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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Despite the fact that he was listed on this week’s injury report as questionable with a back injury, Tampa Bay wide receiver Joe Jurevicius has practiced this week and will start against Kansas City on Sunday. So what’s up with Jurevicius’ placement on the injury report, especially when he played over 45 snaps as the starting split end against Chicago prior to the bye week?
Insiders tell Pewter Report that Jurevicius needed some “coaxing” to play that many snaps prior to the Bucs’ win over the Bears after the 6-foot-5 wide receiver said that he felt ready to play a few series after spending the first six weeks on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Jurevicius also complained a bit to the media after the game that he was very sore and tired after his first game back and was ready for the bye week.
“I need a bye week so I can heal up,” Jurevicius said. “What people have to realize is that it’s not like I’ve sat down for six weeks. I’ve been running and lifting weights a lot. I’ve been running patterns and working out.”
Perhaps his placement on the injury list is a way of head coach Jon Gruden motivating Jurevicius, who is fully recovered from August back surgery. Jurevicius admitted that he was happy that he made it out of the Bears game without injury and glad it was over.
“My emotions were running high,” Jurevicius said. “I’ve never been so anxious to play a football game, and I’ve never been so anxious to make it off the field. I was able to do both. I got my feet wet and caught a ball, and got a first down. I blocked. I got tackled. I played a whole game. I had a catch. I enjoyed the crowd. I enjoyed the win. I got off the field. I’m getting ready for game two.”
Jurevicius denied that playing for the first time this season was like passing a mental test.
“I don’t know if it was a mental test. I think it was just a goal. I attained it. I love this football game, and that’s the reason why I’ve worked so hard to get back. I appreciated the fan support, too.
“I’ve always appreciated these fans. Yes, I did play in New York, but no, I didn’t have a following like I did here. I have made more plays here than I did in New York, and I’m always going to be partial to this place. I think it is a great place to play and our fans are fanatical. It makes what I do for a living much more fun.”
The biggest difference for Jurevicius in his successful return to the field involved the quarterback where it was Brian Griese and not the familiar Brad Johnson throwing him the football.
“They’re both phenomenal quarterbacks,” Jurevicius said. “As much as I like having Brian Griese in there, I enjoy having Brad Johnson in there. I’m very partial to Brad Johnson in a sense that he’s the guy that put me on the map. He had confidence in me in a great year for the Buccaneers [in 2002] and I feel very partial to him. But don’t get me wrong. I understand how talented Brian Griese is and it’s a joy to be in there with Brian Griese.”
FAB 2.The Boston Red Sox’s miracle World Series run has captured the hearts and minds of sports fans around the country, and their improbable story of coming back from an 0-3 deficit against the New York Yankees and winning the championship by drubbing the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 has penetrated the walls of One Buccaneer Place.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has mentioned the Red Sox in several pre-game speeches and in team meetings. His optimism, for which he was ungraciously mocked by some in the local media when he made statements such as “the future is so bright I’ve got to wear shades” and that the Bucs are the best 1-5 football team in NFL history, is what has helped propel Tampa Bay to win two out of its last three games despite a 0-4 start to the season. Players like receiver Joe Jurevicius have paid attention.
“I think what you have to do is take notice what the Red Sox did,” Jurevicius said. “I think it’s something special. To hell with history. We always talk about writing our own history here. The Red Sox rewrote it, and everybody had written them off. They went in to face the New York Yankees and cleaned house. I think that’s the attitude we need to take right now. Everybody’s against us, but let’s write something. Everything that’s special starts somewhere.”
Flanker Tim Brown agrees.
“Yeah, it’s the old Boston Red Sox mentality [around here],” Brown said. “Let’s go Boston. Let’s run the table.”
Gruden has sensed the negativity in the local media regarding the team’s 2-5 start and has used that as well as the inspiring Red Sox as a rallying cry in the locker room.
“I’ve seen things change, like the Red Sox-Yankees series,” Gruden said. “You’re never out totally until it’s over.
“We’re coming off a win and we’re excited about the second half of the season. We have to get ourselves prepared to play our best football in the final half of the season. We’re going to see some great teams and a lot of rivalries in our conference.”
Gruden has become a bit testy with the media this season because of the enormous amounts of criticism that has mounted after the team’s 0-4 start – some of just and some of it unjust.
“We try to talk about the brick house,” Gruden said. “You have to live in a brick house. You have to be strong internally. There is a lot of huffing and puffing going on out there. There are a lot of analysts trying to blow your house down. We have faced a lot of adversity here; losing some key members of this team very early in the season. It has taken its toll on us, but we have competed hard. We’ve had chances to win other games and we’ll have chances to win more. If we keep making plays in crunch situations, we’ll win our share.”
“We realize we have got a lot of skeptics, and rightfully so,” Gruden said. “We don’t like to be 2-5. We’ve tried to ‘Terry Francona’ these guys. You know, win one game at a time and fight back into this series.”
Francona, of course, is the Boston manager who kept the Red Sox players’ spirits high when they were down 0-3 in the American League Championship Series. Gruden is taking the same positive approach with his players as the Bucs attempt to improve to 3-5 with a win over Kansas City this week.
“I’m always going to look at things optimistically and realistically, but I’m really high on the last couple of films we’ve put out,” Gruden said. “I wish that we could’ve gotten more points and more victories, because we think we should have.”
Optimism reigns at One Buc Place right now.
FAB 3. Tampa Bay will have a bit of an edge playing Kansas City this Sunday after playing similar offenses in St. Louis and Chicago over the past two games. Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders played a big role in St. Louis’ explosive offense in the Rams’ Super Bowl heyday, and Terry Shea, Chicago’s offensive coordinator, came from Kansas City where he has tried to install the Chiefs’ offense.
Chicago’s offense was the more similar offense to Kansas City’s, especially in the running game. But a lot of the Chiefs’ vertical passing game elements resemble the Rams’ offense – with the exception of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
While Marshall Faulk used to be a great back and Thomas Jones is emerging as a good back, they aren’t in the same league as the Chiefs’ Priest Holmes. And neither St. Louis nor Chicago has Kansas City’s offensive line, which is led by tackle Willie Roaf and guards Brian Watters and Will Shields.
While the local and national media will be making a big deal of how the Bucs defense will have to deal with a Chiefs offense that has put up over 1,000 yards and 100 points in the last two games, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden will use that as motivation just as he did in 2002 when the Bucs defense faced a red-hot Atlanta team late in the season led by Michael Vick, who was coming off a 170-yard rushing game against Minnesota.
The Bucs defense corralled Vick and beat the Falcons after feeling disrespected by the media. Expect Tampa Bay’s defense to feel a bit disrespected after having to answer questions about how great Holmes is and how unstoppable the Chiefs offense is.
“They’re a heck of an offensive team, but we feel pretty good about our defense, too,” Gruden said. “It will be a great match. We have to try to eliminate the big plays and try to stay out of a lot of second- and third-and-shorts. Try to win on third down, where we’ve been very good, and try to stop the run, too.”
When asked if Gruden has confidence in his defense, Tampa Bay’s head coach said:
“I think I should. I believe these guys have earned the right to say they’re a darn good defensive team. On paper, they rank pretty high statistically, also, although that’s not our measuring stick here. We realize we’ve got a great offensive club coming in here. It will be a tremendous challenge for us. We’ll see. We’ve got a couple of defensive tackles out. We expect them to try to probe the front and run the ball, and at the same time they have some real skill on the outside in that tight end.”
FAB 4. Here’s an important wide receiver-tight end prospect to know for the upcoming NFL Draft – Vincent Jackson from Northern Colorado. Never heard of him? You’ll hear about him here first, and you will here more about him from the media as draft day approaches.
Jackson is a 6-foot-6, 235-pounder who caught 66 passes for 1,462 yards (22.2 avg.) and scored 21 touchdowns as a junior. Despite double- and triple-teaming on virtually every play as a senior, he has still managed to catch 60 passes for 1,121 yards (18.7 avg.) and eight touchdowns. And the Golden Bears still have three games to go this year.
Jackson hauled in seven passes for 99 yards and four touchdowns in the 2003 season opener, and has had compiled 13 100-yard games and five games with over 200 receiving yards in his career.
Against Montana this season, Jackson had a career-high 15 catches for 227 yards and one touchdown. The next week, he had nine grabs for 246 yards (27.3 avg.) and three scores. Two weeks later against Division 1-A Florida Atlantic, Jackson snared 10 passes for 228 yards (22.8 avg.) and had two touchdowns.
Jackson’s biggest hurdle in his race to the NFL will obviously be the quality of competition he’s faced at the Division 1-AA level. But if he gets some invites to the college all-star games such as the Blue-Gray Game, Senior Bowl, Hula Bowl or the Florida All-Star game or the East-West Shrine Game, he’ll have the chance to solidify his draft status and move up the draft boards.
Take note that the Bucs drafted three Division 1-AA players last year with the selection of tight end Nate Lawrie (Yale), fullback Casey Cramer (Dartmouth) and cornerback Lenny Williams (Grambling). Tampa Bay also liked a similarly skilled player named Clarence Moore, a 6-foot-6 wideout who starred at Northern Arizona and was drafted by Baltimore in the sixth round last year.
Jackson, who is a Walter Payton Award candidate this year, also returns punts and kicks for Northern Colorado, and has two punt returns for touchdowns (79 and 85 yards) in his career. He said to have great character and is a team-oriented individual, which means he should interview well with NFL scouts, who currently project him to go anywhere from the third round to the fifth round.
Jackson is blessed with great size, good speed (4.57 in the 40-yard dash) and clutch hands, but keeps growing. Some reports say that he could be closer to 245 pounds rather than the 235 pounds he is listed at. In fact, some scouts say that Jackson’s NFL future could be at tight end if he puts on another 10 pounds, which he has the frame to do.
Two of the NFL’s premier tight ends – Kansas City’s Tony Gonzalez, whom the Bucs will face on Sunday, and San Diego’s Antonio Gates, whom Tampa Bay will face later in the year – played basketball collegiately. The athletic Jackson walked on to the Northern Colorado basketball team last year after the football season and went on to lead the team in scoring with a 13.4 avg., assists (68) and blocked shots (11).
Tampa Bay desperately needs a speedy, athletic tight end prospect to create mismatches against defenses and pair with Will Heller next year as Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley and Dave Moore are all over the age of 32 and are close to retirement. If the Bucs select the Northern Colorado star in the April draft he will actually be the second player named Vincent Jackson that Tampa Bay has drafted. You might remember the other Jackson, although he never played a down for the Buccaneers … Vincent “Bo” Jackson, who was drafted with the team’s first pick in 1986.
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• Bucs running back Jamel White and quarterbacks coach John Shoop got into a sideline screaming match against the Bears. That won’t bode well for White, who has been a big disappointment this season. He has dropped passes and done too much dancing behind the line of scrimmage when he has gotten the opportunity to run the ball. In fact, look for White to be released at some point in time this season, likely when Mike Alstott returns. Expect Earnest Graham to replace White as Michael Pittman’s backup against the Chiefs. “Not to be critical of Jamel White, but somebody needs to step up and assume a lot of responsibility when Michael leaves the game,” Jon Gruden said, indirectly criticizing White.
• Look for the Bucs to play a lot of man coverage on the outside against the Chiefs while doubling tight end Tony Gonzalez in the middle with bracket coverage featuring linebacker Ian Gold and safety Dwight Smith. Gold, a former Denver Bronco, has squared off against Gonzalez twice a year over the past few seasons and knows his opponent well. Tampa Bay should also be bringing a safety up in the box on almost every play to help stop running backs Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock.
• Word out of Atlanta has the Falcons using quarterback Michael Vick in the shotgun a lot during the bye week. The Falcons will entertain the Bucs next week and that new wrinkle might give Tampa Bay some trouble.
• Keep an eye on Memphis junior running back DeAngelo Williams, who had a big night on Thursday against Louisville. Word around the NFL scouting community is that he is leaning towards leaving early for the NFL. Williams has great vision, good speed and power and has the hands necessary to be a threat in the passing game. He’s been one of my favorite players to watch over the past two years. Louisville also has two outstanding draft prospects in muscle-bound middle linebacker Robert McCune, who is a tackling machine and is adept at dropping into pass coverage, and 6-foot-3 playmaking wide receiver J.R. Russell, who hails from Tampa.
• Are you looking for a college game to watch this Saturday? Want to do a little pre-draft scouting? Check out Oklahoma State versus Texas, which will be on at 7:00 p.m. ET on TBS. Texas has several top draft prospects, including SR’s favorite linebacker, Derrick Johnson, who will be a top 10 pick, and running back Cedric Benson, who may be the first overall pick in the 2005 draft. Texas also has a top defensive tackle, Rodrique Wright, while Oklahoma State has an electrifying junior running back named Vernand Morency and a speedy, top-flight senior corner and punt returner named Darrent Williams.
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