He’s more comfortable with the guys he’s playing with and he’s more comfortable reading defenses and knowing what’s coming. At any position, experience is always helpful. Instead of being back there scared, you’re back there confident. He’s confident.”
And the Bucs are confident in him.
FAB 3. In my last SR’s Fab Five column, I discussed some of the more interesting senior wide receiver prospects for the 2006 NFL Draft. But there was one notable omission – Wyoming’s Jovon Bouknight.
Bouknight doesn’t appear to have the necessary traits to develop into a number one wide receiver at NFL level, but could become a number three receiver, or perhaps even a number two receiver with the right coaching and hard work. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, he reminds me of a mix between Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. He’s not quite as fast as Smith, but he’s quicker than McCardell, and has McCardell’s sure hands and has the playmaking ability of both gifted receivers.
NFL scouts like his concentration, desire, competitiveness, body control and flair for making big plays. The knock on Bouknight, which is pronounced (Bo-night), is that he’s probably closer to a 4.55 guy in the 40-yard dash and that, along with his lack of size, will cause him to fall to Day 2 in the draft.
Because Wyoming isn’t on television that much, and the Mountain West Conference doesn’t get a whole lot of attention from the national media, my first real exposure to Bouknight came last winter when the Cowboys upset UCLA, 24-21, in the Las Vegas Bowl. Despite playing with a broken wrist, Bouknight caught five passes for 107 yards, returned three kicks for 70 yards, ran for 13 yards and threw a 22-yard touchdown pass that keyed a 14-point fourth quarter comeback over the Bruins.
I’ve gotten the chance to scout Bouknight’s last two games – narrow losses to New Mexico and Colorado State – and have come away very impressed. Bouknight displayed his versatility against New Mexico with a 30-yard run on a fake punt, 110 yards on three kick returns (including a 77-yarder), and he also caught five passes for 106 yards. That’s 246 all-purpose yards.
He proved he was a one-man-gang against Colorado State in the Battle for the Bronze Boot with 12 catches for 187 yards and three touchdowns, two kick returns for 32 yards, two runs for 12 yards and he even threw a 16-yard touchdown pass. That’s 247 all-purpose yards.
Granted the level of competition is lower than it would be if Bouknight played in the Big 10, Big 12, SEC or ACC, but he has enough intangibles to go along with his athleticism to make him NFL-worthy. If you don’t believe me, here’s what Bouknight’s coach, Joe Glenn told the Denver Post: “We keep saying we need to get him the ball more because the guy just has the knack and the desire to make big plays. He’s one of those special players that come along once in a lifetime. He’s just amazing after the catch. I mean, when he catches the ball, that’s when the fun begins. … Great body control. Great hand-and- eye coordination, and you just don’t find many guys with that kind of desire.”
From what I’ve seen of Bouknight, his competitiveness, desire and passion for football are in Michael Clayton’s class, although his physical talents certainly aren’t in the class of the Bucs’ former first-rounder. Bouknight’s older brother, Chamont, spoke about his competitiveness in an interview with the Denver Post: “He always had that passion and a ton of athletic ability, and when you combine that with that desire not to go down, that’s why he makes so many big plays. I’ll tell you what, he could have been a great college basketball player, too. Everybody in the family thought that was his best sport, but he always wanted to be a football player.”
Wyoming has sent some receivers with gaudy numbers to the NFL over the years, including Marcus Harris and Ryan Yarborough. I remember watching both of those players, and I think Bouknight – because of his special teams ability and passion for football – has the chance to be much better than those two former Cowboys.
Bouknight, who is known for his leadership and high character at Wyoming, has also stepped his play against tougher competition, which NFL scouts tend to place more weight in. Prior to his stellar efforts against Colorado State and New Mexico, Bouknight caught 11 passes for 157 yards and two scores against a good TCU team, and had seven catches for 116 yards and two TDs against UNLV. Against Mississippi, Bouknight had four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. In the season opener at Florida, he hauled in five passes for 54 yards and one score and had 109 yards on three kick returns. Through eight games this season, Bouknight has 52 catches for 843 yards and a career-high 11 TD grabs.
He also had some notable games last season en route to racking up 63 catches for 1,075 yards and seven touchdowns. Against undefeated Utah, Bouknight recorded six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns while returning four kicks for 108 yards. Against Ole Miss, he had five catches for 51 yards and a score, returned three kicks 67 yards and threw the game-winning touchdown on a 69-yard bomb off of a double pass.
There’s a lot to like about Bouknight, and I’ve quickly become a fan of his play after scouting just a handful of his games. He’s a well-spoken young man who has never missed a game in four seasons at Wyoming, and I suspect he’ll interview well in the offseason with scouts, which should only drive his draft stock up a bit. But the real thing that should have scouts buzzing is his ability to create big plays and yards after the catch due to his toughness, footwork and short area quickness.
“When I throw a 5-yard hitch route and he goes 30 for a touchdown, that’s nice,” Wyoming quarterback Casey Bramlet said. “Whenever we get the ball in his hands, it’s going to be a big play.”
FAB 4. Loyal readers of SR’s Fab Five know that I hyped up Virginia running back Alvin Pearman and Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams last year. As an avid watcher of college football (due to draft-related purposes), I fell in love with these backs’ talents to run and catch the ball – which is just as important as toting the leather in Jon Gruden’s offense.
Bucs insiders tell me that Pearman, who Pewter Report picked as a Bucs’ Best Bet RB in our Draft Preview Issue, would have been drafted by Tampa Bay in the fifth round had Jacksonville not gotten to him first in the fourth round. Williams wound up staying for his senior season in Memphis, and despite how much the Bucs and I love him, with Cadillac Williams in the fold and DeAngelo Williams likely to be a first-round pick, it is doubtful Tampa Bay would use another first-rounder at the running back position.
However, Michael Pittman is now 30 and Earnest Graham hasn’t shown me anything to prove that he can be anything more than a third-string halfback, so there is a need to bring in another running back next year, and one of the guys I’ve liked for a couple of years now is New Mexico’s DonTrell Moore. The 5-foot-9, 212-pound Moore is a better off tackle runner than he is an interior rusher, but he has enough toughness to be adequate running inside. But the exciting part of Moore’s game is his elusive running style, quick burst and his ability to catch the ball.
Moore has been starting since his freshman season when he debuted with 1,134 yards and 13 touchdowns on 245 carries (4.6 avg.) and 23 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. As a sophomore, Moore erupted for 1,450 yards and 19 touchdowns on 276 carries (5.3 avg.) while catching 11 passes for 149 yards and two scores. An ankle injury cut into his production last year, but Moore still managed to rush for 1,091 yards and five touchdowns on 232 carries (4.7 avg.) and caught 27 passes for 198 yards and one TD. Moore tore his ACL in the Lobos’ San Francisco Bowl loss to Navy last year.
Moore has proven to NFL scouts that he can rebound from an injury as he has rushed for 1,083 yards and 12 TDs on 221 carries (4.9 avg.) and caught 27 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns this season through eight games. Moore showed his versatility against a good TCU defense this year with 129 yards rushing and a touchdown while catching nine passes for 99 yards and another score. In New Mexico’s last three games, Moore has rushed for 181 yards and three TDs against Wyoming, while adding 37 yards on two catches, as well as a 162-yard, one-touchdown outing against San Diego State last week that also featured 61 yards on six catches. Against Colorado State on Friday night, Moore rushed for 115 yards on 18 carries and scored twice, including a 37-yard touchdown run. He also had two catches for 25 yards.
By eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark on the season against Colorado State, Moore becomes just the sixth player in NCAA Division I-A history to run for 1,000 yards in all four seasons of his collegiate career, joining the likes of Tony Dorsett, Ron Dayne and Cedric Benson.
Moore is a productive back who is capable of shouldering the workload, evidenced by 38, 42 and 20 touches in each of the last three games, but he does have his drawbacks. One of those shortcomings is his lack of special teams experience and the fact that he has limited experience returning kicks and punts. That was probably borne out of New Mexico’s desire to keep their star playmaker fresh for offense and not risk him to further injury by demanding that he play on special teams.
But the biggest knock on Moore is that he plays in the Mountain West Conference and hasn’t fared too well against top-flight competition. He has only cracked 100 yards rushing once against a Pac 10 or a Big 12 team despite playing the likes of UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, Texas Tech, Missouri a total of nine times. But football is a team sport and the performance of a running back is often a reflection of how well his offensive line is playing. New Mexico has only had two pro prospects along the line while Moore has been there – guard Claude Terrell, who was a senior last year, and center Ryan Cook, who is a senior this season.
Moore only missed one game last year, but that was against undefeated Utah, and would have given NFL scouts a better chance to see him perform against an upper echelon team. As it stands right now, his draft status is somewhere between rounds 3-5, depending on how well he times in the 40-yard dash. Initial scouting reports suggest he’ll run somewhere around a 4.5. He’s a bright, well-spoken guy who is a real performer in the classroom, so he should interview well with NFL scouts.
Moore reminds me somewhat of Pearman, and of another multi-purpose Moore whom the Bucs had an interest in two years ago – Tulane’s Mewelde Moore, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round. Like those two backs, DonTrell Moore’s running style and receiving ability fit the West Coast offense perfectly and his pass protection skills are improving. If you want to find out more about Moore, here’s a short video clip of him.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• Speaking of New Mexico Lobos, I talked about wide receiver Hank Baskett in my last SR’s Fab Five and he had another solid game on Friday night against Colorado State. Baskett, a big 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver with good speed, had five catches for 90 yards against the Rams, including a 51-yard touchdown grab. Baskett, who now has 57 grabs for 927 yards and eight touchdowns in 2005, is the type of receiver the Bucs would like to get their hands on in the second or third round of the draft.
• The San Francisco 49ers are a bad football team, and are competing with the Houston Texans for the right to select either USC quarterback Matt Leinart or running back Reggie Bush next April. But there is one area that the 49ers are currently excelling at, and that is kick coverage. San Francisco leads the NFL by only allowing 18.3 yards per return this year. That’s not good news for Tampa Bay, whose 17.1 yards per kick return is last in the NFL this season. If the 49ers bottle up Tampa Bay’s kick return game and force the Bucs offense to start in the shadow of their own end zone, it could make Sunday’s contest more interesting than it should be. Linebacker Marquis Cooper knows that Tampa Bay must improve in this area in a hurry. “The bottom line is that everybody needs to block their guy and doing their job,” Cooper said. “That’s the whole problem. The 49ers have a lot of speed and they run to the ball real well.” Simply put, but it’s the truth.
• Bucs rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams needs to average only 55.3 yards per game on the ground over the next 10 contests to rush for 1,000 yards this season. That’s what rushing for 447 yards in your first four games will do for you – especially if you miss the next two games. With a 1,000-yard season, Williams, who has great name recognition among the league and the media, is a shoo-in for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
• One of the reasons why Tampa Bay’s defense has played so well is that they have eliminated the big runs from opponents. Through the first six games last year, the Bucs allowed 25 big plays, which are defined as runs over 10 yards and passes over 20, including 11 runs of 10 yards or more. This year, Tampa Bay has surrendered 23 big plays, including eight runs of 10 yards or more. But the biggest difference from a year ago is that the Bucs haven’t allowed a run longer than the 12-yard dash by New York’s Curtis Martin. In 2004, the Bucs allowed seven runs of over 15 yards through the first six games.
• Tampa Bay’s players have listened to the coaching staff this year. The coaches, especially Jon Gruden, have preached starting fast. That message has taken hold, evidenced by a 10-point first quarter and a 17-point third quarter against Miami in the Bucs’ last game. This year, the Bucs are outscoring opponents in the first quarter 23-16 and 31-13 in the third quarter. Last year, Tampa Bay was outscored 48-68 in the first quarter, but was much better in the third quarter, outscoring foes 83-69. But getting off to faster starts on offense and defense in the first quarter have set the tone for the Bucs’ winning ways in 2005.
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