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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. The SR’s Fab Five column is back after a summer hiatus. Just a warning, this installment might catch you off guard a little bit. Typically, I use this column to deliver some inside information and spout off on what I know in an effort to educate you, the Pewter Insider subscriber. But the first part of this edition of SR’s Fab Five is about what I don’t know.
After getting the chance to watch the Bucs’ three mini-camp practices and more OTAs than the media has been privy to view in years past (thank you, general manager Bruce Allen and public relations director Jeff Kamis) I’m left with more questions than answers about this year’s version of the Buccaneers. Sure, there are some things that I do know after watching more than a handful of practices.
I know that the Bucs defense is noticeably faster, especially the linebacking corps.
I know that the Tampa Bay defensive line is bigger, deeper and will get more pressure on the quarterback this year.
I know that the receiving corps will be better with the improvement shown by Maurice Stovall and David Boston.
I know that quarterback Jeff Garcia is very accurate and is the most-sound decision-maker the Bucs have had at the position since Brad Johnson in 2002.
I know that thanks to Monte Kiffin’s open-mindedness about the 3-4 front, the Bucs defense will return to the top 10.
I know that with tight ends coach Ron Middleton gone, defensive backs mentor Raheem Morris becomes the loudest coach at One Buc Place.
But there are just as many things that I don’t know heading into training camp. And considering Pewter Report’s access to the team’s front office, coaching staff and players, if I don’t know these answers, chances are that you don’t, either. Jim Flynn has his own set of 20 Critical Camp Questions that was unveiled in Pewter Report’s 88-page Training Camp Issue.
Here is my list of unknowns:
I don’t know what will happen to Chris Simms. Can he rebound in one month’s time and find his groove again? It seemed like he got worse as the OTAs went on in terms of his mechanics and accuracy. I think it might be far-fetched to think he’ll challenge Garcia for the right to start, but will he wind up as the backup, the third-stringer … or will he get beat out by Luke McCown and not even make the team? Suddenly, it seems as if he doesn’t have much of a future as a Buccaneer.
I don’t know if left tackle Luke Petitgout will hold up physically. He appears to have rebounded from his broken leg, but there have been some reports of some chronic back pain in the past. I don’t know if that is affecting him right now, and if so, to what degree. The players and coaches are pretty much on vacation and off limits until they report to training camp, so we’ll have to find out then. Of course, the team is hoping that Petitgout has a clean bill of health, but they were hoping the same thing from Derrick Deese a few years ago, too. The one thing I do know is that it is mighty difficult to evaluate offensive linemen without pads on.
I don’t know who will start at center. I know the Bucs want Dan Buenning to be the guy, but he is recovering from an ACL injury and didn’t do any teamwork in the OTAs and mini-camps. I know the team is trying to replace John Wade, who is in the twilight of his career, but who knows? Maybe Wade, who is coming off minor offseason knee surgery, ultimately beats out Buenning and Matt Lehr, who is a smallish center (6-foot-2, 305 pounds) because of his experience. Lehr, who reminds me of former Bucs center Jeff Christy from a technical standpoint, has performed well in the offseason, but it’s hard to form an educated opinion in just shorts and jerseys. The battle for the right to start at center will be among the most scrutinized training camp clashes this year.
I don’t know the severity of Arron Sears’ injury. The rookie guard from Tennessee was held out of the team’s mandatory mini-camp due to a “minor knee issue.” How quickly will he recover? Will there be any ramifications from his injury that will linger in camp and cause him to miss any practice time? Sears will battle Anthony Davis and Buenning for the chance to start at left guard. Davis appears to have the edge due to his NFL experience and the fact that he’s healthy.
I don’t know if this is Derrick Brooks’ last year. I know his play slipped a little bit last year, which can be expected from a player who just turned 33. The team noticed it too, which is why they went out and signed Cato June in free agency and drafted Quincy Black and Adam Hayward in April. Between June, Jamie Winborn and Hayward, the Bucs now have three viable replacements for Brooks whenever he decides to step down – or whenever the team decides to push him out (see John Lynch, Warren Sapp and Shelton Quarles).
I don’t know if first-round pick Gaines Adams is a two-sack guy or a 10-sack guy. Watching fullbacks, offensive linemen and defensive linemen is almost a waste of time in the offseason. You can look for technique, athletic ability and speed, and see if a player is assignment sound, but that’s about it when it comes to evaluations. Fullbacks and offensive linemen can be properly scouted when the pads come on because of the physicality of their positions. The same can be said for defensive linemen. Will Adams be a finesse player at the NFL level or will he get physical and stick his nose in there? Adams isn’t cut like Simeon Rice or Julius Peppers, and his work ethic needs a kick in the butt from time to time, so that makes it difficult to project how he’ll fare in the NFL as a rookie. At this stage of the game, I don’t know if he’ll be a stud or a dud or somewhere in between.
FAB 2. There is one more thing I don’t know as the Bucs head into training camp. I don’t know who Tampa Bay’s starting under tackle will be in 2007. I wrote in my End Zone column in the July issue of Pewter Report that I suspect defensive line coach Larry Coyer will use a committee approach for his players that will use the three technique.
But someone has to start, right? Well, at least when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin deploys his 4-3 front.
When veteran Kevin Carter was signed in March, I suspected that he would become the starting under tackle, but after watching him in the OTAs and mini-camps and talking to my sources at One Buccaneer Place, Carter appears set to split time between under tackle and end. He spent more time than I thought at defensive end during the offseason, which leads me to believe that he won’t be “the guy” at the three technique spot.
I think Carter may start some games at under tackle, but he wasn’t always running with the first-teamers in the offseason. Unheralded Darrell Campbell had a tremendous spring and actually bumped Ellis Wyms, who started half the season at under tackle last year after Anthony McFarland was traded, down the depth chart.
Jovan Haye, who saw a significant amount of playing time at under tackle down the stretch last year, and Greg Peterson have also shown some playmaking ability this offseason and are clearly in the mix. That’s four legitimate contenders at the position. How effective the yet-to-be-named starter or any of the backups will be remains to be seen.
To throw a curve ball at opposing offenses, Coyer plans to move his linemen all over, which is why he doesn’t necessarily want to pigeon-hole a versatile player like Carter at the under tackle position. If Coyer wants a big, powerful defensive line, he can put Carter and the stout Greg Spires at the end positions along with Ryan Sims and Jovan Haye at the tackle spots. If he wants more of a speed lineup, he could put Patrick Chukwurah and Simeon Rice at the ends and have Wyms and Chris Hovan at the tackle spots.
Maybe not having a surefire starter is a good thing in the interim for the Bucs due to the position flexibility that Coyer plans on deploying. Until Tampa Bay can find the next Warren Sapp imitator, that is.
FAB 3. Despite Tampa Bay’s glaring need for a starting under tackle, the Buccaneers passed over Louisville’s Amobi Okoye, the top-rated three-technique tackle in the 2007 NFL Draft, in favor of drafting Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams with the fourth overall pick. Time will tell if the Bucs made the right decision in selecting Simeon Rice’s eventual successor, or whether they should have gone with the quick, 19-year old Okoye, who was drafted 10th overall by Houston.
The Bucs did address the defensive tackle position on draft day, taking 6-foot-5, 290-pound Greg Peterson, a raw prospect from North Carolina Central, in the fifth round. Because defensive tackles rarely make an impact during their rookie seasons, it may be a couple of years before we know what type of contribution Peterson will make to the Red and Pewter.
In Tampa Bay’s four-year quest to find the next Warren Sapp, the team hasn’t come close. Truth be told, there aren’t many dominating three technique tackles in the NFL any more, compared to the days when Sapp, John Randle and La’ Roi Glover were pass rushing interior linemen who would record double-digit sacks over the course of a season around the turn of the century.
The NFL Draft has not produced a lot of dominant defensive tackles in recent years – even in the first round. Only a few defensive tackles have emerged as dominant playmakers, including Kevin Williams (Minnesota, first round, 2003), Corey Redding (Detroit, third round, 2003), Tommie Harris (Chicago, first round, 2004) and Vince Wilfork (New England, first round, 2004).
Some defensive tackles have had a decent amount of success, including William Joseph (NY Giants, first round 2003), Randy Starks (Tennessee, third round, 2004), Mike Patterson (Philadelphia, first round, 2005) and Darnell Dockett (Arizona, third round, 2004).
But there have been far more duds than studs, evidenced by Dewayne Robertson (NY Jets, first round, 2003), Jonathan Sullivan (New Orleans Saints, first round, 2003), Jimmy Kennedy (St. Louis, first round, 2003), Anthony Adams (San Francisco, second round, 2003) Marcus Tubbs (Seattle, first round, 2004), Junior Siavii (Kansas City, first round, 2004), Travis Johnson (Houston, first round, 2005), Shaun Cody (Detroit, second round, 2005) and Tank Johnson (Chicago, second round, 2005), a talented player who has had numerous run-ins with the law.
The jury is still out regarding last year’s defensive tackles, including Haloti Ngata (Baltimore, first round, 2006), John McCargo (Buffalo, first round, 2006), Broderick Bunkley (Philadelphia, first round, 2006), Claude Wroten (St. Louis, third round, 2006) and Dusty Dvoracek (Chicago, third round, 2006), although only Ngata has shown any real playmaking ability thus far.
The news isn’t so great at the defensive tackle position in next year’s 2008 NFL Draft. LSU’s Glenn Dorsey, USC’s Sedrick Ellis and North Carolina State’s DeMario Pressley rank as probable first-rounders, with Texas’ Frank Okam and Maryland’s Dre Moore also having a shot at the first round with strong senior seasons.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Dorsey could have challenged Okoye for the top defensive tackle ranking in the 2007 draft had he elected to come out early. Instead, Dorsey, who is a prototypical three technique tackle, hopes to build on a junior season in which he recorded 64 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He posted 28 tackles four tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore backing up Wroten.
Ellis is the country’s best nose tackle and reminds NFL scouts of Patterson. The 6-1, 295-pounder recorded 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 2006, in addition to blocking a field goal. After Patterson graduated and became a first-round selection of the Eagles in 2005, Ellis recorded 50 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and forced a fumble in his first season as a starter.
Pressley played next to McCargo and defensive ends Manny Lawson and Mario Williams at North Carolina State two years ago. The 6-3, 295-pound NFL prospect notched 61 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and forced two fumbles last year playing alongside Tank Tyler. As a junior, Pressley recorded 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, one forced fumble and had one fumble recovery.
With the exception of Shaun Rodgers and Casey Hampton, most defensive tackles from Texas have disappointed in the NFL. Okam has drawn mixed reviews despite having great size (6-5, 320 pounds) and decent production: 38 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks in 2006 and 48 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack and two fumble recoveries. The reason is an inconsistent motor.
Moore had a great junior season for the Terps, recording 47 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The 6-foot-4, 311-pounder posted 18 tackles and one tackle for loss as a sophomore.
Other notable seniors to keep an eye on include, Nick Hayden (Wisconsin, 6-foot-5, 311 pounds), Andre Fluellen (Florida State, 6-foot-4, 286 pounds), B.J. Raji (Boston College, 6-foot-1, 340 pounds) Keilen Dykes (West Virginia, 6-foot-5, 295 pounds), Kentwan Balmer (North Carolina, 6-foot-5, 288 pounds) and James McClinton (Kansas, 6-foot-1, 283 pounds).
While Dorsey and Ellis are the top senior prospects, the most productive defensive tackles may actually be a pair of undersized juniors. Iowa’s Mitch King has been a two-year starter. The high-motor, 6-foot-3, 264-pounder notched 60 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and three forced fumbles as a freshman before recording 56 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks and one forced fumble in 2006.
Rutgers defensive tackle Eric Foster was the emotional leader for the Scarlet Knights defense last year, and posted 51 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six sacks in their storybook season. As a freshman, the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Foster got acclimated to Big East football with eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack.
If they have sterling junior seasons and add some more bulk, Foster and King may be tempted to leave school early. A couple of other junior defensive tackles to keep an eye on include Terrance Taylor (Michigan, 6-foot, 310 pounds), Jeff Owens (Georgia, 6-foot-3, 292 pounds), Terrill Byrd (Cincinnati, 6-foot-1, 270 pounds) and one of my personal favorites, Myron Pryor (Kentucky, 6-foot-1, 300 pounds).
Pryor needs to become a more consistent defensive lineman, most dominate lesser foes with more regularity and step up against elite teams, but he has great quickness and playmaking ability. In a breakout sophomore season, Pryor had 42 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, four forced fumbles, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. As a freshman, Pryor showed a penchant for getting after the quarterback, recording 13 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss in limited playing time. Keep an eye on Pryor in 2007 as Kentucky will be a surprise team for the upcoming season.
Have you noticed that more teams are going to the 3-4 front in college and the NFL? The reason is because good defensive tackles are getting harder and harder to find.
FAB 4. While away on my summer vacation, I read a couple of articles in the St. Petersburg Times that I must take issue with. The first was an editorial that didn’t appear in the sports section, yet discussed the court’s decision to allow pat-downs at Buccaneers games at Raymond James Stadium. You can read the editorial here.
Bucs fan Gordon Johnston sued over the fact that he felt like his rights were being violated by what he deemed were illegal patdown security procedures. The courts recently ruled against Johnston and stated that the Tampa Sports Authority and the Buccaneers may once again include patdowns as part of their security procedures.
The bottom line is that attending Buccaneers games is not a right, it’s a privilege. If you don’t want to abide by the rules, people like Johnston won’t be able to go to the games. Sorry.
In 2003, Sultaana Freeman, a Muslim living in Florida, sued the state because she wanted to be photographed wearing a veil – a hijab covering her entire face except her eyes – in her driver’s license after the state objected. She stated that it was an infringement on her religious beliefs. "Although the court acknowledges that plaintiff herself most likely poses no threat to national security, there likely are people who would be willing to use a ruling permitting the wearing of full-face cloaks in driver's license photos by pretending to ascribe to religious beliefs in order to carry out activities that would threaten lives," Circuit Judge Janet C. Thorpe said in her ruling.
Freeman recently lost her appeal and presumably doesn’t have a driver’s license because of it. Oh well. Like attending football games, driving isn’t a right – it’s a privilege.
Just as they were in the Freeman case, the courts were correct in the Bucs patdowns ruling. In my opinion, safety should come first – no matter how inconvenient it may be for people. Taking our shoes off is now a way of life at airports, yet there haven’t been any shoe bombs that have gone off as a result.
People that scream and run to the ACLU over the fact that their rights have been trampled – and media outlets that take up their cause like the St. Petersburg Times – need to realize the greater good behind some actions that may infringe on our rights, including public safety. Just because everyone has the freedom of speech, doesn’t mean they can yell, “Fire” in a crowded movie theater.
People who don’t have anything to hide shouldn’t have anything to be concerned about regarding patdowns. If they don’t want to be patted downs at the gates outside of Raymond James Stadium, don’t go to the games. Watch them at home on TV. If those same people feel violated by having to take their shoes off or getting searched at airports, they probably shouldn’t fly, either.
The other objectionable news item came in a July 8 story in the St. Petersburg Times. The Times lists four players who need to turn it around in 2007 and identifies defensive end Simeon Rice, cornerback Brian Kelly, running back Cadillac Williams and nose tackle Chris Hovan as the four. Williams deserves to be the on the list after a disappointing sophomore campaign, and the Times correctly points out that Williams only had two 100-yard games despite being billed as an elite running back, and fairly notes that the QB play and the offensive line play were ineffective.
While it may be a bit unfair to put two players like Rice and Kelly on the list because their campaigns were over by midseason and they were both placed on injured reserve, I can see where the Times is coming from. Both players need to get over their injuries and step up in 2007 for the Bucs to have a chance at a winning record.
The real head-scratcher here – and my main objectionable point – was the inclusion of Hovan on the list. Perhaps it was the way that the paragraph started off that is most telling. “Maybe we weren’t paying close enough attention, but it sure seemed like Hovan was a nonfactor,” wrote the Times.
I’ll go on record by saying it’s clear that the Times wasn’t paying close attention. Even though the paper states in the next sentence that “his numbers didn’t drop, as he posted 51 tackles, even better than 2005 when he had 45 stops”, the Times put him on the list as one of four Bucs – presumably the top four Bucs – that needed to turn it around in 2007.
Huh?! Putting Hovan on the list instead of other players that had disappointing 2006 campaigns, such as wide receiver Michael Clayton, offensive lineman Anthony Davis and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen just doesn’t make a lot of sense, Bucs fans.
Hovan had more tackles than he did in 2005, and also posted two sacks last year after not posting any QB captures in 2005. He was the best defensive lineman on the team, and as one Bucs official told Pewter Report this offseason, Hovan may have been the MVP of the defense.
Yes, the run defense dropped from sixth to 17th against the run in the span of one year, but it is not Hovan’s job to the primary run-stuffer, despite the Times’ assertion that it is. Hovan’s job is to draw double teams and keep a guard and the center off the under tackle and the middle linebacker.
The primary job of stuffing the run falls to the weakside linebacker, middle linebacker and strong safety in the Tampa 2 defense, and that is why those three players are historically the top three tacklers in Monte Kiffin’s scheme. The reason why the Bucs had the sixth-best rushing defense in 2005 was because weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles had Pro Bowl-caliber seasons and Phillips played quite well at strong safety. Last year, Brooks’ play noticeably slipped from his ultra-high standards, Phillips had a horrible year and the middle linebacker spot was reeling from Quarles’ injuries and Barrett Ruud’s inexperience.
That’s why the run defense fell so far last year in the rankings. Hovan did his job and did it well, splitting the double teams and posting his best statistics as a Buccaneer. Anyone who was paying attention could see that.
FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:
• Humor me for a minute while I play pitchman and throw out a couple of endorsements that will benefit Bucs fans like yourself. If you haven’t made plans to attend the Jeff Garcia charity autograph signing at the Sports Fan-Attic store at Citrus Park Town Center on Saturday, July 21 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., please do so and support Sports Fan-Attic, our official merchandise partner. Tickets cost $20 with all of the money going to the Garcia Pass It On charitable foundation, benefiting Special Olympics, The American Cancer Society and the Laci and Connor Peterson Search and Rescue Fund, which was founded by Sharon Rocha in memory of her slain daughter and unborn grandson. There is a limit of two autographs per person, but the reality is that you can get a Jeff Garcia autograph for just $10 per item when you bring or purchase two items. This is Garcia’s first autograph signing in Tampa and Pewter Report wants to help make it a success for Sports Fan-Attic. Due to time constraints, only 300 Bucs fans will be able to get autographs and Sports Fan-Attic has already pre-sold about one third of the tickets for the event. Stop by any Sports Fan-Attic store and get your ticket to avoid the lines at the register on Saturday and get a Bucs mini-helmet, a football or a copy of the Pewter Report Training Camp Issue for your autographs while you are at Sports Fan-Attic. Yours truly and Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn will be at the Citrus Park Sports Fan-Attic next Saturday with Jeff Garcia. Hope to see you there.
• Speaking of Sports Fan-Attic, many of our Pewter Report subscribers wanted a 10 percent discount like the kind they enjoyed at the Authentic Team Merchandise store in the past before Pewter Report changed ownership in June of 2006. Sports Fan-Attic listened and has complied. Pewter Report subscribers can get 10% off the purchase of regularly priced merchandise in the month of July by downloading this coupon from PewterReport.com. While you won’t be able to save 10 percent on the cost of the Jeff Garcia signing, bring your 10 percent discount coupon in before or during the Garcia signing and stock up on Bucs merchandise at Sports Fan-Attic. The coupons are valid at all Sports Fan-Attic stores nationwide.
• Have you clicked on the banner ads of our advertisers on PewterReport.com lately? If not, please do so. They are the businesses that keep the majority of PewterReport.com and its message boards free. Our advertising revenue has also allowed us to lower the subscription price by 20 percent over the past year, making it more affordable for Bucs fans like yourself. One year ago, we lowered the price of Pewter Report and the Pewter Insider by $10 from $49.99 to $39.99. This was made possible due to our subscribers becoming customers of our print and on-line advertisers. Thank you for making that possible. Despite recent postage and paper price increases, we want to avoid any subscription price increases for as long as possible. Having our subscribers patronize our advertisers goes a long way in that regard. And when you support one of our advertisers, be sure to tell them that you are a Pewter Report subscriber.
• Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber has always been known to be a straight shooter. I had the chance to ask him about rookie safety Sabby Pisictelli this offseason and here is what he said: “He’s big and he’ll be even bigger in pads, and he can friggin’ run. It’s unbelievable. He’s got a body build kind of like David Gibson when he was here. Obviously, he’s faster and made more plays than David Gibson. He had a much better collegiate track record and it seems like he’s a little bit better athlete than David, too. Let’s hope he’s better. When Sabby backpedals he even looks like David Gibson. Sabby was a great player in college, hopefully he can find a way to translate that into the pros. He told me today that he only played football for two years in high school. I’m just getting to know him, but I think I already like him.”
• Barber also chimed in the personality of Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, defensive end Gaines Adams, who reminds me of the quiet demeanor that Warrick Dunn has. “I haven’t heard two words from him yet,” Barber said. “Everybody knew what Warrick was. His college tape showed what he could do. When he started to play here then it started to translate into him being ‘that guy.’ Hopefully Gaines can be ‘that guy’ for us, too. He certainly has got potential.”
• Torrie Cox's four-game suspension isn't sitting well with the front office at One Buccaneer Place. Cox is well-liked by the players, coaches and the front office, who recently signed him to a four-year deal this offseason, but that may not be enough to save his roster spot. Tampa Bay has its top three CBs set in Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Phillip Buchanon, with Cox, Sammy Davis, Alan Zemaitis and Marcus Hamilton fighting for the fourth spot on the roster. Cox will need to have the camp of his life to stay in Tampa Bay after a series of off-field behaviorial problems have put his career with the Bucs in jeopardy. If all things are equal on the field between, say, Cox and Davis, the team may view Cox's past transgressions with alcohol as a negative X factor and give the edge to the other player.
• The PewterReport.com Podcasts will be returning shortly as training camp approaches and we will be doing some audio from training camp as well. Stay tuned.
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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
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