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.

Copyright PewterReport.com 2006 

Here are five things that caught my interest this week: 

FAB 1. Cadillac Williams has the potential to be a great player. He has the athleticism to become an elite NFL running back. But he’s not there yet.

Yes, Williams is coming off a 1,178-yard season in which he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But in his second year in the NFL, he hasn’t shown the necessary improvement for him to ascend to elite status. Granted, back spasms at the start of the season, inconsistent offensive line play and opponents stacking the line of scrimmage and forcing a rookie quarterback to beat them with the pass have stymied Williams a bit.

But elite running backs, such as New York’s Tiki Barber, Kansas City’s Larry Johnson and San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson, have some common characteristics. Aside from having the right blend of speed, elusiveness and power, elite backs have good hands and don’t come out of the game on third down due to poor receiving and pass protection skills.

Even after spending much of the offseason working on his hands and pass protection, Williams still gets replaced by Michael Pittman on third-and-long situations and on obvious passing downs. Until he becomes a complete back, Williams will remain a talented back – but not an elite one.

I said this before in Monday’s Pewter Report Roundtable, but it bears repeating. Elite running backs aren’t 1,200-yard rushers. Errict Rhett had 1,200 yards in 1993. Did that make him elite? Reggie Cobb had 1,173 yards in 1991. Was Cobb an elite NFL rusher? Elite running backs stay healthy enough to rush for at least 1,400 yards and usually add a 200-300 yards receiving.

I will admit that I wasn’t terribly excited about Tampa Bay drafting Williams last year as I didn’t think he was the fifth-best player in the draft. Given last year’s relatively weak first round, perhaps he was the fifth-best player in hindsight. The fact that he got off to such a great start in 2005 and produced a 1,000-yard season certainly proved me wrong.

But would Williams have been the fifth-best player in this year’s draft coming out of Auburn? I doubt it. He would have likely have been the third-best back in the draft – as he was last year – behind Reggie Bush, who went second overall to New Orleans, and Laurence Maroney, who was drafted 21st by New England.

Due to the fact that Tampa Bay was in need of a stud running back and Williams filled that need last year, the drafting of Cadillac was a good thing. But this year I wanted – and expected – to see more out of Williams. Thus far, he hasn’t delivered.

Sunday’s game at New York is a prime example. Williams had four yards on five carries in the first half, plus a costly fumble on a toss that New York turned into a touchdown. When you look at his production – or lack thereof – you can see why Gruden wanted to throw the ball in the second half instead of giving it to Cadillac. Williams also dropped two catchable passes, which didn’t help his cause.

There was little running room for Williams in the first half at New York when it came to running the ball, but elite backs can still make plays by breaking tackles and making defenders miss. Barber did that rushing to the perimeter for first downs and taking cornerback Juran Bolden for a ride on one of those runs.

At times, Williams needs to run with even more determination and creativity. He was stymied too easily on a key third-and-1 run in the fourth quarter and Gruden didn’t have the confidence in Williams to give him another crack at it on fourth-and-1.

Is Gruden losing some confidence in Williams if he doesn’t produce early? Gruden says no, but his actions suggest otherwise. In fact, Gruden is showing a tendency of going away from Cadillac, and I can’t fault the head coach for doing that if Williams isn’t producing.

Do you remember in the Cincinnati game when Williams had racked up 100 yards rushing in the fourth quarter? On Williams’ last carry of the game, which came at the 10-minute mark in that contest, he was stuffed for a 6-yard loss and never got another carry. Instead, Gruden opted to have rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski throw the ball 15 straight times to win the game.

There is always that argument of giving a back like Williams the ball 20-25 times per game. But any good running back should come close to or over 100 yards with that many carries. What Gruden wants to see is Williams rip off a 10-yard or a 20-yard run on one of his first five carries, or at least consistently crank out 5-yard runs to earn more opportunities.

Last Sunday, Johnson had a 12-yard gain on his fourth carry against Seattle and had 19 yards on his first five carries for Kansas City. Tomlinson had 21 yards on his first five carries against St. Louis, including 5-yard runs on his first two carries. Barber also had 21 yards on his first five carries, including an 8-yard tote.

Elite running backs start fast and finish strong. That’s what Williams needs to do to become elite. Until he can do that and become the pass-catcher that backs like Barber, Johnson and Tomlinson are, he’ll just be a good back with a chance to be great. Perhaps even elite.

FAB 2. The Buccaneers are pleased with how Ellis Wyms is responding to the challenge of being a starter for the first time in his career at the vaunted under tackle position in Tampa Bay. And while his play doesn’t exactly invoke memories of former Pro Bowler Warren Sapp, it has been a hell of a lot better than the play of underachiever Booger McFarland.

Compare the two players' numbers over the last two games when Wyms has started at under tackle in Tampa Bay and McFarland was immediately thrust into the role of starter in nearly the same Tampa 2 defense Tony Dungy runs in Indianapolis. Against Philadelphia Wyms collected two sacks, had two official quarterback hurries and notched eight tackles. Versus Washington and Denver, McFarland collected only four tackles combined in those two games.

What the Bucs are looking for from Wyms is steady production over an 11-game stretch. Recording a sack in each game would be nice, too. Wyms has notched all four of his team-leading sacks over the last three games. It was his two sacks as McFarland’s backup against Cincinnati that really made the Bucs feel good about shipping Booger to the Colts in exchange for a second-round pick.

Tampa Bay also wants to see if Wyms can stay healthy. He has a history of getting nicked up, and right now he is playing with an ankle injury. But he’s also producing. Wyms made three tackles and got one of Tampa Bay’s two sacks last week at New York before leaving late in the game when his ankle was giving him problems.

It is critical for Wyms to stay healthy and on the field for two reasons. First, it will give him the obvious edge for the starting under tackle spot next year in Tampa Bay, and secondly, it will allow his $3.9 million base salary to remain intact in 2007. Wyms is scheduled to take up $4.15 million worth of Tampa Bay’s salary cap next year with his contract expiring after the 2009 season.

With Tampa Bay being in excess of $25 million under the 2007 salary cap of $109 million, the Bucs don’t have to touch Wyms’ deal if they don’t want to. Tampa Bay has stomached carrying Simeon Rice’s $10.7 million salary cap charge this year and over $9 million worth of cap room last year after efforts to restructure his contract failed. They could certainly afford to let Wyms’ cap number stand. But should he prove worthy of being the starter, they could opt to extend his contract and turn some of that $3.9 million into a signing bonus.

The good news about Wyms, a player whom Pewter Report has always had a good rapport, is that he’s a hard worker who has kicked, scratched and clawed his way into the starting lineup. Having his contract re-done next spring or even being allowed to play for $4.15 worth of cap room in 2007 won’t phase Wyms like the riches apparently did to McFarland. Wyms has worked too hard to let his starting spot go. Someone will have to take it from him next year.

While it might seem curious that both McFarland and Wyms would be scheduled to be making over $3 million per year in 2006 and beyond is actually a stroke of genius by general manager Bruce Allen. It was all part of Allen’s plan when he signed Wyms to a lucrative extension in February of 2004, just weeks after he took over as Tampa Bay’s general manager. Remember, Wyms was the first player that Allen signed that winter. With McFarland under the contract extension he signed under Rich McKay, the Bucs would be able to determine which high-priced defensive tackle to keep by 2007.

If McFarland was playing well, he would keep his job and his pay would be justified and Wyms would be forced to restructure or be a salary cap casualty. If Wyms had unseated McFarland, then Wyms would stay and McFarland would go. Luckily for the Bucs, Allen was able to get a second-round pick for McFarland … and see Wyms play so well in his first two starts this season.

FAB 3. Perhaps the most shocking statistic of the 2006 season for Tampa Bay is the fact that the Buccaneers have only recorded four interceptions this season. The Bucs have recorded all four of those picks in just two games. That means that Tampa Bay went without an interception in five games this year, including last week’s 17-3 loss at New York.

The Bucs recorded 31 interceptions during the 2002 regular season, an average of almost two per game during the team’s Super Bowl run. The Bucs added an amazing nine more picks over two playoff games and the Super Bowl itself.

The next year, Tampa Bay recorded just 20 INTs en route to a 7-9 season. In 2004, the Bucs snatched just 16 errant passes in a dismal, 5-11 campaign. The Bucs won 11 games in 2005 despite only bettering their interception total by one to reach 17.

Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said that out of all of the facets that trouble his defense, including tackling and rushing the passer that are below Tampa Bay’s standards, not coming up with interceptions has him scratching his head the most.

“I can’t explain it,” Kiffin said. “We’ve had success before getting interceptions and we’re doing things exactly the same. We’ve emphasized it and we’re doing the same drills in practice and before the game. I can’t put my finger on it.”

Given the fact that the Bucs’ record was 5-2 last year instead of the 2-5 mark this year, one might assume that the amount of passing attempts would be skewed. But that’s not the case. Even though Tampa Bay jumped out to leads on some teams last year and forced them to throw the ball to play catch up, and this year’s opponents have been able to salt away some wins by running the ball and not throwing it nearly as much, the numbers are almost the same. In fact, the Bucs have faced 19 more passes this year than they did at this juncture in 2005.

Through seven games a year ago, the Bucs had picked off seven passes from 196 pass attempts. This year, Tampa Bay has a little more than half of that number – four – despite having faced more passes this season with 215 attempts.

The players refuse to blame new defensive backs coach Greg Burns and his assistant, Jimmy Lake, and Kiffin won’t do that, either.

“We just need to make plays,” said cornerback Juran Bolden, whose lone pick this season came against Philadelphia – the only game in which a Tampa Bay defensive back has recorded an interception in 2006. “The plays are there and we aren’t making them. We did for one game against Philly, but we didn’t make any plays at New York. I don’t know why, but we need to.”

Tampa Bay’s pass rush has been disappointing to a degree, however, the team’s 12 sacks are just two shy of the 14 it had recorded after seven games last year. Perhaps the biggest reason why interceptions are down is the fact that cornerback Brian Kelly is not in the lineup.

Kelly, who is on injured reserve with turf toe, only played in two games this year, but did not record a pick. Since 2002, Kelly has led the Buccaneers in interceptions with 17, including a career-high eight during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl season. Ronde Barber has only produced 14, including his only two interceptions this year, which both came against Philadelphia. Although Barber led the Bucs with five picks last year, Kelly was right behind him with four after starting out the season with three INTs in the first seven games.

Barber states the reason for the low interception total is due to dropping potential picks.

“We did have a couple of drops,” Barber said. “There was the one Torrie should have had against Carolina. There were two that K.P. [Kalvin Pearson] should have had. And two that J.P. [Jermaine Phillips] had. We haven’t had the opportunity to get many this year, and the ones we have had were dropped.”

One other interesting note regarding interceptions is the fact that Tampa Bay didn’t record a single interception in the preseason this year. The head-scratching continues at One Buccaneer Place.

FAB 4. Part of the Bucs’ interception woes can be placed on the shoulders of the team’s safeties. Free safety Will Allen’s three interceptions in 2005 was a big reason why the team went with him as a starter instead of re-signing Dexter Jackson. Allen hasn’t put himself in the situation to make plays nearly enough this year, but he’s far from being the most disappointing safety.

That honor belongs to Jermaine Phillips, who is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and a great teammate, but who is a pretty bad safety this year. Through seven games, Phillips has 48 tackles with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. But he’s missed over 20 tackles this year and has yet to record an interception. Last week, Phillips missed a tackle in the backfield that allowed Tiki Barber to scamper for 22 yards.

Far too often this year, Phillips has lunged and dove wildly at ballcarriers only to miss. The Bucs’ brass was livid when he did that and missed Deuce McAllister at New Orleans and wound up nailing Simeon Rice in the abdomen. Rice has been slowed by a bruised abdomen ever since. Did you see Rice doubled over in pain and holding his abdomen after extending his arm up to bat down a pass last week at New York?

Phillips has played better than he’s played this year, so why has there been a drop off in his play? One theory as to why Phillips’ tackling may be suffering this year is that his accumulation of his injuries – namely broken forearms and hands – may be catching to him and making him a bit gun-shy or hesitant, according to one source. Phillips, who is a prideful player, would likely dismiss that notion, but there’s no doubting that his level of play has fallen in 2006.

The fact that Phillips’ cap figure jumps from $1.8875 million in 2006 to $2.2875 million next year could prompt Tampa Bay to release him unless he agrees to a rather large pay cut that would better reflect his level of play. With players such as Philadelphia’s Michael Lewis and San Francisco’s Tony Parrish scheduled to become free agents in 2007, the Bucs could spend $2.2 million more wisely on a better safety.

FAB. 5 Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:

• Incredibly, the Buccaneers still have a chance to salvage this season with a win. At 3-5 with a home victory on Sunday against New Orleans, Tampa Bay’s season is still alive. The players haven’t given up. They still believe in each other and the coaches as best as Pewter Report can tell, and we’ve had an awful lot of off the record conversations this week with a host of players. The mood is a bit more nervous at 2-5 than it would have been at 3-4. Sunday’s game is the biggest game of the season for obvious reasons.

• While Tampa Bay’s defense has drawn plenty of criticism this year, and deservedly so, they do earn some praise for holding three very potent offenses (Cincinnati, Philadelphia and the New York Giants) below their average point totals. The Bengals were only able to muster 13 points against the Bucs defense. The Eagles did manage to put up 21 points, but the last touchdown came on their last offensive play with under a minute left and despite surrendering over 500 yards of offense, Philly only scored 21 points. The Giants came in averaging 27 points per game and Tampa Bay’s defense held them 10 points below their season average. New York’s 17 points against Tampa Bay on Sunday were the fewest it had scored all year.

• Bucs fullback Mike Alstott probably isn’t having as much fun this year as he did last year when the team leaned on him to be its goal line and short-yardage specialist. Alstott was tied for the Bucs’ lead with six rushing scores, and added another one in the passing game last year, in addition to a key, game-winning two-point conversion run against Washington. Alstott has just one touchdown this year and has not produced much offense when given the ball. He has just eight carries for 17 yards (2.1 avg.) with a long of 10 yards. He also has 13 catches for 43 yards, which factors out to a paltry 3.3-yard average with a long of 10 yards. However, I would rather see Alstott than Cadillac Williams on third-and-short situations like the one last week at New York. Wouldn’t you? Alstott will be a free agent next year and I doubt he returns to Tampa Bay for a 12th season.

• Tampa Bay will be wearing its red jerseys at home against New Orleans on Sunday. This marks the first time the Bucs will be wearing their red jerseys at home this year. Expect the Bucs to wear red on the road at Dallas, and then at home against Washington, Atlanta and Seattle. It is yet to be determined if the Bucs will sport pewter or white pants this Sunday. That may very well depend on how hot the weather is. Don’t be surprised to see the Bucs in red on white. That’s my guess.

• And finally, there has been some grumbling about the sporadic nature regarding the frequency of my SR’s Fab Five column, and with good reason. If you didn’t love the SR’s Fab Five, you wouldn’t miss it and complain about missing it. Some of you have surmised that my new role as publisher has taken away from ability to produce SR’s Fab Fives, which are quite detailed and lengthy in nature. That is true to a degree.

Transitioning into the role of publisher while still being a Bucs beat writer and hosting a weekly radio show has had its speed bumps and means working seven days a week during football season, but I knew that going into this position. However, some of the things I am called upon to do behind the scenes on the business side still impacts our readers and subscribers in a very positive way. Here’s what we have provided for our subscribers since we took over Pewter Report on June 7, 2006.

The first thing we did was dramatically lower the subscription price. We also made a commitment to produce bigger issues of Pewter Report magazine, producing an 80-page Training Camp Issue, followed by the biggest Opponent Preview, Season Kickoff Issue and Midseason Review Issue Pewter Report has ever produced. We hope to publish an 80-page Cheerleader Issue in December, and certainly an 80-page Bucs Draft Preview in 2007, which is our most popular edition of the year next to the Training Camp Issue.

We have also hired two new reporters in Roger Mills and David Norrie, who have both worked for local newspapers covering the Buccaneers. We’ve received some really good feedback from our readers regarding the addition of Mills and Norrie to our staff.

The new ownership group has also invested in building a new, more sophisticated PewterReport.com complete with a new and better message board (and yes, we will be adding more smileys soon). We have produced even more on-line content this football season for Bucs fans and Pewter Report subscribers to enjoy, and we’ve made a lot of changes based on the feedback from our loyal visitors, such as re-broadcasting the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz show each week on our site. We have made all of these positive changes with you, the Pewter Report/Pewter Insider subscriber, in mind.

We delivered 208 Pewter Insider stories last year and are intent on reaching and surpassing the 200 we are obligated to provide to our subscribers each year. I understand that the SR’s Fab Five column is part of that Pewter Insider content and I will do my best to produce more quality, PI-worthy columns in the future. Because you and I share high expectations for each edition of SR’s Fab Five, I often find myself in a quality vs. quantity debate.

I’ve had a lot on my plate in my new role as publisher since this summer, but just know that I am always striving to produce both quality and quantity when it comes to SR’s Fab Five. While all things were quiet on the western front at One Buccaneer Place last offseason and any relevant inside scoop was extremely hard to come by due to the team’s “do nothing” approach, my sources tell me that the 2007 offseason is shaping up to be one of the most tumultuous offseasons in team history full of draft and free agency speculation, newfound riches to spend in free agency due to an incredibly favorable salary cap situation and plenty of roster upheaval, especially on the defensive side.

Trust me, there will be SR’s Fab Fives aplenty as the offseason grows closer and swings into effect. At this time, Pewter Report is diligently doing its homework regarding the draft and free agency while covering the Bucs this season. There will be plenty of inside scoop to write about as this season unfolds and the offseason approaches. As always, I appreciate you subscribing and renewing your subscription to Pewter Report and the Pewter Insider to read SR’s Fab Fives and our other premium content.

Your subscription revenue fuels everything we do from building a better PewterReport.com, which you deserve, to improving our Bucs coverage with more writers, bigger issues and more stories on the Web. Because you essentially “hire” me and my fellow Pewter Reporters to report on the Buccaneers for you, I felt you deserved a straight-forward explanation regarding the absence of a more regular SR’s Fab Five. It’s not by design and my hope is that they become more regular in nature as I continue to settle in my new role at Pewter Report.

Soon we will unveil a new holiday renewal, extension and holiday gift subscription that will actually reward you for being a Pewter Report subscriber or giving PR as a gift (aside from all the great Bucs coverage, analysis and insight we provide). Stay tuned.


Copyright PewterReport.com 2006 

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.


 

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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