SR’s Fab Five appears weekly on PewterReport.com
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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. In the previous edition of SR’s Fab Five, I reviewed three games of one of Tampa Bay’s sixth-round picks, Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. While putting the finishing touches on the Pewter Report Post-Draft Issue, I got the chance to watch some game film of Stanford defensive end Julian Jenkins.
I’ve gone on record as saying that he’s the one draft pick I take some issue with, and there are two reasons why. The first of which is the round in which he was drafted. I happen to think the fifth round was probably a round too high. The second reason that I question the drafting of Jenkins is the role he’ll play in Tampa Bay.
Bucs officials have told me that with Ellis Wyms’ cap value jumping from $790,000 in 2005 to $3.25 million in 2006, and then climbing to $4.15 million in 2007, he may be too expensive to keep unless he wins a starting job at under tackle or defensive end. The thinking at One Buc Place was to draft another version of Wyms with a player like Jenkins who has the ability to play under tackle and defensive end.
That sounds great in theory, but from the film I’ve watched, Jenkins isn’t the athlete that Wyms is. He does have Wyms’ hard work ethic, but you also have to have some talent to make it in this league. From what I’ve seen, Jenkins has some talent, but does he have enough?
In the last edition of SR’s Fab Five, I discussed Jenkins’ underwhelming performance at the Senior Bowl. Now I can offer some more in-depth analysis after watching several Stanford games from the 2005 and 2004 season. I started off watching Jenkins’ best game, which came against UCLA in 2005.
Jenkins, playing almost exclusively at right defensive end in Stanford’s 3-4 defense, faced 6-foot-6, 300-pound sophomore left tackle Brian Abraham and 6-foot-3, 310-pound sophomore left guard Shannon Tevaga. To put it mildly, these two guys didn’t make an All-Pac 10 teams in 2005 and something tells me that they aren’t going to be making them in 2006, either. Needless to say, Jenkins’ career game came against guys who aren’t NFL caliber.
Jenkins does a good job of staying on his feet in both pass-rushing situations and against the run. He did get a sack on the first series of the game rushing against Tevaga, however UCLA running back Chris Markey literally ran into Tevaga’s back after a play-action fake, which helped Jenkins get to quarterback Drew Olson.
His second sack came on the Bruins’ second series and was basically a coverage sack. Jenkins put a nice bull rush on Tevaga and came away with his sack number two in the first quarter. One thing I noticed while watching the UCLA game and three other Stanford contests is that Jenkins, while he plays with good leverage, he bull rushes on every passing play, and appears to lack any other pass rush moves, such as spin moves, rips, swims, etc. He tries to play with power and at 277 pounds, and that may not work in the NFL.
He has good awareness in pursuit, but Jenkins doesn’t have the quickness to re-direct, evidenced by the fact that he couldn’t maintain gap integrity on a 17-yard run from Maurice Drew on a counter play.
Jenkins’ third sack against UCLA came when he was rushing the passer against Abraham and the Bruins’ fullback actually set an accidental pick when he ran between Abraham and Jenkins while trying to run a flare route to the flat. Jenkins had an easy sack and Abraham was furious at the fullback for allowing that to happen.
For some reason, Jenkins was credited with only three sacks in the game, but from the game tape I watched, he actually got four when he beat Abraham cleanly and forced a fumble by sacking Olson. Out of his four sacks, I think he got two on his own and two with an explicable assist from UCLA’s running backs. He does use his hands well to shed lineman, so Jenkins does have that going for him.
One of the problems that I saw with Jenkins’ play was that he (nor any of his Stanford teammates) really came through with any clutch plays). The Cardinal was up 24-3 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter and allowed the Bruins to come storming back, tie the game and win it in overtime. In the fourth quarter, which was crunch time, Jenkins looked tired. He got driven out of his gap by Tevaga on a 5-yard touchdown by Drew to make the score 24-10 with 7:04 left.
Then UCLA screened Stanford to death and pulled to within 24-17 with 2:30 remaining, then scored the game-tying touchdown at the 46-second mark. On the game-winning touchdown in overtime, Jenkins, who is a predictable pass rusher, couldn’t get past Abraham in a one-on-one block to get to Olson, who threw a touchdown pass for the victory.
The second game I watched was Stanford versus Arizona State from 2004. Bucs tight end Alex Smith had a great game for Stanford, by the way, with two touchdowns, including a 67-yarder that gave the Cardinal a 31-26 lead with just 2:02 remaining. Sun Devils quarterback Andrew Walter, who threw for 415 yards and four touchdowns, rallied Arizona State with a 13-play, 80-yard drive in 1:53 to produce a 32-31 win with nine seconds left.
Stanford linebacker Jon Alston, who was a 2006 draftee, was phenomenal in the game with four sacks. As for Jenkins, well, he was sort of average and did not muster much of a pass rush, especially on Arizona State’s last-minute, game-winning drive.
Jenkins played left and right end in Stanford’s 3-4 defensive scheme in this contest, and his lone highlight was tackling a running back for a 3-yard loss at the Arizona State 1-yard line. Stanford blocked a punt two plays later to set up Smith’s first touchdown. But other than that play, Jenkins didn’t do much against Arizona State. He got pancaked by a couple of non-descript offensive linemen because he stands up too straight too much.
Against USC in 2005, Jenkins was even more invisible, especially against senior left guard Deuce Lutui, who was a second-round draft pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, and junior left tackle Sam Baker, who was an All-American last year. Against NFL-caliber players, Jenkins struggled with his pass rush and got pushed around in the running game. His inability to quickly redirect was evident again when LenDale White blew through Jenkins’ gap for a 13-yard gain.
USC rolled over Stanford’s weak defense and put up a 31-0 lead with 9:13 left in the second quarter. The score was 44-7 at the half and the game got out of hand quickly.
On film, Jenkins reminds me more of a try-hard guy like Josh Savage, who was an undrafted free agent in Tampa Bay during the 2004 season, than he does of Wyms, even though Jenkins can play tackle and end. The Bucs are hoping that Jenkins can become the next Wyms, who was a sixth-round pick in 2001, but Tampa Bay hasn’t produced a desirable track record with the second-day defensive linemen it has drafted over the past decade. Here are the second-day picks that the Bucs have drafted since 1996, most of which have only had a cup of coffee in Tampa Bay:
DT Jason Maniecki, fifth round, 1996
DT Anthony DeGrate, seventh round, 1997
DT James Cannida, sixth round, 1998
DE Chance McCarty, seventh round, 1998
DE John McLaughlin, fifth round, 1999
DE Ellis Wyms, sixth round, 2001
DE Joe Tafoya, seventh round, 2001
DE John Stamper, sixth round, 2002
DT Anthony Bryant, sixth round, 2005
DE Julian Jenkins, fifth round, 2006
DE Charles Bennett, seventh round, 2006
I’ll be discussing Bennett in a future edition of SR’s Fab Five, but I’d say that he has just as much of a chance of making the 2006 Buccaneers as Jenkins does based on the game film I’ve watched.
FAB 2. I’m in the process of evaluating some film on Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, former Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph for a future edition of SR’s Fab Five, but I will give you a sneak peek on the one full game that I have watched – Oregon vs. Oklahoma from 2004. This game was a good one to watch because it was during Joseph’s junior season in which he played right guard as opposed to his senior campaign where he lined up almost exclusively at left tackle.
The main reason why I pulled out this game was because I wanted to see how Joseph fared against a marquis defensive lineman like sophomore tackle Haloti Ngata. Ngata, who was a first-round draft pick this year after skipping his senior season at Oregon, did not start the Oklahoma game due to a hamstring injury, but did get in quite a few snaps. Joseph sparred with defensive tackle Matt Toeaina for about two-thirds of the plays and Ngata for about one-third of the plays.
Joseph did a good job pulling and got excellent body positioning on his opponents. He excelled in the Sooners’ zone blocking schemes and blocked well on stretch plays. Oklahoma’s running game was similar to Tampa Bay’s in some respects conceptually.
Joseph is adept at blocking on screen plays, and Oklahoma ran a handful against Oregon. The thing that stood out to me the most was his awareness. He always hit the first defensive lineman he saw and threw effective blocks. I don’t know whether it was Joseph’s assignment or just his nature, but he did a great job of getting peelback blocks on pursuing defensive linemen.
The average screen play in the NFL nets only four yards. Why? Because most of the time the running backs are tackled from behind by pursuing defensive linemen while waiting for their offensive linemen to get out in front and establish blocks downfield. The fact that Joseph takes care of any pursuit first while the other two linemen head downfield was impressive.
During the Oregon game, you see why such a big deal is made about Joseph’s big hands. He’s strong and physical, and he even held on four plays, including a play against Ngata in which Adrian Peterson broke off a 40-yard touchdown run, but didn’t get called for any of them.
Joseph had a great third quarter in which he blew Ngata off the ball for a touchdown run by running back Donta Hickson. He also drove Toeaina 10 yards backwards on another running play and pancaked an Oregon linebacker. Joseph threw another touchdown-producing block on a 26-yard scamper by Peterson in the fourth quarter to make the final score 31-7, Sooners.
I liked how Joseph had the quickness to set in pass protection and anchor against Ngata’s bull rushes, which were largely ineffective. The only disappointing aspect of Joseph’s game from this particular contest was that he got easily beaten by Toeaina on a spin move to the inside and nearly gave up a sack. He also got beat on a hard, inside slant by Toeaina, too.
I also got to watch Oregon cornerback Justin Phinisee, one of Tampa Bay’s seventh-round picks this year, and undrafted free agent Ducks linebacker Anthony Trucks in this game. Phinisee wasn’t too involved in the action, and I wasn’t able to watch much of him. Trucks had an average game, but did show off his impressive strength with a one-handed, horse-collar tackle of Peterson. But Joseph clearly made the best impression of all of the future Buccaneers.
FAB 3. One player who hasn’t been talked about a lot this year, but who is on the hot seat to have a banner year is under tackle Anthony McFarland. McFarland, who was essentially forced into removing $1.5 million in “likely to be earned” incentives in his contract in early March for salary cap reasons, is now scheduled to count $6.598 million against the salary cap instead of $8.098 million.
Despite the fact that he’s under contract for two more years, the Bucs could enjoy a salary cap benefit by releasing him next year, which means McFarland had better produce more plays in 2006 than he did in 2005. With his seven-year NFL career marred by injuries, McFarland did his best to stay healthy last year, starting 16 of 17 games after missing most of the game at Carolina and the contest at New England.
Although he was on the field for roughly 73 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, McFarland posted an underwhelming performance, recording only 41 tackles, which was the lowest total among the starting defensive linemen, two forced fumbles and two sacks, which was one fewer than his backup, Ellis Wyms, produced in 17 games. After getting to Daunte Culpepper in the season opener at Minnesota, McFarland went nine weeks without recording a sack, and failed to record more than one tackle in five of the 16 games he played in, including the playoffs.
To put those numbers in perspective, consider that defensive end Greg Spires racked up five tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble in his first start at under tackle in a home contest against New Orleans in 2004 while McFarland was on injured reserve with a torn triceps. In one game against the Saints in 2004, Spires, playing under tackle for the first time, nearly matched McFarland’s entire sack production from ’05. How did McFarland fare against New Orleans in two games last year? He had five tackles and zero sacks at New Orleans and had zero tackles versus the Saints in the regular season finale.
Despite playing well in the middle of the season, particularly against the run, McFarland posted three tackles and no sacks at home against Atlanta, zero tackles against the Saints and two stops versus Washington in the Bucs’ home Wild Card playoff loss. That’s not exactly what you would call building momentum heading into the 2006 season.
The real problem with McFarland, who – to be fair – was dealing with the sudden and tragic death of his mother in August of last year, being on the hot seat in 2006 is that Tampa Bay has not done a good job of shoring up the under tackle position to insulate itself from another disappointing season from the franchise’s former first-round pick. Wyms has played well in spot duty, but has not proven that he is starter material. Behind him, the team has done a woeful job of lining up talent, however a couple of drafts with sub-par defensive tackle talent and depth haven’t helped, although Tampa Bay did have the opportunity to pursue under tackle Rocky Bernard (Seattle), who led all defensive tackles in sacks with 8.5 last year, in free agency and elected not to.
Second-year player Anthony Bryant has practiced at both the under tackle and nose tackle positions, but most decision-makers at One Buc Place feel he is better suited to play nose tackle in Monte Kiffin’s defense – and at 330 pounds, there is no guarantee that he will even be in the necessary shape and condition to make the team. That leaves the Bucs in a precarious situation at under tackle if McFarland underachieves again, and an even more dire situation in 2007 without any viable replacements on the horizon should Tampa Bay decide to cut him.
FAB 4. One of the best moves this offseason in Tampa Bay was the decision by head coach Jon Gruden to promote running backs coach Art Valero to the assistant head coaching position, filling the vacancy created by the departure of Rod Marinelli, who served in that capacity since Gruden’s arrival in 2002. In a previous SR’s Fab Five this spring, I forecasted how Gruden’s new assistant head coach would either be Valero or quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett.
It’s hard to argue with the selection of Valero, who has great likeability among the Bucs players, and has been a loyal lieutenant to Gruden since he was hired as the team’s tight ends coach in 2002.
“He’s got personality and he’s got a great background – not just working with me, but with the Buccaneers,” Gruden said of Valero. “He’s been with us for five years now. He’s good with players. As a coach, he’s got unique talent. I just wanted to put him in a leadership position, much like we did with Rich Bisaccia and Bill Muir and Monte Kiffin. It’s very similar to when I made Rod Marinelli the assistant head coach. We try to spread the leadership around and give the guys the credit they deserve.”
When recently asked what his new job responsibilities entail, Valero laughed and said, “”I guess when Jon’s not at practice I get to start and stop practice. Seriously, he’s given me a lot of responsibilities that I’ve never had before. I look at it as an honor to be the assistant head coach for this organization and to follow a guy like Rod Marinelli is really something. Jon gave a lot of responsibilities to Rod and he expressed to me that I’ll have the same responsibilities in terms of addressing the team and meeting with him every morning and talking about the direction in which we’re going – not only from a team standpoint, but from an offensive standpoint as far as installation and practice schedules and all of those things. I feel real good about it. If nothing else, just to be able to see Jon bring players in and talk to them and how he handles those situations. Those are learning experiences for me that I just haven’t had before. Now I’m getting exposed to more things. I make sure I make my way around the locker room. Now we have someone [from the coaching staff] in the locker room visiting with the players all the time. That part of it is really good. As time goes on, my responsibilities will grow. I look forward to that.”
Valero was excited to be selected for this position because he does have head coaching aspirations, and this not only gives him the experience of doing some of the things a head coach does, it also looks good on the resume´.
“Oh yeah, there’s no question I would love to be a head coach,” Valero said. “I’ve already had chances to be involved with head coaching opportunities in college.”
In fact, Valero was offered the head coaching position at New Mexico State a few years ago, but turned it down because it was not the ideal situation to make a leap from the NFL to.
“New Mexico State – those were great opportunities, but if I look back to college, you have to give me a 70-percent chance of winning,” Valero said. “That means a recruiting budget, facilities, administrative support, scheduling – to me if all of those things fit into a 70-percent chance, and if I’m given four years and I don’t get it done then it’s my fault. If that didn’t equal a 70-percent chance and I was gone in four years – then it’s the school’s fault. I wanted [all the pressure and responsibility] to all be on me.
“But at this level – the NFL – you have all of those things, so you have a 70-percent chance no matter to win no matter where you go with the draft and free agency. I’d love to be a head coach at this level. Having the opportunity to learn from Jon, to learn from Bruce [Allen] and to be around a Rich McKay and Monte Kiffin, Bill Muir and Richard Mann and all of the guys that have been in this league for a long time – it’s been great.”
One of Valero’s first responsibilities was to fill in for the director of player of development role, which was vacated when Cedric Saunders joined Marinelli in Detroit this winter. The Bucs eventually hired former Tampa Bay safety Eric Vance to take on that job, but Gruden leaned on Valero in the interim.
“A great example of what I’ve done so far is that with Eric Vance not being here yet and without Cedric Saunders we didn’t have a director of player development, so I took it upon myself to contact the [apartment complex the Buccaneers use] to be sure that some of our free agents had contacts over there and they could get housing and take some of the burden off of Mark Arteaga and some of those guys because they were busy with free agency and contract negotiations and those types of things. I look forward to that. I told Jon that I’m one of those people that the more responsibilities you give me the better I feel. I’d rather be busy than twiddling my thumbs.
“Mark does the majority of the paperwork and dealing with the league office, but as those things come up I’ll be able to do a little bit of that. One of the things I got to do was pick the minority fellowship coaches. The great advantage I have is that I’ve done three of those minority fellowships, so I kind of know what to look for. To be able to do those and the coaches symposium in Orlando my responsibilities are already growing.”
For Gruden, increasing Valero’s profile a great reward for a great coach, especially one who produced the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1,000-yard rusher, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.
“He’s good with the players,” Gruden said. “He’s got good charisma about him. I think when speaks to the players – and not just the running backs – I think he’s got great ability. I just want to use that a little bit more. I’m excited for him.”
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• Here’s a quick thought on the Bucs’ quarterback situation. Should rookie Bruce Gradkowski beat out Tim Rattay for the third quarterback spot on the active roster (and assuming Jared Allen gets released prior to training camp), the least athletic quarterback in Tampa Bay will actually be Chris Simms, the team’s starter. That’s right. Gradkowski, who averaged 24 points per game playing basketball in high school, ran a 4.58 at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and is very athletic. The players say that the mobile Luke McCown is one of the best pure athletes on the team. But while Simms isn’t the scrambler that McCown and Gradkowski are, and doesn’t have top-notch atleticism, he does have the strongest arm and the biggest frame of any quarterback on the roster. Those are two big reasons why he’ll enter training camp as the team’s undisputed starter.
• Character counts in Tampa Bay. That has become evident recently with the Buccaneers’ top draft picks like Michael Clayton, Cadillac Williams, Barrett Ruud and Davin Joseph among others, and the team’s top free agent signings/acquisitions, including the likes of Joey Galloway, Josh Bidwell, Chris Hovan, Matt Bryant and others. But there is still a side to the Buccaneers that will take a low-risk chance on a player with risky behavior. Look no further than the team’s decision to sign Darrell Russell two years, although his stay in Tampa Bay was a brief one because he allegedly violated an alcohol consumption provision in his contract. The Bucs have also taken character gambles on players like Derek Watson, who has run afoul of the law, Rick Razzano, who had legal problems in college and was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance by the league last year. Once again, Tampa Bay has rolled the dice on some questionable characters. Moe Thompson, who was signed after the rookie mini-camp last week, was charged with breaking into a dormitory at South Carolina and stealing electronic equipment. He was kicked out of school and wound up transferring to Grambling. Cornerback Rueben Houston, who was also signed last week after the rookie mini-camp, was sentenced to nine months probation for felony drug charges on April 5 for his arrest last June. Houston was one of 19 men charged with conspiracy and attempting to distribute 92 pounds of marijuana. Critics might charge that general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden have a disregard for chemistry and a penchant for taking unnecessary risks by giving second chances to guys who can’t be called Boy Scouts. But Allen and Gruden do have a compassionate side despite some media portrayals that suggest otherwise, and will continue to give certain players with character concerns a second chance as long as it is in a low-risk fashion. With the Bucs currently stacked at cornerback and defensive end, Thompson and Houston will have to make big impressions both on and off the field.
• I got to meet new Bucs guard Toniu Fonoti on Tuesday after the OTA (organized team activity) session, and here are my impressions of him. First, he’s obviously a massive guy with huge arms, thighs, calves, etc. He’s a thick guy who does carry his weight well and does not look out of shape or flabby. However, PewterReport.com was told that Fonoti weighed 400 pounds when he was signed, and based on what he said on Tuesday, that makes sense. Although he wouldn’t disclose exactly how much he weighed, Fonoti must weigh close to 380 pounds and is trying to get down to around 370 pounds based on some hints he gave out. The Bucs would prefer him to get down to 360 pounds. That might not be too difficult given the fact that a brutally hot and sweltering humid training camp at Lake Buena Vista, Florida, which is outside of Orlando, is coming up. However, will even a 370-pound man have the stamina to withstand the heat? There are plenty of doubters at One Buccaneer Place, and that’s why Fonoti, who is getting most of snaps at left guard this offseason, was only signed to a one-year, league-minimum deal. A training camp in Lake Buena Vista is much, much different that anything Fonoti has experienced in Nebraska, San Diego or Minnesota.
• Although both players have little to say about competing against each other for the starting center assignment, incumbent John Wade is trying to hold off Sean Mahan, who is taking reps at both center and right guard this offseason. But don’t think this is Mahan’s first opportunity to start at center, a position he actually started for eight games in 2004 when Wade went down with a dislocated knee in midseason. Mahan took quite a few snaps at center in practice despite starting at right guard for 17 games in 2005 because the Bucs’ contingency plan if Wade was to go down in a game would be to slide Mahan to center instead of Scott Jackson, who wasn’t activated on game days, and have Jeb Terry, who was active on Sundays, fill in at right guard. But this year, Mahan is officially challenging Wade for the center position – even if neither player is willing to admit that – due to the presence of right guard Davin Joseph, who is Tampa Bay’s first-round pick this year. The battle for the starting center position could be the most intriguing fight in training camp this summer.
• Here’s a follow-up on Bucs wide receiver Larry Brackins, a player that Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn profiled earlier this week in his Flynn’s Focus column. According to multiple Pewter Report sources, Brackins had a good – but not great – rookie season behind the scenes on the Buccaneers practice squad. One source told Pewter Report that out of the best 20 highlight catches last year in practice, Brackins probably came up with 16 of them. But Brackins’ biggest problem was that after a phenomenal, jaw-dropping play in practice, there would be three plays where he was lost in the abyss. If Brackins can flip that 1:3 ratio around to a 3:1 ratio, he would position himself to make the active roster this year and the team would be better positioned at wide receiver. One source told Pewter Report that he expects Brackins to become a completely different receiver bye next preseason because he has gotten used to life in the NFL and has a good grasp of the Buccaneers playbook. He also has apparently rid himself of the annoying habit of jumping up to catch every pass thrown his way.
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