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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. Ask the Buccaneers front office and coaching staff who the best player is on offense and you’ll be surprised by the answer. No, it’s not quarterback Jeff Garcia. He’s the most valuable offensive player.
The best player on offense through four games this season has been second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. After watching all four of Tampa Bay’s games in 2007 at least twice, I came away thinking Trueblood was the best and most consistent player on offense. When I ran that theory by my sources in the Bucs’ front office and on the coaching staff, they backed up that assertion.
The tape doesn’t lie, and the 6-foot-8, 320-pounder from Boston College put on quite a highlight reel against one of the NFL’s best pass rushers in Pro Bowler Julius Peppers, holding him to just three tackles and not letting him anywhere near Garcia in Sunday’s 20-7 victory at Carolina.
Peppers had four sacks against the Bucs last year, and had accumulated 11 sacks and an interception for a touchdown in his 11 career games against Tampa Bay. Yes, he hasn’t played well in 2007 and has yet to record a sack, but Trueblood made sure that Tampa Bay wasn’t going to be Peppers’ comeback party.
When he wasn’t getting by former Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker for sacks, Peppers was causing false starts and holding penalties while setting Walker up for years of therapy in the process. On Sunday, Trueblood created a force field around Garcia that kept Peppers at bay. Peppers didn’t touch Garcia and didn’t rattle the confident Trueblood into any penalties, either.
The reason for Trueblood’s confidence is improved technique and experience.
“It’s reassuring to go up against a player like that and have a great game,” Trueblood said. “I have confidence in myself, obviously. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Given the fact that the last game I had against him my hands were full on every play, yeah, I played better. It’s not to say that I was scared of him last year, but in my head I was thinking about the worst thing that could happen before it happened and trying to stop that – and sometimes I couldn’t even do it if I wanted to. This year, it was totally different. He’s still a great player. He still wrecks your nerves a little bit because he is such a great player, but I was able to sit back there and really play ball.”
Trueblood hasn’t just “played ball” with Peppers. He has also neutralized New Orleans’ Charles Grant in Week 2 and St. Louis’ Leonard Little in Week 3. Trueblood did give up a sack to Patrick Kerney in Seattle in Week 1, but the coaches actually blame Garcia for that one because he literally rolled right into Kerney while scrambling.
One of the reasons for the dominant, never-before-seen effort of Trueblood and the offensive line, which paved the way for 189 yards rushing and didn’t allow a sack at Carolina was a fiery message delivered by head coach Jon Gruden last week. In a team meeting, Gruden singled out the young players that were drafted by Tampa Bay, specifically Trueblood, 2006 first-round pick, right guard Davin Joseph, and 2007 second-round pick, left guard Arron Sears.
“As I said to the team last week, ‘Jeremy Trueblood, you were brought into this team for a reason,’” Gruden said. “‘We need help against Charles Grant. We need help against Julius Peppers. The Atlanta Falcons had Patrick Kerney for a while. Now they’ve got John Abraham and Jamal Anderson. You’re here for that guy. Davin, we drafted you for [the Panthers] game. Sears, you’re also here for this game. We don’t match up. We haven’t matched up well against the Panthers. Watch the tape. We haven’t matched up well. Now, maybe we do match up better. Now we’re on the verge of at least growing together as a young offensive line with some quality guys and some quality players.”
So how has Trueblood gone from a player that struggled to adjust from moving from left tackle in college to right tackle in the pros to a confident player who is dominating his opponents?
“A lot of things that have improved aside from the technique standpoint are just the overall understanding of this offense and the game,” Trueblood said. “That helps me know pre-snap if a guy is going to slant or come off the edge on a blitz. Last year, I was going into the game knowing what I was doing. This year, I know what I’m doing and what my opponent is doing. I would get beat on a slant or another move last year, whereas this year I know it’s coming, therefore it is easier to block. You aren’t out there like a blind bat. It’s a little bit easier than it was last year.”
Trueblood has always had the physical traits to play in the NFL and he’s also a quick study due to his intelligence. That has allowed him to make a great deal of progress in just one offseason.
“Part of the problem last year was continuity on the offensive line,” said Trueblood, who got his first NFL start in the fourth game of the year against Grant and the Saints at New Orleans. “I don’t know how many games the offensive line played together last year. Last year, I felt like we played fine at the time, but looking back on it, I would be upset with myself if I played like that again. You keep getting older and better and you expect more from yourself.
“I’m just trying to go out there and play ball. I heard that the offensive line used to get a lot of [crap] around here. Quite frankly, that’s never been the case on any teams that I’ve played for. I don’t think anyone on this team will stand for that kind of stuff. We worked on tail off this year to make sure people respect us.”
After failing to record a sack against him, it’s safe to say division foes Grant and Peppers have a newfound respect for Trueblood. With each big name opponent he beats, Trueblood’s confidence grows. He understands that he’ll have his hands full this week against an undersized speed rusher like Robert Mathis at Indianapolis, but is more than ready for the challenge due to the level of competition he’s already faced.
“When I go out there, I’m trying to get them to think of ways to beat me rather than myself thinking of ways to beat me,” Trueblood said. “I’m doing everything I can right now to make sure that he’s more worried about me than I am worried about him. It makes it a little bit easier.”
Because he had the entire offense down by his 17th NFL start, which came last week at Carolina, and he has turned into a dominant player virtually overnight, Gruden has leaned more on Trueblood this year. Against St. Louis, Trueblood was asked to use his quick feet from his basketball background to get out and pull around the right end last week. Anytime a 320-pound offensive tackle can go man-to-man against a 185-pound cornerback on the perimeter of the defense it’s usually a good thing.
“That’s fun for an offensive lineman,” Trueblood said with a smile. “They don’t know how to bang with the big boys. They just don’t know how to bang. We don’t run that play a lot. It just depends on the looks a defense gives us as to whether I pull or Davin pulls. They gave us a lot of looks where I have to pull and I get to bang around with the little guys and see if they can hold up.”
Over the past two weeks when the Bucs were able to grind out over 180 yards rushing against St. Louis and Carolina, the majority of running plays were called to the right side behind number 65. When the game is on the line and team’s have to air it out, the top receivers want their number called. The same holds true for offensive linemen when it’s time to pound opponents with the running game in the fourth quarter to preserve a lead.
“Yes, I would be lying if I said I didn’t like when running plays are called to my side,” Trueblood said. “I tried to explain this after the Rams game. There are a lot of important backside blocks, but there are a lot of plays where there are a lot of frontside blocks on the right side. When you get one of those frontside calls in the huddle in short yardage situations, you are like, ‘Thank you! Let me do my job.’ That’s what they are paying us for. I might as well do my job. I do take pride in that.”
As Trueblood enters just his 18th NFL start on Sunday at Indianapolis, I don’t know what is more amazing – how quickly and successfully he transitioned from left tackle to right tackle or how dominant he has become in such a short amount of time. One thing is for sure, Trueblood is on his way to becoming a right tackle, and harbors no dreams of going back to the left side. Not after all of the success that he’s currently enjoying.
“Someone in my family called me and asked me if I was now going to be switched to left tackle – because I played left tackle in college – now that Luke [Petitgout] is hurt,” Petitgout said. “‘I said, ‘No, we have a good left tackle who is going to play.’ It got me thinking, ‘What if they did move me to left tackle? Would it be like it was last year? The reason I thought that is because I’m so comfortable with the way I’m playing right now at right tackle. In my head, I’m a right tackle now.”
And a damn good one. Think about all of the right tackles that the Bucs have had over the past 20 years. Rob Taylor. Charles McRae. Scott Dill. Doug Risenberg. Jason Odom. Jerry Wunsch. Kenyatta Walker. Mediocre is the word that comes to mind to describe that non-descript bunch of underachievers.
Although he plays on the right side, Trueblood may become the Bucs’ best offensive tackle since Paul Gruber – if he keeps playing consistent, dominant football.
FAB 2. The word consistent can’t be used to describe Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell. Bidwell has been very inconsistent this year. But that’s actually been a good thing.
It’s also been by design. Bidwell has been asked to do some different things with his punting this year to create some hidden yardage. I’ll let him explain.
“It’s all about hidden yardage,” Bidwell said. “I’ve talked about this with Rich Bisaccia, our special teams coach. It’s not an easy thing to kick the ball 50 yards and have it go out of bounds every time, otherwise I would have gone to eight Pro Bowls. I’ve done a lot of different things this year. They have no idea what’s coming when I’m back there punting. I’m doing different things. I’m hitting them high and short. I’m trying to hit them out of bounds, on the ground and ugly, to get a roll. Trying to punt some into traffic that they have to deal with. It’s really paid off. Numbers-wise, the numbers aren’t going to say anything, but when you break it down like you did, we are confusing a lot of teams and given ourselves a little better chance at covering them.”
Bidwell is having a decent year with a 42.5-yard gross average and a 35.3-yard net. Far from Pro Bowl numbers, but he’s doing what the team has asked him to do and the results have been stunning. After allowing a costly, key, 56-yard punt return to Nate Burleson in Seattle during the season opener, Tampa Bay’s punt coverage team has been in lockdown mode. Bidwell’s last 13 punts have only been returned a total of 13 yards. Read that last sentence again and let that sink in for a moment.
“I’ve never done this before, but look at who we are punting against,” Bidwell said. “Our division is tough, but the teams we are playing out of division are tough, too. There isn’t a break with guys like [St. Louis’] Dante Hall back there. We have absolutely phenomenal returners back there every week this year. One of the big things that Rich and I talked about when the schedule came out was that we have to do something about this. Not that a good punt towards the sideline about 45-50 yards isn’t a good deal, but the potential for breaking it for a touchdown is there. That hurt us last year at New Orleans. That’s not anything you are afraid of, but let’s try to do some things to keep them off their toes. If you do some different things and they aren’t ready for it, you win. It’s been a lot of fun. It doesn’t show up in the stats a lot, but I’d rather do my part and win games and ride this thing to the Super Bowl.
“The neat thing is that Rich, Coach Gruden and Monte Kiffin come up to me all the time and they appreciate it because I want to give my talents to this team as best I can so we can win games. We’re doing that. To have Derrick Brooks come over to me and high five me after a punt means a lot because I’m doing things to help the team win games and it is being recognized. To be honest with you, it would be hard for me if I went out and did my job quietly and the coaches didn’t recognize it and I get to the end of the season and my numbers weren’t impressive doing what I’ve done. That would bother me. They know that and they are talking to me and we are working through it. When I come out of the game, we’ve had a dominant performance. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Starting field position is a huge component of hidden yardage and a lot of that has to do with special teams. The Bucs are averaging 12.2 yards per punt return thanks to Mark Jones and 23 yards per kickoff return due to a host of players. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has been stellar in covering punts and kicks. In fact, the Bucs rank first in the NFL with a 15.3 avg. on kick coverage.
“We had no more than 14 possessions start on our opponents’ side of the field last year and that’s no way to win,” Gruden said. “We weren’t going to win with who we were playing with and who we were playing [last year], either. We have to get more turnovers on defense, and at some point we’re going to have to score a touchdown on defense or on special teams like everybody else does. Until we do, we’ll do the best we can. But we are off to a much better start than we were last year, that’s for sure.”
Gruden is right. Thanks to winning the field position and hidden yardage game, the Bucs have already had 10 offensive possessions start on the opponents’ side of the field. Of those 10, two were turned into touchdowns and two produced field goals. Through four games last year, the Bucs only had three possessions that started inside their opponents’ 49-yard line.
The Bucs already have had 10 opportunities to start drives on the opponents’ side of the field after having just 14 all of last season. That’s an amazing stat, and one this team takes seriously. Defensively, opponents have only had two drives start inside Tampa Bay’s 49-yard line, compared to seven last year through four games. Do you think that has helped the Bucs defense return to its dominant ways? The answer is yes.
Overall, Tampa Bay’s foes started 27 drives in Buccaneers territory last year, clearly winning the battle of hidden yardage and field position. It’s hard for teams to go 80 yards and score touchdowns in the NFL. No wonder this team won only four games last year.
“We’re very, very proud of our team this year,” Gruden said. “We only had one penalty last week and it was an intentional penalty. We are doing some good things in all three phases. Statistics give one side of the ball more credit than the others at times, but we have collectively won three games together. Special teams has played a major role for us with Mark Jones’ returns and Josh Bidwell’s directional punting. Our coverage units haven’t yielded much so far, so we’re pleased with that.”
The Bucs have become a much more disciplined team in 2007 when it comes to penalties. Tampa Bay has only drawn 13 flags for 92 yards through four games. That’s an average of three infractions for 23 yards per contest and falls into the category of hidden yardage. The old football adage says that if a team gives up 100 yards worth of penalty yardage in a game, it gives up a touchdown. The Bucs haven’t racked up 100 penalties yards yet this season.
“The penalties are down,” Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. “The coverage units are covering. Our punt returns are up. Looking at all of those factors, the offense is scoring on a shorter field. Our punt coverage is making other offenses have to longer against us. In turn, we’re winning the field position battle. Sometimes, against teams like St. Louis, it will be that way for a half and then we get it going. This past week, we had that advantage early and then in the second half we won the field position battle. It’s one of those things that won’t get talked about by the armchair quarterbacks on Monday, but it is another area that is improving. I always look at turnover ratio and penalties. We’re winning the turnover ratio, getting penalized less, and our negative yard plays are down. Those are keys to success.
“Matt Bryant is capable of making a 50- or 51-yard field goal, but at the time, Coach Gruden made a team decision because their offense could not move the ball on our defense. If you look at those drives where we passed up the field goal for a punt, we ended up turning those into a touchdown and field goal later because of field position and we went up 17-0. Sometimes I want to see Matt, but Coach Gruden had to make a decision for the team. A lot of those decisions play into how well our defense is playing. Winning the field position battle is important.”
As well as Tampa Bay’s special teams have been playing, they have been doing so without the unit’s ace, Torrie Cox, who will return this week after serving a four-game NFL suspension.
“We’re only going to get better,” Bidwell said. “Look at what we’ve done on kickoffs and punts without Torrie. That’s a credit to the other guys who have picked up the slack. They are playing like we want them to play. When you add Torrie to the mix on our special teams, that’s like adding Jeff Garcia to the mix on offense.”
FAB 3. By now we know the Bucs’ plans regarding finding replacements for running back Cadillac Williams and left tackle Luke Petitgout. The team decided to promote running back Kenneth Darby and offensive tackle Dennis Roland.
What about the Bucs trading for Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie and running back Chester Taylor? After all, it was reported in the Tampa Tribune. Why wasn’t it reported by PewterReport.com?
Well, not only was it a rumor – it was a bad rumor. What’s the difference? The difference is a good rumor is one that suggests or implies that Nick Saban might leave Miami for the University of Alabama head-coaching job. In other words, there is some validity to it and it might actually come true.
As one Bucs official told me this week, the McKinnie-Taylor rumor was started by a fan on a Minnesota Vikings fan message board and there was never any validity to it. Why did the Tampa Tribune give any credibility to something as far-fetched as the playoff-contending Vikings trading its starting left tackle and its primary backup running back?
Well, given some of the uninformed news and commentary coming out of the Tribune these days regarding the Buccaneers, nothing really surprises me anymore. The reality is that no Minnesota newspapers reported it, and you would think they would be closer to the Vikings action than the Tribune.
Now the Bucs did have some interest in Vikings running back Mewelde Moore, but Minnesota’s asking price of a first-day pick was too high. Bucs general manager Bruce Allen is dealing from a position of strength and is not going to panic – unlike what the St. Petersburg Times wrongly suggested this week – and make a bad deal.
Allen has a veteran running back in Michael Pittman who is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and helped Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl on a team with a veteran quarterback and a stingy defense (sound familiar?) in 2002. He also has a strong, change-of-pace back in Earnest Graham who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has is tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.
There is no need for Allen to panic. While trading for Michael Turner, a running back the Bucs do like is enticing, Allen will have to weigh the merits of surrendering a first-day draft pick, possibly a second- or third-round draft pick, to San Diego. The Chargers appear to be going nowhere this season under Norv Turner and will lose Turner to unrestricted free agency next March and not receive any compensation. Darren Sproles has the talent to be LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup for the Chargers, so Turner is considered somewhat expendable.
I didn’t expect any deal to go down this week, especially with two games to be played prior to the NFL trading deadline, which is October 9. Allen is smarter than that. He’ll wait until the very last minute to do the deal, which is the ultimate sign of strength – not the sign of panicking. If the right deal for Turner or Moore emerges, Allen might pull the trigger and send Darby back down to the practice squad. If not, the Bucs will role with two veterans who know the offense and have proven themselves in the NFL and a promising rookie.
Allen hasn’t made a rash decision since the debacle of free agency in 2004 when the Bucs were desperate for a quick fix and took a chance on aging tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie and aging running back Charlie Garner. In what some are calling a must-win season for Allen and head coach Jon Gruden, Allen didn’t panic in free agency and overspend just to get the top talent available in a mediocre free agent class – even when he had $24 million at his disposal. So why should he start panicking now?
Allen firmly believes in paying (or in this case trading) only what the player is worth – not necessarily what the market bears. That’s his approach and I would expect nothing different over the next two weeks.
The Bucs wouldn’t mind trading for Moore, but they won’t give up a first-day pick for him. Tampa Bay views Moore as a potential replacement for Pittman one day, and that is why they have an interest in him. He would make a good backup and rotational back in Gruden’s system, but he’s not necessarily a feature back.
The Bucs brought in a couple of veteran running backs for a look this week in David Wimbush, Zach Crockett and Patrick Pass, but didn’t sign any of them. The team’s thinking was that none of them were better than Pittman or Graham, and Darby already had a working understanding of the offense due to the work he put in during the OTAs, training camp and the preseason. By the time a back off the street learned the offense with very limited reps (the starters get most of the reps in practice during the regular season), it could be December by the time they were useful.
The thing that caught my attention was that the running back that the Bucs signed to replace Darby on the practice squad is a player that I really liked and wrote about in a previous SR’s Fab Five while doing my draft research a couple of years ago – former New Mexico running back DonTrell Moore. Moore is one of only a handful of players to ever rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons in college football.
He’s not the fastest back in the world, although neither is Earnest Graham, but Moore has great hands and is a tough runner in the mold of Errict Rhett. He may follow Graham’s path and become a backup running back in Tampa Bay.
Unless the right deal is there for Allen after the Tennessee game, the Bucs won’t trade for a running back. The same is certainly true at left tackle where good ones – especially in-season – are hard to find.
Bucs fans, it’s laughable that a former first-round pick like McKinnie would be traded in-season while the Vikings are still in playoff contention. Teams don’t give away left tackles. Just ask the St. Louis Rams. They have been looking for one since opening day when Orlando Pace was lost for the year.
This isn’t Madden video game football where you can trade for Walter Jones if you want. The Bucs will likely have to ride with Donald Penn and Anthony Davis this season. There isn’t a backup left tackle in the league they could trade for that is more talented than either Penn or Davis and know Gruden’s complex offense. The best bet for the Bucs was to bring Roland up from the practice squad. He’s been in a couple of Tampa Bay training camps and knows the system.
Fans may want some spectacular trades to get excited about and the media may want a dazzling trade to dissect, but they rarely happen. Just know this. Allen will get the better of the deal when he does it – a second-round pick for underachieving under tackle Anthony McFarland and a third- and a sixth-round pick for aging, disgruntled wide receiver Keenan McCardell – or he won’t do it at all.
FAB 4. Among the things that Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden said at the end of last year’s dreadful 4-12 season was that he needed to coach better. After Tampa Bay’s hot, 3-1 start in 2007, I decided to ask him if he had indeed been coaching better and if he was, what he was doing differently.
Gruden kind of laughed at the question at first and then honestly revealed that the NFL is a players’ league – not a coaches’ league.
“I’m working as hard as I can and I know our coaches work extremely hard,” Gruden said. “But we have a whole new team. I saw Carolina not perform too well with their backup quarterback last week. Philadelphia was not the same without Tra Thomas at left tackle, now were they? Do you know what I mean? When [Eagles running back Brian] Westbrook doesn’t play, it’s not the same. It’s not easy when you lose your quarterback and you have a revolving door on the D-line and the O-line in the NFL. I don’t care how many hours you put in or how many plays you put in. We’re a better football team right now. We’ve had some catastrophic injuries thus far, so we’ll see how we overcome that.
“How did the Bulls do when they lost Michael Jordan? Do you know what I mean? You’ve got to be honest. I don’t know that the Colts would be the same without Peyton Manning, and I don’t know that they wouldn’t. Nobody knows because he’s never missed a game. I don’t know how the Packers will perform when Brett Favre no longer plays. Your best players are paid usually the most money because they are your best players. When you lose Anthony McFarland, Simeon Rice, Ellis Wyms and Brian Kelly and your quarterback, you are not going to be the same.”
Gruden is coaching better because he has more talent to work with this year. That may rather simple, but there have been plenty of coaches that have screwed up talented teams before. To make sure that he “coached better” this year, Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen went out and created a deeper, more talented roster.
Not only do the Bucs have Michael Pittman at running back now that Cadillac Williams is out, they also have a more seasoned Earnest Graham. Not only does Tampa Bay have Donald Penn at left tackle, it didn’t trade away a backup player like Anthony Davis, who now becomes incredibly valuable because he has 32 career NFL starts.
If an injury strikes the linebacking corps, former Pro Bowler Jeremiah Trotter is waiting in the wings. If a disastrous injury hits quarterback Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay has three options at quarterback with Bruce Gradkowski, Luke McCown and an improving Chris Simms.
When Brian Kelly went down with some nicks and dings this season, the Bucs had two former first-round picks in Phillip Buchanon and Sammy Davis to pick up the slack.
“You can make changes with a guy like Garcia. We’re doing a lot of different things on both sides of the ball. We’re more athletic. We’re deeper on the defensive line. We’re a more physical football team. We’re better. Phillip Buchanon is a better cover corner than what we’ve had here in a while. We can do some things different.”
So has Gruden done a better job of coaching or is he simply coaching a more talented roster? It’s a little bit of both, but with Tampa Bay averaging 20 points per game on offense and outscoring opponents 27-0 in the first quarter and 47-10 in the first half, Gruden’s play-calling has been quite good.
“Coaching better” translates to game-planning differently. Gruden has the weapons he always wanted on offense, and he’s taking full advantage of them, especially over the last three victories in which Tampa Bay has won 75- 24. But it still comes down to the players in the NFL to get the job done.
FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:
• There has been some confusion regarding the actual injury that left tackle Luke Petitgout suffered. Petitgout was coy with the local media this week, suggesting that he didn’t tear his ACL. But in fact he did, and will be undergoing ACL repair surgery today, in fact. Petitgout doesn’t like doing interviews, especially after dealing with the media in New York while playing with the Giants. But if he only had an MCL injury, the Bucs wouldn’t have put Petitgout on injured reserve.
• One reporter asked Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks if he wouldn’t mind losing to his former head coach and all-around good guy Tony Dungy, if he had to lose to anybody. Brooks laughed and said, “Hell no! Whenever I lose I’m pissed. God bless my mom. Every time she would beat me in pool . She enjoyed whupping me. [Even with] my wife, man, I don’t want to lose at all. … It’s not as emotional as you would think. It’s been a while since he was our head coach. Like I said before, it’s kind of like playing [former Bucs running back] Warrick [Dunn in Atlanta]. I’m trying to beat him as bad as I can. It’s the same thing with Coach Dungy. I’m 0-1 against him and I don’t like that, so I’m trying to even the score. It’s not as emotional as you think it would be.”
• Indianapolis’ pass rush hasn’t been as successful as it has been in years past. None of the Colts defensive tackles have recorded a sack yet, and defensive end Dwight Freeney has only one sack on the season. Bookend Robert Mathis has two, but the team leader is actually safety Bob Sanders, who has 2.5 sacks from blitzes. Sanders is questionable this week with a rib injury. The bottom line is that if the Colts want to get pressure on the Bucs they will likely have to blitz to do it – unless Freeney has a field day against unproven Donald Penn, who gets his first career start at left tackle in Indianapolis. One thing the Bucs will likely do is to establish the run earlier against the Colts and take advantage of Indy’s undersized front. On the perimeter, Freeney is just 6-foot-1, 268 pounds, while Mathis is 6-foot-2, 245 pounds. Inside, Ed Johnson is 6-foot-2, 296 pounds while Raheem Brock is only 6-foot-4, 274 pounds. Keeping the Colts defense off balance with a strong running game will allow the Bucs to keep Indy guessing and use a play-action passing game that will help keep Jeff Garcia upright and healthy.
• Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Kentucky quarterback Andre` Woodson aren’t the only top senior signal caller prospects for the 2008 NFL Draft. One player who is getting some lofty praise from league scouts, including those in Tampa Bay, is Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. His numbers aren’t gaudy like those of Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, but Ryan is a gritty winner who has thrown for 4,500 yards with 26 touchdowns against 15 interceptions over the last two years. Since becoming the starter during his sophomore season, Ryan has shown tremendous leadership, especially after bouncing back from a wicked hit he suffered at Clemson in which his helmet flew off (I’m sure you remember the SportsCenter replays). With the Bucs perhaps looking for another young quarterback to throw into the mix in 2008, maybe Ryan is a guy they consider. Former Boston College teammate Jeremy Trueblood would love nothing more to be reunited with his old quarterback. “He’s gotten better over the last two years since I was there,” Trueblood said. “He was a gamer from the minute he stepped in there. His first game was a rough one because we got blown out by Syracuse. But ever since then, he’s really gained some momentum. My last year there, which was his sophomore year, he took control of the offense and he was two years younger than anyone else in the huddle. He gained confidence. This year, he’s looked really good. I’m proud of him. His leadership skills are unquestioned. He commands the huddle. With the quarterbacks they say they have ‘it’ or they don’t have ‘it.’ He has ‘it.’ I remember the famous Clemson hit. He got rocked. I was right there. We were not looking pretty because our third-string quarterback was pretty bad and he was the only player left. So we needed Matt to come back in and play because we needed him. He’s a tough, S.O.B.” That day, Ryan and Boston College beat a Clemson team that featured current Bucs defensive ends Charles Bennett and Gaines Adams at Death Valley, 16-13.
• The early scorecard says that Tampa Bay made the right move in drafting Arron Sears in the second round ahead of center Ryan Kalil, who was taken later in the round by Carolina. Yes, the Bucs’ future at center is uncertain after John Wade, but Kalil hasn’t won the Panthers center position yet, and has been moved to guard where he received some emergency starts due to injury. While I liked Kalil coming out of USC because he was such a sound technician, the feeling at One Buc Place was that he wasn’t big enough. One source told me he was a Matt Lehr clone – a guy who had trouble getting up to and maintaining 300 pounds. Meanwhile, Sears has been dominant in the running game and has generally held his own in pass protection with just a few breakdowns that most rookies would suffer through. The careers of Sears and Kalil are far from over, but Sears, who has four NFL starts under his belt, is proving his worth right out of the gate.
• If you don’t think some in the local media have it in for general manager Bruce Allen, look no further than a Midweek Analysis piece on Wednesday on the Tampa Tribune Web site. Not only did the column gloss over the Bucs’ 3-1 record, almost dismissing the team’s three wins against teams with losing records, but there was this gem: “The decision to sign [Jeff] Garcia is fast becoming one of the best GM/Coach Jon Gruden has ever engineered.” The last time I consulted the Buccaneers media guide, Allen was the team’s general manager – not Gruden. As any Bucs beat writer should know, Allen is no one’s puppet, and Gruden is not Tampa Bay’s de facto general manager. This was a direct swipe at Allen, who has a frosty relationship with some members of the media, and don’t think the front office didn’t notice it, either.
• Pewter Report has set up another Tampa Bay player autograph signing at the Sports Fan-Attic at Westshore Mall. Meet Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud on Saturday, October 27 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Ruud is doing a charity autograph signing and for just $15 you can get up to two autographs. That's the day before the Bucs' home game against the Jaguars, so it's a great day to stock up on some new Bucs gear, too. If you want to avoid waiting in line on the day of the signing to purchase an autograph ticket, you can stop by any Tampa Bay area Sports Fan-Attic store and purchase a $15 autograph ticket in advance.
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