Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Let Expectations Grow for Rookies in 2010

With OTAs heating up and the 2010 season on the distant horizon it seems many are looking forward and who can blame them?  Buccaneer fans, fanatical about their defense, have two young defensive linemen coming in.  And Buccaneer fantasy fans have two young wide receivers to watch.

Then Pat Kirwan shows up on NFL.com a couple weeks ago to apply water to the flames the blowtorch known as the 2010 draft put into the Buccaneer fan base with his article about having too high of expectations for the rookie defensive linemen.  Just a flat out harsh to the love. I understand why Kirwan said it.  I just wish he would have used a bigger sample size.  Namely, a six foot two inch three hundred ten pound sample called Roy Miller.

Kirwan makes a pretty good case about first round defensive linemen not producing incredible numbers during their first season.  I think Buccaneer fans get it -- it takes time for younger players to work well with the players around them, they make mistakes, they think too much, etc.  But I don't think Buccaneer fans have to lower their expectations.

Here's a Tampa-sized sample of why:  Roy Miller was the second Tampa Bay draft pick in the 2009 Draft class (arriving in the 3rd round).  He was touted as a strong, stout interior line presence.  Miller was one of 37 rookie defensive linemen last year.  He dove into the regular season war and nobody heard much about him.  Such is life when the TV only shows your back just before a play begins. But he emerged with a solid, impressive season behind him.  Quietly.

Miller was the third most productive rookie defensive linemen in 2009 (according to NFL.com statistics) recording 27 total tackles, better numbers than 25 of 26 defensive ends drafted in 2009.  Only Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Tyson Jackson had better numbers from a standing start.  Only Terrance Knighton (also a 3rd rounder selected by Jacksonville) had better rookie numbers from the defensive interior.

Miller also had two sacks (only four other rookies had two or more) and was even credited with one pass defensed.  For comparison, Warren Sapp had three sacks and an interception for a touchdown as a rookie in 1995.  Not exactly comparable (the NFL did not keep individual tackles until the 2001 season), but not that far off either.

So no matter how you look at the numbers, Roy Miller brought it to the table in 2009.  He reached the field in 15 of 16 games and even started one.  And there is no doubt he will be improved for 2010.  Clearly he has the right stuff.  And what have you heard from him since?  Nothing but a quiet mouth and more hard work.  This is the kind of leadership the new Buccaneers management was hoping for.

The real reason why the Kirwin article can be easily dismissed by Tampa Bay fans is the same guys who found Miller in the third round were evaluating McCoy and Price in 2010.  Many still do say they do not think the new front office has it figured out in Tampa.  I could not disagree more with that opinion and I look forward to the 2010 season as proof.  Will any of the rookies from 2010 go to the Pro Bowl this year?  Probably not.  Will they be impact players?  Will they be productive?  Will they get the Buccaneers back to the playoffs?  Those questions get the excitement rolling for the 2010 season and it's well deserved.

Don't let a national media wonk ruin it!!

Perhaps Mr. Kirwan should have looked a little deeper into the draft -- his analysis is based on 17 players from the first two rounds between 2006 and 2009.  Sadly, he has overlooked some of the best performers by going to sleep on the third round.

Thank goodness the Buccaneers did not!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Tanard Jackson Question

In 2009 the Buccaneers suffered through the most difficult win/loss record since 1991.  It was a tumultuous year following an offseason of major changes.  A new front office came in and a group of old veterans moved on.  With a change in leadership the Buccaneers needed all the experienced players it could mould from within.

Then, just before the 2009 season, the Buccaneers found out that Tanard Jackson would be suspended for the first four games of the season.  It created an experience void in the defensive backfield the team struggled with the first month of the 2009 season.

Jackson returned to the team and moved back into the starting lineup finishing sixth on the team with 60 solo tackles, adding 11 assists, 2 forced fumbles, and five interceptions scoring touchdowns twice.  Clearly Tanard Jackson is an impact player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  And while his standing within the locker room appears to have been restored, there is still a big question mark which looms over his head.

One more mistake and Tanard Jackson sits out the season.

The two strikes penalty for substance abuse in the NFL is, unfortunately, well known.  Every time the punishment is handed down it makes headlines across the sports world.  Nobody expects the NFL to need this option with Tanard Jackson.

This is not a rehash of old mistakes, this is a front office dilemma which impacts the team and the roster for as long as Jackson is a Buccaneer.  So this is a personnel issue and deserves scrutiny.  Unfortunately, after the first strike, the threat of another mistake never goes away.  The team struggled without Jackson on the field -- imagine a full year without him.

How will General Manager Mark Dominik deal with this unknown?  Will it be important to keep an additional safety on the roster this season, just in case?  Or is it a matter of crossing the fingers and hoping there is something worthwhile on the wiaver wire should the unthinkable happen?

With Jackson holding down a starting position, Dominik is almost forced to carry one extra safety on the roster.  It is not practical to assume a waiver wire pickup would have any knowledge of the Tampa Bay defensive reads or responsibilities.  That is, a waiver pickup means a loss of coaching time getting an unfamiliar player up to speed.  Instead it would be better to have a player who has been through training camp ready to step forward, or step into second on the depth chart (and the resulting part time game day responsibilities), easing the impact to the rest of the safeties and, even, the rest of the team.

There is also a long term component to this issue -- essentially Tanard Jackson now requires two roster positions.  Is he worth it?  For how long?  Certainly, at this point, the team must consider him valuable since he is still on the roster.

But there is still this unease for me regarding the safety position.  Two experienced Buccaneer safeties have become unrestricted free agents:  7th year veteran Will Allen (singed Pittsburgh) and  8th year veteran Jermaine Phillips (unsigned, perhaps done).  Phillips was the first option when Jackson was suspended last year -- not anymore.  This two-player void has been filled by 7th year free agent acquisition Sean Jones (from Philadephia).  Is it enough?

These questions must have been discussed during the run-up to the 2010 Draft.  One safety was drafted (Cody Grimm, 6'1" 203 lbs, 7th round pick) but this seems to be the normal player churn and not a bold move to replace anyone in particular.  In fact, Dominik has stated the 7th rounders are likely to earn their way onto the field through special teams.

So it appears there is no rush to supplement the roster at this point, nor is there a signal for a long term fix.  Perhaps the Buccaneers are confident that Jackson has put whatever happened in 2009 behind him.  Let's all hope so.  We'll have to watch carefully during the offseason and preseason to see if there are any indicators of the team's thinking on this point.

But the bottom line is to hope and cheer for Tanard Jackson to keep things on the straight and narrow and play the game we all love to watch. 

Be careful, Tanard!!  We need you!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Projecting Future Drafts: 2011, 2012, and 2013

Oh yes, I am fearless enough to project draft needs three years out.  Do I expect to be right?  Yes, actually, I do.  Will I be?  No, not 100%., but the reasons for missing will simply be the unpredictable future, not the certain facts I will lay out in this article.  Call this an exercise in reading the obvious and ignoring the future.  It's a pretty basic exercise -- just going through the logic which nailed the correct position of 7 of 9 draft picks in 2010 then moving forward for each of the next three years.

Remember that the draft is not a factory for immediate starters.  It is a method of harvesting the best possible talent to fight it out during the offseason for a position on the roster.  The plan laid out by General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris is to have competition at every position.  The draft helps land as much talent as we can get our hands on to fuel the competition.  These picks are not required to be immediate starters -- they are just "the next in line" as needed.  Some may become starters quickly, but some may stay on the depth chart competing against future draft picks and free agents, increasing competition and creating a higher talent level.  That is The Plan.


2011
To project the needs for the 2011 draft, I took the young core offensive and young core defensive positional rosters and sorted out the 5th year players:

Offense:  WR Stovall, T Penn, G Joseph, T Trueblood, LS Economos
Defense:  LB Jon Alston

This does not mean that I expect these players to be released, cut, injured, or change careers before next offseason.  This means these players are now well above the 2-4 year average NFL career and so, statistically, may start to decline in production.  A good team has ready replacements waiting or even sharing the load so a smooth change can be made when needed.  The players listed are at positions which, by this logic, need a young player to fold into the mix.

For 2011, obvious trends are immediately apparent:  lots of losses on offense, only one loss on defense, many of the offensive losses are on the line.  So, with confidence, it appears the top need, first and foremost, will be offensive linemen.  The team may need two tackles, one guard, and perhaps a long snapper.  After a defense-heavy draft in 2010 there is only one need defensively for 2011 -- a linebacker, preferably outside.  Some of the media in the Bay Area appear to think that defensive end is a big need for this team but I disagree.  The one place were the talent base could be a bit off from the rest of the team is running back -- there are only two young ball carriers in the stable -- otherwise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be in a good position to take the player they want with their seven regular and one extra fifth round pick next year.



2012

Now, we remove the 4th year players from the young core and assume the 2011 draft filled the voids created by the 5th year players.

Offense:  Nothing, nada, zilch, zero.
Defense:  DE White, DE Crowder, LB Hayward, S Piscatelli, and S Jackson leave the chart

2012 will clearly have a strong swing back to the defensive side of the ball.  Now defensive end is a significant need -- so defensive end and safety look to be the primary focus as two players at each position could be needed.  The defensive end need, however, could vanish.  The Buccaneers have eight men competing for the two defensive end positions during the 2010 offseason.  If the team decides that six men competing for two positions is enough then the need vanishes (this could happen if the team decides the talent level is sufficient for good competition).  Finally, what is shaping up as an annual need at linebacker continues to appear.


2013

Remove the 3rd year players from the young core, assume the 2012 draft filled the voids created by the 4th year players, and assume the 2011 draft filled the voids created by the 5th year players.

Offense:  T Lee, G Zuttah, QB Johnson, RB Smith, PK Barth exit the chart
Defense:  LB Hayes, CB Talib, CB Mack, S Lynch move off the chart

Really stocking up on the assumptions at this point but, considered carefully, there is still useful information here.  For 2013, the pendulum swings to the middle with equal numbers of needs on offense and defense.  And, for the first time in four years, a look at quarterback will be in order.  Topping that, for the first time in 6 years a running back selection will also be in order.  On the defensive side of the ball, besides the annual linebacker selection, three defensive backs will be needed, two at corner and one at safety.  There are nine players listed here, so, in addition, the Buccaneers could use a couple extra picks (or need to use extra picks in 2011/2012 to avoid these shortfalls).



There you have it.  I confidently walked out farther on the draft branch than any sane person would ever do.  The only way to know if the branch broke is to see if this information stands up about 10 months from now, so look for a revisit during the run up to the 2011 draft.  And, if necessary, I'll eat a nice helping of crow.

But I don't think so!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Impatient Roster

The 53-man roster in the NFL basically contains an offense (11 men) a defense (another 11 players), a backup at each position (+22 more = the 44 man "2-deep" roster), and 9 "extras" which include specialists like kickers, punters, and special teams warriors among others.  This is half the story.

The draft has seven rounds per year for each team so it takes around 8 years to completely cycle an entire NFL 53-man roster.  This is the other half of the story. 

Together, this explains in general why 30 years old is a type of glass ceiling in the NFL -- a 22 year old graduates from college and goes 8 years in the NFL and then (statistically) it's time for the replacement to come along.

The struggle of the NFL General Manager is not the existence of this revolving door.  Instead, it is how to keep a competitive team on the field under the guise of once-every-8-years when injuries, misfits, traded picks, and opportunities for early replacement through better talent present themselves.  A roster can quickly get out of control when a series of draft picks are taken at the same position, when too few players drafted actually become part of the team, and when there is not a good rotation of selections among the positions on the field.

Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik has achieved balanced position charts for both offense and defense going into the 2010 season.  The Tampa Bay position charts are overflowing with young players as the Buccaneers move from rebuilding the roster into escalating the competitive talent on the team.  In the future you would not expect to see so many young players on these rosters.  A better approach is to keep the best talent on the charts from leaving Tampa Bay keeping their knowledge and experience on the team by signing them to free agent contracts ("promote-from-within").  This helps to keep the 8-year replacement cycle working and provides great value to the team by retaining the investment in time and resources in the person of an experienced player.  Constantly training a large number of new faces year after year is a drain on coaching resources -- and the time of a good coach is very, very valuable.

Going into the 2010 season, the Buccaneers lack in promote-from-within talent, which exaggerates the youth on the team.  Put another way, the young have to lead without substantial experience.  This can affect the competitiveness of the team regardless of the overall talent.  An experienced player reacts to situations reflexively and can think through situational football as they go.  A youthful player has to both think about assignment and situation.  This difference shows itself in timing -- which can be devastating in a game as fast as NFL football.

Unfortunately there is not much that can be done about a lack of experience except play football.  Bringing in free agents can set this process back in several ways -- they may take playing time from younger players slowing their rate of experience, they may be older or more experienced  players which may keep a young leader from developing those skills, and they may not fit the personality profile of the team which can become a distraction for younger players.  General Manger Mark Dominik seems to have committed to this idea by treading very lightly in the 2010 free agent market so far.  And why not?  There is a good mix of players at every position, including two positions rebuilt with youth mostly from the 2009 waiver wire alone (Defensive End and Wide Receiver).  Dominik has also shown unwavering commitment to allowing experience and leadership to develop among the young players by only adding free agents who generally match the experience level of those lost to free agency (see "Moving Forward").

The focus now shifts toward Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris and his staff.  The rebuilding process only works if the coaches and supporting staff can create a true player development process for players of all talents.  Morris is entering his second year and many of the assistant coaches have not been in their current position for a full season.  The jury will be out on Morris' player development process for at least three more seasons (to see if the draft picks develop into promote-from-within material).   Early indicators could be how Josh Freeman, Roy Miller, and Sammie Stroughter evolve in their second season.  Freeman is an emerging leader on this team according to the players themselves.  Roy Miller was the third most productive defensive lineman among rookies in 2009.  And Stroughter, a 7th rounder, has already staked his claim on the nickel/slot wide receiver position having contributed at least one catch in every game in in 2009.  The rest of the 2009 draft class was hampered by injury -- Kyle Moore for the first half of the season before coming on at the end and EJ Biggers and Xavier Fulton went to the injured reserve early.  There just won't be much to evaluate against after the 2010 season -- which is fair.  It is also fair to say the team started performing better down the stretch in 2009 (won two of last three), something which clearly had not happened in 2008 (lost the last 4 games of the season), 2007 (lost four of last five games including wildcard game) or 2006 (lost 8 of the last 10 games).

By no means am I trying to dampen the prospects for 2010.  On the contrary, this is a season which will help define the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the next five years.  And while there will be significant highs and lows with this much youth, there should be more weapons to help in finding a way to win more games than in 2009.  Maybe this team can even make a run at a wildcard position.  With all that youth, maybe they will find a way to achieve even more.

Monday, May 10, 2010

2010 Offseason: The Wide Receivers

Plenty of excitement surrounds the 2010 draft picks in the receivers unit.  Fans recognize this as a place the team needs to improve to help the 2009 first rounder quarterback Josh Freeman elevate his game.  It should be a real gunfight to sort this position out for 2010.

Wide Receivers
NameStrt/GmsH/WAcquired
Parker, Preston0/05'11" 199 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Adeniji, Damola0/06'3" 213 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Brooks, Chris0/06'2" 215 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Benn, Arrelious0/06'1" 219 lbs(2010 Draft Pick)
Williams, Mike0/06'1" 221 lbs(2010 Draft Pick)
Urrutia, Mario0/06'6" 232 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
Nunn, Terrence0/06'0" 195 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
Spurlock, Micheal0/25'11" 200 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
Brown, Reggie0/06'1" 197 lbs(2010 Free Agent)
Clayton, Michael11/136'4" 215 lbs(2004 Draft Pick)
Bradley, Mark0/06'1" 201 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
Stroughter, Sammie0/135'10" 189 lbs(2009 Draft Pick)
2009 Final Game Starters:
WR: Stovall, Maurice7/156'5" 220 lbs(2006 Draft Pick)

Note the number of 2009 and 2010 players competing at this position.  Looks like General Manager Mark Dominik has been working this position hard looking for deeper talent.

Players are listed in order of productivity in 2009.  The surprise on this list is most likely Mark Bradley (24 catches, 316 yards), a waiver pickup from the Kansas City Chiefs, who produced nearly the same numbers as Sammie Stroughter (31 catches, 320 yards) last season.  Bradley put up his numbers in just 13 games with six starts for the Chiefs while Stroughter played in 13 games with no starts for the Buccaneers.

At this point, one starting spot is Stovall's to lose.  Maurice has been a tremendous contributor on special teams and put up his best year in 2009.  Clearly, he currently holds the most value on this squad.  The other starting spot should be a tremendous battle between the experienced men at this position -- which could expand to include the 2010 draft picks Benn and Williams.  Clayton and Brown should have the advantage but Coach Raheem Morris has said many times that production is what they are looking for.  Clayton and Brown were the 4th and 5th most productive players in 2009 which remain on this squad.  Experience alone may not be enough to keep the very talented youth at this position out of the starting lineup.

The Buccaneers carried eight wide receivers on the roster for most of last year.  At this point, I think there are only four players who would have to lose their roster spot in order to miss the 53-man roster for 2010:  Stovall, Stroughter, Benn, and Williams.  Everyone else has to win the competition for the other spots.  It is possible three of the remaining four roster spots could captured by the most experienced remaining players in Bradley, Clayton, and Brown. 

This would leave the final roster spot for the college free agents and 2009 practice squad players.  Micheal Spurlock is also a return specialist which would give him an edge.  The three college free agents are potential practice squad targets -- Chris Brooks was impressive enough at the rookie camp to land a camp contract, can he make the roster?  Urruita and Nunn are at a pivitol point in their NFL careers and must reach the 53-man roster to stay with the team.


Tight Ends
NameStrt/GmsH/WAcquired
Mastrud, Jeron0/06'5" 256 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Purvis, Ryan0/06'4" 260 lbs(2009 College Free Agent)
Gilmore, John2/136'5" 257 lbs(2008 Free Agent)
Stevens, Jerramy8/166'7" 260 lbs(2007 Free Agent)
2009 Final Game Starter:
Winslow, Kellen14/166'4" 240 lbs(2009 Trade)

Barring unforseen circumstances, this spot is Winslow's for the next four years.

The Buccaneers carried four tight ends on the roster last season.  With a significant push for additional receiving talent this year four may be too many.  One thing is certain -- these men are going to have to be more physical in the running game to stay on the roster.  Stevens and Gilmore must keep the youth at bay behind them.  Stevens (15 catches for 130 yards) and Gilmore (3 catches, 23 yards) are two of the five oldest players on the roster now -- they must be productive or they will not make the team.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fantasy Alert: Mike Williams

Now don't get used to this. I like Fantasy Football but I prefer doing analysis on Reality Football. Nonetheless I am all about the Pewter Nation and if I can help Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans dominate on the fantasy field I have to put it out there. Here it is:

If you are in a fantasy keeper league (retain players over the offseason) you need to get 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneer draftee Mike Williams. Like, yesterday. You should be able to get him for a song -- and retaining him will be something you can enjoy for a long time particularly as a Buccaneers fan.

If you are in a fantasy draft league (draft a new team every year) you need to watch his performance in Buccaneers games very closely. I don't think you want to draft him outright, but as the season goes on he could be "That Free Agent Pickup" that gets you over the top in your league.

I am hearing so, so much about the young man that is very, very positive. I mean, all teams certainly love their draft picks. And all coaches and personnel people are giddy after rookie camp with the renewed hope rookies bring regarding the upcoming season. There is always a lot of praise.

And let me be clear I hear a lot of great things about Arellious Benn, the first wide receiver the Buccaneers selected in the barely-cooled-off 2010 NFL Draft. Benn could be the kind of yards after catch threat the Buccaneers have been missing since Joe Jurevicius but with more speed and more size. He is described as a "punishing" runner -- when was the last time you heard that about a wideout??

Benn was drafted in the high 2nd round and seems to be a first round talent. Excellent.

Williams was drafted in the 4th round and several sources tell me he is also a first round talent. Freaking Awesome!  If true, it appears that Tampa Bay has landed five first-round-talent players in a single draft, absolutely unheard of in the modern NFL.

Other media sources have directed their energies about Mike Williams into digging up mistakes he has made as a person around schoolwork and curfews. And while the schoolwork issue was nothing small, a curfew violation in college is par for the course. Unfortunately, rules in place made for harsh choices, possibly emotional decisions. No laws broken, no people injured, no football related issues, but plenty of judgement mistakes. Taking all that into consideration, Williams is definitely a kid who deserves a second chance.

Of course, there will always be people who judge from a distance, perhaps never meeting the person they are condemning (see the "Worst Fourth Round Pick" section). The world is harsh and some people enjoy tearing down others.

But, Tampa Bay fans, I am recommending you see Mike Williams for what he is. Give him a clean slate but expect him to be better, to do better, to learn and grow.

And watch out for an explosive fantasy player to emerge in Tampa this year. I warned you. I told you. Don't cry if you miss out -- I suspect there will be more in the years to come.


P.S. Mike Williams, I know you are out there somewhere. You may never find this, but I want you to be able to find it if you go looking for it. You were the 13th wide receiver taken in the 2010 NFL draft. After your teammate Arrelious Benn was selected in the 2nd round, another receiver was taken in the 2nd round, seven were chosen in the 3rd round, and one was chosen in the fourth round (just two picks before you). Here is what I want you to know/find some day: The teams that passed on Mike Williams by selecting a different wide receiver are: Titans, Broncos, Patriots, Panthers, Cardinals, Steelers, Bengals, Seahawks, and Rams. By the way, those last six are on the 2010 Schedule. So have a great offseason and preseason -- and BRING IT to the field in 2010!  Welcome to the Buccaneers!!

Video: Rookie Defensive Linemen

A quick run around YouTube provided the following video of the first and second round draft picks as well as one of the college free agents.  These men need to be disruptive for Tampa Bay next season -- scout for yourself!

DT Gerald McCoy:  Video 1, Video 2

DT Brian Price:  Video 1, Video 2 

DE Johnson, George:  Video 1 (starting at 1:38)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2010 Offseason: The Defensive Front

The Buccaneers defensive line was in need of an overhaul after the 3-13 season of 2009.

Interior defensive linemen accounted for just 3.5 sacks (Hovan 0.5, Sims 1.0, Miller 2.0, D. Moore 0.0) and 159 tackles (Hovan 57, Sims 48, Miller 54, D. Moore 0.0) last season which averages out to less than 0.25 sacks per game and around 10 tackles per game.  The unit was ravaged by teams with strong rushing attacks. The edges of the defensive line were in a constant state of flux last year.  The defensive ends as a unit were not nearly productive or disruptive enough to put real teeth into opposing offenses.

But by far the most disturbing defensive statistic for 2009 was the Buccaneers giving up 158.2 rushing yards per game -- worst in the NFL.  No wonder the Buccaneers used the first two picks (and their last pick) in the 2010 draft to update the front wall of the defense.


Defensive Ends
NameStrt/GmsH/WAcquired
Gilbeaux, Brandon0/06'3" 270 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Johnson, George0/06'4" 265 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Ruffin, James0/06'4" 263 lbs(2010 College Free Agent)
Lorig, Erik0/06'3" 281 lbs(2010 Draft Pick)
Evans, Maurice0/06'2" 265 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
Bennett, Michael0/76'3" 274 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
Moore, Kyle0/86'5" 272 lbs(2009 Draft Pick)
2009 Final Game Starters:
LE: Crowder, Tim4/156'4" 275 lbs(2009 Waiver Wire)
RE: White, Stylez8/156'3" 270 lbs(2007 Signee (Arena))

The rebuilding frenzy over the past year at this position is obvious.  General Manager Mark Dominik literally rebuilt this unit from the gound up during the 2009 season.  The men who started Game 1 of the 2009 season, Jimmy Wilkerson (gone to the Saints) and Gaines Adams (traded to Chicago before his tragic passing), are no longer with the team.

There are signs of progress, however.  White was the sack leader last year with 6.5 sacks while only starting half the season.  Crowder contributed 3.5 sacks and finished the season as a starter after being claimed off the wiaver wire (from Denver) after the first game in 2009.  Kyle Moore had a rough rookie season working through some nagging injuries but, along with Micheal Bennett, started to come on late in the 2009 season.

Tampa carried four defensive ends on the 53 man roster last year.  Based on experience alone White, Crowder, K. Moore, and Bennett are the front runners this offseason.  With the drafting of Lorig, however, the team may opt to keep a fifth this year to give the rookie time to develop or may try to transition him to the practice squad.


Defensive Line
NameStrt/GmsH/WAcquired
McCoy, Gerald0/06'4" 295 lbs(2010 Draft Pick)
Price, Brian0/06'1" 303 lbs(2010 Draft Pick)
Moore, Dre0/76'4" 305 lbs(2008 Draft Pick)
Miller, Roy1/156'2" 310 lbs(2009 Draft Pick)
2009 Final Game Starter:
DT: Sims, Ryan16/166'4" 315 lbs(2007 Trade - Chiefs)

The other 2009 Final Game Starter was Chris Hovan, who was released by the Buccaneers shortly after the 2010 draft.  With an open starting spot here the competition will be fierce.  Keep in mind this is a "group position" for Tampa Bay so the quality of depth is as essential as the starting pair.  Will the Buccaneers give five roster spots to this position in 2010 (only four were carried on the active roster in2009)?  McCoy and Price will be involved starting with Game 1 of 2010, but how much will they be able to contribute?

This will be a telltale offseason for Dre Moore.  Most defensive tackles have a magical third season where everything starts to come together.  Fortunately for Moore this is his third season and he will need the magic to compete with the talent and experience around him.

Ryan Sims has his experience to fall back on but will that be enough to keep the youth from overrunning the position?  If the Buccaneers decide to only keep four defensive tackles on the active roster this season I believe it will come down to a decision between Sims and Moore.  Considering the youth, however, I am pulling for all five men to play in 2010.  Since nobody on this unit is even a consideration for the practice squad there will be a lot of learn-by-playing at this position.

All four of the positions in the defensive trenches will be closely watched this offseason.  Significant improvement here could make all the difference in the 2010 season.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

2010 Rookie Camp Has Possibility at Guard

The general tone after the rookie camp this past weekend has been one of real excitement.  The speed and handwork of the young defensive lineman was very impressive and the natural, smooth ability of the wide receivers was remarkable.

Some players came away with minor injuries to nurse -- it was extremely hot and the players are still in "combine" shape, not football shape -- but it seems there were no injuries of significant note.

One player who stood out strongly was unsigned college free agent Lee Grimes, an offensive guard from Texas A&M.  His bio on the Texas A&M website lists him as 6'6", 309lbs.  He moved well in tight quarters and showed good footwork.  Grimes did well against the Buccaneers new young defensive tackles and may have turned enough eyes to get to training camp.

We'll have to wait and see if the coaches and front office decide to move on any of the talent they had in camp.  Signings, if any, should occur Sunday or Monday before the players leave town.

One step closer to the 2010 fooball season!

Rookie Camp Weekend 2010

Around 65 former college football players will be in Tampa this weekend for the Buccaneers Rookie Camp.  This is an invitation only event for players who do not have one league year in the NFL (which is different from a calendar year in many ways).  Those rules mean the camp is populated by rookies just drafted, rookies just signed as undrafted free agents, and players not claimed by other teams (either fresh out of college or without a league year in the NFL).

Generally, camp is run with three full squads of players (11 offense, 11 defense; three full sets of each unit or 66 players).  The first thing you want is for your drafted players to c-l-e-a-r-l-y stand out among others at their position.  If this happens then your draft was very successful.  Secondly, you would like your undrafted free agents to also stand out at their position.  Also, remember that the rookies plus the undrafted free agents (along with the returning veterans) make up the 80-man roster at this point in time.  So to sign a player which was not drafted nor was an undrafted free agent means you must cut a player from your 80-man roster.  As we have seen, the Buccaneers have a nice position chart already set up for their young offensive and defensive players -- to unbalance those charts would be a significant move for the team.

So there is a bit of information which can be gathered from this camp.  Let's see what we can find out about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Good Luck to each of these men as they continue to fight for their dream of playing in the NFL!

Players list in bold are 2010 draft picks.
Players listed in italics are 2010 undrafted free agents.
Players listed in regular font are invited players with less than one NFL year of experience.

OFFENSE

Quarterback
QB Matt Grothe, USF
QB Bobby Reid, Texas Southern
QB Jevan Snead, Mississippi
    We have the necessary three players here to conduct camp.  To make the roster, Reid or Grothe has to outperform Snead.  Snead did not have a great final year in college and came out early, so the opportunity is real for Reid and Grothe.

Wide Receiver
WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois
WR Brandon Banks, Kansas State
WR Chris Bonner, Florida Atlantic
WR Chris Brooks, Nebraska
WR Eyad Salem, Illinois State
WR Mike Williams, Syracuse
WR Preston Parker, North Alabama
    With seven players in camp, two of which were drafted, it will be a hard group to crack.  Parker needs to have a good camp to defend his roster spot.  If someone shows a talent level equal to either of the draft picks the Buccaneers will have found a real diamond -- and that player will quickly advance to the roster.

Tight Ends
TE Jeron Mastrud, Kansas State
    Obviously Mastrud would have to have a horrific camp to not stay on the 80-man roster.

Running Back
RB Chris Garrett, Ohio
RB Dana Brown, Youngstown State
RB Darius Marshall, Marshall
RB Demetrius McCray, Indiana
RB James Mallory, Central Connecticut State
    It will be hard for any of these men to crack the roster in Tampa as there is plenty of talent at the position with a good mix of veterans and youth.  2009 Buccaneer Kareem Huggins made it to the roster from the same position as these men.  Some could be considered for upgrading special teams play.

Fullback
FB Isaac Stockton, Chadron State
FB Phil Riley, Hofstra
FB Rendrick Taylor, Clemson
    This comes down to a matter of numbers on the roster.  These men could be playing for the practice squad.  Considering BJ Askew was cut but no fullbacks were drafted or signed, Tampa Bay may have all it needs at this position.  Some could be considered for upgrading special teams play.

Center
C  Ian Bustillo, UCF
C  Jared Zwilling, Purdue
C  Jeff Tow-Arnett, Minnesota
    At Center we have the requisite three players.  To make the team these men have to rate out higher than 2nd year pro Johnathan Compas (Incumbant starter Jeff Faine is going nowhere).  What provides a spark of possibility here is that when Faine went down with an injury last year, Compas did not replace him -- the Buccaneers went to the free agent market and brought back Sean Mahan instead.  Was Compas not ready in 2009, or was he underperforming?  Bustillo, Zwilling, and Tow-Arnett must make the most of this chance to slide in the door.

Guard
G  Abdul Kuyateh, Louisville
G  Lee Grimes, Texas A&M
G Sergio Render, Virginia Tech
G Vladimir Richard, Tennessee

    This should be a competitive group.  Two roster spots available between four men.  Normally there should be six guards in camp.  These men are all going to get extra opportunities to show their talents.  It seems the team is looking for something to happen here -- this will be a battle to watch.  2009 Buccaneer Marc Dile rose from this position onto the regular roster last year.

Tackle
T  Brandon Parks, Kent State
T  Carl Spitale, Florida Atlantic
T  Lavoris Williams, Florida Atlantic
T  Wesley Yarbough, Fort Hays State
T  Derek Hardman, Eastern Kentucky
T  James Williams, Harvard

    With no draft picks here the two roster positions should create some highly competitive action.  Unlike at Guard there are six men in camp, so each must make the most of his opportunities to impress the coaches. 2009 Buccaneer Demar Dotson began his career at this point last year.


DEFENSE
Tackle

DT Brian Price, UCLA
DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma

DT Boo Robinson, Wake Forest
DT Justin Lawrence, Morgan State
DT Melvin Matthews, Grambling
    There are four players on the roster drafted by the Buccaneers at this position:  Dre Moore (2008), Roy Miller (2009), Brian Price (2010), and Gerald McCoy(2010).  With the release of Chris Hovan, the Buccaneers signal they believe the talent on their roster is ready to replace a steady, 11-year veteran.  Quite a statement.  There is probably no room for these men on the roster.  Next year, the Buccaneers will not need another defensive lineman in the draft.  Robinson, Lawrence, and Matthews are, most likely, playing for a spot on the practice squad.

Defensive End
DE Aaron Harris, USF
DE Brandon Gilbeaux, Delaware
DE Erik Lorig, Stanford
DE George Johnson, Rutgers
DE Greg Middleton, Indiana
DE James Ruffin, Northern Iowa
    It has the look here as though it is six men competing for two roster spots.  Lorig was the last player selected by the Buccaneers in 2010 (very late in the 7th round).  If I was an unsigned college defensive end I would want be in Tampa Bay this weekend.  A strong performance here could reach the playing rotation this fall.

Cornerback
CB Armando Murillo, Nebraska
CB C.J. Lovett, Fort Hays State
CB Darrell Pasco, Georgia Southern
CB Kennard Banks, Iowa State
CB Myron Lewis, Vanderbilt
CB Quincy Wofford, Northern Colorado
CB Roderick Williams, Alcorn State
    To make room on the 80-man roster for Lewis, the Buccaneers cut Stony Woodson.  Meaning Tampa Bay feels there has already been an upgrade in talent at a position which had a constant revolving door during the 2009 season.  It would be shocking for any of these men to unseat the 2010 fourth rounder Lewis, which means they must make themselves more valuable than a veteran player already on the roster.  Hard to do when the veterans are watching from the sidelines.

Linebackers
LB Bryan Parker, Florida A&M
LB Dekota Watson, Florida State
LB Fred Garrin, Iowa State
LB Mike Nixon, Arizona State
LB Nekos Brown, Virginia Tech
LB Pat Benoist, Vanderbilt
LB Rico McCoy, Tennessee
LB Ryan Reeves, Wayne State
    Watson was a 7th round pick and considered to be someone who must find a way through special teams to stay on the roster.  The same would hold true for the rest of these men.  Getting a true outside linebacker from this group would be a nice bonus.

Safties
S  Andrew Sendejo, Rice
S  Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech
S  John Wilson, Sacred Heart
S  Kevin Thornton, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
S  Taylor Lanigan, Murray State
S Dennis Rogan, Tennessee
    There will be a lot of eyes on this group.  Safety play was erratic in 2009 and Tampa Bay will continue to look for a way to improve the position having bypassed it until the 7th round in the draft.  And, one more time, some could be considered for upgrading special teams play.

Specialists
K Hunter Lawrence, Texas
P  Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech
LS Chris Mauriello, Penn State
    While intriguing may be too strong a word, each of these players can get to the roster.  Lawrence comes from a state with a billion kickers, so he probably better than average.  Can he handle the Florida humidity and wind?  Bowden was chosen in the 6th round and the incumbent punter, Sam Paulescu, has already been released.  Mauriello is a unique case -- current long snapper Andrew Economos is on his fifth year and could become a free agent soon.  How much cap space do you give to a long snapper?  A younger option here means more to spend elsewhere.  It's not a sure thing, but I think Mauriello will be given every chance and it could be the shortest line to playing on Sunday for anyone at the Rookie Camp.
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