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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Here are Jon Gruden’s words from Monday’s day-after-game press conference talking about the play of his quarterback.
“I think when he looks at the film, as we looked at it this morning, he sees a couple of opportunities that got away from him. … There were a couple of opportunities I’m sure he would like back, but unfortunately, you don’t get a second chance.”
“We had some chances to make some plays and the film clearly illustrates that. … It was a combination of them playing very good defense and us not taking advantage of some opportunities when they presented themselves. In the end, that was the deciding factor.”
“We had a couple (of opportunities to throw the ball downfield), yeah. We had a couple chances down the field. Obviously, we had some chances underneath that could have become big runs after the catch. At the end of the day, those add up.”
If you think those comments came from Gruden’s mouth this past Monday, you are mistaken. Those comments were from Gruden’s press conference on September 13, 2004 after the Washington Redskins beat Tampa Bay 16-10 in last year’s season opener. Those remarks were about Brad Johnson’s inability to make plays downfield and hit open receivers for big plays in the passing game.
Do those comments sound eerily familiar to Gruden’s subtle criticism of starting quarterback Brian Griese on Monday?
“If you look at the film, it wasn’t like we didn’t take a shot,” Gruden said. “The shot wasn’t delivered. The gun was loaded, man. We did have some shots called. The first sequence down there where Brian scrambled, we got a super look to Ike Hilliard. Brian got flushed and ran. He got a great look. It’s on tape. On the next series, we got a first-and-10, or maybe it was a second-and-7, and we miss (Michael) Pittman wide open for an easy gain. Then I thought Alex Smith had a chance to snatch the ball at the 5-yard line and we don’t convert there. Late in the game, we took a couple of shots, and Brian got flushed one time and was unable to complete the pass to Alex down the field.
“It’s one thing to say, well, why don’t you take some shots? It’s another to stand up here and say we really did. We just didn’t get the weapon fired.”
The reason why Gruden benched Johnson last season after he threw an interception in the first quarter in the Seattle game was because Johnson was making poor decisions. The poor decisions that Johnson was making were not only his costly turnovers, it was the open plays in the passing game that weren’t being taken advantage of. Whether Johnson wasn’t seeing the field, or was hesitant to pull the trigger on the ball and take some shots downfield, it was as much as what he wasn’t doing on the field as much as what he was doing by throwing the interceptions.
You get the sense that may be the case based on the subtleties of Gruden’s statements about Griese that he may be entering that precarious situation that Johnson was in heading into in that Week 2 home contest against Seattle. Johnson had thrown an assortment of interceptions in the final games of the 2003 season and threw another one in the 2004 season-opening loss at Washington. With Griese throwing four interceptions – plus three more that were called back due to penalties – and two touchdowns in the last two games, Gruden will have a tough decision to make if another errant throw finds its way into the arms of an enemy defender this week.
The big factor that is working in Griese’s favor right now is that the Bucs are 4-1 with him at the helm. It would likely take more than one interception for Gruden to pull him in favor of Chris Simms this Sunday when the Miami Dolphins invade Raymond James Stadium. Johnson didn’t have the luxury of winning record last year, losing three of his last five starts dating back to 2003 while heading into that Seattle game.
But if the Bucs lose to Miami on Sunday and Griese plays a role in that defeat with not making plays or turning the ball over, Gruden would have the entire bye week to contemplate making a switch at quarterback. If Griese’s bad plays outweigh the number of his good plays for a third-straight week, the fans and the media would surely spend the bye week conjuring up a quarterback controversy – even though the Bucs’ record would still be a favorable 4-2 mark.
FAB 2. Some in-depth research into Brian Griese’s stats as a Buccaneer yielded some interesting findings. In his 16 games in Tampa Bay, Griese has only had three contests where he did not thrown an interception. Griese threw one touchdown and no INTs at New Orleans and against Chicago last year, and threw two TDs and no picks against Kansas City.
That means that in 13 games as a Buc, Griese has completed at least one pass to the guys in the other jerseys in those contests.
In his first 14 games as the Bucs quarterback, Griese has either thrown more touchdowns than interceptions or an equal amount of TDs to INTs. That hasn’t been the case over the last two games where for the first time in his Tampa Bay career he has thrown more picks than scoring strikes. Griese had three interceptions and two touchdowns against Detroit, and had one pick and no touchdowns last week at New York.
The Jets game also marks the second game in which Griese has not thrown a touchdown pass since he arrived in Tampa Bay last season. The other occasion was against Buffalo this year.
Through five games this season, Griese has seen his completion percentage fall by six points from where it was a year ago. He is completing 63.3 percent of his passes in 2005 after completing a career-high 69.3 percent in 2004.
A drop in completion percentage and a rise in interceptions (Griese has thrown seven picks in five games this year as opposed to 12 INTs in 11 games last year) wasn’t supposed to happen with new quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett on staff. Jon Gruden hired Hackett, who has a reputation of developing quarterbacks within the West Coast offense and a knack for eliminating turnovers on offense where ever he has been in his coaching career.
The fact that Griese has appeared to regress in some areas has to be alarming to the coaching staff, and with a quarterback guru like Hackett on board, he may not be given as much leeway if the turnovers continue to mount.
With all of the hoopla surrounding the Bucs’ newfound ground game this season, I always go back to one of the first conversations I ever had with Gruden in the mini-camp of 2002 for some perspective. Gruden, who has always worked closely with the quarterbacks, was asked what would happen if his signal caller had an off day because his offense is quarterback driven.
“We lose,” Gruden said.
Gruden loves the fact that a potent game featuring rookie Carnell “Cadillac” Williams can bring balance to his offense and make his play-action passes more potent. But he also loves to put his own thumb print on the offensive playbook and does that with the passing game. Gruden personally installs the passing game plays each week in team meetings and at practice, while Bill Muir is in charge of installing the running game and the blocking schemes for the offensive line.
Gruden also knows that by stacking eight defenders in the box, Tampa Bay’s opponents can and will take Williams and the Bucs’ running game away. That means that wins and losses in the West Coast offense generally rest on the shoulders of the quarterback at the end of the day.
That’s why Joe Montana and Steve Young are in the Hall of Fame and Roger Craig and Ricky Watters aren’t. And over the next decade, Brett Favre will be honored in Canton, Ohio and Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green won’t be.
Griese doesn’t have to be a Hall of Famer, but he must pick up his play or Gruden will have no use for him if the interceptions continue to rise at a greater rate than his touchdown passes and the completion percentage continues to decline.
However, it should be noted that Griese is playing behind an inexperienced offensive line this year, generally speaking, and that could account for more pressure which causes him to have to hurry his throws and make more bad decisions. But the raw talent of new starters like left tackle Anthony Davis and guards Dan Buenning and Sean Mahan is likely better than that of last year’s starting left tackle Derrick Deese and guards Cosey Coleman and Matt Stinchcomb. Nevertheless, Griese has been sacked at least once in all 16 games he has played in during his Buccaneers tenure. It’s hard to make plays on your back.
FAB 3. Heading into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2005 training camp, second-year guard Jeb Terry could have been considered the likely favorite to win the right guard position. While third-year offensive lineman Sean Mahan, who logged eight starts at center in 2004 in place of the injured John Wade, was challenging for the same spot, Terry was expected to show off his improved pass protection skills in the preseason and use his size and run-blocking ability to pave the way for rookie rusher Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and win the starting assignment.
But a great first week of camp by Mahan and a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in Terry’s knee in the preseason opener at Tennessee quickly changed those plans. With such a short window of opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff on the practice field and on film in a month’s worth of exhibition games, Terry couldn’t afford to miss half of that time in a knee immobilizing brace, but that’s what happened. As a result, Mahan stayed healthy, had a great training camp and wound up winning the starting right guard position.
“It was one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to deal with,” Terry said. “I’ve dealt with injuries before, but not in this circumstance. That was probably the worst possible timing. I had to get a game under my belt and to get hurt and to miss almost all of the preseason – that’s a critical time for the offensive line to gel.
“When I came back in the last preseason game, I felt pretty good, but everything was moving really fast. It’s amazing what happens when you miss two weeks. It was definitely a frustrating situation. But we’re winning and I’m happy for those guys. All I can do is keep working and see what unfolds.”
Terry says his knee “feels good” and has been practicing at full speed the entire 2005 season. With the ability to play right or left guard, and even some right tackle if necessary, Terry is ready to take advantage of any playing time he should receive due to another player’s injury or poor performance.
Mahan has played well in his first extended action at guard in the NFL. While he has committed a handful of penalties and has had some struggles due to inexperience, he has not played poorly enough to prompt the coaches to insert Terry into the starting lineup. The same can be said for rookie left guard Dan Buenning, especially with Tampa Bay showing improvement in the running game and the win column over last year.
“I just have to be ready for when they call my number,” Terry said. “As long as we keep winning, that’s good. If that means I’ve just got to be on field goals and some other special teams, then that’s what it means. I want to keep winning. But injuries do happen and things can go wrong, and when they need me to play, I’ll be ready. When I go in there, we can’t drop off. I have to accelerate the play or at least keep it the same.”
Despite the problems with the play of guards Matt Stinchcomb and Cosey Coleman last year, the Bucs coaching staff did not feel comfortable enough with Terry’s pass protection skills at the time. Terry admitted that his aggressive blocking style in the running game had to be toned down on passing plays because he would overcommit and become susceptible to a variety of spins and second moves from defensive tackles.
“I think I made great strides in that area in terms of being a much smarter football player in pass protection now, like using down and distance as a weapon,” Terry said. “Now I’m selling the run on certain pass plays. Last year, I was setting up the same on almost every play. The defense knew what was going on. Now I’m learning to change it up and I’m keeping my footwork tighter and I’m using my hands better. I think I’ve improved a lot, but I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. But I did make a stride or two in that area this offseason.”
Terry credits the tutelage of both offensive line coach Bill Muir and the hands-on approach of new senior assistant Aaron Kromer, who serves as Muirs’s aide, for helping him make strides in 2005.
“It brings a new dynamic to the coaching staff with both of them,” Terry said. “It’s like you are getting taught the same thing, but maybe in a different language. Their personalities are totally different. Coach Muir has been around forever where Coach Kromer is kind of new on the scene. They both know a lot about football and to be able to take some techniques from both of them and combine them is really good and is helping us out.”
Although he is patiently waiting for his opportunity, Terry revels in the fact that the offensive line is a much stronger and more respected unit this year that has actually been one of the reasons for Tampa Bay’s wins this year instead of its losses last year.
“It’s unbelievable,” Terry said. “Guys are coming into our meeting room with smiles on their faces. We’re not looking at miserable film. We’re not getting yelled at. We’re optimistic. We’ve been seeing this stuff for over a year now and finally there’s a breakthrough. It feels pretty good, but there is still a lot more aspects to improve on. After a win it makes it easier to look at what to improve on because you are not thinking, ‘Man, I lost the game for us’ and stuff like that. We’re confident and ready to work.”
FAB 4. If you are a loyal reader of SR’s Fab Five, you know it is never to early to start talking about the upcoming draft. As a self-confessed draftnik and Pewter Report’s resident college scout, it is my mission to introduce Buccaneers fans to some potential draft candidates in virtually each one of my columns. This week, I’ll focus on some wide receivers whose names you’ll have to know by the spring of 2006.
Why wide receivers, especially when Tampa Bay has two very good pass catchers in Joey Galloway, who is enjoying a tremendous season, and Michael Clayton, who enjoyed a tremendous season in 2004, along with two promising young wideouts from the 2005 draft – Paris Warren and J.R. Russell?
Unfortunately, Galloway has a track record of getting dinged up. Although that hasn’t happened yet (yes, you can knock on wood), at age 34, Galloway’s chances of staying healthy won’t exactly increase with age. Clayton is so physical and he plays so hard, he was bound to get hurt, and that’s exactly what happened with his separated shoulder. If Clayton or Galloway were to go down right now for an extended period of time, Tampa Bay’s passing game would really struggle.
With Ike Hilliard nothing more than a possession receiver at this time and operating on a one-year deal, and Edell Shepherd getting his first and only catch of the season last week at New York, the wide receiver cupboard isn’t exactly overflowing with talent.
Russell, Warren and Mark Jones were all seventh-round picks, and while it is way too early to write them off, do any of them look like they will be competing for the third receiver position in 2006? Are any of them even a lock to be on Tampa Bay’s 2006 roster?
While the Buccaneers were wise to choose to re-sign Joey Galloway and let Joe Jurevicius walk this spring, Jon Gruden misses having Jurevicius’ 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame on offense – almost as much as Brian Griese does (Although I’m not sure Gruden misses Jurevicius’ injuries). Only Clayton presents Griese with a big, rangy target right now.
Gruden has no use for smurf receivers, unless they are return men on special teams. He wants physical, 6-foot-2 or taller wideouts who aren’t afraid to go over the middle to make the difficult catch and have a zest for blocking downfield and in the perimeter run game. And if you aren’t 6-foot-2 or taller, you’d better be tough as nails and you better run like the wind (see Galloway). If Chucky wants to find a receiver, he needs to go West, young man. In addition to Oklahoma’s Travis Wilson, who may be drafted by the time the Bucs on the board, a lot of the guys who fit the bill can be found in the Pac-10 Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
WR Demetrius Williams OREGON – The speedy Williams has good speed, is averaging 18.9 yards per catch and should be in for a career year with 36 catches for 680 yards and six touchdowns thus far this season. At 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, he’s a little lankier than Clayton was coming out of LSU, and he’s not the physical blocker that Clayton is, either. Still, Williams has been a consistent producer who will likely be a Day 1 draft pick.
WR Derek Hagan ARIZONA STATE – The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Hagan has been one of the most prolific wide receivers in the Pac-10 throughout his career. After posting 66 catches for 1,076 and nine touchdowns as a sophomore, Hagan came through with 83 grabs for 1,248 yards and 10 scores last year. He’s on pace to better those numbers this year as he already has 40 receptions for 639 yards and six touchdowns. While he is one of the premier wideouts in college football, he doesn’t have the ability to take over games as a player like Braylon Edwards could during his days at Michigan. If Hagan can time somewhere near or below 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, he’ll be a first- or second-round.
WR Mike Hass OREGON STATE – Hass has the ultra-competitiveness of a Ricky Proehl, but with a little more speed with a 4.6 40-yard dash time. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Hass plays faster though, and knows how to create separation, evidenced by his 23-yard per catch average on 44 receptions for 1,013 yards and seven scores as a sophomore in 2003. Last year was a breakthrough year with 86 catches for 1,379 yards (16.0 avg.) and seven TDs as he became a bigger part of Oregon State’s offense with running back Steven Jackson off in the NFL. Nearing the midway point of the season, Hass already has 47 catches for 831 yards (17.6 avg.) and four scores. If you haven’t had a chance to watch Hass yet, you’re missing out. He figures to be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds next April.
WR Todd Watkins BYU – At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Watkins is long and lanky, and reminds some of Denver’s Ashley Lelie. The speedster, who reportedly has run a 4.35 time, averaged 20 yards per catch as a junior, hauling in 52 passes for 1,042 yards and scoring six times. He’s off to a good start in 2005 with 23 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns, but he must be more consistent and be more aggressive in run blocking. He has Day 1 ability, but because he’s not as physical as the Buccaneers like their receivers to be, they would not likely take him that high.
WR Hank Baskett NEW MEXICO – Baskett is one of my personal favorites. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has always been a good downfield blocker for DonTrell Moore, but he really burst on the scene last year with 54 catches for 908 yards (16.8 avg.) and three touchdowns. A sensational 10-catch, 209-yard, 3-TD effort versus Missouri this year has propelled Baskett to 43 catches for 684 yards (15.9 avg.) and five touchdowns through five games already in 2005. Baskett has good speed, a big frame, great leaping ability and would be a good fit in Tampa Bay’s offense, and could go anywhere from rounds 2-5 depending on how well he tests at his pro day.
WR Martin Nance MIAMI (OH) – At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Nance is built similar to Baskett, but he may be a bit faster once he fully heals from a knee injury that cost him the second half of his junior season. As a sophomore in 2003, Nance was Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guy and turned in 90 catches for 1,498 yards (16.6 avg.) and 11 TDs. Coming off the injury, Nance is rounding back into his form from two years ago, and has 37 catches for 480 yards (12.9 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He has made several catches inside the red zone, which has diminished his average somewhat, but yet it shows his positives as a touchdown producer. Nance, who has good leaping skills, has caught two touchdowns in each of the last three games. He proved he could compete against top-flight competition with nine catches for 109 yards versus Ohio State in the season opener, and should be a Day 1 pick.
WR Sam Hurd NORTHERN ILLINOIS – While Nance scored two touchdowns against his Huskies two weeks ago, Hurd got the last laugh with his seven catches for 223 yards and two scores leading Northern Illinois to victory over Miami (Ohio). That performance came on the heels of a 14-catch, 139-yard, 3-TD effort against Akron the previous week. Hurd, whose nickname is “The Birdman” has great speed and good size at 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, and has caught 33 passes for 533 yards and scored eight times in 2005. He is also a physical, sound blocker in the running game, and has paved the way to additional yardage for top rusher Garrett Wolfe. With continued improvement and good post-season testing, Hurd could be a Day 1 pick.
WR Greg Jennings WESTERN MICHIGAN – As good as Nance and Hurd are, the MAC’s best receiver is Jennings. At 5-foot-11, 192, Jennings is a Galloway clone, although he’ll likely run a 4.38 coming out of college while Galloway ran a legendary 4.18 in the 40-yard dash. Jennings has been a three-year starter and produced 56 catches for 1,050 yards (18.7 avg.) and 14 touchdowns in 2003 and grabbed 74 passes for 1,092 yards (14.7 avg.) and 11 touchdowns last year. This season, he’s already hauled in 61 balls for 735 yards (12.0 avg.) and scored nine touchdowns despite defenses keying on him. Jennings, who is tough and competitive, opened the season with 16 catches for 156 yards against Virginia, and set school records with last week’s 11-catch, 244-yard, 4-TD effort against Ball State. Jennings is also a good kick and punt returner, and two back two punts for scores in 2004. The nation’s best kept secret at wide receiver has the skills to be a Day 1 pick.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• To update some news that was dished out in last week’s SR’s Fab Five Tampa Bay under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland has now pulled away from right tackle Kenyatta Walker in total tackles. McFarland had a season-high three stops against the New York Jets last weekend, while Walker only had one tackle, which came chasing down Ty Law on Brian Griese’s interception. McFarland now has seven tackles through five games, while Walker, who … plays on offense, only has four. While McFarland has certainly contributed to Tampa Bay’s number one run defense by maintaining gap integrity, he hasn’t made the impact plays this season that his position and his salary demand. It’s difficult to gauge how much of McFarland’s difficulties on the field can be attributed to the personal tragedy of his mother passing away in August, and how much of it is just the ineffective play of not winning enough one-on-one matchups at the line of scrimmage. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen will have to make that tough call next spring when weighing whether to keep McFarland at his current cap value (which will be $6.2 million in 2006), keep him at a reduced price, or part ways with the 1999 first-round pick altogether.
• There are some Buccaneers fans who are bloody mad at head coach Jon Gruden for Tampa Bay’s atrocious penalty problems this season. Gruden is not to blame for the penalties. The players are. But he is to blame for not finding a way of getting through to the players. One way, of course, would be to bench any player that commits a stupid infraction like a 15-yard personal foul. Surely, that has crossed the minds of many fans, right? Let’s test the logic on this by looking at Tampa Bay’s game at New York last Sunday. Cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Juran Bolden and strong safety Will Allen were all guilty of personal fouls, so they should be benched, eh? How does the nickel secondary of Brian Kelly, Torrie Cox, Blue Adams, Dexter Jackson and Kalvin Pearson sound to you? Because if you want to start benching players for committing penalties, especially personal fouls, the Bucs will run through the 46 bodies they dress on Sundays pretty quickly. In the end, it really has to be the players like Barber, Bolden, Allen and Derrick Brooks finally listening to Gruden and having more self discipline on the field. Speaking of penalties, if you haven’t read this week’s Flynn’s Focus I encourage you to do so. Pewter Report managing editor Jim Flynn did a masterful job of breaking down the Bucs’ penalties this year and examining which players were the repeat offenders in his on-line column.
• The politically correct thing may not be to pile on the New Orleans Saints due to the tragedy of the Katrina flooding and the team’s relocation to San Antonio, but I can’t help myself. As I see it, political correctness should have gone out with the 1990s. This is a bad, bad New Orleans football team, evidenced by their heartless, 52-3 drubbing at the hands of the formerly 0-4 Green Bay Packers. I happen to agree with Peter King, who wrote the following in his most recent Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com: “Don’t give me that crap about it being okay to lose by 49 to a winless team. I don’t care if they’ve got home games in the Himalayas. No team, and I mean no team, should have put on a horsecrap performance like the Saints put on.” Amen, Pete. You want some more anti-PC stuff? As much as the NFL is trying to pump up the Saints in the wake of the Katrina disaster with their ill-fated “Be A Saint” t-shirt program, the Saints aren’t America’s team for two reasons. First they aren’t winning. America loves winners. Doesn’t like losers. Period. If the Saints had a perfect record, they would be the feel-good story of the millennium. After last Sunday’s embarrassing performance, they ain’t. Second, there are no identifiable star players that America wants to root for on the Saints. The closest thing the Saints had to star power was running back Deuce McAllister, and he’s done for the season with a torn ACL. The Saints have swept the Bucs, or at least split the series with Tampa Bay in the past. Right now, I like the Bucs’ chances of sweeping the Saints this year, especially without McAllister. What exactly will New Orleans be playing for on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium, anyway?
• So who replaced star wide receiver J.R. Russell at the University of Louisville this season now that he is a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? A freshman named Mario Urrutia. Urrutia is a big receiver (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) in the Russell mold, but this kid has some jets. Just ask North Carolina, whom he scorched for a 73-yard touchdown last Saturday. Urrutia has scored four touchdowns this season after being given more playing time in the Cardinals’ second game of the year against Oregon State. He’s averaged a blistering 28.8 yards per catch, and has 18 receptions for 519 yards on the year. Keep an eye on this kid. He’s a threat to score on any play.
• I don’t want to jinx Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway, who has been a bit injury prone throughout his career, but let’s take a look at what the Bucs’ speedster would finish the season with if he stayed healthy and maintained his current averages. Through five games, Galloway is off to a great start with 22 catches for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Projecting those numbers over 16 games would mean Galloway would finish with 70 catches for 1,289 yards and nine touchdowns. Visit BucGear.com today to view and choose from the largest selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise in the world.
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