Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. With everyone else in the media concerned about who will be the Buccaneers’ backup quarterback for the season opener against Baltimore – Tim Rattay or Bruce Gradkowski – I decided to look ahead at the backup QB situation. After all, looking ahead and forecasting is what Pewter Report does best.
What is in the future for Tampa Bay at the quarterback position? The man who was supposed to be Chris Simms’ backup this season, Luke McCown.
In previous Pewter Insider articles this summer I have mentioned how miraculous McCown’s recovery from a serious knee surgery in late June has been. I witnessed McCown walking without a limp only six weeks after surgery and how he was actually doing drop-backs at training camp during solitary workout sessions in mid-August.
Known as a fast healer, McCown, who is a devout Christian, thanks a higher power for aiding his faster-than-expected recovery.
“It’s moving along real well, and we’re still way ahead of schedule,” McCown said. “The healing process is going as good as it could go. It’s been a blessing. I’ve started running and doing dropbacks at full speed now. I ran 10 100-yard sprints yesterday. Right now, it’s not just about strengthening the knee anymore. It’s fairly strong – 75 to 80 percent strong. Now it’s about conditioning and getting my wind back. From that standpoint it’s going pretty good.”
What? Torn anterior cruciate ligaments just don’t heal this fast. I asked if McCown really tore his ACL or if it was another, lesser ligament.
“No, it was a torn ACL,” McCown chuckled. “The good thing is that it wasn’t multiple ligaments. It was an ACL with some cartilage tears, which is pretty standard and comes with an ACL. It wasn’t like Daunte Culpepper where I had two or three ligaments that were damaged. From that standpoint it was good. But it’s still an ACL, which is typically six, eight or nine months. I’m looking at four months for my recovery. God has really blessed me through this. As long as there is not any setbacks we’re looking pretty good.”
Four months. That would put McCown on pace to return in October when he is scheduled to return from his stint on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, which was his goal all along. By rule, McCown is forced to miss the first six weeks of the NFL season by being on the PUP. McCown can’t play and he can’t practice with the team.
Then, if necessary, the Bucs can get an extra two weeks to evaluate McCown while he practices with the team. He can’t be active on game days during this two-week period, but the Bucs might not have to use that extra evaluation time with McCown. He might be ready to go on October 22 when Tampa Bay hosts Philadelphia.
Once McCown is activated, whether it is at the six-week mark when he comes off the PUP list or after the grace period, which can be up to two weeks, the Bucs must make a roster move and release a player. The guess here is that Tim Rattay will get the axe when McCown returns, as most teams don’t have the luxury of keeping four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
A four-month recovery from a torn ACL would be a stunning feat. When McCown went down with his knee injury after rolling out and being untouched on the practice field at One Buc Place, he knew he would bounce back, but he didn’t think it would be this fast.
“I really didn’t know how long it was going to be,” McCown said. “I had no idea. That night I started looking around and reading up on recovery times. It seemed like everybody was saying that the earliest – if everything goes well – is six months. It’s usually eight months to a year for a full recovery. I didn’t want to accept that. My body has always healed pretty quickly and it’s been able to bounce back from it.
“That was a hard time – those first couple of days when it happened. I felt like I had made a lot of progress through the summer and really showed that I could do a lot of things with this offense. It was a setback that you sometimes get in your career. I just want to bounce back and step right back to where I was.”
Make no mistake that McCown wants to reclaim the number two quarterback position. That means moving ahead of rookie sensation Bruce Gradkowski, who is coming off a marvelous preseason, and proved to be a better playmaker than Rattay. The Bucs wanted to get an extended preseason look at Gradkowski, who got to play in every preseason game, while Rattay never got in against Jacksonville. Gradkowski dazzled in the exhibition games and made a name for himself, but McCown was supposed to be that guy.
“The toughest part of the injury for me was missing the preseason games,” McCown said. “Coach Gruden and I had talked about that this summer before the preseason started. We talked about giving me the majority of one of the games. That was the first thing that hit me when this injury happened. I thought, ‘Oh man, I don’t get to play the whole preseason game – whatever one it was going to be.’ It’s been tough. It really has been. It’s been mentally trying. You’re a competitor and you want to get out there and prove what you can do and prove how far along you are in this offense. It is just part of playing. I’ve got to take it in stride.”
The fact that Gruden had talked about giving McCown the majority of one of the preseason games tells you how much buzz the young quarterback was generating in the offseason. The biggest reason Gruden is enamored with McCown is his athleticism and speed. Having a mobile quarterback is almost a prerequisite in the West Coast offense, which is designed to have a lot of bootlegs and rollouts, which are McCown’s specialties.
“That’s an important part of a quarterback’s game,” McCown said. “If you look through the course of a season at how many third-and-shorts are made with a quarterback’s legs to keep drives alive – it’s a lot. Your legs can get you out of a bad play. Our goal as a quarterback unit is to focus on trying to run three times per game for positive yardage. If that results in a first down, it results in a steak dinner for us.”
With Gruden picking up the tab.
McCown is still a raw quarterback in terms of being a dropback, pocket passer, so a knee injury that would limit his mobility would seem like the death knell, right? McCown plans to hit the field running faster when he returns.
“I’ve talked to everybody on this team that has had ACL injuries, especially Joey Galloway, who has had two – one on each knee,” McCown said. “I asked him how it affected his running and he told me that he came back faster. For a guy that relies on his speed to do his work – I do too, but obviously not like him – that’s huge. I do rely on my legs. That’s a big part of my game as a quarterback. After talking to some guys, it’s just a mindset. Do you want to come back stronger? It’s purely mental. The knee is fixed after surgery and you are well. So it’s a mindset. Mentally, I know I’m right and I know that I can do the things I was doing before the injury. That’s how you have to think.
“My 40-time at the Combine was 4.57. Myself and my brother (quarterback Josh McCown) pride ourselves on being athletic, but also being cerebral. We’re hard workers and studious. We’re blessed with our speed, but at the same time, we’re not the 6-foot-5, 240-pound guys that are able to stand in the pocket and take hits all day like a Carson Palmer or Byron Leftwich. We have to be able to use our speed to help our game.”
To say that McCown is making a speedy recovery is an understatement.
FAB 2. The biggest concern the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense has when facing the Baltimore Ravens defense this week is not knowing which front the Ravens will line up in on any given play. Tampa Bay’s defense is a 4-3 base, which means four defensive linemen and three linebackers. Occasionally, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will deploy a three-man defensive line in obvious passing situations when it’s third-and-very long.
What is Baltimore’s base defense? That’s what I asked several Bucs offensive linemen who have to play against the Ravens’ mysterious defensive front. Incredibly, no one knew what the Ravens’ base defense was – and this is after weeks of film study.
“Choose one – 4-3, 3-4, 46 defense – I don’t know,” said Bucs center John Wade. “It depends on certain situations, and then they might do something completely different for us. It just depends on how they want to attack certain personnel. They can do an awful lot with different fronts. It might not look like know what they’re doing, but they do. They’re a talented group of guys. They do what they do really well. It’s important for us to be disciplined and communicate with each other and execute. They have several guys that can do a lot of different things for them. They have everything and they could use everything. It’s a lot to prepare for.”
Wade wasn’t alone. None of the five offensive linemen that I spoke with could say what Baltimore’s base defense is.
“They do everything,” said Tampa Bay left tackle Anthony Davis. “They do everything well. We just have to prepare ourselves and execute our game plan. They have a lot of guys who do a lot of different things. They’re a great defense.”
The reason why the Ravens defense is so great and can play so many fronts is because they have a couple of players in Terrell Suggs, Adalius Thomas and Dan Cody who can play multiple positions. On one play, players like Suggs and Cody, who were first-round defensive ends, can put their hand down and rush the quarterback from a defensive end position. On the next play, those versatile players can stand up as linebackers and either blitz the quarterback or drop into coverage. Heck, even as defensive ends, players like Suggs and Cody can drop into coverage. And Thomas may be the best defensive player you’ve never heard of.
“With the people that they have on defense, they can play all of those different fronts,” said Bucs assistant head coach and running backs coach Art Valero. “Basically, it’s based on the game. Where their starting point is … is wherever they want it to be. It’s very multiple. They’ve got all the moving parts that can fit in anywhere. You have to prepare for a lot of stuff – a lot of different stuff. It’s quite different than most people who basically line up in two base fronts. To say what their base front is … your guess is as good as mine.
“Not only do they have the advantages of playing multiple positions, but their guys are big. Do you consider Suggs a down lineman or do you consider him a linebacker? They play a great chess and call a great game with their fronts and coverages. They put those guys in optimum situations.”
Jon Gruden’s offense is predicated on finding mismatches and exploiting those. Rex Ryan’s attacking defense is based on the same premise.
“They create mismatch problems,” Valero said. “As an offense, you are looking for mismatches, but they create a lot of mismatches for the offense because so many of their guys are versatile. They are all very effective at rushing the passer, at dropping into zone coverage, at playing guys in man coverage – they do it all. They’ve done a great job of building their football team based on what their philosophy is on defense.”
When Baltimore lost man-mountain defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu to Carolina in free agency, they went out and drafted a similar-sized replacement in Oregon’s Haloti Ngata, who is 6-foot-4, 340 pounds. Valero said the Bucs have been impressed with how well Ngata has played and stuffed the run in the preseason.
“Even though he’s young, he doesn’t play like he’s young,” Valero said. “There’s still a lot for him to learn, but you don’t really see that on film. Having a guy like Ray Lewis and a guy liked Adalius Thomas around him helps. He fits in their scheme and they don’t allow him to make mistakes. They want him to come and play like he’s been around for five year even though it’s his first season.”
One thing is for sure. Although a defense like Baltimore’s presents a tough challenge for the season opener, it is a blessing in disguise for Tampa Bay that they drew the Ravens in Week 1. The reason? They’ve have had all offseason to prepare. With the myriad of defensive fronts the Bucs will face on opening day, they will need it.
FAB 3. Just how severe is rookie guard Davin Joseph’s knee injury? No one really knows for sure. The Buccaneers have not given an updated injury report on Joseph, who was ruled out of the season opener after injuring his knee during Thursday’s afternoon’s practice. Joseph had an MRI, but the results of that test have not been made available to the media.
But here’s what we know. Head coach Jon Gruden was extremely ticked off when he was addressing the media just an hour after Joseph got hurt on Wednesday. He had a look of disgust on his face and he ended the media huddle by quickly walking off the field, neglecting the opportunity to do one-on-one interviews with the media afterwards. Gruden is usually very accommodating with the media, but not this week.
Joseph’s injury clearly bothered Gruden, and the fact that the Bucs’ first-round pick was ruled out of this week’s game so quickly speaks volumes. Factor in the fact that Joseph was not made available to the media on Thursday or Friday and that he was apparently seen with an immobilizing knee brace on, and the guess here is that it is a fairly significant injury.
It is probably not a season-ending ACL, but more likely a partially torn MCL injury. That’s usually a four-week injury, which means that Joseph could return after the Bucs’ bye week, which falls in Week 4 of the NFL season.
I have been very open with my concerns about Joseph starting next to average right tackle Kenyatta Walker for some time now. I wrote about it in the Pewter Report Season Kickoff Issue, and I’ve discussed it for three weeks now with WDAE afternoon host Steve Duemig on the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz show. I think Joseph will be a fine NFL starter in time, but he made more mistakes than I was comfortable with during the preseason.
I advocated starting Jeb Terry instead of Joseph. As it turns out, Terry will likely get the start at right guard in place of the injured rookie (although Terry may start at left guard if Dan Buenning can’t go instead). It looks like I will be getting my wish, and that may be a blessing in disguise for the Buccaneers. Terry is not a Pro Bowler by any means, but he isn’t a rookie, either. Although Terry, like Joseph, has never started an NFL game, he has been in Gruden’s system for three years. The experience of facing Tampa Bay’s defense in practice for three years and going through three entire preseasons will better prepare him for facing a stout defense like Baltimore’s.
FAB 4. The bloom has been off the rose for former Tampa Bay linebacker Marquis Cooper for a while. Cooper, a former third-round pick who surprised some when he was released in the final roster cutdowns, had fallen out of favor with the Bucs during the offseason. The reason? Antoine Cash had been making a splash and was generating some buzz. Also, free agent acquisition Jamie Winborn impressed the coaching staff with his abilities.
Cooper didn’t help his cause by getting a shoulder injury in camp that caused him to miss some practice time and also some game time in the preseason. But he was in trouble before then.
PewterReport.com has learned that Tampa Bay actually tried to shop Cooper to the New Orleans Saints over the summer. This is interesting on two fronts – first that the Bucs were ready to deal Cooper in the summer because they liked the trio of Cash, Winborn and Wesly Mallard so much, and second, because the Bucs thought so little of Cooper that they were prepared to deal him to an NFC South division rival.
Tampa Bay originally wanted an offensive tackle. Our source wouldn’t disclose the name of the tackle, but no, it wasn’t Jammal Brown, the Saints’ first-round pick. New Orleans may be a bad football team, but they’re not a stupid team. When that trade offer was rebuffed, the Bucs tried to deal Cooper to the Saints for a third-round pick. New Orleans wasn’t buying due to the logic of Cooper being a third-round draft pick and he was unwanted by the team that drafted him. There is no way the Saints would give up a third-round pick for Cooper.
The Bucs supposedly came back and offered New Orleans a fifth-round pick, but that was too rich for the Saints. The fact that Tampa Bay made three offers to New Orleans shows how unimpressed the Bucs were with Cooper and how much they tried to get rid of him.
Cooper signed with the Minnesota Vikings earlier in the week.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• The Bucs’ pickup of rookie cornerback Dion Bynum was rather interesting this week. Bynum was signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad after failing to make the Chicago Bears’ roster. Bynum had a MAC-leading six interceptions for the University of Ohio last year, and returned three for touchdowns. I remember watching the Bobcats’ upset win over Tyler Palko’s Pitt Panthers when Bynum returned two picks for TDs, including the game-winner in overtime. The amazing thing about Bynum’s game was that his two scores were the only touchdowns that Ohio scored. Bynum brings good hands and speed to Tampa Bay. He was clocked with a 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash prior to the NFL Draft. The reason why he didn’t get drafted because his game needs some polish and he didn’t face an elite level of competition in the MAC. Remember, the MAC is known for producing great quarterbacks – not wide receivers.
• Both middle linebacker Shelton Quarles and under tackle Anthony McFarland have overcome groin injuries that sidetracked them from playing in the preseason finale and left their playing status for Tampa Bay’s season opener uncertain at the beginning of the week. McFarland was not listed on the injury report this week, while Quarles was listed as questionable on Wednesday, but then removed from the official injury list on Thursday. But groin injuries are slow to heal and can return with an awkward fall or a quick change of direction. Keep an eye on McFarland and Quarles this year. If they both finish the game on the field rather than the sidelines, then they are probably out of the woods from their injuries.
• I’m not much of a gambler at all. I’ll place some friendly wagers on college football (no, I don’t bet on the sport I cover) each year, but that’s about it. However, it is interesting to see that a person can bet on things other than the outcome of the game and the point spread. For example, the Bodog betting service is offering up several interesting wagers. You can place a bet on which player will lead the Bucs in tackles this season – Derrick Brooks or Shelton Quarles? You can also bet the over/under on the following categories:
Chris Simms passing yards – 3,000 yards
Chris Simms touchdown passes – 16 TDs
Cadillac Williams rushing yards – 1,275 yards
Cadillac Williams rushing touchdowns – 10 TDs
Joey Galloway receiving yards – 999 yards
Michael Clayton receiving yards – 850 yards
Simeon Rice sacks – 12.5 sacks
As for Bodog’s odds for the Bucs winning the Super Bowl? 30/1. The odds for the Bucs winning the division? 7/2. The odds for Tampa Bay winning the conference? 13/1.
• One of the players that really stood out to me last week when I was watching college football and doing some 2007 draft evaluation was Penn State linebacker Dan Connor. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior plays in the shadow of All-American Paul Pusluszny, but he really stood out in the season opening win against Akron. He was everywhere on Saturday, and led the Nittany Lions with 13 tackles and two sacks. Connor is fast, instinctive and drops into coverage with ease. He actually had a better game than Pusluszny. Last year, Connor had 76 tackles, one fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss. As a freshman, Connor, put up 85 stops, had an interception, one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. Keep an eye on Connor, who wears number 40. He hits like a mack truck, too.
• Finally, as some of you may know, I am a Kansas State alum, so I was really excited when former Tampa Bay assistant defensive backs coach Raheem Morris was named the Wildcats defensive coordinator under new head coach Ron Prince last December. The 29-year old Morris is installing Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense at K-State and the defense made several big plays while going through its growing pains in Prince’s debut last Saturday. The Wildcats narrowly beat Illinois State (yes, they are a Division I-AA school – my, how my alma mater has fallen over the years), 24-23 after Morris’ unit stopped the Redbirds on a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. While Kansas State needs an infusion of talent to return the school to its glory days of 11-straight bowl appearances (1992-2002), the high-energy Morris has emerged as the team’s leading recruiter and will have that defense turned around quickly. He’s off to a good start by having sophomore defensive end Ian Campbell named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week with eight tackles, three sacks and an NCAA-leading five tackles for loss against Illinois State. Congrats to Morris, who I really enjoyed covering during his four-year stint with the Bucs. Morris could have been the replacement for Mike Tomlin this year in Tampa Bay, but the lure of becoming a defensive coordinator – even in the college ranks – was too good to ignore. K-State will need to generate more than its paltry 207 yards of total offense to beat Florida Atlantic this Saturday.