SR’s Fab Five appears weekly 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. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made waves in the NFL on Wednesday, May 24, when the team signed wide receiver David Boston, a former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, to what is believed to be a one-year contract for the league minimum. PewterReport.com is working to confirm Boston’s contract situation.
Boston, who worked out for the Bucs on Thursday, May 18, had an impressive 40-yard dash time that was under 4.6, and more importantly, had his weight down from 250 pounds to 230 pounds. Boston, a workout freak with a body that rivals or perhaps surpasses running back Michael Pittman’s, has become the league’s most muscle-bound receiver – almost to the point where it has been detrimental in reducing his flexibility and agility. But the fact that he has his weight down to the point where the 6-foot-2 veteran, who is entering his eighth year in the NFL, looks more like a wide receiver than a tight end.
Boston seemed poised for NFL stardom when he caught 71 passes for 1,156 yards (16.3 avg.) and seven touchdowns in 2000, which was just his second year in the league. The following season, the former Ohio State star became a Pro Bowler with 98 catches for 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns – all career highs. Injuries limited him to just eight games in 2002, in which he produced just 32 catches for 512 yards and one score.
Unhappy with Arizona’s losing ways and looking to cash in on a big contract, Boston signed a 7-year, $53-million deal with San Diego. The Cardinals didn’t exactly bend over backwards to keep the star receiver, who had immaturity issues earlier in his career. Those issues surfaced in March 2002 when he pled no contest to a charge of driving under the influence of drugs after being arrested, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Boston had a productive year in what was to be his lone season with the Chargers in 2003, catching 70 passes for 880 yards (12.6 avg.) and scoring seven times. By this time, Boston’s weight had escalated to over 250 pounds and he clashed with strength coach Dave Redding, head coach Marty Schottenheimer and management about his weight, which the team wanted down to around 230 pounds. Boston also had a run-in with wide receiver Reche Cadwell and was suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Boston’s weight, some minor injuries and his clashes with the Chargers organization prompted San Diego to trade him to Miami for cornerback Jamar Fletcher and a sixth-round draft choice in 2004. But the troubled wide receiver couldn’t get his career back on track as he tore his left patella tendon in an August joint practice between the Dolphins and the Houston Texans. He missed his entire first season with the Dolphins and also managed to get arrested on a simple assault charge when he allegedly had a confrontation with a 59-year old ticket/gate agent at the Burlington International Airport in Burlington, Vermont in October of 2004. Boston, who pleaded innocent to the charges, had been rehabilitating his knee in Vermont after a second surgery.
Trouble seemed to follow Boston later in 2004 when the wide receiver was suspended four games by the NFL due to testing positive for steroids. Because he was injured at the time, he did not miss any games, but the suspension cost him one-fourth of his $5.35 million salary – or $1.34 million.
“I am very disappointed that the NFL denied my appeal,” Boston said in a statement released in December of 2004. “I did not take any anabolic steroids but it was decided that I tested for a related substance. I am optimistic that further medical evaluation will explain this positive test and vacate my suspension.”
Boston maintains a strict diet that is heavy on supplements. A story in the San Diego Union-Tribune back in 2003 documented Boston’s unhuman training regimen, which featured consuming 90 supplemental pills a day and to the tune of $200,000 per year.
Boston appeared in just five games with Miami in 2005 due to another knee injury, and hauled in only four catches for 80 yards. He was released in March due to a failed physical and for salary cap reasons.
So what do the Buccaneers see in this guy? He’s been a playmaker at every level. He’s been a vertical threat. He’s able to go across the middle on intermediate routes with his big, physical frame. He’s also effective on underneath routes because he has the strength to break tackles and get yards after catch.
The Bucs found Boston to be humbled and hungry as his career has been derailed by injuries and off-field distractions over the past two years. Boston, who will be 28 in August, should be still in the prime of his career, so Tampa Bay is getting an experienced receiver with proven playmaking ability. His workout with the Buccaneers showed the team that his injuries should be behind him – at least for now.
Boston wanted to come to the Bucs because of Jon Gruden’s storied history of revitalizing players’ careers. He did that out in Oakland with players like quarterback Rich Gannon and running back Terry Kirby, and in Tampa Bay with players like nose tackle Chris Hovan, quarterback Brian Griese, left tackle Roman Oben, running back Thomas Jones and cornerback Juran Bolden.
For Tampa Bay, the reward is higher than the risk. The Bucs have been known to throw out one-year, league-minimum-type contracts to the likes of Hovan, Bolden and Darrell Russell among others. In some cases – most recently with Hovan and Bolden – it works out. The players come to Tampa Bay ready to salvage their careers and become productive Buccaneers. In other cases, such as Russell’s, it doesn’t always work out, but there is little downside for the Bucs in taking a limited-risk chance on a talented player.
If Boston’s past of injuries, weight/diet problems and attitude catch up with him, he’ll be gone. But if he maintains the humility he displayed at One Buccaneer Place last week while meeting with team officials and performs on the field, he has a legitimate chance of making Tampa Bay’s 2006 active roster.
FAB 2. What does the addition of David Boston mean to the Buccaneers’ other wide receivers? To Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton and this year’s third-round draft pick, Maurice Stovall, Boston’s presence means virtually nothing. Those players – based on their status with the team – are virtual locks to be around in 2006.
Coming off a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season, Galloway is the team’s starting split end.
Clayton, who is healthy and in great shape coming off a disappointing sophomore slump, is poised to become Tampa Bay’s starting flanker and return to his rookie glory of 2004 when he too was a 1,000-yard receiver.
Stovall is a lock to make the team given his draft status. The Bucs are high on this young, 6-foot-4 receiver, who will be learning the flanker position behind Clayton.
At first glance, Hilliard could be in jeopardy if Boston comes through with a training camp and preseason performance that warrants him earning a roster spot. But the real reason Boston was signed was because the Buccaneers lack experience at the wide receiver position. Hilliard, who recently signed a four-year deal this offseason, and Galloway are the only two receivers on the team that have more than two years of NFL experience. If Galloway, who has had injuries plague him in the past, but managed to stay completely healthy in 2005, were to go down, the most experienced receiver on the team would be the 30-year old Hilliard, who is really only a possession-type receiver at this stage of his NFL career.
Because of Hilliard’s experience, he would likely stick around in 2006 – even if Boston made the team – because of the lack of experience among the team’s other receivers.
While the Bucs have been pleased with the progress of its young wide receivers, Boston’s arrival does put even more pressure on players like Edell Shepherd, Larry Brackins, Paris Warren and J.R. Russell to develop faster. Should Boston make the team along with Clayton, Galloway, Stovall and Hilliard, there would likely be just one receiver spot available, and players like Shepherd, Brackins, Warren and Russell would have to become special teams demons to beat out Mark Jones, who is currently atop the depth chart as the team’s punt returner.
But the feeling at One Buccaneer Place is that Jones may have to do more than just return punts to keep his roster spot in 2006. He may have to also win the kick return job, too. At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Jones lacks the ideal size to be an effective receiver in Jon Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense.
If Boston, who is said to be a better blocker than Galloway, Hilliard or Shepherd, but not as good as Clayton, can make a splash in training camp, stay out of trouble with injuries and attitude and earn a roster spot, the Bucs will have made a quite a catch this offseason.
FAB 3. I recently had the opportunity to speak with new Tampa Bay fullback Jerald Sowell, a 10-year veteran who has played his entire career with the New York Jets. Sowell, a free agent signee this offseason, replaces fullback Jameel Cook, who left for Houston at the start of free agency this spring.
While Mike Alstott is scheduled to continue starting at fullback, there could be a chance that Alstott won’t do all the lead blocking for Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman as he did last year, and that Sowell will get reps with those backs in addition to blocking for Alstott in the team’s “Heavy” or “Jumbo” backfield, as Cook did.
The 6-foot, 237-pound Sowell is pretty well put together and is excited to latch on to a rising star like the playoff-caliber Buccaneers after playing on a sub-par Jets team last year.
“I’m looking to be a great addition to this football team,” Sowell said. They’re a playoff team. I like the West Coast offense and I feel I think I could play well in this offense. I have no doubt that we’ll contend for the Super Bowl.
“This is my first time being in this situation – being with another team, but it’s key that I can relate to some of the plays and some of the schemes. This is my 10th year in the league, so I know how the game of football works and I can grasp this stuff at a faster rate than someone who isn’t as experienced. I’m getting the offense down pretty good right now. I like it.”
Sowell said that the offense Jon Gruden runs in Tampa Bay is similar conceptually to the offense that former Jets offensive coordinator and current Bucs quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett ran in New York. In fact, Sowell likes the fact that he’s reunited with Hackett and tight end Anthony Becht, who was his teammate with the Jets for years.
“There are some familiar faces like Coach Hackett and Anthony, and I know a lot of guys from Louisiana like (Anthony) McFarland, (Ike) Hilliard and (Michael) Clayton,” Sowell. “I’m not a stranger on this team, so that’s nice.”
Sowell said he hasn’t been given any indication how much time he’ll split with Alstott this season. That will likely be determined in training camp and the preseason based on performance.
“They haven’t told me what my primary role will be, they just said that I’ll fit into the offense with my talents and that I’ll contribute on special teams,” Sowell said.
Sowell is a bit of a special teams demon, which is a good thing considering that Cook was second on the team with 23 special teams tackles last year.
“I’ve been playing special teams my whole career and I’ve excelled at it,” Sowell said. “I plan on doing that down here. I led the Jets in tackles for a number of years. There’s a mindset and you just have to work at it.”
I mentioned that linebacker Keith Burns, a free agent addition in 2004, stepped in and led the Bucs in special teams tackles in his first year in Tampa Bay. Then I asked Sowell if planned on duplicating that feat.
“That’s my goal,” Sowell said. “When I go down there, I think I’m going to make the tackle. I know it’s a team effort, but my goal is to make the tackle. We’ll do it as a team and with a team mentality, though.”
But while Burns was essentially a hired gun for special teams, Sowell is expected to see more time on offense than Burns did on defense.
“It’s an unselfish position – fullback,” Sowell said. “I can run with the ball. I can catch the ball, too. But I really like to block. Whatever the team wants me to do, I’ll do. I’ll contribute any way I can.
“I’m very fortunate to be a part of this team. They’ve won a Super Bowl within the last five years. I think they have a great chance of going back and I don’t want to be on a team that’s struggling to make the playoffs.”
When asked to compare and contrast Williams and Pro Bowl rusher Curtis Martin, Sowell noted how similar the two backs are.
“It’s always the same when you are blocking for a great back.” Sowell said. “I see a lot of similarities between Cadillac and Curtis. These two are phenomenal backs. I enjoyed blocking for Curtis in New York, and I’m looking forward to blocking for Cadillac and (Michael) Pittman down here.”
I mentioned the fact that while Martin and Williams aren’t really big running backs, they are both surprisingly violent runners. Sowell agreed with that assessment.
“Definitely, that’s one of the similarities I see,” Sowell said. “They both have great instincts and the mental toughness. They’re both great guys off the field. No egos. That’s a good thing. They’re both very down to earth.”
While the amount of opportunities Sowell will get to block for Williams is still up in the air, what already has been decided is that he will be the short-yardage fullback, lead-blocking for the 240-pound Alstott.
“When it gets down to the goal line, it’s all about attitude,” Sowell said. “When you get two big guys like me and Mike going downhill, we’ll be tough to stop.”
Bucs officials are already commenting how Sowell has more experience and more thump than Cook did, and that he’s considered an upgrade at the position. Barring an upset or an injury, Sowell will beat out Rick Razzano and Carey Davis for the right to back up Alstott this year.
FAB 4. PewterReport.com will have an in-depth conversation with new Buccaneers strength and conditioning coach Mike Morris in the near future on the site, but in the meantime, Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman shed some light on Morris’ promotion from assistant strength and conditioning coach to his current position, and perhaps the reason why the team declined to extend the contract of Garrett Giemont, Morris’ predecessor.
Without getting into many details, Pittman said that Giemont’s clashing with players was detrimental to the team and suppressed strength and conditioning training attendance in the past.
“I didn’t have too many problems with Gie,” Pittman said. “He did have a lot of problems with some guys. Me, I wasn’t one of them. I guess [head coach Jon] Gruden and other people saw that and that’s why we replaced him with Mike. Sometimes that’s what you have to do. When you don’t get along with some of the players, maybe you have to make a move. I was fine with Gie, but other guys didn’t get along with him, and I’ll leave it at that. Gruden had to make a move and he did.”
When pressed, Pittman didn’t offer up any specific examples, other than to say, “As a strength coach, you need to know your limitations on the things you say and the things you do. We respect you, but you just can’t disrespect players. You’re not the head coach. Coach Gruden is the head coach. Gruden gets the last say in what’s going down and what’s going to happen. Sometimes Giemont just took things too far and guys didn’t really want to work out for him.”
The muscle-bound Pittman, who is a fitness nut and is probably the most well-conditioned player on the roster, gets a pass from Morris and the team in terms of working out at One Buc Place. He prefers to work out by himself at Lifestyles Family Fitness instead of at the team’s facility because the weight room is so small and overcrowded.
“Maybe I’ll work out at the new facility, but here? I can’t work out here,” Pittman said. “The main reason I don’t work out here is because we have to workout outside on the porch. We have 100 players on this team and there are only so many weights. It gets too crowded. Imagine if it is a real hot day – 100 degrees – and we have to lift outside. I’m not into working out and lifting weights outside in all this heat and humidity.”
Yet when Pittman wanted to change up his workout regimen – even at Lifestyles, he always found himself going to Morris, who has been labeled a “player favorite,” for a new plan instead of going to Giemont.
“Mike’s a great guy and he knows what he’s doing,” Pittman said. “He’s always kept me stretched out and kept me on the field. I went to Mike for some workouts, but I really didn’t go to Giemont. I really liked what Mike was doing. Mike used to be a sprinter, so he’s all about burst and side-to-side movement. He’s always working on getting the guys to open their hips and stuff like that.”
Under Giemont, Morris was leaned on for speed training purposes. Since replacing Giemont, Morris and his new assistant, Kurt Shultz, have incorporated some new training methods, including boxing and having non-linemen, such as quarterbacks, pushing blocking sleds.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• The media got to watch the first 30 minutes of the OTA (organized team activity) practice on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium and that gave me a chance to size up new wide receiver David Boston with my own eyes instead of having to rely on descriptions from sources. Boston did not look nearly as big as he was in San Diego or Miami when he weighed 250 pounds. He truly does weigh in the 230-pound neighborhood as his arms and legs and leaner and his chest is not as barreled out. Boston didn’t drop a pass in the first 30 minutes of work that was viewable by the media.
• Former Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon told Pewter Report that the one thing he stressed to young quarterback Chris Simms during his two-day visit to One Buc Place last week was to become a more mobile quarterback. Simms is not the natural scrambler that Gannon was, nor does he have the footspeed that Luke McCown or Bruce Gradkowski possess, but he does have the ability to help move the chains by scrambling a little bit. “I just told Chris to really use his feet more to make plays,” Gannon told Pewter Report. “He’s a pretty athletic guy and should be able to pick up some first downs by running the ball in some third-and-shorts.” Head coach Jon Gruden, who has certain ways of sending messages to players, has been preaching to Simms to make more plays by running the ball on rollouts and bootlegs. There’s no doubt that Gruden “reminded Gannon” to make that point to Simms.
• Tampa Bay under tackle Anthony McFarland looks noticeably trimmer this offseason. Although McFarland was not available for comment today, he must be at least 10-15 pounds lighter than he was this time last year or even the previous offseason. McFarland is in a critical year in terms of his contract and his status with the team, so he must produce more than a pair of sacks from the key under tackle position. It’s too early to tell how much the weight loss will impact his game, but he’s certainly done his part by coming into the offseason workouts in shape instead of using the offseason to get in shape. A lighter, quicker McFarland could be dangerous in 2006. At least that’s what the Bucs are hoping for.
• One player I’ll keep my eye on at training camp is undrafted rookie safety Jahmile Addae. There has been speculation that the Bucs could bring back Dwight Smith to help the team’s depth at safety if he’s released from New Orleans after June 1 as expected. Aside from probable starters Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen, there isn’t much in terms of talent and experience. Kalvin Pearson is a special teams demon, but doesn’t seem to possess the traits necessary to start in the NFL. Donte Nicholson, a fifth-round pick last year, played okay in spot duty, but still seems a bit hesitant and unathletic. From the West Virginia film I’ve watched and the limited looks I’ve gotten to watch him during OTAs and the rookie mini-camp, Addae looks like he’s more athletic and possesses more natural instincts. The knock on Addae is his straight-line speed, but he does have fluid hips and good quickness. The same can’t be said of Nicholson. I’m not about to say that Addae will replace Nicholson on the active roster, but Addae is someone who has caught my eye. He might make things interesting in training camp and in the preseason, but he’ll have to really perform well on special teams.
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.
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
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.