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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. True or false – with no Buccaneers defender having more than six sacks through 11 games this season, sacks are down this year in Tampa Bay? The answer? False.
Sacks are actually up in 2004 from where they were in 2003 for the Bucs. Through 11 games, the Bucs have 30 sacks. They had just 36 last year despite a defensive line that boasted defensive ends Simeon Rice, who led the team with 15 sacks, and Greg Spires, a healthy Anthony McFarland playing nose tackle, and under tackle Warren Sapp.
During the team’s Super Bowl run in 2002, the Bucs defense – which was the number one rated unit and considered one of the best of all-time – registered 43 sacks that season. This year’s Buccaneers team is also on pace for 43 sacks.
While Rice, who needs just one more sack to reach 100 for his career, has not been nearly as dominant of a pass rusher this season as in years past, and no one else has emerged, either. Instead, it has been a collective effort with a total of 12 different Tampa Bay defensive players recording at least half a sack. Heading into this week’s NFC South clash with the Atlanta Falcons, here’s the Bucs’ sack breakdown:
DE Simeon Rice – 6 sacks
DT Dewayne White – 4.5 sacks
DE Greg Spires – 4.5 sacks
LB Shelton Quarles – 3.5 sacks
DT Anthony McFarland – 3 sacks
DT Chidi Ahanotu – 2.5 sacks
CB Ronde Barber – 2 sacks
LB Derrick Brooks – 1 sack
FS Jermaine Phillips – 1 sack
DT Jon Bradley – 1 sack
LB Ian Gold – 0.5 sack
LB Jeff Gooch – 0.5 sack
The Bucs have gotten 5.5 sacks from their linebackers this year, which is the most collective sack production from that unit in years. Quarles’ 3.5 quarterback takedowns is a career-high, as is Spires’ 4.5 sacks. All of White’s career sacks have come this season, and with his quarterback capture against Carolina last Sunday, he’s posted at least half a sack in five straight games.
FAB 2. Aside from missing seven of his last nine field goal attempts, including two kicks which were missed last Sunday at Carolina and one that was blocked, there is another reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were forced to cut placekicker Martin Gramatica.
Gramatica’s misses appear to be stemming from the mental side of the job – most likely a lack of confidence. Gramatica’s confidence would surely not have been bolstered by kicking at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. In fact, Gramatica might have had a better chance of sticking around another week if the Bucs had a road game this week instead of a home contest versus Atlanta.
Just imagine Gramatica going out for the opening kickoff or to attempt his first extra point, let alone a field goal. The boo birds that have booed the likes of Trent Dilfer and Tim Brown would have been out in full force. The last thing Gramatica needed before a field goal attempt would be boos raining down from the stands from the Tampa Bay fans.
With that possibility almost becoming a certainty, Gramatica had to be released this week, according to tight end Ken Dilger.
“It would have been tough for him to come back,” Dilger said. “I think the fans would be pretty tough in that situation. They even booed Tim Brown earlier for a couple of punt returns. It’s a tough game, but things like that happen.
“Martin was in a tough situation. I mean last week, he missed two and had one blocked. It came down to his kick, but if you look at the whole game we had six or seven other chances to either score or put the game away, but it seems like this whole year has been like that.”
Immediately after the loss to Panthers, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius indicated that Gramatica’s misses were costing this team chances to win game. Defensive end Greg Spires said that after going 0-for-3 last Sunday, facing his teammates would have been difficult for Gramatica.
“Ater last week’s game, I don’t think he wanted to face us every day,” Spires said. “I don’t think he wanted to be here. He was sorry for what he did. It’s unfortunate. I like him a lot. I wish the best for him. I hope he gets going again and gets picked up by another team.”
FAB 3. There is a slim chance that guard Matt O’Dwyer could see the field on Sunday if center Sean Mahan’s neck strain doesn’t come around, or if Mahan’s neck gets re-injured against Atlanta. Matt Stinchcomb would step in for for Mahan if he can’t go or gets hurt and O’Dwyer could occupy the left guard position, a spot in which he started for the Bucs during mini-camps and OTA (organized team activity) days.
The Bucs really want to give O’Dwyer a look at some point over the next five games so that the personnel department can determine where he is physically. That evaluation will go a long way next spring when O’Dwyer will again become a free agent. He has expressed interest in returning to Tampa Bay, especially after his first season got cut short by a torn pectoral muscle prior to training camp, but he has to show the Bucs enough ability when he steps onto the field on Sundays.
As Pewter Report has mentioned before, O’Dwyer is a real character in the locker room and on the practice field who was supposed to give this offensive line a real nasty presence before his pectoral injury. O’Dwyer joked this week in the locker room with Pewter Report and others who cover the team when he said he would no longer be a nice guy when talking with the media. “I’m healthy now – the (expletive) is back,” O’Dwyer said playfully.
Aside from an attitude, the Bucs can expect two things from O’Dwyer if and when he sees the field. First, some rustiness. Although he has practiced for roughly a month with the team, the timing and live contact one plays with on Sundays can often not be duplicated on the practice field.
The second is a healthy body. While most NFL linemen have quite a bit of wear and tear heading into the 12th game of the season, O’Dwyer has yet to play in a game and missed all of the contact practices during training camp and his body is fresh. However, his game day conditioning may be tested on 11-play drives or if the defense forces opponents to have several three-and-out drives.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden addressed O’Dwyer’s situation after practice on Friday.
“His game-day status will be decided probably on a weekly basis,” Gruden said. “You have that number you’ve got to get down to on game day. Obviously, depth is one thing and special teams and all those things enter into it sometimes, too. Whether he’s up or down this week we’ll decide after our meeting here this afternoon. We’re hoping he gives us what he’s given teams he’s been on: some thump, a guy who comes off the football and is a physical offensive lineman with some versatility. He can run and pull and be a factor.”
FAB 4. One curious roster move that hasn’t been made yet is placing safety Jermaine Phillips on injured reserve. The Bucs are hoping for his return from a forearm fracture in a couple of weeks, which is why the team hasn’t given up on him and put him on IR.
The Bucs should be concerned that the same type of injury to his right forearm shelved Phillips for two weeks last year, but the third-year safety out of Georgia doesn’t feel that this will be a lingering injury throughout his career.
“It was the same arm, just in a different place,” Phillips said. “They just put a longer plate in there. It won’t linger. It’s coming along pretty good. I still have the stitches in there . I haven’t started rehabbing it yet, but that’s right around the corner. Hopefully I’ll make it back before the end of the season. I definitely think it’s a possibility, but I have to look at the x-rays and see how it goes.”
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden indicated that Phillips’ recovery has been going well.
“He’s making progress,” Gruden said. “It’s a serious injury, which we can’t deny. It’s not like it’s going to heal today or tomorrow. Whether or not he can play through the pain and play with what he needs to play with cast-wise is another thing. And we won’t know for another couple days.”
Phillips was injured against the New Orleans Saints last November, but fought through the pain to play in the last six games of the season and start the final four. He admits he can tolerate pain, but doesn’t quite know if he has a high threshold for pain or not.
“I don’t know,” Phillips said. “I always wondered what my tolerance for pain is compared to everyone else. When you are out there and your adrenaline is pumping, you don’t feel too much. I’m about to find out, though.”
Phillips is just lucky that the injury he suffered was to an upper extremity as opposed to a lower extremity.
“As long as (the injury) is not below the waist I’m good,” Phillips said. “If it was below the waist I would definitely miss the rest of the season.”
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• A couple of names that the Bucs are really starting to become enamored with as the NFL Draft creeps closer – Florida State defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who could be a viable option if he’s there for the Bucs later in the first round or in the second round, and a player we at Pewter Report love, Memphis’ versatile running back DeAngelo Williams, who is coming off a Tigers’ single-game record 263 yards rushing against South Florida – a game that was played at Raymond James Stadium of all places. Scout Johnson for yourself as the Seminoles battle West Virginia in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day, and check out Williams versus Bowling Green on December 22 in the GMAC Bowl.
• Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton has logged 60 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns this season. Last week against Carolina, he broke Lawrence Dawsey’s team rookie receiving yardage record (818). Through 11 games, Clayton is on pace to catch 87 passes for 1,204 yards and four touchdowns. If he maintains that pace, Clayton will move ahead of Mark Carrier (86 catches – 1989) into second place in the Bucs’ history book for receptions in a single season, trailing only Keyshawn Johnson, who had 101 catches in 2001. Clayton’s receiving yardage of 1,204 yards would rank third in the Tampa Bay record annals behind Carrier’s 1,422 yards in 1989 and Johnson’s 1,266 yards in 2001.
• Virginia’s Alvin Pearman is an Aaron Stecker-Mewelde Moore type, who should be a top-notch special teams performer in his rookie season in the NFL. Pearman has split carries throughout most of his Cavaliers career with Wali Lundy, but has emerged as the featured runner during the second half of his senior season, starting with a 223-yard rushing performance against Duke. Pearman has put up five 100-yard rushing games this year, and has 985 yards and nine rushing scores on 186 carries. He also has 26 catches for 381 yards and one receiving touchdown this season, and 135 catches for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns throughout his career. He’s a perfect fit for Jon Gruden’s West Coast offense that requires its backs to be versatile. It helps that Pearman has played in a similar version of the West Coast offense at Virginia. But the real intriguing aspect is that despite being a key weapon on offense, he is also the personal protector (or upback) on punts, covers kickoffs and also returns kickoffs and punts, too. In fact, Pearman had a dazzling punt return for a touchdown against Temple in the season opener. Like Moore and Stecker, Pearman will likely run a pedestrian 4.6 at the NFL Scouting Combine, which means he won’t get drafted until Day 2. But he plays faster than he times, evidenced by his 80-yard run against Virginia Tech and his 93-yard kick return against North Carolina earlier in the year. Neither play went the distance as Pearman was tackled from behind short of the goal line, but gains of 80 and 93 yards are nothing to sneeze at. Keep this guy in mind for the Bucs, draftniks.
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