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. In the coming weeks, I will be profiling each of the Buccaneers 2006 draft picks in my SR’s Fab Five. Because there is so much stuff to cover regarding the draft (and the fact that we are busy at work on the Pewter Report Post-Draft Issue) I only had time to watch some more film and evaluate one player. Who is the topic this week? Is it right guard Davin Joseph, the team’s first-round pick? Or perhaps intriguing cornerback Alan Zemaitis, whom both Jim Flynn and myself had in our final mock drafts just prior to draft weekend?
No. I decided to watch some film on the most intriguing player in the Bucs’ 2006 draft class – Toledo quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski was picked as the Bucs’ Second Day Best Bet in our 2006 Draft Preview because his game closely resembles that of Brian Griese, whom Tampa Bay was unable to re-sign in free agency this past March once he became a salary cap casualty.
The one thing head coach Jon Gruden loved about Griese was his accuracy. Gradkowski, who ironically shares the same agent as Griese – Ralph Cindrich – was known for his accuracy at Toledo and became the only quarterback in NCAA history to complete over 70 percent of his passes in two seasons, which he did in 2004 (70.1 percent) and in 2003 (71.2 percent) in his first year as a starter. Gradkowski’s accuracy fell to 62.3 percent in 2005 due in part because of the loss of All-MAC wide receiver Lance Moore and All-MAC left tackle Nick Kaczur.
I watched three Toledo game tapes to form my opinion on Gradkowski for this segment of my SR’s Fab Five. I watched Toledo’s win over Northern Illinois in 2003 and the Rockets’ victories over Bowling Green and Northern Illinois in 2004. Gradkowski was 26-10 as a starter and the only game tape I have of him losing was in the Motor City Bowl against UConn in 2004. Gradkowski had broken his throwing hand prior to the bowl game and was unable to be effective. He got the start, but couldn’t throw the ball accurately. He was 6-of-12 for 43 yards before being pulled in the 39-10 blowout loss.
I wanted to watch some film from his sophomore season to see how well he handled the pressures of being a first-time starter. Needless to say, he caught on quickly and started the Northern Illinois game, completing 14-of-14 passes. From watching this game, it was easy to see that he had a strong command of the short and intermediate passing game. Toledo’s offense is rather complex with a myriad of screens, double screens, bubble screens, crossing routes, etc. Gradkowski is smart and I was impressed to see how well he directed the offense and how much freedom he had audibling for a first-year starter.
Toledo took advantage of Gradkowski’s athletic ability and incorporated a lot of movement in their offense. Gradkowski was adept at running play-action fakes and is a very accurate thrower on the run. He has great awareness and pocket presence and doesn’t get rattled or flustered by the pass rush. He always looks to make a play downfield, even when hurried, and excels on broken plays.
With his 4.58 speed, which rivals Texas’ Vince Young, Gradkowski was able to rush for 1,018 yards (4.1 avg.) and score 14 rushing touchdowns at Toledo and be effective on bootlegs. By halftime of the Northern Illinois game, Gradkowski was 16-of-17 for 200 yards and two touchdowns. The first score came on a 40-yard strike off play action in which he led his receiver perfectly.
In this game, in which he was 24-of-27 for 301 yards and three touchdowns, I saw him make one bad read. Gradkowski’s ability to process information quickly and diagnose defenses is superb. He’s quick with check downs to avoid sacks and quickly identifies the open receiver. On a third-and-33 situation (that’s right – third-and-33), NIU showed blitz but immediately dropped into zone at the snap of the ball. Tight end Andrew Clarke had gotten behind the safety and Gradkowski immediately fired him the ball for a 60-yard touchdown.
Gradkowski also showed his toughness by diving head-first into a pile to try to recover a fumble and his penchant for calling for a quarterback sneak in short-yardage situations. He called his own number on third-and-goal at the 1-yard line and scored a rushing touchdown. Toledo won 49-30.
In the 2004 contest against the Omar Jacobs’ led Bowling Green Falcons, Gradkowski and the Rockets were down 17-0 midway through the first quarter. Gradkowski showed a quick release and great zip on his short and intermediate passes, while looking off safeties well. The Pittsburgh native does have nice touch on his deep balls, he just didn’t get the opportunity to throw it more than 30 or 40-yards in Toledo’s version of the West Coast offense, which attacks defenses horizontally more so than vertically.
Bowling Green was in command of the game in the second quarter 27-7 when Gradkowski threw an ill-advised interception because he did not step into his throw. That’s where quarterbacks who don’t have big arms – and Gradkowski doesn’t – get into trouble. His second INT came in the red zone when he threw a ball up for grabs on a safety blitz as he was backpedaling. But Gradkowski was able to shake off the few bad plays he had and rally his team to victory. He kicked things off with a 40-yard touchdown pass that showed great touch.
Gradkowski also scored a goal line rushing touchdown to pull the score to 27-21. He’s a very rhythmic passer and he was definitely in rhythm in the third quarter as Toledo outscored Bowling Green 28-0 in that quarter. Gradkowski gave the Rockets a 28-27 lead in the third on a beautiful touchdown throw on a crossing route. The one thing he does really well on crossing routes is put the ball out in front of the receiver. I saw that trait in all three games I watched.
Toledo uses a lot of screen passes and Gradkowski sells those as well as he does play-action passes.
He also rushed seven times for 39 yards and a touchdown against Bowling Green. He’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run if the play isn’t there in the passing game or if there is a bubble in the defense that he can exploit with his legs. Toledo won 49-41, by the way.
His performance against Northern Illinois in 2004 just solidified the impression I had of him from the first two games. The good thing about this game tape was that Gradkowski didn’t have a great game statistically (28-of-37 for 298 yards passing with zero TDs and one INT), yet he was able to rally the Rockets from a 10-0 deficit to a 31-17 win. His lone interception came in the first quarter when he didn’t step into his throw. That caused his pass to float and gave the safety the time to run underneath the ball and make the pick.
Gradkowski did a great job of distributing the ball – hitting six different receivers by halftime – and never locked on to one primary target. He goes through his progressions quickly and efficiently, and he is very resourceful and creative making plays with his feet and throwing on the run.
In all, I was very impressed with Gradkowski and remembered the qualities that prompted me to make him a Second Day Bucs’ Best Bet at quarterback. Gruden will love his intelligence, his athleticism and his toughness as much as his accuracy. I know it’s early, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats out Tim Rattay for the third quarterback spot if he can quickly digest Gruden’s playbook. Rattay’s star seems to be falling a bit at One Buccaneer Place and Gradkowski is the type of gamer that has a good chance of sticking on the 53-man roster.
This was not only an intriguing pick on Day 2 of the draft, but this was a smart pick.
FAB 2. I can’t let the first post-draft SR’s Fab Five go without talking about the Buccaneers’ first-round pick, Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph, at least a little bit. So much has been made this week about Tampa Bay selecting Joseph in the first round and passing up a player like USC right tackle Winston Justice, who fell to Philadelphia in the middle of the second round.
First, let’s talk about Justice and then I’ll discuss Joseph. There were plenty of red flags surrounding Justice, and the Bucs weren’t the only one throwing them. Every team passed on Justice at least once in the draft. Why? Because of questionable character, immaturity – on and off the field – and inconsistent play.
Once again, fans and pundits spent too much time drooling over a player’s great measurables – and the athletic Justice had those – instead of watching game film. Justice struggled in the Notre Dame game and his performance was flat in a couple of other games, too. Don’t forget that he had missed the 2004 football season after getting suspended for the year for an off-field incident, so he really only played two years at USC. He has a lot of growing up to do on and off the field, and is not in position to come in and help a team as a starter in 2006.
With USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is Monte’s son, saying “pass” along with the Bucs’ new defensive assistant coaches Jethro Franklin and Greg Burns, who were fresh from Southern Cal, that’s exactly what Tampa Bay did. The Bucs wanted to follow a safe path with their first-round pick. They wanted to go for the most sure-fire, sure thing that had great character, a sound work ethic and a track record of production. Tampa Bay wanted to go offensive line in the first round – although it also considered North Carolina State’s Manny Lawson and UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis – but it didn’t feel that there were any first-round-caliber tackles left after D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
The Bucs liked Auburn’s Marcus McNeill, but not his injured back (McNeill has stenosis of the spine) and weren’t going to risk taking him in the first round. The Bucs weren’t as high on Miami’s Eric Winston, who fell to the third round, due to his short arms (31-inch) and a sub-par end to his senior season. Winston had a horrible start to his 2005 campaign against Florida State and was lackluster with his efforts against Virginia in the season finale and against LSU in the Hurricanes’ bowl game. Winston was also not impressive at the Senior Bowl, so it was no surprise that he fell to round three.
Joseph was deemed to be a safe pick by the Bucs’ scouting department. He had impeccable character, a strong work ethic, a productive college career and head coach Jon Gruden was intrigued with the fact that Joseph could play offensive tackle in a pinch. While some pundits and fans think taking Joseph in round one was a reach, the New York Jets were prepared to take him with pick number 29 in the first round, so there was virtually no way the Bucs could risk trying to trade down a few spots and guarantee that Joseph would still be on the board, especially with the Jets also targeting him. So the Bucs stayed put and took the player they wanted.
The rule of thumb in drafting in the first round of the NFL is that a team’s number one pick has to see the field during his rookie season because of the millions he is getting paid. With very few starting jobs up for grabs in 2006, the Bucs focused on a position – right guard – that could use some more talent. A rookie could come in and earn a starting assignment at right guard, which is why PewterReport.com forecasted that the Bucs would draft a guard in the first round of the draft – even though we predicted it would be USC’s Deuce Lutui.
But it certainly wasn’t going to be a linebacker or a cornerback as some other media outlets predicted. The fact that the Bucs didn’t even draft a linebacker should give you an indication of how much the team really likes its depth. Drafting a cornerback in the first round would be a waste because the team is three-deep at the position with proven veterans Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Juran Bolden.
FAB 3. Not only does Saturday’s selection of Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph and Boston College offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood say a lot about the Buccaneers’ feelings about the right side of the offensive line last year, it also speaks volumes about the left side of the line. What does it say? Apparently that the Bucs are comfortable over there with left tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Dan Buenning, who is coming off a fine rookie season.
Word out of One Buccaneer Place is that Davis reporting to the offseason program weighing 329 pounds instead of the 356 pounds he weighed when he reported a year ago might have been the difference in the team targeting a right tackle in the draft instead of a left tackle. Davis has been getting some rave reviews thus far at One Buc Place and the team will have a solid left tackle for years if he can improve his footwork in pass protection.
The Bucs had a chance to draft Auburn’s Marcus McNeill or USC’s Winston Justice (who will likely play left tackle in the NFL) in the first round and Miami’s Eric Winston in the second round, but decided to pass. This says a lot about the confidence the team has in Davis, who did get a challenger this offseason in Torrin Tucker.
Instead, Tampa Bay turned its attention to the right tackle spot where it was essentially forced to re-sign starter Kenyatta Walker this offseason due to a weak class of free agent tackles. The fact that Chris Colmer is coming off shoulder surgery and will miss a good portion of the offseason program also played a part in the team drafting Trueblood. Colmer struggled mightily with the transition from left tackle to right tackle last year and was inactive for all 17 games. His recent shoulder surgery clouds his future with the team as Tampa Bay will likely keep only four tackles. Davis, Walker, Trueblood and Tucker currently figure to be those four.
The team is very high on the workmanlike Buenning, and he may not even have a real challenger this offseason. The Bucs may decide to create a three-way competition at right guard between Joseph, third-year veteran Jeb Terry and free agent import Toniu Fonoti, who is trying to work his way down from 400 pounds to 370 pounds by training camp. Sean Mahan, last year’s 17-game starter at right guard, might be thrown into the mix as well, but it is more likely that he will battle veteran John Wade for the starting center assignment.
One thing is clear, however. The Bucs’ left side of the offensive line appears to be more set than the right side of the line.
FAB 4. I had a chance to speak at length with Tampa Bay running backs coach Art Valero, who is also the Bucs’ assistant head coach, after the team had drafted offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood. If you thought offensive line coaches Bill Muir and Aaron Kromer were ecstatic about having more talent to work with, Valero was just as excited.
Why? Because those big blockers will be paving the way for his running backs in 2006 and beyond.
“Do you know what drafting those two big guys says?” Valero asked. “Take care of your investments. We’ve got a young running back [Carnell “Cadillac” Williams], a young quarterback [Chris Simms], a young wideout [Michael Clayton] and a young tight end [Alex Smith] – and these guys help all four of them.
“Even though we drafted Carnell last year, we’ve barely addressed the problem. We got Dan Buenning, but who knew Buenning was going to come in and start 17 games? You’re thinking that he’s one of those guys who make take a while, and all of a sudden, he gets it. Now you get this guy in here. Davin Joseph was one of those kids who had ‘it’ athletically. He’s so athletic and he has such long arms that he could play on the edge if need be.”
Because the Buccaneers didn’t have any plans on drafting a running back or fullback in this year’s draft due to the addition of Williams and fullback Rick Razzano from a year ago, Valero was given the assignment of cross-checking offensive line possibilities for Tampa Bay. He wholeheartedly endorsed the drafting of Joseph.
“I love this kid,” Valero said. “This kid is a big, athletic kid who is was a national champion wrestler, so you know he’s got great leverage and you know he has great hips. And he’s a Florida kid – that helps out with training and playing in the heat – and he’s got flawless integrity. We looked at drafting guys over the past two years with great integrity – guys that could come in quickly and learn how to play Buc football and be a professional. Davin Joseph fit that criteria.”
Valero said that the team was never seriously considering drafting USC offensive tackle Winston Justice in the first round, despite media reports suggesting Tampa Bay’s interest in him.
“Look at all the USC guys,” Valero said. “They’ve got to be good because they went to USC, right? But most of them are not. There were so many good players around each other that they kind of prop up each other. Look where Matt Leinhart went. Look where Winston Justice went and look where LenDale White went.”
Valero, like the rest of the Bucs coaching staff, is thrilled where Joseph went.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• According to new Buccaneers tight end T.J. Williams, who was drafted in the sixth round, Tampa Bay started honing in on him at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The North Carolina State product said that he was approached by Bucs tight end Ron Middleton at the Combine and was told that he was being targeted by the Bucs. Williams said that no other team showed as much interest in him as the Buccaneers did during the pre-draft period.
• Forget any notion that new Tampa Bay offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood can play left tackle in the pros. Trueblood, who played left tackle at Boston College, won’t be challenging Anthony Davis for a starting role because he just doesn’t have the feet to play left tackle in the NFL. That’s why NFL coaches and scouts insist that he play right tackle at the Senior Bowl. Trueblood also disclosed that when the Bucs coaches and scouts worked him out up at Boston College that it was exclusively at right tackle.
• I’ll have to go back and watch my Stanford tapes and do some real homework on defensive end Julian Jenkins, who was the Buccaneers’ fifth-round pick. When doing my in-season and post-season film study on Stanford players, Jenkins didn’t stand out to me. He also didn’t stand out at the Senior Bowl, where he was an injury fill-in for Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis. I thought it was a bit suspicious that he was selected ahead of the likes of Lewis, defensive end Mark Anderson (Alabama), Montavious Stanley (Louisville) and Johnny Jolly (Texas A&M). With all the talk about the Bucs reaching for Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph in the first round or reaching for Boston College offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood in the second round, drafting Jenkins in the fifth round may have been the biggest reach in Tampa Bay’s draft class.
• Expect the Atlanta Falcons to be in trouble in 2006, and not just because of a brutal start to the schedule (at Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, Arizona, NY Giants, Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati). The Falcons ended the 2005 season with a 2-6 skid, including getting swept by NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina. The heartbreaking 27-24 overtime loss in Tampa was compounded by an embarrassing 44-11 beatdown at the hands of the Panthers at the Georgia Dome in the season finale. The Falcons tried to stem the disappointment by trading their number one pick for New York Jets defensive end John Abraham, but that one highlight did little to overshadow an offseason filled with Michael Vick’s ego running amuck and his multiple complaints about Gregg Knapp’s offense. The NFL Draft didn’t offer the Falcons much reason to celebrate as Atlanta once again looked in the direction of Virginia Tech to draft defensive back Jimmy Williams who has equal parts talent and surly attitude. With the Falcons already drafting two players from Virginia Tech with attitudes – Vick and cornerback DeAngelo Hall. With head coach Jim Mora not being the most mature leader, adding the immature Williams to the mix along with Hall and Vick could lead to some fireworks in Atlanta. Williams has first-round talent, but slid to the second round due to poor interviews with NFL teams and the fact that he had disciplinary problems with the Hokies, including getting ejected from his final college game – the Gator Bowl last year – for bumping an official. The Marcus Vick debacle at Virginia Tech just shows how much that program has lost control over its athletes. By continuing to add Hokies like Williams, the Falcons brass may lose control over their team, too.
• There were a couple of high profile draft prospects who were considered undraftable by the Buccaneers due to “F” grades on their medical reports. Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano, who was drafted by Dallas in round two, had a back problem, and Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal, who was drafted by Cincinnati in round six, also had a medical red flag. On film, the Buccaneers liked both players, especially Fasano, but at the end of the day, the team won’t draft a player who can’t pass Tampa Bay’s physical.
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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