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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. Much is being made about the Buccaneers having seven quarterbacks on their roster heading into training camp. Can you believe there could be an eighth? Tampa Bay had an initial meeting with former Minnesota and Miami signal caller Daunte Culpepper on Thursday. Would the Bucs consider adding Culpepper to its quarterback stable? The real question is should the Bucs decide to sign Culpepper?
Let’s explore the Bucs’ real QB situation, because the term “seven quarterbacks” is very misleading and has some real transparency to it. You and I both know that Bruce Eugene, a signal caller who got hurt at the end of the 2007 NFL Europa campaign, isn’t going to make the team. Neither will undrafted rookie Zac Taylor from Nebraska, who barely got any reps in the offseason. If he’s lucky, Taylor may make the practice squad. Realistically, the Bucs are down to five QBs now without Eugene and Taylor.
Reality has set in and Jake Plummer appears ready to live up to what he’s been saying all offseason, which is that he plans on retiring. It will be interesting to see how general manager Bruce Allen handles all of this and whether he is patient with Plummer and will give him until the 2008 offseason to get the itch to play football again, or whether Allen will pursue the $7 million worth of bonus money the Bucs are eligible to retrieve from Plummer.
Once the Bucs put Plummer on the reserve-did not report list, Tampa Bay will be down to four quarterbacks. Out of those four quarterbacks, Luke McCown missed the entire training camp and preseason last year due to a torn ACL injury. Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett loves McCown, but the reality is that he is an unknown, having only four NFL starts under his belt.
Chris Simms, last year’s starter, is also an unknown of sorts. He has yet to make a complete recovery from his spleen removal last September. Physically, he’s got a clean bill of health, but his mechanics and his mental state – regarding his frustration level with his offseason performance – are off. Simms is very rusty and actually appeared to get worse as the offseason went on, as opposed to getting better. He’s hovering somewhere between third and fourth on the depth chart.
So really the Bucs have four quarterbacks on their roster – not the seven that it appears to be. Starter Jeff Garcia is the clear leader in the clubhouse for Tampa Bay, but he’s 37 years old. Given the fact that the Bucs have had two quarterbacks – Brian Griese and Simms – end the season on injured reserve in each of the last two years, the Bucs are scared that if Garcia goes down, so will the team’s chances of winning in 2007. Tampa Bay’s backup situation doesn’t look too promising.
Bruce Gradkowski struggled to complete more than 54 percent of his passes last year, and managed nine touchdowns and nine interceptions along with a 3-8 record in 11 starts. But Gradkowski has plenty of upside, evidenced by his stellar preseason campaign during his rookie season. The Bucs believe that once the game slows down for Gradkowski, who figures to be the backup to Garcia, he has a chance to become a starting quarterback. They just don’t want that to happen in 2007.
So with Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks situation boiling down to a 37-year old starter, a second-year player with 11 career starts, a fifth-year veteran with 16 career starts and a fifth-year player with four career starts, you can see why Gruden and Allen were interested in Plummer to begin with, and why there is some interest in Culpepper.
Bucs officials have been mum on their meeting with Culpepper, and the QB has yet to return an e-mail from Pewter Report regarding his impressions of the meeting.
If I were Gruden or Allen, I would attempt to sign Culpepper, who was released by Miami last week, at a reasonable price for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a veteran quarterback who has been to a couple of Pro Bowls and is only 30 years old. Due to the bad knee injury he suffered three years ago, he may not be the scrambler he once was, but he should have some mobility left once he is back to 100 percent.
The second reason is his accuracy. While Culpepper’s strength is the deep ball due to his rocket arm, he has proven that he can complete the short and intermediate throws necessary for Gruden’s offense to run. Culpepper has never completed less than 60 percent of his passes in any season and owns a career completion percentage of 64.2, in addition to a career QB rating of 90.8.
Culpepper is just three years removed from his best NFL season in which he completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,717 yards with 39 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Yet Culpepper struggled last year in his only season in Miami, starting just four games and throwing two touchdowns and three interceptions. However, his QB rating of 77 was higher than either Gradkowski’s or Simms’ quarterback rating last year.
With the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal erupting in Atlanta, there is a good chance that the Falcons will be interested in signing Culpepper. If Vick doesn’t play in 2007, Joey Harrington will be Atlanta’s starter and Chris Redman, who has been out of the league since 2003, will be the backup. That’s not exactly a great one-two punch for the Falcons in Bobby Petrino’s first season at the helm.
By signing Culpepper as the backup, the Bucs could have a nice depth chart with Garcia as the starter and Gradkowski as the third-stringer. While I really like Simms as a person and believe he will be a good quarterback in the NFL, I don’t think he’s the right fit for Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense. With Culpepper aboard, Simms could be traded for a second-day pick.
Having a 0-4 record in his last four starts with nine interceptions and only one touchdown, his career is off-track. With all of the rust he has from his splenectomy, Simms is damaged goods right now and likely won’t be able to fetch more than a fourth-round pick.
The Bucs might have seven quarterbacks, folks, but only four of them really matter right now. Signing Culpepper to a sensible contract keeps him out of a division rival’s hands and weakens the Falcons. If he can regain his form and health during the 2007 season while serving as Garcia’s backup, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Culpepper could become his eventual successor and Tampa Bay’s quarterback of the future.
Gruden has always talked about wanting a dominant quarterback. Culpepper would be the closest thing to that on the Bucs’ roster.
FAB 2. Many of you know that I am a Kansas State alum, and I am a proud fan of the Wildcats football program. Well, in 2007, I’m going to be spending a lot of time watching another Wildcats team with great interest as it pertains to the 2008 NFL Draft – the University of Kentucky.
I have actually watched several Kentucky games over the past two seasons and I – along with NFL scouts – have grown fond of a couple of their emerging stars. With the best quarterback you’ve never heard of – Andre` Woodson, who passed for 3,515 yards and 31 TDs with seven INTs last year – Kentucky should be bowl bound once again after defeating Clemson, 28-20, in the Music City Bowl in 2006.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Woodson has great escapability from the pocket, but looks to keep the play alive downfield with his mobility instead of scrambling for yardage. He has shown the ability to rally Kentucky when they are down and is a fierce competitor. Woodson reminds me a lot of former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, who was a first-round pick of the Washington Redskins last year. I think Woodson is a second-round prospect that could vault into the first round with another stellar season like the one he had in 2006.
Woodson’s top receiver is the ultra-fast and shifty Keenan Burton. Perhaps generously listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, the senior receiver had a breakout season in 2006 with 77 catches for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns. Burton is Kentucky’s all-purpose threat with four punt returns for 51 yards (12.8 avg.) and 31 kick returns for 765 yards (24.7 avg.), including a 100-yard touchdown against Louisville – this coming on the heels of a 93-yard kickoff return during his sophomore year.
With Dickey Lyons (50 catches, 822 yards and nine touchdowns) lining up opposite Burton, who could be a second-round pick depending on how fast he times, and Rafael Little (1,065 total yards and five touchdowns) returning as the top rusher, Woodson has plenty of weapons to go to. Little is also a dangerous punt returner and returned 14 punts for 317 yards (22.6 avg.), including an 84-yard touchdown.
In the last edition of SR’s Fab Five, I told you how fond I was of under tackle Myron Pryor. During his sophomore season, Pryor recorded 42 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a team-high five sacks and four forced fumbles. In a win against Ole Miss, Pryor was a one-man gang with two tackles, two fumble recoveries, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. He had a career-high two sacks against Central Michigan and had a key forced fumble that was turned into a touchdown in the Wildcats’ upset win over Georgia. Keep an eye on this 6-foot-1, 300-pound junior defensive tackle.
In the secondary, junior free safety Marcus McClinton led the Wildcats with six pass breakups, five forced fumbles and four interceptions, in addition to 65 tackles and a fumble recovery. He registered a career-high nine tackles in each of Kentucky’s two most important games – versus Louisville and Clemson. I don’t know what type of pro prospect McClinton is because I haven’t discussed his name with NFL scouts yet, but he’s a heck of a college player who helps Kentucky’s defense.
However, the best player on the Wildcats defense is weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard. He’s not much of a pro prospect unless he adds more bulk to his 6-foot-1, 212-pound frame, but the speedy linebacker was an All-SEC performer, leading Kentucky with 122 tackles (80 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Woodyard did fracture his left hand on July 19 is set for surgery on July 24. He will be able to practice and play in a cast, and the cast should be removed by early September.
If you are like me and like to scout for NFL talent while watching college football games, don’t miss Kentucky. They should be fun to watch this year and have quite a bit of talent.
FAB 3. We have had a lot of new Pewter Insider subscribers sign up this summer, and for those of you who may not be as familiar with my SR’s Fab Five columns as our regulars, let me give you a brief overview of the topics I discuss. First and foremost is inside information we gather on the Buccaneers from our multiple sources at One Buccaneer Place.
Sometimes this comes in the form of some juicy rumors and some behind-the-scenes facts that aren’t reported elsewhere. Sometimes it comes in the form of hard-to-find salary cap info.
I also analyze Bucs game film and pick up on some unreported trends and aspects of Tampa Bay football that other media outlets haven’t picked up on. I also mix in my opinion, which is based by what I see and understand, and is also shaped from conversations I have with scores of Bucs and NFL sources.
I also do quite a bit of draft-related college football commentary. Unlike the newspapers, which start their NFL Draft research by picking up a Pro Football Weekly draft guide or reading Mel Kiper’s Big Board in March, Pewter Report does its own research. That’s why we nail Bucs draft picks in the form of Bucs’ Best Bets each year, including middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (2005), wide receiver Maurice Stovall (2006), cornerback Alan (Zemaitis), quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (2006), tight end T.J. Williams (2006), defensive end Gaines Adams (2007), safety Sabby Piscitelli (2007) and linebacker Quincy Black (2007).
I tape about 200 college tapes per year and have about 800 college games archived at my house (my wife just loves that!). Our draft research for the 2008 NFL Draft doesn’t just start in August watching and taping about 12 college games per week. It started years ago when I watched today’s senior studs when they were freshmen and sophomores.
Aside from the defensive tackles I profiled in last week’s SR’s Fab Five and the Kentucky prospects I listed in this week’s edition, here are some of the top senior and junior offensive draft prospects I will be keeping a keen eye on this year.
You might have heard of Texas receiver Limas Sweed and LSU wideout Early Doucet, but have you heard of Jarrett Dilliard? The Rice senior posted 91 catches for 1,247 yards and an amazing 21 touchdown catches in 2007, including four games in which he scored three TDs. Rice lists Dilliard at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, although he may be closer to 5-foot-10, 175 pounds.
Another small, dynamite receiver is Cal’s DeSean Jackson. The 6-foot, 166-pound Jackson is a threat to score anytime he touches the football. He led the Golden Bears’ passing attack with 59 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore. He also had a 49-yard punt return for a touchdown in his only return as a freshman, and scored four touchdowns as a punt returner, including a 95-yarder, while averaging 18.2 yards on his 25 returns in 2006. Jackson also posting 38 grabs for 601 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman. Jackson, who is a junior, teams with Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins to make perhaps the deadliest trio of wide receivers in the nation.
The 2008 NFL Draft may feature a couple of big, imposing receivers, too. Oklahoma State’s Adarius Bowman is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and recorded 60 catches for 1,181 yards and 12 scores last year. He had a tour de force moment in Lawrence, Kansas, thrashing the Jayhawks for 13 catches for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a single game.
Louisville’s Harry Douglas had a breakout year as a junior with 70 catches for 1,265 (18.1 avg.) yards and six touchdowns. He’s a promising NFL prospect despite being just 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. But the real treasure in Louisville (aside from top-rated quarterback Brian Brohm) is junior receiver Mario Urrutia. Urrutia stands 6-foot-6, weighs 220 pounds and has great speed. As a sophomore, he caught 37 passes for 797 yards (21.5 avg.) and had seven touchdowns, including a 76-yarder. As a junior, Urrutia had 58 catches for 973 yards and six scores. If he comes out after his junior season, he should be a first-rounder.
Another tall, rangy junior receiver is Indiana’s James Hardy, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 215 pounds. Hardy followed up a sensational freshman campaign (61 catches for 893 yards and 10 TDs) with an equally impressive year as a marked man in 2006 with 51 grabs for 722 yards and 10 scores. Sophomore quarterback Kellen Lewis should improve on a great freshman season and Hardy’s numbers should be even more impressive in 2007.
Another Hoosier to keep an eye on is 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior running back Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen played wide receiver as a freshman, hauling in 32 catches for 432 yards and two TDs before moving to running back as a sophomore. In his new position, Thigpen carried the ball 98 times for 387 yards and two scores, while catching 18 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in 2006. But Thigpen’s real specialty is kickoff returns where he returned 24 kicks for 723 yards (30.0 avg.) and scored an amazing three touchdowns last year to lead the NCAA.
One of my other favorite running backs is Boise State’s Ian Johnson, who hit the scene nationally as a sophomore with 25 rushing touchdowns and 1,713 yards on 277 carries (6.1 avg.). Johnson is a shifty, physical back that reminds me a little bit of Emmitt Smith.Â His five touchdowns against Oregon State set a new school record, and the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Johnson tallied 240 yards rushing against the Beavers.
Another talented junior running back is Clemson’s James Davis. The speedy, 5-foot-11, 205-pounder rushed for 1,187 yards and boasted a 5.85 avg. while scoring a school-record 17 touchdowns. Davis lit up the 13th-ranked Georgia Tech defense for 213 yards, and scored the game-winning touchdown at ninth-ranked Florida State on a tough, 1-yard run.
And finally, Missouri has the nation’s best tight end tandem with senior Martin Rucker (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) and junior Chase Coffman (6-foot-6, 245 pounds). Rucker has been a three-year starter for the Tigers and has 10 career touchdowns. He has posted back-to-back 500-yard receiving seasons from 2005-06, including 53 catches for 510 yards and five scores last season. Coffman actually outperformed Rucker last year as a sophomore with 58 grabs for 638 yards and nine touchdowns. This coming after his sensational freshman season in which he hauled in 47 passes for 503 yards and four scores.
Before the college football season starts I’ll also take a look at some of the top seniors and juniors to watch as you draftniks prepare for the 2008 NFL Draft.
FAB 4. I’m not going to comment on the Michael Vick dog-fighting case because everyone else is from local and national sports media outlets to the halls of Congress where West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd called the actions that Vick is alleged associated with “barbaric.” The only comment I will make is that this appears to be the work of karma, folks.
Karma is definitely involved in the case of one, particular general manager, who decided to bail, quit and give up on the Buccaneers during the 2003 season when times got tough with the losing, the looming salary cap doom and putting up with a testy and ego-driven coach named Jon Gruden. This general manager jumped ship when the going got rough to an Atlanta franchise that was on the rise and already had a superstar quarterback named Vick in place, which is something Tampa Bay has failed to have since Doug Williams was under center.
By the way, he didn’t wait until the end of the season to leave the Bucs, either. He just happened to leave Tampa Bay the week it was playing its hated rival, Atlanta, which added to the insult by beating the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium. While the Bucs stumbled to 5-11 in 2004, the Falcons won the NFC South and were a game away from the Super Bowl.
Then karma began to kick in. Two years ago, this general manager, who had done more than his fair share to put Tampa Bay in a salary cap bind with some really bad, unnecessarily rich contracts, severely overpaid Vick, who has proven that he is nothing more than a running back who can throw the ball and complete about 56 percent of his passes. That contract cemented the Falcons to Vick and the overall weight of the contract (and other bad ones) forced Atlanta to basically sit idle in free agency this offseason while watching players like Patrick Kerney and Ed Hartwell leave a defense that needed them.
With Vick as the face of the franchise, the Falcons were faced with trading backup QB Matt Schaub this year or getting nothing for him next year when he would have left as an unrestricted free agent. To compound the general manager’s bad move by giving Vick all of that money, Schaub was traded just a couple of months before Vick’s dog-fighting scandal erupted. The best replacement Atlanta could come up with was Joey Harrington, too.
But after Vick flipping off his own Falcons fans, the Ron Mexico debacle and the water bottle incident at Miami’s airport, the general manager who was always lauded for putting character first should have seen the kind of person Vick was and prepared for something of this nature to come next. Simply put, Vick is a bad, shady character. It was easy to see a while ago through his actions and it’s certainly more visible today.
Today as the Buccaneers have finally left the throes of salary cap hell and perhaps have assembled their most talented team since 2002 (don’t screw it up, Chucky), the Falcons will continue their fall to Earth like a bird that has been shot out of the sky. The present and future quarterback position is completely unstable with the specter of Vick’s dog-fighting scandal looming over it, and Atlanta has an edgy, new coach in Bobby Petrino, whose petulance might remind this particular general manager of working with Gruden.
I think in this general manager’s eyes, he thought he might escape Atlanta before the doo-doo hit the fan with the Falcons salary cap in 2007 – just like he did in Tampa Bay in 2003 – by becoming the next NFL Commissioner. It didn’t happen and karma apparently kicked in there, too.
I’m sure the jump to Atlanta looked like a good move at the time, but don’t you think that general manager wishes he were in Tampa Bay – which has a talented team and is flush with salary cap room for years to come – right now? Instead, he must feel the fire of the Vick scandal and perhaps be a part of the fallout over the ridiculous contract he gave the alleged dog-fighter. Yes, this is indeed karma at work. And for those of you who think I might mention him too often for your liking, I’ll have you know that I didn’t even mention the name “Rich McKay” once in this column.
FAB 5. Here are some things to hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:
• If you have Rich McKay fatigue and are tired of me writing about him, I’ve got two words for you – too bad. As the general manager, he has played a major role in the headline-grabbing Michael Vick-Atlanta storyline by signing Vick to that rich contract that now hangs around the Falcons’ neck like an albatross. As Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com has pointed out on several occasions, McKay was just as responsible for the Vick deal as owner Arthur Blank was, and needs to bear that responsibility in the media’s coverage of this story. It was McKay’s job to protect his owner from overpaying Vick and not tying up so much salary cap room, but he obviously didn’t do it. We all know that McKay didn’t do a great job with the salary cap in his last few years in Tampa Bay, especially in 2003 after the Super Bowl with unnecessary contract extensions for wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, quarterback Brad Johnson, defensive tackle Booger McFarland and overpaying defensive end Simeon Rice. Yet, McKay has escaped a lot of national media scrutiny to date because his loose lips have made him one of the best media sources in the NFL and the reporters don’t want to lose that. I think ProFootballTalk.com has drawn some interesting conclusions regarding how two ESPN reporters, Len Pasquarelli and Chris Mortensen, who both just happen to live in Atlanta, have really played both sides of the fence in their Vick reporting. Before Vick was indicted by a federal grand jury, both Pasquarelli and Mortensen had stated that it looked like Vick wouldn’t be indicted. I wonder who fed them that bit of wishful thinking?
• PewterReport.com is reporting that Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick, safety Tanard Jackson, signed a four-year deal with a $477,000 signing bonus. The Bucs’ fifth-round pick, defensive tackle Greg Peterson, received a $192,000 signing bonus with his four-year deal. Tampa Bay’s sixth-round draft pick, linebacker Adam Hayward, received a $102,000 signing bonus when he signed his four-year deal. Seventh-round pick, cornerback Marcus Hamilton, received a $40,000 signing bonus.
• Anyone who thinks that Jake Plummer’s holdout is or will be a distraction is wrong. At general manager Bruce Allen’s June press conference, several reporters were suggesting that the unsettled Plummer situation could be problematic for the team if he does not report by training camp. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Why? Because players that aren’t in camp aren’t a distraction. When the media was suggesting that Keenan McCardell’s holdout in 2004 was a distraction at Bucs camp, safety Dwight Smith put it best: “Keenan’s not here, so how could he be a distraction?” The majority of players in Tampa Bay have never played with Plummer, so he isn’t even really their teammate. They don’t know him and most have never met him, so what do the Buccaneers care? In fact, the real distraction would be if Plummer did show up to camp at this stage of the game.
• Although the names of these college players don’t rival the Mississippi State duo of Porkchop Womack and Pig Prather from several years ago (that’s for you, Tony Morreale), the two best names in college football this year might be Ole Miss running back Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Lousiville defensive end Peanut Whitehead.
• Finally, we will be adding a video element to PewterReport.com some time this football season (unfortunately after training camp). However, our plans have been stymied to some degree by the NFL, which has introduced a ridiculous, new 45-second rule that will severely limit the use of video featuring the Buccaneers on PewterReport.com and even on other websites such as TBO.com (Tampa Tribune) and TampaBay.com (St. Petersburg Times). Here’s the official language verbatim from the NFL front office regarding the 2007 video usage policy:
“While online use of game footage remains exclusive to NFL.com, the NFL is making the following additional changes this season regarding online use of audio and video interviews and press conference content on gamedays and weekdays. These rules are designed to enable news organization websites to “illustrate” their coverage of the NFL with daily audio/video soundbites that supplement and complement the work of their reporters and columnists: Up to 45 seconds per day of audio and/or video of interviews or press conferences with NFL employees (including, but not limited to, players and coaches) or of team practice footage may be used on the Internet by credentialed news organizations. The content may not be used live and may be archived for 24 hours. This applies to both weekdays and gamedays. / The usage conditions are as follows: 1. The page featuring the audio/video must provide links to NFL.com and the corresponding club site. For example: For more info, go to www.nfl.com and www.(teamname).com. 2. The content may be used only in an editorial context (such as in links that illustrate stories or in multimedia news sections) and may not be presented in stand-alone multimedia entertainment sections of third-party websites. 3. No integrated advertising is permitted. Footage may appear on pages with banners and contextual ads, but the ads may not be specifically related to the NFL audio/video content.”
As you can see, this policy is rather draconian in nature. If we put up a video featuring any Bucs player or coach the video can only be 45 seconds long. And if we do one, it can only be on our website for 24 hours and cannot be archived. Quite frankly, the time and resources it would take to do such a video and only have a 24-hour window for it to be viewed simply isn’t worth the time (which the NFL is counting on). So instead of in-depth interviews with your favorite Bucs players and coaches, thanks to this unfortunate new rule, you will be seeing quite a bit of yours truly and Jim Flynn (we’ll try not to break the lens) on video doing some talking head analysis and maybe some live Point-Counterpoint stuff. To learn more about this new decree, check out this comical video from the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain, who spoofs the NFL’s 45-second video rule.
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