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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Through four games, Tampa Bay under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland has just four tackles, with one of them being a sack in the season opener against Minnesota. If the fact that the player who is charged with the duty of being the key disruptor along the Buccaneers defensive line has tallied just four stops on defense doesn’t surprise you, perhaps this will. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker has three tackles through Tampa Bay’s 4-0 start.
That’s right. An offensive player is just one tackle behind Booger on the stats sheet this year.
In fact, Walker was credited with two tackles against Detroit last Sunday. McFarland had zero and didn’t have a particularly big impact on the game.
But surely McFarland is seeing his share of double teams, right? And the three-step drop, quick passing game that opponents generally deploy against Tampa Bay is preventing him from piling the sacks, right? Well, yes and no.
“We need more out of him,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of McFarland. “There’s no question. He knows that and I think he’s going to give us more. The guy who is really playing right now is (Chris) Hovan. He’s playing really good.”
Gruden is right. Hovan is playing solid football right now, especially against the run, which was a sore spot last year when Tampa Bay ranked 19th in run defense. The castoff from Minnesota is tied with Simeon Rice for 13 tackles, which leads the Bucs defensive line, and he also has a fumble recovery.
But the under tackle position demands more production in Tampa Bay’s penetrating, one-gap defense. It should be noted that McFarland has done a fine job of filling his gap along the interior, and has played his part in helping the Bucs become the top-ranked defense. However, his play thus far has not been up to the Bucs’ standards that were set by the legendary Warren Sapp, who started at the three-technique position from 1996 to 2003.
“I’d like to be more productive at that position, but it’s all about factors,” Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said of McFarland. “Does he have to be more productive? Yes. His snaps weren’t as much as Warren Sapp’s were. Ellis Wyms has seen some opportunities, so those opportunities are taken away from (McFarland). But, (with less reps) you are fresher, so you should make more of an impact.”
With McFarland not dominating the line of scrimmage as the Bucs had hoped, the coaches are frequently rotating Ellis Wyms in at the three technique to spell McFarland at under tackle, and also to give Hovan a rest at nose tackle on obvious passing downs. McFarland is seeing his share of double teams against the run and the pass, but he’s also not winning many one-on-one battles either, evidenced by his lone sack through four games.
“Right now we’ve been getting tight end runs, and the way that power comes at you, they double the three (technique) and single the nose (tackle). That’s just the blocking the pattern. (McFarland has) gotten some doubles in pass (protection) but he’s gotten some singles, too. It’s he and Ellis on third downs. One of them gets ones and one of them gets two. You’ve got to win them.”
Gruden noted that Wyms is making the most of his opportunities and is now entrenched in a three-man rotation at the defensive tackle positions. Despite playing less snaps than McFarland this season, Wyms has registered three tackles and has recovered a fumble.
“Ellis Wyms has played very well,” Gruden said. “He got 28 snaps or 30 snaps last week. We expect Mac to have a great month of October. We think he’s working at it and he’s got to get it done.”
He needs to. As Pewter Report has previously stated, McFarland needs a big year in terms of production to remain a Buccaneer next season due to his high salary cap figure in 2006. McFarland’s cap number increases from $4.7 million in 2005 to $6.2 million next year. If he can’t live up to his first-round billing and big paycheck, Tampa Bay will be forced to ask him for a pay cut or ultimately look elsewhere for a penetrating under tackle and move on without McFarland.
It should be noted that McFarland is still making the transition to the three-technique after playing nose tackle for the first five years of his NFL career. After missing eight games last year with a torn triceps, Booger has yet to play 16 games at under tackle in his career.
McFarland is also dealing with the sudden death of his mother, Nancey, in August. It is simple to understand how the loss of a parent can have such a devastating affect on a person, and that cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor to his slow start this season.
When asked to grade McFarland’s play through the first quarter of the season, Marinelli said, “It’s been solid, but we need him to play better.”
FAB 2. After talking with multiple sources at One Buccaneer Place about the rumors of Tampa Bay swinging a trade for San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers in exchange for a defensive player and/or draft picks and/or quarterbacks Chris Simms, it looks like this rumor has a lot more fiction than fact to it.
The sources Pewter Report spoke with didn’t flatly deny it (they never seem to deny or confirm anything at One Buccaneer Place these days), but gave some strong suggestions as to why this deal wouldn’t happen. Perhaps the biggest evidence would be the salary cap. The reason why blockbuster trades don’t typically happen during football season is that almost every team in the league has nearly exhausted their available salary cap room by the opening kickoff, and leave just a few million in reserve to sign players in case injuries or suspensions occur.
According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Chargers had just $3.1 million worth of cap room left as of September 1. With just $250,000 worth of cap room, the Bucs have even less, and likely can’t afford to incur any possible prorated signing bonus acceleration that would come from trading away a defensive starter and then inherit Rivers’ contract (minus the signing bonus, which San Diego would be liable for) during the season. Given their current cap standing, San Diego would have a hard time dealing with the prorated signing bonus acceleration that would come with Rivers’ contract and acquiring either Simms or a defensive starter.
Could this deal go down in the 2006 offseason? Perhaps, but it would be extremely difficult to prior to the 2005 NFL trade deadline of October 18.
Some other evidence for this rumor that is stalled in rumor status is that the Buccaneers are 4-0 and making a move like trading away Simms or a defensive starter (perhaps a cornerback like Ronde Barber or defensive end like Simeon Rice) could derail Tampa Bay’s sudden chance to make the playoffs this season. Trading away any key contributor from the league’s top-ranked defense would be extremely unwise.
The same could be said of trading away a young, talented quarterback prospect like Simms who is coming off three straight impressive preseasons in Tampa Bay. In 2003, Simms completed 27-of-43 passes (62.7 percent) for 235 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and a QB rating of 98.5. Last year, he completed 42-of-61 passes (68.8 percent) for 432 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a QB rating of 87.6. In 2005, Simms completed 31-of-47 passes (66 percent) for 353 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and a 107.8 QB rating.
Over the span of three preseasons, Simms has proven to be a 66.2 percent passer and has a three-to-one TD to INT ratio. Those statistics prove how much potential he has. Of course, Simms has completed 42-of-73 passes (57.5 percent) for 467 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions after seeing action in five regular season games last year, including two starts. So that shows how far he must come in the regular season to live up to that preseason potential.
With starting quarterback Brian Griese struggling with turnovers (six interceptions, one fumble) this year, it wouldn’t be a good idea to trade away Simms when it is not out of the realm of possibility that Simms could be playing – or even starting – at some point in 2005 if Griese gets hurt or the turnovers continue to mount. Trading for Rivers, a second-year quarterback who has even less experience than Simms does in the regular season, wouldn’t help the Bucs this year. Without Simms as a backup, an injury to Griese could derail any legitimate playoff dreams in 2005 for Tampa Bay.
That’s not to say that Rivers doesn’t have his fans inside the Buccaneers organization. This franchise has a strong appreciation for his talents. Last year, Tampa Bay director of player personnel Ruston Webster told Pewter Report that Rivers had the best pre-draft interview with the team that he had ever seen in his scouting career. Rivers’ interview ranked up there slightly ahead of Warrick Dunn’s interview in 1997 and Michael Clayton’s from a year ago.
Rivers would undoubtedly get a ringing endorsement from rookie offensive tackle Chris Colmer, who protected his blindside for several years at North Carolina State. The same could also be said of Wolfpack offensive line coach Michael Barry, who is the father of Tampa Bay linebackers coach Joe Barry.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden felt he was the best of the four first-round quarterbacks last year – better than Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Losman. Gruden felt the Bucs needed to add another young arm to develop during the draft this year, and when the quarterback he coveted, Utah’s Alex Smith, was off the board after the first pick, Tampa Bay traded a sixth-round pick for the athletic Luke McCown.
Which brings up another reason why the rumor regarding the Bucs’ interest in trading for Rivers may not have legs. Although Gruden was indeed fond of a winner like Rivers, who was named the MVP of all five of the bowl games he played in – including the Senior Bowl, the brains behind Tampa Bay’s offense desperately wants a quarterback with some mobility.
In countless conversations I’ve had with Gruden over the years, he has always talked about the need for having mobile quarterbacks in his system; quarterbacks that can scramble enough to pick up some first downs and keep drives alive with their feet. In other words, Gruden is longing for another Rich Gannon. In Oakland under Gruden, Gannon shed his journeyman status for trips to the Pro Bowl by displaying the ability to make plays with his arm or his legs.
In 1999, Gannon rushed for 298 yards and two touchdowns on 46 carries (6.5 avg.) and picked up 14 first downs. In 2000, he rushed for 539 yards and four touchdowns on 89 carries (5.9 avg.) and his scrambling accounted for a whopping 34 first downs throughout the season. In 2001, his last season under Gruden, Gannon rushed for 231 yards and two scores on 63 carries (3.7 avg.) and made 17 first downs with his mobility.
Griese and Simms may not have the speed and scrambling ability than Gannon did in rushing for 1,068 yards and eight TDs in his three years with Gruden in Oakland, but Rivers isn’t the answer, either. At North Carolina State, Rivers rushed for just 78 yards on 109 carries. Granted, sack yardage is deducted from rushing totals in college football rather than passing yardage, but Rivers isn’t a threat to scramble and doesn’t have the mobility that Gruden desires.
I was a big Rivers fan when he was at N.C. State, and if the Bucs were to acquire him at some point in time, I certainly wouldn’t criticize the decision. I think Rivers is a franchise quarterback who will be a good player for years to come. But I also have the same feelings about Simms. He made a lot of progress this preseason and has overcome some poise issues to become a more comfortable player on the field. With Simms around, I would see no need to trade for Rivers, especially since the Bucs have just traded for McCown, who showed some promise in the preseason.
Although Bucs general manager Bruce Allen has struck some deals in the past with his counterpart in San Diego, A.J. Smith, by shipping left tackle Roman Oben and wide receiver Keenan McCardell to the Chargers for draft picks, this is one deal that doesn’t look like it will come to fruition. However, I have a hunch that Allen will pull the trigger on some type of trade prior to the NFL trading deadline of October 18. Will it be for a player? Will it be be for future draft picks? Will a trade happen at all? Stay tuned.
FAB 3. One of the reasons why Tampa Bay decided to keep just three defensive ends on its 53-man roster this year is the addition of newcomer Andrew Williams. Williams, a defensive end who was cut by the San Francisco 49ers during the preseason, was picked up by the Bucs just a few days prior to Tampa Bay’s preseason finale against Houston and made a splash on his first snap as a Pewter Pirate by recording a sack in the fourth quarter against the Texans.
The pressure that Williams provided in limited action against Houston, the production he showed at the University of Miami and the potential he flashed in San Francisco gave Tampa Bay the motivation to keep him on its practice squad. For Williams, a Tampa native, getting the opportunity to be a member of the Buccaneers – the team he followed in his youth – is a dream come true.
“It’s a blessing to come back home,” Williams said. “A lot of people would love to play in their hometown. I think I could have played in a 3-4, but my natural position is defensive end and that’s where Tampa wants me. I just want to come in and make plays for this team.”
The reason why the 49ers jettisoned Williams is because they converted their defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under new head coach Mike Nolan, and San Francisco didn’t feel like Williams could make the adjustment. Williams begs to differ, although he admits that he feels much more comfortable in a three-point stance as a defensive end.
“From going from a stand-up position all offseason in mini-camps, OTAs and training camp and a couple of preseason games to come in and put my hand on the ground and play end, it was wild,” Williams said. “But I guess you never lose it. It’s in you and you just get out there and go. Once I get down in a three-point stance and get into the flow of it and taking off, it will come to me.”
Any disappointment that Williams felt from his dismissal from the 49ers was quickly erased when he learned that he would have the chance to play for Tampa Bay’s legendary defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
“I’ve heard that from everybody and I’ve seen it since I’ve been here,” Williams said of Marinelli. “It’s amazing what he teaches his guys to help them and make them better. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be in his presence and to be coached by him.”
By registering a sack and rushing the passer so well against Houston, Marinelli and the Bucs saw enough to make sure that he stuck around.
“For not knowing what he was doing out there, I was excited,” Marinelli said. “We really liked him at the University of Miami, so it felt good to get him and get him on our practice squad. I’m really excited to work with him. I know what he can do. He’s got nice talent.”
At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Williams has the strength and girth to anchor against the run as a left defensive end, but he also has the quickness to rush the passer from the right end position.
“I was playing both left and right at Miami – probably a little more on the right side,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter. I can play both sides. A lot of people say with my size and my upper body that I should be a left end. But I’ve also got speed and I can play the run. I can play both. It doesn’t matter.
“Everybody wants to go out there and play on Sundays and get that chance. Hopefully, once I get that chance, I take full advantage of it and perform well and do things that will grow from there.”
As long as Williams continues to grow on the practice field, he will be in the Buccaneers’ future plans at defensive end. His versatility to rush the passer from both the left and right end positions is a big attribute.
FAB 4. In last week’s SR’s Fab Five, I mentioned Purdue tight end Charles Davis as a player to keep your eyes on. Well, after watching a couple of Maryland games this year, another Davis has emerged on my hot list of draft prospects – junior tight end Vernon Davis. After catching 27 passes for 441 yards (16.3 avg.) and three touchdowns in his sophomore campaign, Davis is averaging 21.6 yards per catch in 2004 with 411 yards on 19 receptions.
The 6-foot-3, 253-pound Davis is a tremendous athlete with an astonishing two percent body fat. He’s been timed at 4.41 in the 40-yard dash and has a 40-inch vertical leap. Davis is more of a receiving tight end who needs to continue to add bulk and refine his blocking skills, but he has the potential to be a Day 1 prospect if he foregos his senior season and enters the 2006 NFL Draft.
Davis lit up Clemson for 140 yards and a touchdown on six catches, posted five catches for 158 yards and a score against Wake Forest, and hauled in four grabs for 59 yards and a TD in Maryland’s win over Virginia last week.
And while you are scouting Davis on Maryland’s offense, be sure to check out one of college football’s best kept secrets on the defensive side of the ball – middle linebacker D’Qwell (pronounced dee-KWELL) Jackson. Jackson, a Florida native who hails from from Seminole High School, is a tackling machine. While he’s made his share of big plays over his four-year Terrapins career, Jackson doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves because he doesn’t register a ton of sacks. Like Tampa Bay’s Derrick Brooks, Jackson just seeks and destroys ballcarriers.
The 6-foot-1, 231-pound Jackson had recorded 310 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and four interceptions heading into his senior season. His college finale hasn’t been a disappointment as his 72 tackles through five games is the second-most in the nation. Jackson recorded 18 stops against Navy, 16 tackles against Clemson, 15 tackles versus West Virginia, nine stops against Wake Forest and 14 tackles against Virginia.
Although the Bucs already have a gifted pass catcher like Alex Smith onboard, adding Davis – if he comes out as a junior – would give Tampa Bay another receiving-type tight end with the speed to attack defenses vertically. The Bucs have their middle linebacker of the future in Barrett Ruud, but both he and Jackson have the ability to play any linebacker position in Monte Kiffin’s defense. Despite the fact the Bucs don’t need another middle linebacker, the high-motor Jackson is an exciting, intriguing player to watch.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• Jon Gruden is doing one of the better coaching jobs this season, and I’m not talking about the X’s and O’s that have propelled his Buccaneers to a 4-0 record. Gruden has done a great job of keeping his ego in check and staying humble during Tampa Bay’s hot start. It would be easy for him to gloat and call out his critics, who have piled on him over the past two seasons, which have been losing campaigns in Tampa Bay. Well, actually he did a little bit this week. “We know how hard it is to win and we know the teams that are ahead of us on our schedule,” said Gruden. “The more you win the less you say. There’s an analyst on every corner with all of the damn answers. We were the 30th-ranked team in the league three weeks ago, and now we’re third or fourth in some polls. What kind of analyst is that? You’ve really got some idiots doing the analyzing. So if we were 30th four weeks ago we can be 30th in four weeks. That’s the way I see it. That’s the kind of world I live in right now, man. Short terms goals.” His attitude about his team’s success has rubbed off on his players, too. The locker room is level-headed and even-keeled despite the 4-0 start.
• How good is the Buccaneers team chemistry and camaraderie this year? Don’t take the word of a veteran Buccaneer. Instead, here it from a newcomer like nose tackle Chris Hovan, which means even more because he didn’t know anyone on the team prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay. “A lot of hard work has gone into this,” Hovan said. “A lot of hard work by the coaching staff and a lot of hard work by the players. It’s a year-round thing. It’s not just training camp. It’s OTAs and mini-camp – stuff like that. The guys have put in the time, and there’s great chemistry. I’ve never been around a team that has such great chemistry – guys who like each other and respect each other the way they do around here.”
• The Bucs better use tight ends Anthony Becht and Alex Smith to help injured left tackle Anthony Davis on Sunday as he squares off against the New York Jets’ speed rushing threat, defensive end John Abraham. Davis struggled last week against Kalimba Edwards, a player whose size, speed, quickness and athleticism is reminiscent of Abraham’s abilities – and a player who notched two sacks and forced a fumble last week against Tampa Bay. Davis is coming off a left shoulder injury last week, which may give him some problems keeping Abraham at bay in one-on-one situations. Even if Davis gets some help from the tight ends, the problem is that Becht and Davis had communication problems in pass protection at Miami in the preseason. The result was giving up two sacks to right end Jason Taylor, so Davis and Becht have to be in sync. Don’t be surprised to see Todd Steussie replace Davis if he struggles early on Sunday.
• The Buccaneers couldn’t be happier about winning their grievance against former Tampa Bay wide receiver Keenan McCardell, and not just because the favorable ruling by an arbitrator gave the team an extra $1 million. There was a great deal of contentiousness between the Bucs and the disgruntled receiver last year during McCardell’s five-month holdout, and Tampa Bay blamed McCardell’s absence for contributing to its 5-11 season, especially the team’s 0-4 start. Not only did the Bucs’ brass get some satification with the salary cap assistance in 2006, they are also overjoyed to get some payback – literally – with the fact that McCardell will have to cough up $1.5 million worth of signing bonus that he will have to repay the team.
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