SR’s Fab Five appears regularly on PewterReport.com This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Pewter Report’s post-draft film evaluation continues this summer. After evaluating quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and defensive lineman Julian Jenkins, I got the chance to review several Clemson games featuring defensive end Charles Bennett, who was one of the Bucs’ seventh-round picks this year. Here’s what I saw on tape.
The first game I watched was Clemson versus Miami in 2004. Bennett faced Rashad Butler, who was a third-round pick by Carolina in 2006 and was playing left tackle for the injured Eric Winston, and right tackle Chris Myers, who was a sixth-round draft pick by Denver last year. Bennett and Gaines Adams, who will be a senior in 2006 and is generally regarded as Clemson’s best defensive lineman and a likely first-round pick, typically flipped sides. While Adams played virtually every down, during Bennett’s senior season, he would alternate with defensive end Phillip Merling, who would play one series for every two or three that Bennett would play.
While playing left defensive end against Miami, Bennett blew his containment assignment and crashed inside while trying to make a play as Frank Gore bounced outside and scored on a 13-yard touchdown. He did manage to fight through double teams and tackle Gore for a loss on one play and pressure the quarterback on another.
Generally speaking, Bennett did a good job of diagnosing the plays well. Aside from that blown assignment on the Gore touchdown run, his only other mental gaffe was a late hit out of bounds on quarterback Brock Berlin in the second quarter.
Bennett was pancaked by Myers on a touchdown run by Gore in the second quarter, which capped off a not-so-spectacular first half, in which Miami led 17-3. But Bennett and Clemson rebounded in the second half, and he recorded a sack by rushing hard upfield and then working his way back inside Myers to get to Berlin. Bennett used his speed to create the separation from the offensive tackle and to stretch the gap. Bennett almost got a second sack in the fourth quarter with a great rush against Butler.
Clemson rallied to force overtime and took a 24-17 lead by scoring a touchdown in the first overtime possession. Miami had the chance to tie the game, but Bennett pressured Berlin twice in four downs and forced two incompletions in the Tigers’ upset victory.
One of Bennett’s marquee matchups in 2005 came against Miami’s Winston, who was Houston’s 2006 third-round pick. Once again, Bennett and Adams would constantly flip positions to give Winston and Butler different looks, so Bennett only faced Winston for about half of his snaps. Despite getting blown out of his gap by Winston and giving up a 13-yard run by Tyrone Moss, Bennett usually got the better of Winston when the two squared off, especially in the passing game.
Bennett, who finished the Miami game with eight tackles, three quarterback pressures and a sack, blew past Winston to drill quarterback Kyle Wright in the chest just as he threw the ball. Wright was knocked out of the game for a play in the second quarter, but the hit demonstrated Bennett’s ability to accelerate to the quarterback and lay a big hit.
Bennett forced a sack by Adams on a tackle-end twist from the left end position in the third quarter. His own sack came on a key third down play with 1:27 left in regulation with Clemson trailing by three when he beat Butler for a 9-yard sack. That forced Miami to punt and allowed Clemson to kick a game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime. Clemson would eventually lose in triple overtime, 36-30.
Against Maryland in 2005, Bennett didn’t make many plays against the Terrapins’ quick passing game, finishing with just two tackles. He notched only two quarterback pressures in the game, but both were fairly significant. He forced an incompletion on third down in the red zone in the second quarter, and forced another incompletion on fourth down to close out the game, which was a 28-24 Clemson road win.
One of Bennett’s finest games came against Colorado in the Champs Bowl last year. Although facing some non-descript offensive tackles, Bennett dominated, finishing with eight tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures and one sack. This game really showed off his athletic prowess. He fought through a double team to record a sack on the Buffaloes’ first offensive series. He also showed his ability to shed offensive linemen by making a big tackle for loss in the first quarter. Bennett is a physical player who plays with decent leverage most of the time. When he doesn’t, he gets in trouble because of his lack of imposing size.
One of Bennett’s shortcomings in watching film was his penchant for relying on his athletic ability by trying to knife inside and make a tackle for a loss. More often than not, he loses containment and gives up running plays to the outside. That happened once in the Colorado game. He also got pancaked while trying to execute a spin move. Because of his size, Bennett must use proper technique and be the first off the ball every down or he faces the possibility of being neutralized by offensive linemen.
One of the most impressive plays of the Colorado game came on a flip toss in which Bennett properly diagnosed the misdirection play, maintained his gap and containment, squared up on the running back, accelerated to the ballcarrier and made a perfect 6-yard tackle for loss.
Bennett recorded another tackle for loss by shedding a block at the line of scrimmage. Against Colorado, he showed a quick first step and a variety of pass rush moves including a bull rush, swim move and a rip move. Bennett almost recorded his second sack of the game, but Adams beat him to the quarterback by half a second in the Tigers’ 19-10 victory. He also showed the ability to be around the play even when he wasn’t making it. That allowed him to recover a fumble against Colorado midway through the contest.
The most intriguing game I watched while studying Bennett was the Clemson vs. Boston College contest in which he went up against left tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who would later become his Tampa Bay teammate. Trueblood showed well in the game as an explosive run-blocker and usually got the best of Bennett when the two would square off, especially on a third-and-1 situation in which he pancaked the smaller Bennett.
But on one running play, Bennett beat Trueblood off the snap, quickly achieved great pad level, stood up Trueblood, shed his block and made a tackle at the line of scrimmage. Trueblood tried to cut Bennett a couple of times, but he did a great job of recognizing the blocks and kept his feet. Despite weighing less than 260 pounds, Bennett is a physical defensive end who navigates through the trash at the line of scrimmage well.
Still, Trueblood showed why he was a second-round pick this year by blowing Bennett out of his gap for a 10-yard run. Trueblood adjusted well to double moves by both Bennett and Adams, and got great separation from both defensive ends with his long arms. He did give up a sack to Adams in overtime and was called for a holding penalty against Bennett in the second quarter.
Bennett only recorded three tackles against Boston College in the Eagles’ 16-13 overtime win, but he showed that he could hold up generally well against an NFL-caliber tackle like Trueblood. He also fared well against Miami’s offensive tackles, who are now in the NFL. Bennett is probably going to be nothing more than a wave rusher in Tampa Bay should he make the team this year. The Bucs like his ability to pass rush from both defensive positions and his ability to drop into coverage on zone blitzes, which he did at least once in virtually every game that I saw.
The key to Bennett’s success will be adding about 10 pounds of bulk to hold up against the run in the NFL, getting off the ball before his opponent and maintaining proper pad level. If he can do those three things, the athletic Bennett has a real chance of earning a roster spot. If not, he’s probably a candidate to make the practice squad.
The one thing I like about Bennett’s game is his ability to make some plays in the clutch for Clemson. Whether it was the sack against Miami in 2005 to help force overtime, or the quarterback pressure on fourth down against Maryland last year or the two quarterback pressures in overtime against Miami in 2004, Bennett showed up. In games I did not evaluate, Bennett came up with two interceptions to help seal Clemson victories. In 2004 against North Carolina State, Bennett dropped into coverage and picked off a pass at the goal line to preserve a six-point win on the last play of the game. In 2005 against South Carolina, Bennett picked off a deflected pass that allowed Clemson to run out the clock and record a 13-9 win.
I didn’t see that many clutch plays when evaluating Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick, Stanford defensive lineman Julian Jenkins. In the games I saw, Jenkins was nowhere to be found in the clutch. That’s one of the reasons why I happen to like the selection of Bennett over Jenkins at this point. We’ll see what both players do when training camp comes around because right now what they did in college means very little going forward.
FAB 2. While doing research for a story in our upcoming Pewter Report Training Camp Issue, I went back and watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII DVD as well as the team’s own behind-the-scenes Super Bowl video. What an amazing performance by the Buccaneers. It never gets old watching Tampa Bay dominate and annihilate Oakland the way it did on January 26, 2003.
As I was watching the Bucs cruise to victory behind 27 points from Tampa Bay’s offense and 21 points from the defense, I was reminded of an e-mail that a subscriber had sent me a while back that had some interesting observations. Since Bucs news is typically slow in June, I thought now might be the right time to dig up that e-mail and share it with you.
Although the facts are correct, I must confess that I didn’t put all of this together myself. I wish I knew who authored this e-mail so I could give them credit, but alas, I simply copied the content into a Word document and accidentally didn’t copy the name of the person who sent it to me. If that person is you, then thank you … and sorry.
The gist of the e-mail I got regarding the play of Tampa Bay’s defense during the playoffs in 2002 and the Super Bowl went something like this. During the Bucs’ three-game playoff span, the defense only surrendered 31 points, while scoring 28 points themselves. The breakdown of points allowed by Tampa Bay’s defense is as follows: six points (two field goals) against San Francisco, 10 points (a touchdown and a field goal) against Philadelphia and 15 points versus Oakland. Remember, the Raiders scored six points on a blocked punt in that game against the Bucs’ special teams – not their defense.
Here’s the real interesting fact about the Bucs defense during the playoffs. They didn’t surrender a long scoring drive during that three-game span. The first touchdown came off a short field thanks to a 70-yard kickoff return by Philadelphia’s Brian Mitchell that put the Eagles deep in Tampa Bay territory. The second touchdown the Bucs allowed was the controversial Jerry Porter back-of-the-end-zone 39-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl in which he was initially ruled out of bounds, but instant replay reversed the call and awarded Oakland a touchdown.
That prompted a meltdown of epic proportions for head coach Jon Gruden on the sidelines, who infamously said, “Are you out of your skull?!” To this day, Gruden swears that Porter was out of bounds and that the Raiders shouldn’t have gotten that score. Jon, get over it, babe. You kicked your old team’s butt by 27 points, your offense outscored the Raiders and your defense matched their point total in the Super Bowl.
The final touchdown scored against the Bucs defense during the 2002 postseason also came in the Super Bowl when the great one – Jerry Rice – got behind the Tampa Bay zone defense and galloped 48 yards for a meaningless touchdown.
Of course, the four touchdowns that the Bucs defense produced in the postseason came from Ronde Barber’s 92-yard interception return for a touchdown against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, which is the greatest play in franchise history, an interception return by linebacker Derrick Brooks in Super Bowl XXXVII in addition to a pair of interception returns by cornerback Dwight Smith.
Remember that the defense wound up scoring an amazing nine touchdowns that season, which just happened to match the number of TDs that Gruden challenged the defense to score in 2002. As the subscriber noted to me in the e-mail, “I don’t know why they aren’t considered in the same league as the 1985 Chicago Bears. They were simply unstoppable that year.”
That is correct. Perhaps over time there will be a greater appreciation for what the Buccaneers did in 2002, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which finished that season ranked number one in the NFL. The play of the Bucs defense in the playoffs certainly rivaled that of Baltimore’s from the 2000 season and even that of the fabled ’85 Bears.
FAB 3. Speaking of Super Bowl XXXVII, I had the chance to speak to former Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon in a one-on-one setting when he visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers OTA session on May 16. He’s a real fascinating guy who has a real strong bond with head coach Jon Gruden. You get the impression from talking to him that he would still walk through fire for Gruden even though his playing days are over and the coach-player relationship exists no more.
One thing that Gruden always talks about is how quarterbacks have to have command of the huddle. Gruden wants quarterbacks to have a certain stature – ideally 6-foot-2 or taller. He also wants them to be mobile, highly accurate and have the arm strength to make all of the throws. What coach doesn’t, right? But Gruden ranks “command of the huddle” as one of the attributes that great quarterbacks need to have.
Gannon sure had it, and he expressed to me what “command of the huddle” ultimately means and why it is so important.
“Having command of the huddle means everything,” Gannon said. “Think about it. There are 10 other guys in that huddle and they are all looking at you. They are looking for some guidance and some direction. They need it. There’s some times when things look bleak out there and you need a quarterback that comes in the huddle and commands respect and has confidence and has answers. That’s why you have to have that. It’s more than just leadership. It’s what you say in a huddle, how you say it and what you convey to your teammates.”
Gannon remarked that Gruden knows the value of evaluating a quarterback’s ability to take command of the huddle.
“Jon knows how important it is,” Gannon said. “He’ll even mic up quarterbacks in the spring time and then he’ll come back in and listen to them, and listen to what the quarterbacks are saying in the huddle and how they are saying it. That’s a big part of leadership and being a quarterback.
“There’s a big difference between me being unsure and saying, ‘F-f-far W-w-west Right, Slot, A Right, 322 Scat’ and me coming in the huddle with confidence in my voice and saying, ‘ALRIGHT! Listen now. Far West Right SLOT, A Right, 322 SCAT, WIDE STICK, LOOKY.’ It’s all in how you say it, looking guys in the eyes and communicating with them. That’s something that you have to have. Those young quarterbacks like Bruce (Gradkowski), he’s learning how to speak again. He’s learning a new language and new terminology. You can’t get in the huddle and not be able to spit it out. Hey, you only have 35-40 seconds.”
Gannon said that the proper voice inflection, tone and diction mean a lot when you are in the huddle. Essentially, the quarterback has to convey confidence in his adrenaline-injected play call.
“Those guys in the huddle – they’ve got to believe that what you’re saying has a chance,” Gannon said. “I’ve even told my linemen on a particular pass play, ‘Hey guys, give me an extra second. This one has a chance to be a big play.’ They need to hear that kind of communication.”
From what Gannon noticed during his two-day stay in Tampa back in May, starting quarterback Chris Simms shows good command of the huddle.
FAB 4. Why did Ruston Webster leave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to become the Vice President of Player Personnel with the Seattle Seahawks? I spoke with Webster, who did not want to be directly quoted for this story, on his way out of town to get the inside scoop.
Webster, who has worked dutifully for the Bucs for 18 years, chose a more lucrative situation working with his good friend and mentor, Seahawks president of football operations Tim Ruskell, over staying with Tampa Bay. In the end, it came down to money, and after spearheading the effort to produce three solid, if not spectacular drafts to help rebuild the Buccaneers, Webster deserved a big raise.
With his contract expiring after the 2006 NFL Draft, Webster became a hot property in the NFL, drawing interest for personnel director positions in Houston, St. Louis and Seattle. That only drove his price up when negotiating with Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen.
The problem the Bucs were facing was that during the 2004 season, Webster was heading up the college scouting department, which focuses on the draft, while Mark Dominik was heading up the pro personnel side of the scouting department, which focuses on free agency. There was no director of player personnel position from the time Ruskell was not retained by the Buccaneers in early 2004 until the offseason of 2005 when Webster was promoted to that position in an effort to keep him from going to Miami to take a similar position on Nick Saban’s team.
When Webster was promoted to the director of player personnel, he was given a pay raise, but his contract, which was to expire after the 2006 NFL Draft, was not extended. It is unclear if that was at the team’s discretion or Webster’s, as he was becoming a rather hot property in league circles. At Webster’s insistence, he did not talk specifics in terms of his salary – either in Tampa Bay or what he will be making in Seattle.
The Bucs were faced with a dilemma when Seattle and St. Louis started showing the most interest. They could elevate Webster once again, perhaps to an assistant general manager position, and give him a significant pay raise, or they could let him go and keep the status quo with Dominik running the pro side and Webster’s protégé, Dennis Hickey, running the college scouting side of the personnel department as he has done since being promoted himself after the 2005 draft. The Bucs chose the latter.
But don’t believe that Allen didn’t try hard to retain Webster, as was suggested by ProFootballTalk.com last month. He offered Webster as much as he could, but there was a limit in terms of what the organization was willing to spend. With the kind of money Webster will be making in Seattle under billionaire Seahawks owner Paul Allen, it is slightly entering the ballpark of the Bucs’ Bruce Allen. Tampa Bay wanted more of a pay scale differentiation between Allen and the next highest-ranking front office member. So with his pay essentially hitting a ceiling during negotiations with Allen, Webster opted for a more lucrative opportunity in Seattle.
However, it will only be a matter of time – perhaps a year or two – when Webster will be a general manager in the NFL. His stay in Seattle won’t be nearly as long as his tenure was in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs will miss Webster, who in addition to being reunited with Ruskell, will also work again with scouts Mike Phair and Mike Yowarsky, who used to scout for Tampa Bay. Webster has one of the league’s keenest eyes for talents, according to Dominik, who has worked with him since 1995.
“I put him in the class with a lot of the guys I’ve worked for before like Carl Peterson, Mark Hatley, Terry Bradway, and guys in the Buccaneers organization like Rich McKay, Tim Ruskell and Jerry Angelo – all the guys that have gone on to G.M. positions – and I really feel like Ruston may be one of the most, if not the most talented evaluator of all of them,” Dominik told Pewter Report for an article on Webster in our October issue. “The last two years, when he has been the director of college scouting, we’ve hit home runs in the draft. I think that speaks a lot to his evaluating abilities and he’s got exceptional people skills. I think that’s a good combination for anybody if they ever get to move up to the G.M. role.”
This past fall, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden mentioned how valuable Webster was in helping to rebuild the Bucs.
“He’s done a great job of previewing every player and his input into what we are looking for is significant,” Gruden said. “We have three or four rookies starting for us this year and a guy that has broken NFL records. It’s a tribute to Ruston.”
Webster’s experience will be missed, but having Dominik and Hickey still around keeps the Bucs’ front office stable for the foreseeable future.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• Speaking of Mark Dominik, what exactly is his status for the 2006 season and beyond with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Unlike Ruston Webster, Dominik’s contract was not set to expire after the 2006 NFL Draft after he signed a multi-year contract with Tampa Bay back in January. In terms of the personnel and scouting department, the 35-year old Dominik has the longest tenure at One Buccaneer Place after joining the Bucs in 1995 after being a scouting intern with the Kansas City Chiefs. Dominik’s resume reads like a Who’s Who, and boasts employment for the likes of Carl Peterson, Terry Bradway and Bill Rees in the mid-1990s in Kansas City, and Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo, Tim Ruskell, Ruston Webster and Bruce Allen during his 11-year stay in Tampa Bay. Among his claims to fame, Dominik plucked Shelton Quarles out of the Canadian Football League back in the late 1990s. After becoming a special teams demon, Quarles later became the Bucs’ starting strongside linebacker before moving to the middle linebacker position in 2002. It is only a matter of time before Dominik, who has worked for Marty Schottenheimer, Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, joins the likes of Webster and leaves the Buccaneers to become director or a vice president of player personnel somewhere en route to realizing his dreams of being a general manager.
• Pewter Report has recently spoken to the agents for quarterback Chris Simms and defensive end Dewayne White and there have been no discussions with the Buccaneers and no movement regarding contract talks. Simms was slated to become a restricted free agent this spring before signing a one-year deal worth just over $2 million. The Bucs have expressed an interest in possibly extending that contract at some point in time this year. Tampa Bay has not made any movement regarding a contract extension for White, who is in the final year of his rookie contract and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007.
• The construction crew that is racing against time to get Tampa Bay’s new training facility and team headquarters done by August may not be completely finished by the time the Buccaneers return from training camp. As Pewter Report hears it, the emphasis is to finish the football side of the facility first so that the coaches and players can come back from Lake Buena Vista and move into the new One Buc Place. But other areas of the building, perhaps including the media workroom, the team’s public relations offices and the ticket office, may not be ready until September. The entire facility should be completed no later than October, but a lot will depend on the weather. The Tampa Bay area has been under a severe drought this winter and spring, which has actually aided the construction work because of the lack of rain and thunderstorms. However, as hurricane season approaches, the threat of rain and Tampa’s traditional thunderstorms every day could slow the final phases of construction.
This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
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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