SR’s Fab Five appears weekly on PewterReport.com
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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Defensive tackle Ellis Wyms’ shoulder injury has not only forced him out of this week’s home contest against Chicago, it has cost him the season, PewterReport.com is the first to report. With the loss of reserve nose tackle Damien Gregory, rookie Josh Savage will be activated on game day for the first time this season and will see quite a few snaps in his first NFL game.
Savage went from being a longshot in mini-camp and training camp – an afterthought by fans and media, really – to make this Buccaneers team. But his tour de force in the 2004 preseason in which he led the team in sacks with three, his production was too strong to be ignored and this undrafted free agent from Utah essentially beat out Reinard Wilson, a former first-round draft pick in the NFL, for a roster spot.
“I leave it all out on the field,” Savage said. “I had three sacks in the preseason. I should have had four or five, but I just missed on a few plays. I was just glad I got the opportunity to make some plays in the preseason. There were some guys who got drafted who didn’t make the team. Me being an undrafted free agent, just getting any time on the field to show the coaches what I can do was great.”
With Tampa Bay’s starting front four – Greg Spires, Anthony McFarland, Chartric Darby and Simeon Rice — virtually set coming into 2004, and established reserves such as Wyms and Dewayne White to compete with, as well as talented newcomers such as Darrell Russell and Lamar King, both of whom were first-round draft picks, Savage faced an uphill battle to earn a spot on such a talented roster. But he didn’t see it that way.
“I really didn’t focus on the talent that was already here. I focused on the opportunity to work with defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and looking at the depth chart, they didn’t have as many defensive linemen as other teams had for depth. Also, this defense was similar to what I played in at college, so this would be an easier crossover for me. It is basically the same defense we ran at Utah. Also, talking to Coach Marinelli on draft day, he just sounded like a coach I wanted to play for.”
Despite being so successful at getting to the quarterback in the preseason, Savage notched just 12 sacks in three seasons as a starter for the Utes. But one of the reasons why he wanted to play for Marinelli was because he wanted to work on his pass rushing skills.
“I’m really focusing on pass rush right now,” Savage said. “That’s something that Coach Marinelli focuses hard on. When I’m on the field I try not to make mental mistakes. Coaches see that and see if a guy is ready mentally to go play in the games and not make any mistakes on the field.”
In reviewing some preseason game footage on Savage, it is apparent that his best attribute is his hustle. A lot of sacks come due to relentless play and staying after the quarterback, rather than just a quick first step.
“I know I’m not the most talented guy on any team,” Savage said. “I’m not the strongest or the quickest, especially in this locker room. So I figure I’m going to be the high-motor guy, run around the field making plays down the field – wherever. No one is going to outwork me. I’ll be the hardest worker so I can show coaches that is the type of player I am who will work hard every single day.
“Coach Marinelli is an ‘effort’ guy. He wants to see hard work and effort. I knew if I busted my butt every day it would be hard for them to cut me.”
What has been hard for Savage throughout the first six weeks of his rookie season is being inactive on Sundays. After seeing lots of playing time in the preseason, and being a starter for Utah over the last three seasons, Savage was not used to sitting on the sidelines as a helpless bystander.
“It’s been tough, but I’ve been putting in my time here and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to play on Sunday,” Savage said. “I’ve been working hard to give the offense the best look I can during practice on the scout team.”
Savage, whose mentor on the team has been Spires since his first day at One Buc Place, feels at home at left end, but also has the versatility to rush the passer from the right side and from the middle of the defense as well.
“I’m more comfortable at left defensive end,” said Savage, who also logged some preseason snaps at defensive tackle. “I’m trying to learn both spots – inside and outside – though. I play inside during practices sometimes, so I’m trying to learn both [end and tackle].”
In fact, Savage will likely be playing some nose and under tackle during Sunday’s game against the Bears, according to head coach Jon Gruden.
“We’re struggling [with injuries],” Gruden said. “We’re going to activate Josh Savage and kick him inside. … He’s a big, physical man who’s practiced and played in there throughout the offseason. Certainly this week he’s a physical guy who we think can go in and play and be a part of this rotation.
“We’ve activated Corey Smith off our practice squad, a guy who has had some versatility. Dewayne White has some versatility to kick inside. Obviously, losing two defensive tackles is a concern. We’re being tested here, obviously, from a depth standpoint. Some young guys have got to step up and answer the bell.”
Savage is one of those young guys Gruden is talking about. Keep an eye on number 93 on Sunday.
FAB 2. What in the world happened to Bill Schroeder? The speedy, veteran receiver injected some life in Tampa Bay’s moribund offense (finally) in a Week 3 loss to Oakland by catching four passes for 126 yards, including a 54-yard gain and a 41-yard touchdown. The next week at home against Denver, he didn’t log a single catch and was relegated to kick return duty while Charles Lee got the start.
So what happened? Has Schroeder fallen out of favor with the Tampa Bay coaching staff? Why did it seem like he dropped off the face of the Earth after such a breakout game against the Raiders? Pewter Report went to his position coach, Richard Mann, for the answer.
“When you lose and you’re trying to find a tandem, or an identity, you try new things,” Mann said. “With losing comes change. It’s nothing that he’s done. We were trying to find a spark and a way to win. It just so happens that we went with Lee, and that’s where we are at right now. That’s not to say that Schroeder won’t get a chance. Hopefully, we’ll get him in there at some point and give him the opportunity to make some plays.”
With the Bucs mired in a 0-4 start, the organization had a big meeting on Monday, October 4, to discuss the team’s plans for the rest of the season. It was decided that the team would bench veteran quarterback Brad Johnson, who was going to be a cap casualty in 2005 anyways, in favor of Chris Simms, who would start, and Brian Griese, who would maintain his status as the Bucs’ number two quarterback. Johnson would get demoted to No. 3.
From that meeting also came the decision to go with a youth movement at different positions, including wide receiver, where rookie Michael Clayton was starting to emerge. The 33-year old Schroeder, who signed a one-year deal for the league minimum prior to the start of training camp, likely won’t be back next year and the team wanted to get an extended look at Lee, whose contract is also up at season’s end.
“We’re trying to find an identity,” Mann said. “We’ve got one ball, and we’re losing. With that being said, we chose to go the route we went.”
The move paid dividends against Denver as Lee and Clayton teamed to record nine catches for 138 yards and one touchdown. Lee had a team-high five catches for 47 yards. The following week at New Orleans, Lee got his second start at the split end position and had four catches for a game-high 76 yards, while Clayton had four grabs for 61 yards.
That prompted Mann to say this prior to the game at St. Louis: “The tandem we are looking forward to is the one that affords us an opportunity to win. We were able to do that this past week. Hopefully, we’ll go into this week with the same group of people and continue to make plays and win.”
While Clayton led the Bucs with eight catches for 142 yards against the Rams, Lee sprained his knee after catching three passes for 31 yards. Although he returned to the Monday night game, he has been scratched for this week’s game against Chicago.
But while Lee is out, Joe Jurevicius returns to the team this week and will get the start ahead of Schroeder. Again, with the Buccaneers at 1-5 on the season and in a sort of talent evaluation mode for 2005, Jurevicius will get the start over Schroeder on Sunday.
“He’s been cleared to play and he’s practiced well,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of Jurevicius. “We’ve had great conversations. We’ll use Bill Schroeder in a capacity to help him out if he needs help. I think we’re all ready to see Jurevicius play. This is his time, and he’s the starter.”
FAB 3. Speaking of wide receivers, there is one interesting note to report from the Buccaneers practice squad. Since the start of the season, three receivers – Allen Suber, Huey Whitaker and Kevin Youngblood – have come and gone, but one receiver has remained. On September 22, former University of South Florida receiver DeAndrew Rubin was signed to Tampa Bay’s practice squad and he’s impressed enough folks to hang around for over a month.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound receiver was a seventh-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2003 and later latched on with Indianapolis before becoming a member of Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Rubin played in 42 games with 18 starts for the Bulls, catching 91 passes for 1,306 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also averaged 16.4 yards on 64 punt returns, and 26 yards on 59 kickoff returns. Rubin scored five times on returns (four punt, one kickoff), including three times as a senior in 2002.
In perhaps his best game, which came against Northern Illinois in 2002, Rubin caught four passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, including a school-record 95 yarder, and also scored a third touchdown on a punt return in that contest.
Tampa Bay wide receivers coach Richard Mann has been impressed with the job he’s done on the scout or “look” team in practice.
“He’s done an excellent job for us as far as being on the ‘look’ team,” Mann said. “That’s his practice. We’ve told him that. I think he’s made plays every day on the cards. I don’t know if you could ask anything more from a guy on the practice squad. He’s got to be able to continue to do that to be able to stay. You know and I know that the practice squad will change.
“If you are a good receiver, the skills will show. The skills show with Rubin. I told Rubin that his game is the [opponent play] cards. He has to run their plays. The cards are the plays the other team runs. He’s got to run their routes and catch the football. If he does that, his skills will show up.”
Mann likened Rubin’s skills to those displayed by Edell Shepherd, who was a practice squad stalwart last season before being activated for the final couple of games.
“It all started last year on the practice squad with the cards,” Mann said of Shepherd. “He did well enough and was impressive enough for us to bring him up at the end of the year to see what he could really do. He passed that test. Going into the season, we were high on him, and I’m still high on him. We just have to get that injury healed. That foot injury is a funny injury, especially with a receiver and the stopping and starting we do. Hopefully, he’ll get better, come back and we’ll see what we’ve missed.
“Rubin’s getting his opportunity and he’s showing us some of the skills that Edell showed us last year. We’ll see how he progresses as the year goes on.”
With Tampa Bay struggling in the punt return game, don’t be surprised to see Rubin elevated to the active roster for the chance to field punts later in the season.
FAB 4. If you are among the group of fans who is disappointed with the play of Tampa Bay under tackle Booger McFarland, don’t be. While he may not be the second coming of Warren Sapp as some have foolishly expected, McFarland is making an impact at under tackle while he learns his new position and becomes more comfortable playing the three technique. And he’s playing better than the Sapp of last year … and this year.
Through six games last year, Sapp had 23 tackles and two sacks. Through six games this season, McFarland has 26 tackles, three sacks, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
As for Sapp in 2004, he has just 19 tackles and half a sack through six games in Oakland this year, and notched just two tackles last Sunday in a 31-3 loss to Denver.
More importantly, McFarland’s pressure up the middle has helped left defensive end Greg Spires notch three sacks and apply pressure on the quarterback this season. He’s beginning to make those players around him better, as Sapp did when he first took over the under tackle position in Tampa Bay in 1996.
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• Buccaneers free safety Jermaine Phillips is catching some heat for allowing two deep touchdown passes from Marc Bulger to wide receiver Torry Holt on Monday Night Football. While Phillips did take bad angles on the play, he does deserve a little bit of slack. First of all, Phillips gave up scores to a Pro Bowl receiver, not a nobody named Scrub Jackson. Second, Phillips is still a rookie in my book. While he is in his third NFL season, he only notched eight starts on defense last year, and has started just six games this season. In my book, a player is still a rookie until they have logged 16 games as a starter. You don’t get much experience playing as a substitute or watching from the sidelines. Phillips will be a much better player at the end of the season than he is right now, and should be poised to have the breakthrough season in 2005 that I thought he would have in 2004.
• Guard Matt O’Dwyer is close to returning from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list – probably a week after the bye week. O’Dwyer was expected to be a sort of emotional leader for the offensive line because of his personality, but those plans were scrapped when he tore his left pectoral muscle while overtraining for training camp. Just how much was O’Dwyer bench-pressing when he tore his pec? Try 530 pounds. O’Dwyer is one strong dude.
• Despite all of the talk that rookie linebacker Marquise Cooper would be groomed to be Derrick Brooks’ eventual replacement at weakside linebacker, Cooper has actually been seeing most of his practice time at Sam linebacker. The team likes the way Cooper drops in coverage with the tight end and plays in space. While he has some experience on the weakside, Cooper’s cross-training will make him more valuable to the team down the road.
• Are you as frustrated as I am watching Tim Brown return punts? Heck, he’s not really even returning them. He’s either fair catching the ball or he’s unwisely letting the ball bounce inside the team’s 10-yard line. Rookie Mark Jones, who didn’t make the final roster, didn’t have much success returning punts in the preseason, but at least he fooled the gunners on two or three occasions by acting like he was going to make a fair catch, which sucked the defenders to him while the ball bounced inside the 10 and into the end zone for a touchback. Brown doesn’t do that or even block the gunners to allow more time for the ball to roll into the end zone. He just stands there. That is unacceptable, especially for a player who has returned as many punts in his career as Brown has. Help may be on the way, though. Cornerback Corey Ivy continues to field punts in practice, and this week, fellow corner Torrie Cox was returning punts as well. Cox has made a splash on kick returns this year with three returns over 40 yards and has a 29.8-yard average. Perhaps the Bucs will call on Cox to return punts this week against Chicago. Anybody but Brown, please.
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