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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. As Pewter Report has alluded to in several of its offseason magazines and Pewter Insider stories, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are tinkering with the 3-4 defense this offseason and are expected to incorporate even more aspects of this scheme into its defensive package in 2007. The Bucs ran some 3-4 defenses last year to give quarterbacks a different look and to get linebacker Jamie Winborn on the field.
But this year, Tampa Bay will likely run the 3-4 defense more often against the pass to take advantage of the various blitzes that can develop from the 3-4 alignment of three defensive linemen and four linebackers.
The fact that the Buccaneers added a slew of speedy linebackers with the ability to blitz this offseason was the first clue. Patrick Chukwurah is a defensive end-linebacker hybrid that is a good pass rusher. Cato June is a linebacker who has the speed to get to the quarterback on blitzes. Rookies Quincy Black and Adam Hayward both possess 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash and have a history of playing defensive end in college in addition to linebacker.
The second clue was the fact Tampa Bay was trying to improve its pass rush and that it was one of the priorities this offseason. So much so, that the Bucs spent their first-round pick, the fourth overall selection, on Clemson pass rusher Gaines Adams, who can play defensive end or even rush as an outside linebacker the way San Diego uses Shawne Merriman and the way Dallas uses DeMarcus Ware.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is determined to get more quarterback sacks and pressures in 2007. Tampa Bay’s sack total of 19 is simply unacceptable. With the Buccaneers still lacking a proven pass rushing presence inside at the defensive tackle position, Kiffin is not going to rely on the four-man front as his only means of getting to the quarterback.
“We didn’t get a lot of pressure last year from our front four,” Bucs assistant defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “There were tons of reasons why. Simeon Rice was banged up, but for whatever reason, we didn’t get the pressure we needed. We aren’t going to just say that we’ll just keep trying to get pressure with the same front four. Let’s get some fast ‘backers coming off the edge, or get Chukwurah coming off the edge, or safeties blitzing – all kinds of stuff. You are going to see a new Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense next year, but with the same base. It’s going to be exciting.
“As great as our defense has been here, you’ve got to be able to change and give teams different looks. We have fast ‘backers here and we can put four linebackers on the field together. We have the greatest nickel corner that has ever played the game in Ronde Barber and we can move him around. We can get into all different kind of personnel groups and really mess up the offense. We’re in the science room right now – in the laboratory – building all that stuff right now. You’ll see some of that stuff out here in the OTAs and then we’ll bring some of it out on the Seattle Seahawks on September 9.”
Tampa Bay’s new starting middle linebacker, Barrett Ruud, proved to be a good pass rusher in the 2006 preseason by recording a sack and a couple of pressures, but didn’t get the opportunity to do much blitzing in his limited appearances last year.
“I have never really gotten the chance to blitz too much before in my NFL career and I’m really looking forward to it,” Ruud said. “I think I’ll be able to do it more this year. I think that is one of my stronger suits. I was a running back in high school and I think I have the ability to make people miss when I blitz. The best way to get to the quarterback is with movement. I am excited to get the chance to blitz more this year.
“In talking to quarterbacks around the league, they say as far as reading blitzes, the 3-4 is much tougher because the blitz can be coming from anywhere. I think the way we would use the 3-4, we wouldn’t be in the 3-4 to stop the run. We would use it to try to get ways to get after the passer. I like it. It gives us four guys a chance to blitz.”
For years, the 4-3, Tampa 2 defense that Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy helped create and perfect was the rage around the NFL. Teams didn’t need prolific, man coverage corners. They just needed solid cornerbacks who were aggressive against the run, fast linebackers and a front four that could get after the quarterback. The Tampa 2 defense is still alive and well in the NFL, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay’s defense was ranked number one as early as 2005, and that last year’s Super Bowl teams – Indianapolis and Chicago – used the 4-3 Tampa 2 exclusively.
Yet the 2005 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, and two perennial playoff contenders – San Diego and New England – have brought the 3-4 defense back to prominence. Dallas recently switched to a 3-4 defense under Bill Parcells and will keep that defense under new coach Wade Phillips. Arizona is switching to a 3-4 defense this year under new head coach Ken Wisenhunt and even Mike Tomlin, a Kiffin disciple who has grown up under the Tampa 2 roof, is keeping the 3-4 scheme developed by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
“Believe me it will be a 3-4 with a Cover 2 shell behind it, which is what they ran anyways,” Barber said of Tomlin’s Steelers. “They’ll find a way to blend both styles. I don’t know who their rush end is at Pittsburgh, but they’ll find a way to make him Simeon Rice. The 3-4 gives you a lot more options with their blitz packages.”
And that’s what Tampa Bay is searching for this offseason – options to get to the quarterback. The Bucs will still use the 4-3 as the team’s base, but will experiment a little more with the 3-4 as a way of confusing and sacking quarterbacks in 2007 now that they have some players like Chukwurah, Adams and Kevin Carter, who can play multiple positions on defense.
“I was just talking to [defensive backs coach] Raheem [Morris] about some of the trends that are going on in this league,” Barber said. “The 3-4 is basically the same as a 4-3. You just have a rush end-linebacker. You’ve got a lot more versatility in a 3-4 because you don’t know where blitzers are coming from. Is that rush linebacker coming or is he going to drop in coverage? We smelled it a bit last year because of Dewayne White. We ran some 3-4 last year with Jamie Winborn on the field and also because of Dewayne White’s versatility. We need to find that guy who can be a rush end-linebacker for us. We have some guys that can do it like Chukwurah.”
Several sources have told Pewter Report that Kiffin has been huddling up in the film room with new defensive line coach Larry Coyer, who would use some radical three-man and two-man lines with a plethora of linebackers serving as blitzers in Denver. The Bucs have even been studying some old game tape of defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, who helped introduce and perfect the 3-3-5 defense and all of the unorthodox blitzing schemes that come with it into modern day college football. Dunn had some outstanding defenses at Mississippi State around the turn of the century.
“The copycatting that is going on, that’s what it is going to go to,” Barber said. “The 3-4 is the big trend. The guy with the Amoeba Radar defense or whatever it is, Joe Lee Dunn. Defenses are always looking for ways to confuse quarterbacks. You can do a lot more of that with the 3-4 than you can with the 4-3. That will be a test for us this preseason, to see if Monte can get enough of a feel for the 3-4 to run it [in the regular season]. Maybe Monte can fit it in, because a lot of people are doing it.”
Lake said studying other coaches’ approach to blitzing has inspired the defensive staff to tweak the team’s blitz packages this offseason.
“Those tapes are great,” Lake said of watching Dunn’s film. “The great thing here is that we always have a base defense that we work from. Everything stays sound. Some teams don’t have that, but we do. We work from our base and tweak things here and there to really cause some problems for the other team. We’re going to keep building and building this defense, and this will be a new chapter in Coach Kiffin’s story.”
No, Tampa Bay will not become a 3-4 defense. But by incorporating new players like Carter, who can play defensive end or tackle, and Chukwurah and Adams, who can play defensive end and line up at rush linebacker, Kiffin has the flexibility to play a 4-3 scheme on one down and a 3-4 scheme on the next without any personnel changes on the field. Bill Belichick’s Patriots defense has even lined up in a 4-3 and then shifting to a 3-4 right before the snap because of the position flexibility of his players. Now Tampa Bay has the same type of options because of its new personnel.
“It was great to see us get Gaines Adams,” Barber said. “It’s nothing against the guys we have here, but to get a guy who rushes the passer at the fourth pick, who is valued as the fourth pick, that’s pretty exciting for us. We need pass rushers. God knows we didn’t have many last year in all regards. Our blitz ‘backers weren’t very effective. Our four-man rushes weren’t very effective. I think we made the necessary moves this offseason.”
No one knows for sure how much the 3-4 defense or any other schemes that aren’t a traditional part of Kiffin’s 4-3 Tampa 2 defense will be used by the Buccaneers in 2007. A lot will depend on how much the players adapt to the new wrinkles and how much success the defense has in training camp and the preseason.
“You can never be complacent in what you have,” Ruud said. “You always have to try to get better. Sometimes you try to look at one of those crazy schemes. Even the crazy stuff, you need to try it to see if it will work. A lot of times we’ll try stuff out in the preseason, so if we like it, we’ll have a chance to try it out in the regular season. It will be fun, though.”
FAB 2. One of the reasons Tampa Bay’s defense will be better in 2007 than it was last year is the presence of new defensive line coach Larry Coyer and new defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. Pewter Report has reported the significance of these two new coaches, who replace Jethro Franklin and Greg Burns, before, but it bears repeating. Tampa Bay’s defense will be better and the team will win more games just based on the addition of Coyer and Morris alone, and it’s not just Pewter Report that feels this way.
Coyer is a grizzled, old coach in the mold of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his former lieutenant, legendary defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. He’s a battle-tested veteran of Sunday afternoons with over 40 years of coaching experience at the college and pro level. He has brought the gravitas and experience needed to win over the defensive linemen already, and Coyer has also brought some fresh ideas to One Buc Place in terms of blitzing and pressure packages.
“Everyone knows Coach Kiffin is a mad scientist, and when he comes up with some different ideas it is nice to have Coach Coyer there because maybe he’s done something similar in the past and he can say, ‘This is how we did it,’” Tampa Bay assistant secondary coach Jimmy Lake said. “Those two guys can learn from each other.
“Raheem is also a great guy Kiffin can bounce ideas off of because he’s now in that Joe Barry role where he has the track record of working with him. Coach Kiffin now has two sounding boards.”
The buzz at One Buccaneer Place this offseason has definitely been on the defensive side of the ball where new players and new coaches like Coyer, who was Denver’s defensive coordinator for four years, and Morris figure to get this team back to its top 10 standing this year.
“In Larry Coyer, Kiff’s got another mad scientist, a guy he can bounce stuff off of,” Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. “To tell you the truth, it seems like Larry is really happy to be here just as a defensive line coach. Monte leaned on Joe last year, and he leaned on Joe, Rod and Mike [Tomlin] for a long while. Monte gets a lot of credit for it, but he has a lot of great assistants that he’s picked. That wasn’t the case last year with some of the guys he brought in. That affected us in a lot of ways. That’s why we made the moves at the end of the year and got some guys that can help us win now, not coaches that need to develop.”
Bringing back Morris, who spent one season at Kansas State University where the 30-year old served as the team’s defensive coordinator, was a no-brainer for the Bucs. Morris is viewed as a “Tomlin clone,” due to his high-octane, upbeat personality. His presence in team meetings and on the field is a 180-degree turn from Burns, who coached with a very quiet demeanor that inadvertently sapped the energy out of Tampa Bay’s defensive backs.
“It’s great to have Raheem back,” Barber said. “It was like, ‘Why did I leave in the first place?’ Actually, he got a chance to be on his own. I think that was important to him. Now there is a lot more energy in the room. It’s night and day. Mike T. brought a lot of energy when he was here. I think Raheem is actually trying to top him, and it’s not false enthusiasm. It’s definitely genuine. Raheem has got a passion for teaching. You can tell that he’s developed over the years that he was here. He’s excited for his opportunity. I know we are. Ask Jimmy Lake. He’s the guy you should talk to about how much he has learned in the two months since Rah has been back.
“Jimmy could have had the opportunity to be a head guy and maybe he should have been the guy instead of [Burns]. He’s got Raheem’s kind of energy, too. He’s got that kind of knowledge. Through the years he’ll learn the presentation skills. That’s what it is. You’ve got to be able to present yourself as a position coach. They have to believe in you. The stuff that is coming out of your mouth as a coach, they have to believe it will work. If you don’t have those skills, you are not a good coach. Rah has those skills.”
When watching the Bucs at training camp last year, you could see Lake have to contain his enthusiasm and temper his outgoing demeanor for fear of upstaging Burns. Behind the scenes, members of the Bucs secondary told Pewter Report that they wished Lake was their defensive backs coach last year because they listened to him more than they did Burns.
Now they have the best of both worlds with Morris back in charge of the secondary room and a more outgoing Lake back for his second year in Tampa Bay. Lake admits that being around such a loud and gregarious personality like Morris has made him come out of his shell a bit more and act more natural on the field while giving instruction.
“Some coaches coach a different way and are more of the silent type,” Lake said of Burns. “Raheem and I are more on the loud side. For whatever reason, Greg Burns’ leadership was more on the quiet side and so we kind of all followed that way, including me. Now, it’s a different style and it’s a style that I like and the players like.
“Raheem grew up in this system and learned a lot of the terms that they’ve developed over the years. When Greg Burns and I came in last year, we learned the system, but secondary play is so unique that the system developed by Raheem and Mike Tomlin had the same terms, but they didn’t really come alive as much as they did before we got here. When Raheem stepped back into the building, all of those terms and techniques really came alive. Guys like Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and guys that have been here for a while, they are used to hearing those terms said one way and not another way. That was one of the major differences.”
One of the biggest differences that Coyer is bringing to the defensive line is an emphasis on training the power aspects of line play and not just quickness.
“That’s true,” Hovan said. “We can’t just get off the ball and beat people off the snap every time. We want to use our speed to our advantage, but there are certain times in certain situations where we have to turn into power players. If a guy is going to soft set us, or if the guy is going to retreat in pass protection, we have to overpower them. He’s teaching us all the fundamentals of the game and he’s also teaching us how to incorporate speed and power.”
Hovan and the defensive linemen have also really taken to new defensive quality control coach Todd Wash, who replaces Gus Bradley, who was elevated to the linebackers coaching role this offseason, replacing Barry. Wash, who coached with Bradley at North Dakota State, looks like a defensive lineman – and sounds like one, too. He is noticeably louder and more animated than Coyer, who is stern and intense, but not as vocal or active as his young counterpart during the defensive line drills.
“Todd Wash is a great coach from North Dakota State and he brings a lot of fire,” Hovan said. “He works with the ends in certain situations in practice and Coach Coyer works with the tackles, and vice versa. Coach Wash just brings the extra fire that you sometimes need at the assistant coach position. He and Coach Coyer complement each other very well.”
All indications are that Bradley’s transition from defensive quality control coach in 2006 to linebackers coach in 2007 has also gone quite smoothly.
“We’ve brought a lot of good guys in,” Ruud said. “Raheem was awesome when he was here two years ago. Gus, I’ve known him for two years now so we’re really getting to know each other well. With Larry Coyer, I don’t think Denver allowed a touchdown for eight games or something like that last year. He’s very accomplished as well. I’m really excited about this defensive coaching staff.”
FAB 3. Jerald Sowell was a bust last year. Coming to Tampa Bay from the New York Jets, the 10-year NFL veteran was washed up when he arrived at One Buc Place. Of course, the Bucs didn’t necessarily know that when they signed him to a one-year deal. They were hoping he still had some gas left in the tank and could split the reps with Mike Alstott when it came to being a lead blocker for Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman.
In the end, Alstott, an 11-year veteran, was the full-time fullback for the Buccaneers after the team lost Jameel Cook in free agency. It went underreported, perhaps out of respect to Alstott’s legacy, but last year, the A-Train did not have the great season as a blocker AND a runner that he had in 2005. The key to getting Williams back on track in 2007 would be not just surrounding him with better offensive linemen, but also getting better play from the fullback position.
Enter B.J. Askew, a fifth-year fullback from the Jets – the man who replaced Sowell. Askew was signed to a multi-year contract to not only help out the Buccaneers this year, but to become Alstott’s heir apparent.
“B.J.’s been good since he’s been here,” said Bucs running backs coach Art Valero. “He was a little torn because he was in Paul Hackett’s offense in New York, and then [Brian] Schottenheimer’s offense kind of phased him out. But he’s still young. His future as a fullback is way ahead of him. He’s still a young guy. To have somebody with fresh legs come in and compete with Mike, it’s going to be good. He’s got great hands because he was a running back in college. He’s smart, he’s bright, he’s a bright-eyed guy. He understands concepts. He’s a professional, where as a lot of young guys don’t quite see the picture yet.”
Askew has a tremendous amount of respect for Alstott, whom he said was one of his favorite fullbacks in the NFL. While his job is to either push Alstott to greatness or wind up pushing him out of the starting fullback role, playing alongside the A-Train was one of the big reasons he came to Tampa.
“That’s definitely in play,” Askew said. “This is a great opportunity for me. I’ve been coached by Sam Gash, who was one of the best fullbacks in the league. I learned a lot from him and now I get to play alongside a guy who is of the same caliber as Gash. I feel very blessed to be where I am.”
Valero said that finding a fullback of the future was very important to the Buccaneers as the 2007 campaign may be Alstott’s last in Tampa Bay.
“With the direction that the offense is going and the addition of Jeff Garcia and the quarterbacks that are coming back with great experience, the offense may not be the same as it was the year before,” Valero said. “It’s going to continue to grow. I think B.J. can jump in and grow with that offense. Anytime you come into a system, there are some changes that go along with that. I think for him to be able to come in with a Jeff Garcia and a Jerramy Stevens and our young offensive linemen, B.J. will grow up in the system with those guys. Once you get to that point – and the inevitable is going to happen – and Mike goes, B.J. will be able to step in and understand that we are a multiple backfield. We’re a “Rocket” backfield, we’re a “Big Backs” backfield, etc. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for him to get on the field and he’s got to learn all of the spots to where he is going to be very, very comfortable.”
Aside from the prospects of being the team’s starting fullback when Alstott retires, Askew was eager to sign with the Buccaneers to get the chance to play for an offensive-minded coach like Jon Gruden.
“First and foremost, I looked at it as an opportunity where Mike is a guy who is at the end of his career and I can come down here and show them what I’ve got and impress them enough to where I can be the guy who can pick up the torch when Mike leaves,” Askew said. “But not only that, but to play for Jon Gruden, he’s a guy you want to play for. We sit in there in the meeting rooms and you can tell that he’s got some real compassionate feelings. With some coaches it’s not like that. Some coaches may yell at you because they don’t like you. He’s had the Keyshawn Johnsons and he’s put up with all of those egos and produced. I think he’s a great coach.”
Askew admits that he has already seen the wrath of Gruden’s famous, profanity-laced tongue in action during meetings and in the OTAs.
“He’ll get on you and he’ll tell it like it is, but it’s only to make you a better player,” Askew said. “You can tell that when he is M.F.-ing you, you know it’s because he is trying to have you play well and because he cares. I’ve seen him talk to guys, yell at guys and M.F. guys, but then he usually pulls them aside and says, ‘Come on. I want you to do well.’ That goes a long way. Players want to play for a coach like that and they want to give it that extra something.”
Standing at close to 6-foot-4, Askew is an unusually tall fullback. He has the ability to run the football and catch passes out of the backfield due to his days as a running back in Michigan, but Valero cautions Askew to realize why he was brought to Tampa Bay – to become a lead blocker.
“He’s not here to run the ball,” Valero said. “If he’s got that in his mind or if his agent has planted that in his mind, well, we still have Carnell Williams, we still have Michael Pittman, we still have Earnest Graham and we still have Mike Alstott – all of which are more than capable, quality running backs. Unfortunately, right now before he has a chance to touch the ball, he has to understand that he’s [number] five [on the list]. He’s going to have to earn his stripes. He’s going to have to catch the ball in the flat and make somebody miss and create some damage. Or he’s going to have to be a Carey Davis from last year where we are in preseason, he gets some carries and wins us a game. Then we have to make some decisions, is he a halfback or a fullback? I don’t think he’s there yet. When he catches the ball it’s going to be on check downs.
“Hopefully he is going about his business like he is the number one guy at fullback because he has to go out there and compete with Mike. If Mike beats him, it means that Mike has the experience over B.J. and he’s a better player. If B.J. beats Mike out, then that means B.J. is the better player. They all understand in my room that I have no politics. Let’s put the best 11 guys on the field and go win games.”
Askew realizes that blocking must come first in 2007, but over time, he would like to become a multi-purpose back for the Buccaneers.
“I’m a three-dimensional player,” Askew said. “I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I’ll block all day. If they need me to catch all day or run the football, I can do that, too. Right now, we’ve got Mike back for another year. He was one of my favorite players coming out of college. I used to watch him a lot. He was phenomenal. He’s a guy I really look up to and I’m going to try to learn a lot from. In the running backs room, all of the guys are very welcoming and we don’t feel like we’re competing against each other. You see Cadillac and Pittman splitting time on the field and they are best buds. That’s how it is. I love the environment.
“This is one of those offenses where guys are interchangeable. Mike can go to halfback. I can go to halfback. Pittman can go to fullback or to wide receiver. We can go “Rocket.” A lot of offenses around the league have interchangeable players, but don’t use them that way. That was another big deal for me to come here was that they do that. This team actually uses its fullback. It wasn’t about money, either. I signed early in free agency. I could have waited and gone to the team that would have offered the most money, but as far as opportunity goes, I wasn’t going to pass it up. It glittered like gold.”
The Buccaneers need better play at the fullback position. Their initial plan is to hope that Askew learns the offense quickly and can split time with Alstott as the starting fullback. At age 33, Alstott is slowing down and the team feels that having him sitting out a couple of series in the game will actually make him more productive with a lighter work load.
Considering that this is likely the last year that Alstott will play in Tampa Bay (although that’s been said for the past two years now), the Bucs wouldn’t even mind if Askew beats out the A-Train as Askew is deemed to be the future of the position in red and pewter.
“It’s going good,” Askew said. “I’m learning the offense with a lot of the new guys. I feel comfortable out here. I feel like I belong. Coach Gruden is an exciting coach and I like to play for coaches who have a nice personality to them. I love it.”
FAB 4. If you read Pewter Report’s accounts of the OTA session that was open to the media two weeks ago, you know that the shotgun has indeed been installed in Jon Gruden’s offense this offseason. But with two bad snaps during that OTA session, Gruden’s confidence in the formation isn’t exactly sky high.
In fact, if there is a bad snap from the shotgun during the preseason, any chance of the formation being run in the regular season would diminish rather quickly.
“I’ll believe it when I see it [in the regular season],” Bucs running backs coach Art Valero said. “It is something that Jon has wanted to take a look at. We don’t know if it will even make it. We’ll take a look at it.”
Compounding the problem regarding the shotgun is the fact that the Buccaneers haven’t settled on a starting quarterback or a starting center yet. Chris Simms is the incumbent at quarterback, but sources tell Pewter Report that Jeff Garcia has been much sharper and is the odds-on favorite to win the job in training camp and the preseason.
At center, John Wade is currently atop the depth chart, but the team is obviously attempting to oust him by signing Matt Lehr and having guards Dan Buenning and Jeb Terry compete at center, too. Not to mention the fact that the Bucs also have centers Nick Mihlhauser and Jonathan Clinkscale also on the roster.
If the Bucs had a clear-cut starter at center and quarterback, such as the Indianapolis Colts do with Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning, it would be much easier for them to establish the timing and rhythm necessary for the shotgun snap. But because Tampa Bay is mixing in multiple quarterbacks and multiple centers at practice, the necessary reps to become proficient with the shotgun snap won’t be there until starters are in place at both positions. That may not happen until late August or early September.
Gruden is living up to his word. He said he would install the shotgun, but he didn’t say he would use it. To date, he remains unconvinced that there won’t be an errant snap that could cost the team the football or perhaps even some points. The players who always wanted the shotgun now have their chance. It’s up to them to make the snaps error-free. When that happens, then you’ll see the Bucs use the shotgun on Sundays.
FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:
• CORRECTIONS: In my last SR’s Fab Five, I erroneously listed defensive tackle Jovan Haye as an unrestricted free agent in 2008. He will, in fact, be a restricted free agent next offseason. Also, I erroneously listed Marcus Thomas’ projected signing bonus to be $120,000 in the May edition of Point-Counterpoint. In fact, it will likely be in the neighborhood of $480,000. I regret the errors.
• Have you ever wondered why most teams like the Buccaneers wait until the week before training camp starts to sign their rookies? They don’t want cash burning a hole in the pockets of their young, 22-year old draft picks in July when they are away from One Buccaneer Place for an entire month. Did you ever hear the lyric from deceased rapper The Notorious B.I.G., who said “Mo’ money, mo’ problems”? Teams like the Bucs want players to stay out of trouble in July and if any one of them pulls a Pacman Jones, Tampa Bay has the right not to sign them if it so chooses. Once the rookies get to camp, there’s no time to go shopping, spend money or get in trouble. Of course, most rookies have already established lines of credit through their agents and marketing representatives based on projected future earnings, but teams like the Bucs want to limit the rookies’ cash on-hand by keeping signing bonuses out of their pockets until training camp.
• Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is on the hot seat in 2007 and likely needs his team to finish with at least a .500 record. If Tampa Bay gets off to a slow start this year, expect the “coach watch” to begin with names of possible successors to Gruden being thrown about in the media and on sports talk radio. One of those names will undoubtedly be Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher, who is widely respected as one of the NFL’s top coaches. But did you know that Fisher has a career record of 105-93, a 5-4 record in the postseason and only has four seasons in which he has posted a winning record out of 11 years with the Oilers/Titans? How could Fisher have possibly survived for 11 seasons with only four trips to the playoffs? His teams have produced an 8-8 record in four of those seasons, including last year. Would there really be much of a difference between Gruden and Fisher in Tampa Bay?
• And one last tidbit from Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, a one-time huge supporter of his alma mater’s football team, Virginia, on Tampa Bay’s drafting of Cavaliers cornerback Marcus Hamilton. “I don’t know much about him. I gave up on my Cavs last year. I didn’t watch any of their games last year. I do know that he does have a lot of leadership qualities about him. That’s what Bruce [Allen] told me about him. But he’s a rookie and I really don’t talk to rookies (laughs). At some point I’ll talk to him and grab him, but when I was a rookie nobody talked to me! I don’t even want to look at him because when I do it reminds me that I’ve got my 10-year reunion coming up at Virginia. Hey, I’m a young man! How the hell did this happen? When did I get old?!”
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