This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
As the 2008 Under Armour Senior Bowl kicks off, here are 12 players I scouted this past football season that I am anxious to see up close and in person in Mobile, Ala.
1. HOUSTON WR DONNIE AVERY WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: PewterReport.com did a 2008 Bucs Draft Profile on Avery at the end of 2007. The speedy, productive receiver had a marvelous season for the Cougars with 1,456 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 catches, yet is not a household name. With a good week of Senior Bowl practices, he could be.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see exactly how big Avery is and how well he gets off the line against press coverage. I also want to see how tough he is as a perimeter blocker and if he is willing and able to go across the middle and make the tough catch in practice.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: Tampa Bay is looking for explosive, play-making wide receivers with speed and Avery fits the bill. Not only does he posses good hands as a receiver, Avery can also return kicks and has the jets to go coast-to-coast, as he did against East Carolina in 2007. If the Bucs are thinking about taking a wide receiver in the second round, Avery, who reminds me of a faster version of Green Bay’s Greg Jennings, might be the guy. 2. KANSAS STATE WR JORDY NELSON WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: PewterReport.com did a 2008 Bucs Draft Profile on Nelson at the end of 2007. The runner-up for the Biletnikoff Award last year, Nelson had an amazing season with 122 catches for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and threw a couple of touchdown passes during his senior campaign.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Nelson fared well against Kansas All-American Aqib Talib this year in a one-on-one match-up, burning him for a 63-yard touchdown. There have been some questions about Nelson’s speed and I want to see how fast he is compared to other receivers and cornerbacks. Can he get enough separation to excel at the next level?
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: Tampa Bay has the need for receivers and could be taking one on the first day of the draft, which is when Nelson is projected to go. Nelson, a high character kid with a strong work ethic, has a history with Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the defensive coordinator at K-State in 2006. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden likes bigger receivers and Nelson has enough size to be labeled a big receiver.
3. EAST CAROLINA RB CHRIS JOHNSON WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: PewterReport.com has a 2008 Bucs Draft Profile on Johnson going up on Monday with an in-depth look at his game. The 5-foot-10, 196-pound Pirate has a game that resembles that of Michael Bennett and is coming off a senior season in which he rushed for 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns, in addition to catching 37 passes for 528 yards and scoring six times.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see if Johnson can separate himself from the other running backs at the Senior Bowl. The top running backs in the 2008 draft class are mostly juniors – Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, Rutgers’ Ray Rice, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall, etc. The running back crop in Mobile, Ala. does not feature a first-round talent. Can Johnson be the best of a good, but not great group?
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: Bucs head coach Jon Gruden likes two of the skills that Johnson possesses – speed and receiving ability. Tampa Bay clearly has a need for a running back and Johnson, with his home-run hitting style, could play various roles in Gruden’s offense. Not only could he be a factor on offense, Johnson, who could go as high as the second round, has kick return experience and has returned two kicks for touchdowns over the past two seasons.
4. KENTUCKY RB RAFAEL LITTLE WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Little played a big role in one of the most explosive offenses in college football last year at Kentucky. While he was a productive back for the Wildcats, Little had an injury-marred career and there are some durability questions. Little rushed for 1,013 yards and three touchdowns despite missing three games as a senior. He also caught 42 passes for 347 yards with one score. Little has rushed for 2,996 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career with 131 catches for 1,324 yards and four scores. He also has returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see if Little can stay healthy. It may seem a bit strange as he will only take part in five practices during Senior Bowl week, but there are inevitably a few players who get hurt or nicked up during the week and Little’s stock will take a hit if he is one of those players. I also want to see how fast he is. Little is a runner that has good quickness and a certain shiftiness to his game, but does he have enough speed to turn the corner on the outside or take an 8-yard gain and turn it into an 18-yard gain? WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: Little is an all-around running back that can run and catch. He reminds me a bit of Mewelde Moore a free agent-to-be who played for the Minnesota Vikings in 2007. In addition to having a well-rounded game, Little, who will likely be a second-day draft pick, can also be a factor in Tampa Bay on special teams as a punt and kick returner.
5.OKLAHOMA STATE WR ADARIUS BOWMAN WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Bowman is one of the bigger, more physically imposing receivers in the 2008 NFL Draft. He has the ability to go deep as well as being a red zone threat because of his size and leaping ability. Bowman recorded 67 catches for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior and finished his Oklahoma State tenure with 155 receptions for 2,697 yards and 25 scores.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: Like Kansas State’s Jordy Nelson, I want to see how fast Bowman is. Can he create separation? Can he use sharp route-running to break away from defenders? Bowman appears to be best on vertical routes, but I want to see well he does on slants, crossing routes and how well he works the middle of the field. Some receivers are big, but don’t play big. I want to see if Bowman uses his wingspan and his height as an advantage.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: As previously stated, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden likes big receivers and Bowman certainly is that. Gruden is looking for a Terrell Owens-type playmaker, a big target with speed and yards-after-catch ability. At times Bowman has shown off some impressive speed, but he must be able to separate on an every play basis. Oklahoma State doesn’t have a great reputation for putting receivers into the NFL, especially with first-round flop Rashaun Woods in 2004, but Bowman might be the exception.
6. ARIZONA STATE C MIKE POLLAK WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Pollak is one of the better centers in the 2008 NFL Draft class, and he has earned All-Pac 10 honors. He has gone up against the likes of USC All-American defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, Michigan nose tackle Alan Branch and Texas defensive tackle Frank Okam and fared well during his career.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see if the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Pollak is big enough to play ball in the NFC South, which features several big, powerful defensive tackles. I want to get a closer look at how he performs in run blocking, in addition to pass protection. He has played against Ellis, a projected first-round pick, before and he will be going up against him every day in practice throughout the Senior Bowl week. How he fares in that individual match-up could determine how high he goes in the draft when April rolls around.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: The Bucs are thin at the center position where 32-year old John Wade is a free agent and may not be re-signed. Matt Lehr is undersized and is also a free agent. The plan is to have Dan Buenning move from guard to center in 2008 as he should be fully recovered from his torn ACL from 2006. However, while Buenning offers good size at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, he is very inexperienced, having only played guard in college. Offensive line coach Bill Muir wants a big, tall center and Pollak is one of the best options in this draft.
7. WAKE FOREST C STEVE JUSTICE WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Justice is a hard-working, agile center who has earned All-ACC honors in 2007. A three-year starter, Justice has graded out as a 94 percent blocker during his junior and senior seasons. At 6-foot-4, 284 pounds, Justice is considered to be an undersized center.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: Is Justice big enough to handle big, bull-rushing defensive tackles one-on-one in pass protection? Does Justice have the size to get some push off the line of scrimmage in the run game? There is no doubting Justice has the intelligence and the technique to play the center position, but can he hold up physically against 300-pounders like he will face every Sunday in the NFL? That’s the biggest question mark surrounding Justice’s game.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: As it was stated in the Mike Pollak analysis, Tampa Bay has an obvious need at the center position. The Bucs want a physical upgrade over John Wade, who was 6-foot-5, 299 pounds. I’m not sure Justice is the answer, but he may state his case if he can handle the 300-pound defensive linemen at the Senior Bowl this week. 8. MARYLAND DL DRE MOORE WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: PewterReport.com did a 2008 Bucs Draft Profile on Moore at the end of 2007. He is a big, strong defensive line prospect that played end in a 3-4 scheme at Maryland, but would likely play inside at defensive tackle in a four-man front in the NFL. Moore logged 63 tackles, six sacks and one interception last year and finished his Terrapins career with 10.5 sacks.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see if Moore can play both defensive end and defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl, or if he will be pigeon-holed at defensive tackle because he lacks the speed and quickness to play end in a 4-3 scheme at the next level. I also want to see if Moore can collapse the pocket and put consistent pressure on the passer.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: If Moore shows good pass rush ability in Mobile, Ala. this week, he could make it as a Buccaneer defensive lineman. Tampa Bay always puts a premium on pass rushing and there has been a new emphasis on getting bigger along the front four with the hiring of new defensive line coach Larry Coyer. Moore has the size, but does he have the quickness to penetrate gaps and go get the quarterback?
9. BOSTON COLLEGE CB DEJUAN TRIBBLE WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Tribble is one of the better cover corner prospects in the 2008 NFL Draft and did a great job of picking off passes. He recorded four interceptions as a senior and has a total of 15 picks (with three returned for touchdowns) during his Boston College career, in additon to 141 tackles.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: Tribble is undersized and not the fleetest of foot. It will be interesting to see how well he fares against smallish, faster receivers such as Purdue’s Dorien Bryant and Louisville’s Harry Douglas as well as bigger, physical receivers such as Oklahoma State’s Adarius Bowman and Texas’ Limas Sweed. How he fares in Mobile, Ala. could determine whether he is destined for the second round or the fourth round. I also want to see how he fares in run support and if he is a willing, physical tackler.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: The Buccaneers have a need at cornerback with Ronde Barber turning 33 in April and the uncertainty over Brian Kelly’s future in Tampa Bay with his contract status. The Bucs are high on Phillip Buchanon and Sammy Davis, two former first-round picks in the NFL, but neither player is in the same class as Barber or Kelly. Davis is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 29. Tampa Bay must start stocking the position for the future and getting a player like a playmaker like Tribble could certainly help.
10. TEXAS A&M DT RED BRYANT WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Bryant is a big, strong defensive tackle that posted 46 tackles and one as a senior for the Aggies. During his Texas A&M career, the 6-foot-5, 322-pound Bryant recorded 127 tackles, four sacks, two blocked kicks, one safety and one forced fumble.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see if Bryant plays with a high motor all week on a down-in and down-out basis. Bryant has the physical tools to really separate himself from other defensive linemen in Mobile, Ala., but will he make the commitment to play hard on every snap? If he does, his stock will climb. I also want to see if Bryant can pressure the quarterback. Does he have the quickness to penetrate and re-direct? He didn’t show enough of it in college.
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: Bryant has a great blend of size and athleticism. If he played up to his potential he could become a dominant force inside, which is what Tampa Bay is looking for. The Buccaneers will be looking for more help along the defensive line this year as they are still a bit thin at defensive tackle, a position that lacks a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
11. MISSOURI TE MARTIN RUCKER WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Rucker is regarded as one of the best and most athletic tight ends in the 2008 NFL Draft. Playing in the high octane Missouri offense, Rucker was one of the primary weapons and overshadowed an equally talented tight end in Chase Coffman, catching 84 passes for 834 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. He finished his Tigers career with 203 catches for 2,175 yards and 18 scores.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see how Rucker fares as an in-line blocker. Is Rucker anything more than a receiving tight end at the next level along the lines of Tony Gonzalez and Chris Cooley, or can he be an all-around tight end who can also help in the running game and also as a pass protector on occasion?
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden really utilizes the tight ends in his offense. At times, Gruden would rather use three tight ends as opposed to three wide receivers if he can get favorable personnel matchups. Rucker has the size to be a good blocker, he just needs to get into that mindset and become more physical at the line of scrimmage. Gruden could also flex Rucker out as a receiver, which he has done in the past with both Alex Smith and Jerramy Stevens.
12. BOSTON COLLEGE OT GOSDER CHELIUS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Chelius is a first-team All Big East performer that possesses great size and strength. Boston College offensive linemen are noted for their toughness and typically make a smooth transition to the NFL. Chelius played right tackle at the start of his Eagles career, but moved to left tackle in 2006 after Jeremy Trueblood graduated.
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR AT THE SENIOR BOWL: I want to see if Chelius has the footwork to play left tackle in the pros or if he will be forced to move to the right side like Trueblood had to at the 2006 Senior Bowl. Can Chelius handle undersized speed rushers like Auburn’s Quentin Groves and Mississippi State’s Titus Brown in the game on Saturday?
WHY HE COULD BE A FIT FOR TAMPA BAY: With Luke Petitgout coming off a torn ACL and entering the final stages of his career at age 31, Tampa Bay may want to safeguard itself by adding another offensive tackle in the draft or simply increasing the competition of the line as a whole. Left tackle Donald Penn and Trueblood, who is the starter at right tackle, played well last year, but a major injury to either player, coupled with the uncertainty as to how well and how fast Petitgout rebounds from surgery could spell trouble for Tampa Bay at the tackle position.
Want the inside scoop on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2008 offseason plans? Want to find out who the Bucs are targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft this year? Subscribe to PewterReport.com's Pewter Insider by clicking here.
LISTEN to Pewter Report's Jim Flynn each Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. on the Pewter Pulse with Dan Sileo on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal, and catch Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds each Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. on the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz with Steve Duemig on WDAE 620 AM The Sports Animal.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com