Copyright 2007

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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:

FAB 1. Thank goodness he’s not playing tackle. That was my first thought about Tampa Bay left guard Arron Sears after watching the Tennessee vs. Florida game from 2006 as I got re-acquainted on film with the Bucs’ first of two second-round picks.

I spent the last week watching over a dozen Tennessee games to become even more familiar with Sears now that he is a Buccaneer and started with the Florida game because it featured him going head-to-head with defensive ends Ray McDonald, who was his primary assignment, and Jarvis Moss. Moss became the first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in April, while McDonald became a late third-round pick by San Francisco. Neither player got a sack against Sears.

I had watched Sears at times between January and April and found that the most difficult thing for an amateur scout like myself to do was project a position change. After watching several of Sears’ games live on TV last year, later this offseason, and then again last week, I could certainly see why all of the scouts and draft publications were projecting him to move from left tackle to guard.

I’ll be honest, in most of the games I watched, Sears didn’t jump off the screen the way Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas did. But then again, that’s why Thomas got drafted as a left tackle and Sears got drafted as a guard. If I could sum up Sears’ play in one sentence it would be that he “Did a good job and the job always got done.”

In the months and weeks leading up to the draft, NFL scouts, like the ones employed by the Buccaneers, undoubtedly said that as a guard in the NFL Sears will “do a great job and always gets the job done.” In their projections, scouts are saying he was a good tackle, but he’ll be a great guard.

The most impressive thing about Sears at Tennessee was not necessarily his style, but the fact that he got the job done. Generally speaking, that means he didn’t blow any his assignments and did whatever it took to prevent his man from making a play, even if it meant straying from his technique.

The 6-foot-3, 319-pound Sears has decent mobility for a big man, but he just doesn’t have the feet and agility to play left tackle in the pros as a regular starter. This guy is not a finesse man, nor is he a bull in a china shop. He’s just a bull, period. Sears will fare much better between a tackle and a center helping on double teams than he will by himself out on an island in the NFL.

On tape, you see Sears lunging and over-extending at times. He is not the technician that Logan Mankins was as a left tackle at Fresno State before he moved inside to left guard at New England. But Sears always maintained good pad level and had a good, wide base even when lunging or overextending, so it never really came back to bite him in the film that I saw.

I saw a player who has a good initial surge, but needs work on sustaining his blocks. Naturally, he did a better job finishing lesser opponents and was more apt to sustain his blocks in other games. Even against a top SEC school like Arkansas, I thought Sears fared better than he did against Florida.

But against Moss and McDonald his inability to play left tackle in the NFL was exposed. Yet, McDonald and Moss didn’t make many plays against Tennessee at all due to Sears’ blocking. Sears even walled off penetrating Florida defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, one of the higher-rated defensive tackles in the 2007 NFL Draft, in a goal line situation that sprung the running back for a 1-yard touchdown run.

On film, I thought Auburn’s Ben Grubbs was the best guard in the SEC, but Sears didn’t play guard, which is his natural position. That’s what makes this business about projecting players quite difficult. You can see the athletic talent that Sears has, and the fact that he won the Jacobs Trophy, which is given to the SEC’s best offensive lineman each year, over Grubbs is impressive.

Grubbs was a first-round pick, landing in Baltimore. It will be interesting to see which SEC guard fares better in the NFL. Because he played the position during his entire career, I’d give Grubbs the early advantage. Sears played about six games at guard during his Tennessee career. Last year’s first-round draft pick, Davin Joseph, played left tackle as a senior due to an injury to the starter after playing most of his Oklahoma career inside at guard. When Joseph moved back to guard in the pros, he had more than six games inside to draw his experience from.

Because he’s projecting to guard, that means Sears is a project. The Bucs are hoping that due to his intelligence Sears becomes a great student in a short amount of time and gets an “A” on his project so he can start at left guard for Tampa Bay this season. Pewter Report will watch his transition closely at training camp.

FAB 2. There was a startling comment made last week to Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn by Tampa Bay offensive line coach Bill Muir that has some Bucs fans in a tizzy regarding the prospects of left guard Dan Buenning playing center for the team in 2007. In last week’s Flynn’s Focus, Muir said, “I’m not convinced [Buenning can play center]. I’m just searching. The team will continue to develop and obviously when Dan comes back and he’s ready to participate, we think he has the versatility to play guard and center. We worked with him a little bit at center prior to this season, so it’s not that it’s any big revelation. It’s just that we’re expanding the possibilities. We’ll look at Dan at center and guard.”

But despite Muir’s trepidation, several members of the Bucs’ Brass remain positive and hopeful that Buenning can successfully make the transition to center, stating that it is only May and that with the start of the 2007 season still five months away, there is enough time to get the team’s starting left guard healthy and ready for the season. The fact that Buenning has worked at center before in practice last year should ease his transition.

Wouldn’t it have just been easier for the Buccaneers to draft a center like USC’s Ryan Kalil instead of playing musical chairs along the line? Yes, but only if a center like Nick Mangold, a 2006 first-rounder with the New York Jets, were available.

There wasn’t a Mangold in free agency this year, nor was there a Mangold in the draft. The closest thing to Mangold was free agent center Al Johnson, who left Dallas and signed with Arizona. Out of all of the free agents that visited One Buc Place and left instead of becoming a Buccaneer, Johnson was the one they wanted the most and the one they were most disappointed to see get away.

The second closest thing to Mangold was Kalil, but the margin of draft ranking was so wide between Tennessee guard Arron Sears and Kalil that the Bucs would be doing a disservice to their draft board by reaching for Kalil, who carried a low second-round grade, over Sears, who carried a late first-round grade. I personally would have rather seen the Bucs draft Kalil, and Flynn feels the same way I do.

The feeling at One Buc Place is that centers are not only born, they can also be made. That philosophy is shared around the league by some teams. Unless a team has a Mangold, a Kevin Mawae, an Olin Kreutz or a Dan Koppen, chances are it will have to convert a guard to center. LeCharles Bentley (Cleveland), Richie Incognito (St. Louis), Sean Mahan (Pittsburgh) and Andre Gurode (Dallas) are just a few of the guards or tackles from college or early in their pro careers that have become centers in the NFL.

In terms of athleticism, tackles reign supreme in pro football. Generally speaking, great tackles are harder to find than guards or centers because of the size and athleticism required to play the position. On the offensive line totem pole, the position after tackle is guard.

An awful lot of guards in the NFL are players who played tackle in college and just don’t have the size or athleticism to cut it as a starting tackle. Both Sears and 2006 first-round draft pick, Davin Joseph, played left tackle during their senior seasons at Tennessee and Oklahoma, respectively.

After guards, centers are on the bottom of the NFL offensive line totem poles. Any guard worth a damn ought to be able to play center in the NFL. It doesn’t mean that a talented guard will automatically become a Pro Bowl center, but if they can get the mental part of the game down with the line calls and audibles, and become a secure snapper, success can follow.

That’s what the Bucs are hoping for with Buenning, who scored a 32 out of 50 on his Wonderlic intelligence test, which is a very high score. Former Cincinnati punter Pat McInally is the only player in NFL history to have a confirmed perfect score of 50 on his Wonderlic. Former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who now plays for St. Louis, was rumored to have scored a 50 on his Wonderlic two years ago, but he has since admitted that he left at least one question unanswered.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman, who wrote a book called The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football, he said that the average Wonderlic score for a guard is 23 and a 25 for a center. Buenning’s score of 32 is proof that he has the intellectual capacity to make the line calls and audibles for the Buccaneers by this standard.

The benefit to having Buenning at center won’t necessarily be just a younger and bigger player anchoring the Bucs’ offensive line. Buenning has three years left on his rookie deal and so do the four other members of Tampa Bay’s projected starting offensive line – Sears, Joseph, left tackle Luke Petitgout and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.

The Bucs are very excited about the prospects of all five of these players starting together for the next five years. With the talent of two first-rounders (Petitgout and Joseph), two second-rounders (Trueblood and Sears) and a fourth-rounder (Buenning), Tampa Bay’s line should finally be a formidable force in the running game and the passing game. If this line lives up to its potential and stays together for three years, Tampa Bay’s offense will finally have the chance to move into the top half of the league.

In this day and age, three years is an eternity for an offensive line to stay together. That’s the Bucs’ plan along the offensive line. Yes, Tampa Bay’s front office actually has plans – despite the newspapers’ misguided beliefs that general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden never have a plan for anything.

The biggest key to this plan is Buenning starting at center, but Matt Lehr, who has experience playing center in Dallas, has performed well in OTAs this offseason and could be viewed as a darkhorse candidate to start if Buenning falters or can’t get completely healthy in time for the start of training camp.

FAB 3. As Pewter Report and other media outlets begin to tell the tale of the 2007 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is important to take another look at exactly what led this team – a team that was basically the same version that finished 11-5 in 2005 – down the tubes last season. Last year’s embarrassing 4-12 mark has left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth that it’s hard to find someone who will be willing to talk at length about the subject on the record. Most players and coaches just want to forget last season.

Assistant head coach and running backs coach Art Valero is not known to mince words at One Buc Place and didn’t have a problem opening up about a 2006 campaign that was derailed by nothing more than injuries, poor play and poor coaching. When I asked him if complacency had set in on a team with so many young players on offense after the successes of 2005, he said no.

Valero maintained that the team’s level of hard work didn’t necessarily drop from 2005 to 2006, and that showed up with a valiant effort at Chicago in an overtime defeat and a late-season road win at Cleveland, which was Tampa Bay’s easiest victory of the season.

“All of us went 4-12,” Valero said. “All of us are upset we went 4-12. It all bites a hole in our ass because we did and that’s why we picked fourth in the draft. We went out and got some defensive guys because everyone on our defense got old at the same time. Offensively, we were basically the same as we were [in 2005]. But you either get better or you get worse for whatever reasons. There are no reasons. Don’t worry about. It’s over. We got worse. There’s nothing you can do about last year now. Feel the taste of what you just felt, remember it, and know that you don’t want to go back there. That’s what everybody’s approach has been this offseason.

“Mike [Alstott] comes in every morning. He lifts five days a week, he comes in on Thursdays and I meet him here at 6:30 a.m. and I put him through an hour’s worth of drills and boom, he’s gone. [Michael] Pittman comes in the afternoon and does his workout with me and then boom, he’s gone. Those guys have other ventures going on, but they know what they need to do. They need that skill development. Cadillac [Williams] is here every day doing the same thing. As long as you are getting better, we can’t get worse. If you become complacent, get hurt or do something stupid like some of these idiots [perhaps Michael Vick or Pacman Jones], then you are getting worse.”

I told Valero that it’s now or never for this offense. The young players on offense like Williams, wide receiver Michael Clayton, tight end Alex Smith and offensive linemen Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood and Dan Buenning have to step up and act like veterans this year. Valero agreed wholeheartedly and added that new players like left tackle Luke Petitgout and quarterback Jeff Garcia will also make a difference.

“We will be better at offensive line not only because of maturity, but also because of the new people that came in,” Valero said. “I think we will be better at quarterback. Not only because of maturity, but because of the new people that came in. I think we’re going to be better at wideout and fullback for the same reasons. David Boston’s back. Change is always good. Change is not always bad. Whether we needed to be slapped in the face with 4-12, or shook up, that’s what happened. Nobody has a job. Nobody’s got a job. You have to go earn it. If you don’t earn it every week in this league, you’re 4-12.”

So was the result of every Sunday – typically a loss – a surprise to the coaching staff if the players were working hard each week without complacency sitting in and still losing?

“I didn’t feel complacency,” Valero said. “It was probably more circumstance than anything. We did not feel Chris [Simms] was going to get off to a bad start. From that point on, it wasn’t good. Chris was never able to get out of that situation because he got hurt. We never knew he was going to get hurt. Then who do we play? Do we play [Tim] Rattay, or do we go with the young guy? No one knew the circumstances. No one knew that Kenyatta Walker would [go on injured reserve]. No one knew that Jeremy Trueblood was going to start. You throw in circumstances – not excuses, circumstances – that came into play and some of the older guys were looking around [seeing 4-12 coming]. Some of the younger guys were so bright-eyed they didn’t know better. When you go out there and make stupid mistakes time and time again … everybody knows that if you turn the ball over you’ll lose. If you make mistakes you are going to lose against good football teams. We played some quality opponents [last year]. Bad things were going to happen, but I don’t think anybody worked less or took things for granted, though.

“Circumstances and dumb play put us in a hole that we couldn’t dig ourselves out of. Even though you say to everyone, ‘Here’s a shovel. You dug yourselves this hole, dig yourselves out.’ It was so deep that we couldn’t dig out. No one knew that Brian Kelly wasn’t going to play. No one knew that Simeon Rice wasn’t going to play. No one knew that Shelton Quarles had a Pro Bowl year the year before, but was hurt every game last year. No one knew that [Anthony] McFarland was going to get traded six games into the season. No one knew we weren’t going to have a three-technique tackle. There were just a lot of ‘no-one- knews’ last year. It was circumstance. There’s a saying, ‘If you didn’t have bad luck there would be no luck at all.’ That was us. We just have to overcome that stuff, though. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Sometimes you have to play hard enough to where luck just comes your way and the ball bounces your way. We were real close to being 7-9 last year, but we were also close to being 2-14. It’s a crazy league.”

Aside from dumb play by the players and poor coaching from the coaches, the team’s front office and scouts also failed to deliver this team with the right kind of depth on the roster that could insulate it from failure despite losing some key starters to injury. I thought the Bucs had improved their depth in 2006 based on what I saw in training camp, but when those reserves’ feet were held to the fire and they got to play in the regular season due to injury or ineffective play by the guy in front of them on the depth chart, I was proven wrong.

I put Valero on the spot at this point in my interview and I told him that I thought the biggest shortcoming of Jon Gruden’s coaching staff is the inability to turn around a season that is in the downward spiral. I told Valero that I thought he and Gruden and the rest of the veteran coaches were great at taking a good start and turning it into a fabulous season. That happened with Tampa Bay's 12-4 and 11-5 records in 2002 and 2005, respectively, and is a lot harder to do than you would think.

But when the team’s season is heading down the tubes as it did at midseason in 2003, or starts off in the sewer like it did last year, this coaching staff hasn’t shown the ability to rally and overcome the way Carolina did in 2004 when it started 1-7 and finished 7-9.

“Carolina from a couple of years ago is a great example,” Valero said. “Philadelphia from last year is a great example. What they have in common is they have great veteran leadership. They have guys who are in years 5-8 in their contracts. [Our veterans] are in years 9-12 [in their contracts]. [Those team’s players] are still in the prime of their careers. [Some of our players] have seen their better days. A great example is our team this year. Carnell Williams is three years in with Alex Smith, Michael Clayton is four years in. Jermaine Phillips is six years in. You guys ought to be the leaders of this football team. Derrick Brooks is going to hand that baton to somebody. Right now he is looking and there isn’t anybody that has their hand out. Somebody has got to step up and be a part of that relay team and take the hit from Mike Alstott who will give it to Derrick Brooks and Derrick will give it to somebody else. Step up to the plate! Do you know what I mean? That’s what we need to do. It’s up to those kids and it’s up to us as coaches to cultivate those guys. But hey, they aren’t kids anymore. The future is now. That window of opportunity can close in a hurry. It’s closing fast for the Derrick Brooks of the world. And if you don’t think so, rookies, ask Derrick how many Super Bowls he’s been to in 12 years. Ask Ryan Nece how many Super Bowls he’s been to in six years. He’s been to one and that was in his first year. How hard has it been for him to get back? It doesn’t come easy. Everybody’s window is short. We don’t have time. Be hungry about it and let’s go.

“If you aren’t pissed about having the fourth pick in the draft, then something is wrong with you. They are paying you to win and perform. ‘You get pissed off at officials because they can’t do their job. Well if you can’t do your job somebody is pissed at you, and you have a better chance of getting fired than [an official does].’ Step up to the plate. Be a man about it and let’s go.”

I told Valero that I noticed that there was a great deal of energy and anxiousness from the players and coaches about the 2007 season. Everybody seems pretty happy after months of long faces during the 2006 campaign. Valero agreed and said that the offseason vibe has been closer to 2005 than it was last year.

“It’s always going to be good when you are winning games,” Valero said. “A winning team is a happy team. On a losing team there is not a lot of happiness going on.

“This system works on offense, defense and special teams. That’s been proven. When you take key components out of the system, other guys are elevated. Then you see that things aren’t happening the way we coached them to happen. Then you see some second-guessing going on and then you see doubt. When that happens, you end up playing slow. You aren’t playing fast.”

That was clearly happening at times last year. Indecision and aging led to the defense slowing down. Hesitation and doubt led the offense to play slower and out of sync.

“It’s very easy for people to say, ‘It wasn’t me’ when you are losing,” Valero said. “From everybody – the trainers, the coaches, the players. Everybody has that kind of pride. But you have to be man enough to say after the season is over, ‘What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Did I play hard enough? Did I coach hard enough?’ Assess yourself. I had 10 days off after the season was over to assess myself. I asked myself, ‘What can I do to be better? What did I do wrong?’

“I told all of the running backs to do the same thing. Assess yourself. Don’t put it on the O-line. If the O-line is struggling, then how are you going to get to them through motivation or whatever to get them inspired? We are a team. We are not a group of individuals. You [running backs] better get [the offensive line] rolling. That’s your job. If the quarterback doesn’t know something, [as a running back] you better help him. The ‘It wasn’t my fault’ doesn’t work. Yes, it was your fault because you were on that team.”

There wasn’t a lot of turmoil last year in the locker room even though the Buccaneers were realistically out of the playoff race by the time the bye week came. The reason was because the veterans knew that once the team was turned over to rookies at certain key positions, such as quarterback, under tackle, defensive end and along the offensive line that mistakes were going to happen and plays weren’t going to be made due to inexperience.

The whole team saw sub-par play at linebacker, safety and fullback, too, and that’s why there wasn’t a lot of finger-pointing going on. Other players might have been thinking, “Hey, it’s not me” as Valero suggested, but they weren’t saying it.

Cultivating the right team chemistry might be the most difficult thing to do for a front office and a coaching staff. In 2002, wholesale changes made the Buccaneers a better team. In 2004, wholesale changes made the Buccaneers a worse team. The one interesting thing is that when the front office tried to keep the 2002 team intact in 2003, and the 2005 squad intact for the 2006, the results were disastrous. As Valero said, change can be a good thing.

Following a great season, players always want the entire team to return the following year, like the 2005 squad did in 2006, but it is almost impossible for an organization to recapture the magic. Players often don’t have the foresight to see that, but wise front offices do and that’s why you see so much change occurring each offseason around the NFL.

The early buzz from the front office, coaches and players suggests that this offseason is going very well at One Buc Place. Of course everyone thought it was going fine last year, too. So what is the difference this year?

Looking back, last year’s chemistry was off a bit. Some players weren’t happy about having to take salary cuts. Some players were playing for contracts instead of their teammates. It just wasn’t the same team as it was in 2005. By making some wholesale changes, the Bucs are ensuring that the 2007 team isn’t like the 2006 team.

FAB 4. I must admit that I was surprised and a bit delighted to read calling out Atlanta general manager Rich McKay last week.

I wasn’t happy about McKay personally coming under fire as I harbor absolutely no ill will towards the man himself. McKay was always good to our publication and to me when he was in Tampa, and I always appreciated his professionalism. When he was in charge of One Buc Place, he received an awful lot of praise from Buccaneer Magazine (the previous name of Pewter Report) for doing the right things to help build Tampa Bay into a Super Bowl champion.

But McKay has made his share of mistakes in Tampa Bay and in Atlanta and has largely escaped criticism because of the way he cozies up to members of the local and national media. McKay has made himself one of the best “sources” in the NFL because of his willingness to talk to reporters, often times playing them like a fiddle.

Because of his outspokenness and willingness to talk on and off the record, most NFL reporters don’t want to criticize McKay for fear of losing him as a source. As someone who worked with McKay for nine years, I speak from experience when I tell you that he’s a great source who reveals a lot on and off the record. But that shouldn’t make him untouchable when it comes to criticism from the media.

To date, Pewter Report has been the only Tampa Bay media outlet (that we know of) that has actually gone on the record to criticize him for his role in the team’s post-Super Bowl salary cap mess, much to our chagrin. McKay’s personnel gaffes (Reidel Anthony, Jason Odom, Jacquez Green, Bert Emanuel, Kenyatta Walker, etc.) and contract mistakes (Marcus Jones’ extension, Chidi Ahanotu’s franchise tag snafu, Anthony McFarland’s extension, Brad Johnson’s extension, Keyshawn Johnson’s extension, a seven-year deal for Martin Gramatica, etc.) in Tampa Bay have been well documented.

Yet until the editorial, McKay has largely – and conveniently – escaped criticism for anything negative that has transpired under his watch. That’s why I was actually glad to see it from another news-oriented website. At some point in time you have to wonder if you are the only one whistling in the dark when you take a certain stance on something editorially and become the only one to do it.

I would have liked other media outlets, especially in Tampa, to follow our lead in 2005 when Pewter Report investigated the root cause of Tampa Bay’s salary cap and the whole McKay-Jon Gruden divorce in 2003. Isn’t it okay to praise McKay for his large role in keeping the Bucs in Tampa Bay and building a Super Bowl winner on one hand and criticize him for his salary cap blunders and personnel mistakes, too? Isn’t that – to borrow a phrase from the Fox News Channel – what being fair and balanced is all about?

The local newspapers have written articles criticizing the Buccaneers’ poor free agent acquisitions and drafting over the years, but somehow, McKay’s name is always left out of the articles – even if the mistakes were caused under his watch. The articles always use the team “the Buccaneers” when referencing the past and never mention McKay by name.

But because of a supposed frosty relationship with general manager Bruce Allen, the newspapers and local media will continue to directly name Allen for the gaffes under his watch. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can criticize Allen until the cows come home, but in the sake of fairness, shouldn’t they apply the same standards to McKay? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? Well, apparently not for some in the Tampa Bay media.  

But enough about McKay and his stint with the Buccaneers. He is now the general manager of Tampa Bay’s arch-rival, the Atlanta Falcons, and McKay’s Falcons are imploding much the way the Bucs were when he abandoned ship in 2003.

For years, the media lauded McKay’s “Buc filter,” which was a system that was put in place to emphasize character. McKay’s “Falcon filter” must have gotten clogged somewhere because the players that he has brought in include Jonathan Babineaux, who has been charged with felony animal abuse; Rod Coleman, who has been arrested for disorderly conduct and been injured in two accidents; DeAngelo Hall, who started an in-practice fist fight last year; and Edgerton Hartwell, McKay’s prized free agent from a year ago, was an oft-injured, egotistical cancer in the locker room and a bust on the field.

Those moves, plus trading a first-round pick for injury-prone defensive end John Abraham, who started just seven games in 2006, and hiring (and ultimately firing) a person who appeared to be extremely temper mental individual in Jim Mora (because he had trouble handling the stresses of being a head coach and would fly off the handle on the sidelines and to the media) are pretty damning moves that take the bloom off McKay’s rose. And I haven’t even gotten to Michael Vick yet.

Vick’s current and past problems are well chronicled, and the evidence against him in an alleged dog-fighting situation at his Virginia home is mounting. Throw in the fact that Vick has flipped off Falcons fans and tried to allegedly smuggle a water bottle that contained a secret compartment – allegedly for drug smuggling – and was it really a wise ideal to give Vick a 10-year, $130 million contract with $37 million in guaranteed money?

Falcons owner Arthur Blank gets the blame from the media because of his close relationship with Vick, but as Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn pointed out in Saturday’s Buc Shots, McKay was the general manager on duty when the Falcons gave Vick that obscene $130 million contract. McKay had the responsibility to point out to Blank that Vick was being overpaid at the time of his contract extension, but given McKay’s propensity to overpay players, such as Jones, Anthony McFarland, Simeon Rice, Hartwell and most recently signing Ovie Mughelli to the richest fullback deal in NFL history when this guy has never been to a Pro Bowl, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to believe that he didn’t say a discouraging word to Blank about the contract Vick was offered by the team.

Now that the deal looks like a very bad one, it is without a doubt that McKay is telling local reporters, national reporters and anyone who will listen that his hands were basically tied and that he simply had to follow Blank’s orders. Yeah, and Bill Clinton didn’t inhale, either.

Allen and Gruden certainly have a track record for acquiring their share of some unsavory characters, most recently tight end Jerramy Stevens, for which those two deserve criticism. But the Falcons aren’t exactly full of choirboys, either. And Vick’s current dilemma with dog-fighting may wind up trumping the wrongdoings of anyone who suited up and played a down under Gruden and Allen in Tampa.

Vick’s troubles plus injuries to Coleman, linebacker Demorrio Williams and wide receiver Brian Finneran, the loss of Patrick Kearney in free agency, foolishly trading away quarterback Matt Schaub, and a looming salary cap crisis could spell trouble for Atlanta and first-year head coach Bobby Petrino in 2007. I’m smelling another sub-.500 season for the Falcons. I wonder how McKay will like the criticism when he has only one winning season out of the last four.

Maybe then McKay will start to feel some of the heat from the local and national media for putting the Falcons in a bind, much like he put the Buccaneers in on his way out of town.

FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:

• The only player left on the draft board that the Buccaneers would have taken over Tennessee guard Arron Sears, who was the 35th overall pick in the draft? Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch, who was Pewter Report’s Bucs’ Best Bet at defensive tackle. Tampa Bay was poised to take him instead of Sears, but the Arizona Cardinals traded up with Oakland to grab Branch when he fell out of the first round. Because it needed a lot of players to fit a multitude of needs, Tampa Bay did not want to surrender any draft picks in this draft, and would have had to part ways with at least a fourth-rounder to move up a few spots and grab Branch. Because of its past history, trading with Oakland was out of the question, and Detroit wasn’t going to take him with the plethora of defensive tackles it has on its roster. Plus, with Branch slipping into the second round, the Bucs thought he would slide right to them three spots later. Little did they know the Cardinals would swoop up and grab Branch.

• What about Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, who was drafted by Buffalo a pick before Tampa Bay drafted Aron Sears? What if Posluszny and Sears had both been on the board when the 35th pick rolled around? Tampa Bay still would have drafted Sears as they had him rated slightly higher than Posluszny. In fact, there wasn’t a huge difference in the draft rankings between Posluszny and New Mexico linebacker Quincy Black, who was the Bucs’ third-round pick. The biggest debate of the draft was actually with the Bucs’ second second-round pick. Tampa Bay wanted both Black and Oregon State safety Sabby Piscitelli and was deciding on which player would be most vulnerable to being drafted by another team in the four picks between pick number 64 and pick number 68, which is where the Bucs drafted in round three. In the end, Piscitelli and Black both became Bucs.

• Having New Orleans’ franchised defensive end Charles Grant in for a free agent visit might have backfired on the Bucs. In theory, every thing the Bucs did was fine. They showed the league’s players and agents that they were aggressive with the move, got to know Grant and were set to be better informed when he became a free agent again in 2008 (hoping of course that he wouldn’t be franchised). The problem was that the unusual move of bringing in a franchised player for a free agent visit let the Saints know how valuable Grant actually is. Teams think they know what a player’s value is, but they truly don’t know until other teams take interest. Once the Saints saw the Bucs’ aggressive move, they decided to fork over the money to re-sign Grant to keep him off the roster of a division rival in 2008. Had Tampa Bay laid a little lower in the bushes they might not have forced the Saints’ hand.

• Tampa Bay spent frugally in free agency this year. They didn’t blow the $24 million, as Pewter Report hoped they wouldn’t when we put that bold phrase on the cover of its February Free Agency Preview. The largest signing bonus dished out was $3 million, and that was paid to the team’s starting left tackle, Luke Petitgout, and likely its starting quarterback, Jeff Garcia. The Bucs are also in great shape in 2008 and will likely have between $20 million and $30 million to spend, depending on what happens with aging veterans such as cornerback Brian Kelly and linebacker Derrick Brooks, who are under contract next year. The Bucs won’t have many priority free agents to worry about, either. Defensive end Simeon Rice, fullback Mike Alstott, linebacker Jamie Winborn and defensive tackle Jovan Haye are the only major free agents next year. Rice and Alstott are likely in their final seasons in Tampa Bay and Winborn could be deemed expendable considering the Bucs added Cato June in free agency and Quincy Black and Adam Hayward in the draft. We’ll see what type of role Winborn has this year. Could it be that Tampa Bay’s most important free agent could be Haye, a backup under tackle? You bet.

• Just a reminder, if you haven’t registered yet for the Inaugural Bidwell-Hovan-Pittman Pewter Report Charity Golf Tournament on Sunday, June 10 – don’t wait. We’re going to have a lot of fun at our first golf event, which takes place the day after the Buccaneers Fan Fest at Raymond James Stadium. We’re expecting a handful (or more) of additional Bucs players to attend and we have tons of prizes to give away, a delicious steak dinner from Charley’s Steakhouse and the Texas Cattle Co. followed by a sports memorabilia silent auction. Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn and myself will be on-hand all day to dish out some inside scoop on the Bucs, too. Registration begins at noon and the shotgun start begins at 1:30 p.m. It costs just $125 per person to play ($500 for a foursome) and all proceeds go to benefit the Children’s Cancer Center. Help us make this event a success and join the fun. For more information or to register, click HERE.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web