Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Young Buccaneers Discover Higher Gear

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-26, falling to 4-6 on the season. The Buccaneers have now suffered a four game losing streak to teams with a combined record of 31-13. The biggest challenge of the four games was going to Lambeau Field to play the undefeated Green Bay Packers.

The Buccaneers have been their own worst enemy in many ways during this downward swing, and last weekend was no different.  Tampa Bay was called for nine penalties (losing 55 yards), lost a fumble, and had two costly interceptions.

But this game featured something new: a resilience, combined with a competitive spirit which was not tangible in the past two games.

Although the Buccaneers did not score in the first quarter, the defense showed early they were ready to compete.  Green Bay's first possession stalled deep on their own end of the field, and Tampa Bay let their first opportunity slip by when pressure up the middle forced the Packer's punter to abort his kick.  Although he fumbled twice on the way to the sidelines, he did get enough yards to pick up the first down.  Instead of the Buccaneers getting a short field (maybe more), Green Bay would take the new opportunity and drive the length of the field for a touchdown to take the early lead 7-0.

The second quarter opened with Green Bay driving to a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.  On the next possession, LeGarrette Blount ripped off what could be the best running play in the NFL this season for 54 yards and a touchdown, helped by a crushing block by G Davin Josepth who removed a would-be tackler from Blount's back.  The play narrowed the Green Bay lead down to 14-7.

Tampa Bay scored on their next offensive possession as well, with a 23-yard Connor Barth field goal to reduce the deficit to 14-10.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Buccaneers attempted an onside kick which failed on an illegal touch by the Buccaneers.  The play appeared to catch the Packers off guard, but the opportunity was lost when Tampa did not allow the ball to travel 10-yards before touching the ball.  Green Bay took advantage of the short field and scored a touchdown to push the lead to 21-10.

The Buccaneers took the following kickoff from their own 24-yard line to the Green Bay 43 and were in a position to possibly get their own field goal attempt before halftime.  But another opportunity was lost when Josh Freeman was intercepted on a second and 10 play, and the game went to halftime with the Buccaneers behind 21-10.

Tampa Bay was able to get a field goal attempt on their first possession of the second half, bringing the score to 21-13.  However, the story of the third quarter was the defense who, for the first time in Green Bay's previous 10 quarters, held Green Bay scoreless.  In fact, the Buccaneer front four on defense kept pressure on the Packers all day, including sacks by DT Brian Price and DE Adrian Clayborn.

Tampa Bay opened the fourth quarter by finishing a 91-yard drive from the third quarter with a touchdown.  A failed two-point conversion left a two point deficit 21-19.  The Buccaneers and Packers then traded blows with each scoring a touchdown, and with 2:43 remaining in the game, the Packers held just a two point lead at 28-26.  Tampa Bay then attempted to steal the game away with another onside kick attempt, but did not recover the ball.  Faced with another short field, the Packers took advantage and scored another touchdown to put the game out of reach at 26-35.

Tampa Bay had their opportunities: two onside kicks, the possession before halftime, holding the opponent scoreless in the 3rd quarter.  Green Bay is undefeated and has scored more points this season than any other team in the NFL.  The Buccaneers stood toe-to-toe with them but were unable to take advantage when the opportunity presented itself.

It's rough for fans, but when a young team gets a glimpse of how good they "could be", it's an important event.  I guarantee none of the Buccaneers walked away from the game feeling Green Bay was a better team, just that the Packers were better that day.

Clearly this team has talent.  Last Sunday, they almost put it all together, but not quite.  Instead, the youngest team in the league will have to grow for another week and then test themselves against the 5-5 Tennessee Titans.

It's desperation time.




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freeman's Thumb Clearly An Issue

Josh Freeman has stated several times his thumb injury is small, not a problem, and no big deal.

I have to disagree.

According to Freeman via Rick Stroud of the Saint Petersberg Times, the thumb is has affected his throwing "a little bit". I believe it has affected his throwing a great deal.

Rewatching the Texans game from this past Sunday, Freeman mostly threw high (like above the receiver's head) and never achieved a tight spiral like his throws in 2010.  A high throw means his release point has changed as his hand comes over after windup, a sign of a lack of grip on the ball.  Bad grip (or a bad "feel" of the ball as it's released) makes for inaccuracy. Freeman put on clinics week after week last season on technique, ball speed, distance, and accuracy.  Clearly not the same thing this season.

A review of the Chicago game never showed Freeman gripping his hand or grimacing as the Buccaneers threw on their final six offensive plays to end the game.  In the post game press conference, the first 10 seconds shows Freeman's hand with no type of wrap, bandage, or support.  In fact, he unbuttons his jacket one handed using the thumb in question.  Nor does Freeman mention it during questioning.

So what is going on here?  What type of injury occurred in the Chicago game where there is no visible swelling, no sign of pain, yet requires a near-cast for a week and tape support during game time?  Is it a hairline fracture?

If the injury is significant, which apparently it is, why are the Buccaneers calling 33 pass plays versus just 16 rushing plays against the Texans?  Or 37 pass plays and only 16 running plays against New Orleans the week before?

Either Freeman and offensive coordinator Greg Olson are in denial about the injury, Freeman is having a "sophomore slump" type of season, or quarterback play is going to be down somewhat until the thumb in healed.

None of those cases bode well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who already face an uphill climb to the playoffs this season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Buccaneers Building Home Field Advantage

For years, NFL teams have enjoyed a home winning percentage of 55-60% on average (that's the bad included with the good).  Winning at home is a hallmark of a good team.  Winning on the road is the hallmark of a great team.

Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Buccaneers have compiled a 14-10 record. Last season, the Buccaneers were 4-4 at home and an amazing 6-2 away from Raymond James Stadium. This season, Tampa Bay is 3-1 at home but just 1-3 away from home.


It's extremely odd for the youngest teams in the NFL to have a significantly better record away from home, and 2010 is clearly an exception to the norm in pro football. The 2011 season has swung the other way at the halfway mark.  But it's the home record that is most important.

A young team generally starts to win consistently at home before getting used to the travel and environment of away games.  The home record this season will mark the team's progress now that rebuilding is (or is nearly) over.

The remaining home games include 6-3 Houston this weekend (first game at home since October 16th), 4-4 Dallas on Saturday night, December 17th, and 2-6 Carolina on Christmas Eve.  It will be a sign of great progress if Tampa Bay can continue to win at home this season.

Another good sign:  the Buccaneers are 2-0 in the division at home this season.  Tampa Bay has not gone 3-0 at home against the division since 2008.  The formula to win a division is to win at home first, then learn to beat those same teams on the road.

It's all about experience and maturity now.  The Buccaneers can't get any younger, and winning out at home would be a great way to show progress this season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Buccaneers Must Climb Hill To Playoffs


It's time for the Buccaneers to win at home!


A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 4-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, currently ranked 18th in the NFL.com Expert Consensus Power Poll


Past:
LOST 27-20 to Detroit
WON 24-20 against Minnesota
WON 16-13 against Atlanta
WON 24-17 against Indianapolis
LOST 48-3 to San Francisco
WON 26-20 against New Orleans
LOST 24-18 to Chicago
LOST 26-18 to New Orleans


Up Next:

Houston (6-3) #9


Upcoming:
@Green Bay (8-0) #1
@Tennessee (4-4) #20
Carolina (2-6) #23
@Jacksonville (2-6) #27
Dallas (3-3) #17
@Carolina (2-6) #23
@Atlanta (5-3) #14


Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 27-27


Based on the Power Poll, Tampa Bay should finish the 2011 season with an 8-8 record.  The swing games appear to be against Dallas, Atlanta, and this weekend's game against Houston.


The Playoff Picture
If the playoffs started this week:  

Division Winners
Green Bay Packers (8-0, NFC North)
- San Francisco 49ers (7-1, NFC West)
New York Giants (6-2, NFC East)
- New Orleans Saints (6-3, NFC South)
Wildcards
- Detroit Lions (6-2, NFC North)
- Chicago Bears (5-3, NFC North)
Outside Looking In
+ Atlanta Falcons (5-3, NFC South)
? Dallas Cowboys (4-4, NFC East)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4, NFC South)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-5, NFC East)
Washington Redskins (3-5, NFC East)

The rest of the NFC teams are more than three games out of the wildcard race at this time -- not eliminated, but getting there.  Teams with a minus(-) in front of their name own a tiebreaker over Tampa Bay by defeating the Buccaneers during the 2011 regular season.  Teams with a plus(+) in front of their name would lose a tiebreaker to the Buccaneers, and teams with a question mark(?) are still to come on the Buccaneers schedule.

Important games this weekend:
Buccaneers to WIN over Houston (of course!)
Detroit to WIN over Chicago
New Orleans to WIN over Atlanta
Buffalo to WIN over Dallas

Let's play football!

GO BUCS!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buccaneers Give Haynesworth One Last Chance

This is it for Albert Haynesworth.

According to the NFL Network, no other teams made a claim for Haynesworth.  Tampa Bay, who has publicly acknowledged their hopes on landing the All-Pro for two years, threw him a lifeline yesterday by claiming his rights via the waiver wire.

Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik stated flatly Albert is here because of a season ending injury to 2010 first round draft pick DT Gerald McCoy, not because the team was shopping for a position upgrade.  Obviously, none of the other NFL teams were in the market either.

Today could have been the first day of retirement for Albert.  It could have been the day he decided to hang it up.  Instead, Haynesworth is somewhere at or near One Buccaneer Place, getting ready for a day of preparations leading up to the Houston Texans coming to town Sunday.  He's meeting his third team since Raheem Morris became head coach.

And he has to realize this is it.  Not just "it", this is IT.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent both first and both second round draft picks in the 2010 and 2011 drafts along their defensive line (plus a 3rd and 4th in 2009).  They plumbed the waiver wire and plundered practice squads (even pulled a trade) for two years looking for players they believed would excel doing things "the Buccaneer way" up front.  It's been a massive overhaul to return to a powerful Buccaneer defense Tampa Bay fans know will take the team deep into the playoffs.  No stone has been left unturned.  This is another one of those stones.

Do they need Haynesworth?  Right now they do.  However, the Buccaneers had already filled the DT vacancy left by McCoy.  Clearly there is a young player out there they are interested in.  Only Dominik knows how short the leash will be on Haynesworth.

Do they need Haynesworth next season?  This is where it all comes down to Albert: it's all up to him. Play like a monster and get a new contract, fall in the rotation with young players like McCoy, Brian Price, or Roy Miller, teach, demonstrate, extend the career.  Or give up, play out the season, and fade away as the youngry creatures lurking on the defensive line pass on by.

If Haynesworth plays out the way GM Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris see it playing out, the competition on the defensive front will be amazing next season.  The Buccaneers will feature one of the most talented (yet least experienced, even with Haynesworth) defensive fronts in the NFL.  Dominik will have to figure out how a new contract for Haynesworth figures into the mix with players like Josh Freeman and Roy Miller finishing up contracts while having big money invested up front on the offensive side.

Dominik and Morris have taken on "challenging" players before:  Mike Williams had questions coming out of Syracuse; LeGarrette Blount had questions coming out of Oregon.  They recently got Tanard Jackson back from a one year substance abuse suspension, and have since extended his contract.  Clearly Haynesworth has to believe, for a final run, this was the right place at the right time.  So it may work out just fine.


Plans laid two years ago may finally be coming together in Tampa Bay.  The proof will be in another playoff run this season.  Only now, more than just Tampa Bay fans will be watching.  Everyone has their opinion on Haynesworth.  The only real question is: what is Albert going to do?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Buccaneers Battle Themselves To Mediocrity

I really hate being 4-4 in the middle of the season.  It's like knowing what's in a present before you open it -- you're glad to have it, but there is no excitement in the moment.

Such is where all of the Buccaneers Nation stands today after a never-quite-out-of-reach game with the New Orleans Saints.  Having won in the Superdome the last two seasons, a 27-16 result feels pretty bad.  Worst of all, it's not so much that New Orleans was a significantly better team, it's more about how the Buccaneers can be their own worst enemy.  And two against one in the NFL is rarely a winning combination for the "one".

The Buccaneers had the ball first, but were not able to start the game with a first down.  New Orleans took the resulting punt and burned over four and a half minutes off the clock getting into field goal range. Saints kicker John Kasay then nailed the right upright to keep the game at 0-0.

Tampa Bay took over and ran at New Orleans with LeGarrette Blount. Blount carred the ball on five of the next six plays, taking the Buccaneers to 4th and 1 at the New Orleans 29 yard line.  Unfortunately, the Buccaneers did not convert on Bount's sixth run in the drive, and New Orleans took over on downs.

Five plays later New Orleans scored their first touchdown on a Drew Brees to Lance Moore touchdown pass to break out to an early 7-0 lead.

With 2:27 remaining in the first quarter, the Buccaneers offense imploded, with an Illegal Substitution penalty and two Offensive Pass Interference calls in the next 10 plays.  Tampa Bay ended up with fourth and four at the New Orleans 38 yard line -- outside of field goal range -- and punted the ball away.

Seven plays later, New Orleans scored their second touchdown on a pass from Brees to Sproles pushing their lead to 14-0.

Preston Parker returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards from four yards deep in the endzone, and Tampa Bay set up at their own 41 yard line.  Three plays later they faced a 4th and four, but a New Orleans penalty converted the first down and the Buccaneers stayed alive, only to get a false start penalty before the next play from scrimmage.  As a result, Tampa Bay found themselves again in 4th and 4 three plays later and were forced to punt.

Pinned deep, New Orleans only converted one first down and punted from deep in their own territory.  Tampa Bay took over with 2:37 to go in the half but only managed to get to the New Orleans 22 yard line, where the ever dependable Connor Barth kicked a field goal to get the Buccaneers on the board and closing the score to 14-3.

The Saints countered, using 1:38 of the final 1:39 of the half to drive from their own 20 to the Buccaneers four yard line, kicking a field goal to push the margin back to 14 points at 17-3.

The Buccaneers opened the second half on defense, but CB Ronde Barber picked off a Brees pass giving Tampa Bay the ball at the New Orleans 33 yard line.  Yet again, the Buccaneers were not able to overcome themselves as a personal foul by RB LeGarrette Blount killed the drive.  Barth kicked another field goal and the score narrowed to 17-6.

New Orleans then consumed the next 6 minutes of the third quarter, driving for a touchdown and stretching the lead to the biggest margin of the game at 24-6.

The Buccaneers returned the favor with a possession which ran out the 3rd quarter and went down to 11:08 remaining in the game.  However, Tampa Bay again had to settle for a field goal after reaching the New Orleans 7-yard line making the score 24-9.

With 5:35 remaining in the game, the Buccaneers finally reached the end zone (with an important Defensive Pass Interference call along the way) with a five yard Josh Freeman to Kellen Winslow pass making the score 24-16.

The Saints received the ball with about five and a half minutes remaining in the game and went on another clock consuming drive, with the final dagger being a John Kasay field goal with 1:17 remaining.  The Buccaneers were unable to reach scoring territory and the game ended at 27-16.

Next up:  Tampa Bay's first home game in more than a month as the 6-3 Houston Texans come to Raymond James Stadium.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ted Larsen Not A Rookie Anymore

When kids dream of getting into the NFL, they certainly do not dream of the path taken by Ted Larsen.

Larson was originally drafted by New England in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of North Carolina State.  Just five picks later, Tampa Bay selected S Cody Grimm from Virginia Tech.  GM Mark Dominik found a way to get both.

When New England let Larsen go after training camp in 2010, the Buccaneers swept him up as part of the biggest non-draft haul in Buccaneer history.  By Week 7 of the same season, Larsen was starting and helped the team win 8 more games, just missing the playoffs.

Larsen was a starter when the 2011 season opened, but was replaced by veteran Jeremy Zuttah.  When center Jeff Faine went down against New Orleans, Zuttah moved over to center and Larsen returned to regular duty at Guard.

In London, with Tampa Bay trailing 22-5 in the 3rd Quarter, Zuttah went down.  With two centers down, Larsen moved to the middle -- the position he played in college.  So, with 18:45 remaining in the game, Larsen and fellow 2010 rookie Derek Hardman entered the game at center and guard respectively.

Tampa Bay scored two touchdowns on their next two possessions as well as drove from their own 28-yard line to the Bears 39-yard line in what was shaping up to be a game winning drive.  A turnover ended the comeback, but clearly the offense was clicking well with both Larsen and Hardman in the game.

We'll find out later this week who is healthy and who is not up front on offense.  Josh Freeman shouldn't be worried, however.  There are plenty of not-rookies ready to go.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Erratic Buccaneers: 12-4 or 8-8?

What a difference a week makes.


The Experts at NFL.com are faltering in their impression of the young Buccaneers after wild swings through the second quarter of the season.  Last week, 12-4 looked possible.  This week, Tampa Bay may not make the playoffs.


A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 4-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, currently ranked 17th in the NFL.com Expert Consensus Power Poll


Past:
LOST 27-20 to Detroit
WON 24-20 against Minnesota
WON 16-13 against Atlanta
WON 24-17 against Indianapolis
LOST 48-3 to San Francisco
WON 26-20 against New Orleans
LOST 24-18 to Chicago


Up Next:

November 6th @New Orleans (5-2) #3


Upcoming:
Houston (4-3) #11
@Green Bay (7-0) #1
@Tennessee (3-3) #21
Carolina (2-5) #23
@Jacksonville (2-5) #25
Dallas (3-3) #16
@Carolina (2-5) #23
@Atlanta (4-3) #13


Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 27-27


Based on the Power Poll, Tampa Bay should finish the 2011 season with an 8-8 record.  The swing games appear to be against Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta, which means Tampa Bay's playoff hopes are shaping up to go down to the wire again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Buccaneers Enter Bye Week at 4-3


I bet it was a long plane ride back from London.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to Florida at 4-3 for a well earned weekend off.  The team has shown it's youth this season with wildly inconsistent results, the latest being 24-18 loss to the Chicago Bears at Wembly Stadium in London, after beating the New Orleans Saints, and two weeks since the San Francisco game.

They did all they could to prevent a repeat of the 35-7 loss to New England in London just two years ago.  The team went to London early, they acclimated and adjusted.  At times, they played well.  But it just did not go well enough.

It didn't help when Micheal Koenen, a stalwart performer this season, sent the opening kickoff out-of-bounds.

The inactive list for the game was much last last weekend with lots of talent on the sidelines: DT Gerald McCoy, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Sammie Stroughter, C Jeff Faine, T James Lee, and TE Zack Pianalto.  Unfortunately, those players had company quickly.

The Buccaneers three-and-outed the Bears after the Koenen miscue, but were unable to to make much progress themselves.  The Bears got the ball back, then drove the field and scored first to take the early lead 7-0, then three-and-outed the Buccaneers to get the ball back again.  Bears QB Jay Cutler was victimized by Tanard Jackson, who made his second interception in as many weeks, who returned the pick to the Chicago 12 yard line.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman was then intercepted on the next play at the two yard line.

The defense rose to the occasion on the next play when DT Brian Price stopping the initial surge by Chicago, forcing Bears RB Matt Forte to veer left into the waiting tackle of CB Ronde Barber for a safety, bringing the score to a strange 7-2 mark.

Tampa Bay took over after the safety kick at their own 40 yard line.  However, after an initial first down, the offense imploded with three penalties on the next five plays.  The drive included such unmanageable situations as 2nd and 21, 2nd and 26, and 3rd and 21, before the Buccaneers were forced to punt on 4th and 12.  The Bears got one play in the books before the first quarter ended.

Although behind on the scoreboard by only five points, Tampa Bay lost the services of both RB Earnest Graham and FB Erik Lorig in the first quarter, leaving RB Kregg Lumpkin as the lone healthy running back for the Buccaneers.

Chicago opened the second quarter with the ball, but was forced to punt.  After one carry by Kregg Lumpkin, who lost a yard, Tampa Bay passed twice then punted for a three-and-out by the Bears.  Chicago then went on a 7 play, 79 yard touchdown drive to push their lead to 14-2.

Tampa Bay got the ball back on their own 20, threw three times, then punted the ball away.

The Bears then drove to the Tampa Bay 36 yard line before they stalled and punted.

Starting from their own 7 yard line, Tampa Bay ran once and threw eight times before the clock caught up with them, resulting in a 33-yard field goal by Connor Barth, resulting in a 14-5 halftime score.

The Bears opened the second half by three-and-outing the Buccaneers, then putting together another seven play scoring drive, this time covering 55 yards and a lead of 21-5.  It would be the only points scored in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay finally broke through after S Corey Lynch intercepted a pass at the Chicago 35-yard line, returning it to the 21.  Four plays later, the Buccaneers scored on a Freeman to TE Kellen Winslow pass of two yards.  The 2-point conversion failed, but Tampa Bay had closed the gap to 21-11.

After a Chicago three-and-out, the Buccaneers then called six straight pass plays, the final one being a 24-yard touchdown to WR Dezmon Briscoe, tightening the score to 21-18 with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game.

The Bears took the resulting kick and drove to the Buccaneer 4-yard line.  The defense held steady for two plays, then Ronde Barber broke through and sacked Jay Culter for a six yard loss with 3:44 to go in the game.  The Bears would have been forced to attempt a field goal and give the Buccaneers the ball back, but CB Aqib Talib got into a tussle with Bears WR Roy Williams, resulting in a personal foul penalty on Talib and new life for Chicago.  Although the Buccaneer defense then rose to the occasion a second time, forcing the Bears to settle for a field goal, the Bears had run 12 plays and drained the game clock to the two minute warning with the score at 24-18.

The Buccaneers took the resulting kickoff and, from their own 28-yard line, marched quickly to the Bears 39 yard line before Josh Freeman was intercepted for a fourth time, ending the game at 24-18.

During the game, Tampa Bay also saw LB Mason Foster and DE Da'Quan Bowers leave the game with injuries.

The bye week could not have come at a better time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One of Those Choices

Around 28 minutes into his Total Access show from London this week, Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik talked about spending 24-hours agonizing over one decision regarding his roster during the run-up to the New Orleans game.

The timeframe of this decision was Oct 10th through Oct 14th (not many roster changes on Thursdays or Fridays before games).  As I see it, the major event of that timeframe is the reinstatement of Tanard Jackson into the NFL.

Tampa Bay retains Jackson's rights through the end of this league year.  What triggered a hard decision is Jackson showed up at One Buccaneer Place in game shape.  In a group of Safeties which was already down one body with the loss of Cody Grimm, the return of a ready-to-play Tanard Jackson was a big boost.  Unfortunately, with Jackson reinstated, the Buccaneers were one man over the NFL roster limit.  Either Jackson had to be cut or another player.

This is the agonizing part for any GM, and I'm sure it's what Dominik was referring to.  The roster is flush with young talent.  Yet an experienced performer in your scheme is available.  And there is no "both" option; someone has to go.

After all the agonizing, phone calls with coaches, consultation with the pro personnel staff, and (no doubt) a long discussion with Head Coach Raheem Morris, the decision seems to have boiled down to keeping Tanard Jackson and releasing RB Allen Bradford (6th Round, 2011).

Bradford was deep on the depth chart behind players like LeGarrette Blount, Earnest Graham, and Kregg Lumpkin.  Clearly, the leadership group saw something in Bradford they liked.  This is a franchise which clearly values every selection.  So it would seems they planned on getting Bradford to the practice squad.

Then Dominik got . . . well, Dominik'd.

The Seattle Seahawks (and Bradford's former coach at USC Pete Carroll) swooped in and signed Bradford.  Talent lost.

That's not to say Bradford will never return.  Pro Personnel Director Shelton Quarles will keep an eye on the young man, no doubt.  Clearly Seattle also thinks Bradford is a worthwhile prospect, validating what the Buccaneers believed from the start.  But now he's not learning in Tampa. Tampa Bay's coaches are not directing his development and he's not in the Tampa Bay meeting rooms.

General Managers and their staff make these kinds of choices all the time.  There is no way to know if Bradford becomes the next Top 5 running back in the NFL, or if Tanard Jackson's troubles are behind him.  Jackson played a big role in the New Orleans victory last weekend, so in the short term at least, the decision appears to be solid.  Every roster move in the NFL involves something lost versus something gained.  The challenge for for more to fall under "gain".

Anticipating the results of this move will be something that nags at the front office for a while.

Such is life at One Buccaneer Place.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Buccaneers Special Teams Dominating

A kickoff through the endzone.  A booming punt.

These were common sights last weekend as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints 26-20 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

But it is much more than a one game phenomenon. During the Tony Dungy coaching era of the 1990s, the Buccaneers were well known to have excellent special teams play.  It appears that phase of the game is returning to it's dominant form.

It has been a long and winding special teams road for General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris.  In 2009, the first year of the new leadership, Tampa Bay utilized five different kickers during the first seven games of the season before finding Connor Barth, who has been the steady, heady presence an NFL team needs at the position.  In fact, last weekend, Connor Barth hit four field goals and two extra points generating more than half of the Buccaneer's points last Sunday.  Add in his kickoffs without returns and there is a case for MVP last weekend.

Punting has been equally tricky for Dominik and Morris to get a grip on.  That is, until this past offseason when Dominik took a rare dive into the free agent pool and signed Micheal Koenen, turning a solid double-play: fix a position of need for Tampa Bay and remove a player who had never missed a game from the Atlanta Falcons.  Textbook case of playing to win.

Last weekend, Koenen averaged nearly 50 yards per punt, but the real story is much better:  Tampa Bay currently ranks 4th in the NFL in net yards per punt (42.5 yards).  Not only has Koenen been a great addition, but the entire punting team has been making sure that those big booms don't get wasted by a big return.

Tampa fans love their defense, and the young talent on offense is explosive.  But the special teams play, the "We-fence" as it it called at One Buc Place, has become equally valuable to the team's playoff run in 2011.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Saints Win Puts Buccaneers on 12-win Pace



With a 26-20 win over the previously #2 rated New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers get a critical win for reaching the playoffs this season.


A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 4-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, currently ranked 11th in the NFL.com Expert Consensus Power Poll


Past:
LOST 27-20 to Detroit
WON 24-20 against Minnesota
WON 16-13 against Atlanta
WON 24-17 against Indianapolis
LOST 48-3 to San Francisco
WON 26-20 against New Orleans


Up Next:
Chicago (in London) (3-3) #16


Upcoming:
@New Orleans (4-2) #7
Houston (3-3) #15
@Green Bay (6-0) #1
@Tennessee (3-2) #14
Carolina (1-5) #24
@Jacksonville (1-5) #29
Dallas (2-3) #20
@Carolina (1-5) #24
@Atlanta (3-3) #17


Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 27-31


Based on the Power Poll, Tampa Bay should finish the 2011 season with an 12-4 record.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Buccaneers Flaunt Depth, Reach Top of NFC South

One week after a disastrous trip to the west coast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held serve at home in the NFC South against the New Orleans Saints 26-20.

The game started with several key Buccaneer players unavailable, including RB LeGarrette Blount, DT Gerald McCoy (both starters), WR Sammie Stroughter, TE Luke Stocker, LB Zac Diles, and Tackles James Lee and Derek Hardman.  Blount and McCoy both started last weekend, Stroughter was the opening day kick returner, and Stocker has been coming on recently in relief of Kellen Winslow.  Lee and Hardman filled key roles on the offensive line during the injury-plagued 10-win run last season.  It's a large, important group and the bye week can't get here soon enough.

Nevertheless, the Buccaneers proved once again they have capable depth on the roster.  RB Earnest Graham and DT Brian Price stepped in for Blount and McCoy respectively, and TE Zack Pianalto stepped in to spell Winslow.  Another new face to the starting lineup was the return of S Tanard Jackson to help with the season-ending loss of starting Safety Cody Grimm two weeks ago.  Clearly, depth will come into play this season as well.

Early in the game it was apparent that there was one facet of the game the Buccaneers were going to close down, and that was the New Orleans special teams play.  With a dangerous return man like Darren Sproles waiting, punter Micheal Koenen boomed towering punts to the sidelines, removing the Saints' return game from consideration.  Koenen punted just four times, but posted a nearly-fifty yard average (49.8 yards; Sproles was only able to return one, and he lost 10 yards on the play, tackled by LB Dakota Watson).

The supposedly slow-starting Buccaneers scored first on a Conner Barth 48-yard field goal in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead.

The Saints grabbed the following possession and scored on a 38-yard Drew Brees to Maques Colston pass down the left sideline, taking their first lead of the game at 7-3.  The first quarter would finish with that score.

Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Tampa Bay grabbed the lead back on a 65-yard bomb from Josh Freeman to Arrelious Benn across the middle of the field to raise the score to 10-7.  The defense then held the Saints to a 3-and-out, and the Buccaneer offense took the ball back to the New Orleans side of the field for a field goal and a 13-7 lead.

On the following Saints possession, S Tanard Jackson intercepted a Drew Brees pass, and the young Buccaneers turned it into points with another Josh Freeman pass.  This time, Preston Parker sprinted right-to-left across the middle of the defense for 19 yards and a touchdown, extending the Tampa Bay lead to 20-7.

New Orleans, showing the resilience one has come to expect from the Saints, drove the field to close the half but were forced to settle for a field goal and Tampa Bay took a 20-10 lead into the locker room.

In the third quarter, both teams were only able to generate field goals, and the fourth quarter started 23-13.

New Orleans opened the fourth quarter with the ball and, assisted by a pass interference call, used rookie Mark Ingram from 12 yards out to narrow the Tampa Bay lead to 20-23.  After an exchange of 3-and-out series, the Buccaneers drove to the New Orleans 20 yard line before stalling, and another Connor Barth field goal opened the lead to 26-20.

The New Orleans Saints then took the next possession at their own 24 yard line and tore through the Buccaneer defense to the Tampa Bay two yard line where, on 4th and 2, Drew Brees was intercepted by Quincy Black in the endzone to preserve the Buccaneer lead.

Two first downs later, the Buccaneers lined up in the victory formation and finished the game with a 26-20 victory and ascended to 1st place in the potent NFC South.

It was a significant change of fortunes as the visiting team had won Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans games for the past two years.

Super-Sub RB Earnest Graham gained 109 yards on 17 attempts, a blistering 6.4 yards per carry average.  DT Brain Price recorded a tackle for loss, and S Tanard Jackson posted five solo tackles and an interception.  Even first year, undrafted TE Zack Pianalto donned his super-sub helmet and recorded a catch for nine yards.

It was important for Tampa Bay to put the prior week behind them, and they certainly did against the team many considered to be the best in the NFC South.  Later this season they may face the West Coast hurdle again, but for now Buccaneer fans can enjoy the return to the top of the NFC South and look forward to this weekend's game against the Chicago Bears in London.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Buccaneers Poised for 11-win Season

One year ago, we started tracking the "Race for 10" (copyright Head Coach Raheem Morris) after week 4 and predicted the Buccaneers would finish 10-6 based on the NFL.com Power Poll of the 32 NFL teams.  Turns out the predictive powers were good, although declaring 10 wins enough to make the playoffs was, sadly and surprisingly, inaccurate.


So, we take the same path for 2011 and peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 3-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, currently ranked 9th in the NFL.com Expert Consensus Power Poll


Past:
LOSS 27-20 to Detroit
WIN 24-20 against Minnesota
WIN 16-13 against Atlanta
WIN 24-17 against Indianapolis


Up Next:
@San Francisco (3-1) Power Poll Rank: #15


Upcoming:
New Orleans (3-1) #2
Chicago (in London) (2-2) #18
@New Orleans (3-1) #2
Houston (3-1) #6
@Green Bay (4-0) #1
@Tennessee (3-1) #12
Carolina (1-3) #23
@Jacksonville (1-3) #26
Dallas (2-2) #19
@Carolina (1-3) #23
@Atlanta (2-2) #17


Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 28-20


Based on the Power Poll, Tampa Bay should finish the 2011 season with an 11-5 record.  That  should put the Buccaneers in the playoffs!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Playoff Fate Determined By Next Four Games

For the second season in a row, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off and running to a fast, 3-1 start.  The one loss?  The unbeaten Detroit Lions.  Not shabby at all.  And putting Atlanta one game into the rear view mirror is always A Good Thing. The other two wins?  Versus the winless Colts and winless Vikings.

It's a similar situation to 2010, when the Buccaneers beat Carolina, Cleveland, and Cincinnati but lost to Pittsburgh in the first four games.  Then came the statement by Head Coach Raheem Morris that this was the best team in the NFC.  Are the Buccaneers as confident this season?  Probably so.

Nonetheless, the next four games may decide if the Buccaneers miss the playoffs again this season:
1. Oct 9th -- West Coast tip to meet up with the 3-1 San Francisco 49ers after a short Monday Night Football week
2. Oct 16th -- Home against the co-NFC South leaders, the 3-1 New Orleans Saints
3. Oct 23rd -- Off to London to face the 2-2 Chicago Bears in Wembley Stadium
A Halloween bye week, then finally:
4. Nov 6th -- To the Superdome to match up for the second time in three games (and last time during the 2011 regular season) against the New Orleans Saints.

Every one of those four teams are in the NFC, and wins against NFC teams are crucial for late-season tie-breaker scenarios.  In addition, all are contenders to win their divisions which makes them excellent tuneups for playoff football.  Finally, Tampa Bay can bury the New Orleans Saints with two wins and place themselves all alone at the top of the NFC South.

In 2010, Tampa Bay lost two divisional games during the second quarter of the season, then played the rest of the season looking up from below at Atlanta and New Orleans.  In the end, they missed the playoffs.

The next four games will go a long way determining if this season finishes any differently than the last.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

GM Mark Dominik Rising Fast

All Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans know there are a lot of young players out there the team will have to schmooze with big paychecks to keep them in Tampa.

What about the GM?

This past offseason, the Buccaneers did the right thing extending the current contract of the youngest General Manager in the NFL.  Dominik is starting to get noticed nationwide, including a recent article naming him the seventh best GM in the NFL today.  It is an elite company in the top quarter of the league, including guys who have won Championships with teams they have created.

Clearly other people believe Dominik is on his way to achieving the same goal.  While he already has a ring from 2002 when he was in the pro personnel department, it's not the same as build-your-own.

Eight teams, or a quarter of the NFL, changed general managers in 2008, with Tampa Bay's promotion of Dominik from within being one of them.  The other seven and their rankings in the article linked above:

  • Cleveland, who fired their GM less than one year after hiring him
  • Denver, #28 (Brian Xanders)
  • Detroit, #8 (Martin Mayhew)
  • Jacksonville, #29 (Gene Smith)
  • Kansas City, #12 (Scott Pioli)
  • New England, #11 (Bill Bellicheck)
  • Saint Louis, #21 (Billy Devaney)
It's been less than three seasons, and granted some of these men inherited a disaster.  Some started ahead like New England.  But fortunately Tampa Bay had someone already familiar with the way things work inside One Buccaneer Place, and Dominik has worked it to his advantage ever since.

Don't overlook Detroit and the high regard for their GM.  They clearly found the right man as well.

It's a solid Top Five in the GM rankings above, and appears to be a very hard group to crack.  To get there, Dominik will have to win a championship.  

Seems that more and more people are believing that he will.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grimm Probably Done For 2011

Rumors abound, but it seems that Tampa Bay Buccaneer safety Cody Grimm suffered enough knee damage to require more than 8 weeks of healing and rehabilitation.

If this is the case, General Manager Mark Dominik has a big decision today -- hold Grimm on the roster for two months (until week 11, or later) or put Grimm on IR and let him prepare for next season.

This is Grimm's second major injury in two years after breaking a leg in 2010.

If Grimm is going to IR, I would expect One Buccaneer Place to make a move soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Defense Showing Growing Pains

In the Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions (27-20) the Tampa Bay defense showed it has some growing to do this season.  Not (in any way) to heap blame for the loss on the defensive squad.  Across the team small changes will mean big improvements.  It's just easier to see after-the-fact on the defensive side.

The now famous Tampa-2 defensive scheme, even with the changes added by Head Coach Raheem Morris, is still based around driving play to the middle of the field.  As a consequence, the Middle Linebacker position (also called the "Mike" linebacker) makes a lion's share of the tackles each season.  Going back just five years, the leading tacklers were all Middle Linebackers:

2010 118 tackles, 33 assists (Ruud)
2009 142 tackles, 35 assists (Ruud)
2008 137 tackles, 35 assists (Ruud)
2007 109 tackles, 25 assists (Brooks) (& 114 tackles, 31 assists (Ruud, 2nd leading tackler))
2006 121 tackles, 25 assists (Brooks)

Mason Foster, drafted in the 3rd round this past April, is now the starting MLB for Tampa Bay.  Against Detroit, he recorded 5 tackles and an assist.  Not at all bad for a rookie in his first game and first start.  However, five Buccaneer defensive players finished with more tackles than Foster.  In fact, in the first three games of the 2010 season, the Middle Linebacker lead the team in tackles each game.  Clearly, one indicator of a well-oiled Tampa-2 defense will be when Mason Foster is leading the team in tackles.

Why didn't Foster lead the team in tackles in Week 1?  Coach Morris has already stated Foster is currently not always going to be on the field in nickel situations, so one reason is the summer lockout and lack of OTAs.  Another reason is, no doubt, Foster is still learning the position.

The third reason may be the most important, and it's staggering on the stat sheet.  2011 first round draft choice Defensive End Adrian Clayborn did not record a single tackle (nor an assist) against the Detroit Lions. 2011 second round draft choice Defensive End Da'Quan Bowers recorded 1 tackle, no assists.  The more experienced Defensive Ends on the squad, Tim Crowder and Michael Bennett, each recorded four tackles.

I'm not saying defensive ends should lead the team in tackles -- that is not the Tampa-2 way.  Defensive Ends should contain and force the play inside or stretch the play to the outside and make the tackle.  That is basic defensive end assignment football from pee-wee leagues to the pros.  When defensive ends do this, the play flows to the middle linebacker.

A low number of tackles by the defensive ends could mean they are holding the offensive backfield from running to the edges of the field.  To me, and I think those who were able to watch the game would agree, this was not the case against the Lions.  There was actually a lack of containment by the defensive ends.  Again, lots of youth learning to play on the edges now and I think it shows.

All this is correctable.  When all the defensive ends have similar stats and the middle linebacker leads the team in tackles, the Buccaneers will win.  The questions is will that happen this weekend against the Vikings?

To make the playoffs, the Buccaneer defensive rookies must grow into their new positions sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Situational Defensive Fronts

During his press conference on September 2nd, Head Coach Raheem Morris laid out the rotation for the front seven on defense.

"Base"
RE: Adrian Clayborn
DT: Roy Miller
DT: Gerald McCoy
LE: Michael Bennett
WLB: Geno Hayes
MLB: Mason Foster
SLB: Quincy Black

"Nickel"

RE: Adrian Clayborn/Tim Crowder
DT: Roy Miller/Brian Price/Frank Okam
DT: Gerald McCoy/Frank Okam
LE: Michael Bennett/Da'Quan Bowers
WLB: Geno Hayes
MLB: Quincy Black/Mason Foster
SLB: Dakota Watson

Regarding Frank Okam, who will play either inside tackle positions, Coach said he is a "large, smart human".  Also according to Coach Morris, Adam Heyward will be available at all linebacker positions.  Mason Foster is still learning nickel coverages (this is where the lockout hurts).

For the Buccaneers to reach the playoffs in 2011 the defensive front seven needs to be more disruptive.  With the additional speed of Mason Foster and the power of Adrian Clayborn, it could be the group to get Tampa Bay over the top.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Defensive Line Showing Teeth

After spending both their first and second round picks on defensive linemen in 2010 and 2011, the youth movement up front is starting to show improvement.  Granted, it's preseason and it can be deceiving.

Nonetheless, during the 2010 preseason, Tampa Bay recorded a total of four quarterback sacks.

So far in the 2011 preseason, with one game to go, Tampa Bay has recorded thirteen quarterback sacks.  League wide, the Buccaneers stand alone in fourth place, with only the Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, and Philadelphia Eagles ahead of them (tied for first with 14 sacks).

And it's not a matter of a weaker preseason slate:  Last year's preseason opponents (Miami, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Houston) won a combined six preseason games.  This year's opponents (Kansas City, New England, Miami, and Washington) have already won six preseason games with one game each remaining.

Tampa Bay defensive end George Johnson (another member of the 2010 practice squad) is currently tied for the league lead in sacks with 3.0; he is tied with three other players.  Right behind the lead group is Buccaneer linebacker Dakota Watson with 2.5 sacks.  Other Buccanneer players with 2 or more sacks are DE Tim Crowder and DE Kyle Moore.

The draft focus of the past two years appears to be taking shape.  Based on the third preseason game against Miami, the likely starting four on the defensive line will be:
RE: Adrian Clayborn, 2011 First Round Draft Pick
DT: Frank Okam, 2010 Waiver Wire pickup
DT. Gerald McCoy, 2010 First Round Draft Pick
LE: Micheal Bennett, 2009 Waiver Wire pickup

And the depth:
RE: Tim Crowder, 2009 Waiver Wire pickup
DT: Roy Miller, 2009 Third Round Pick
DT: Brian Price, 2010 Second Round Pick
LE: Da'Quan Bowers, 2011 Second Round Pick

Miller, Price, and Bowers are currently working their way back from injury and appear to be ready for the regular season.

This is a group which will probably not reach their collective prime for another season or so.  Based on results so far, this could be the squad to watch in 2011.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Buccaneers On Course To Start Season With New Backfield

With the third preseason game in the books, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to have settled on a completely new running back tandem to start 2011.

The 2010 season started with Cadillac Williams at tailback and Earnest Graham at fullback.  With Cadillac now with the Rams, the tailback job has fallen to 2010 undrafted free agent LeGarrette Blount.  And starting at fullback is the last player selected by the Buccaneers in the 2010 draft, Erik Lorig, a converted tight end.  In fact, Blount and Lorig were both inactive for the first game of 2010.

These are crazy days in Tampa.  With 75% of the roster having less than four years of experience, it just gets weird sometimes.

The writing was on the wall for Cadillac after Blount did not start the first three games of the season yet still managed to gather over 1,000 yards to lead all rookies last season.  Williams, who was also a dependable pass catcher, may have outlasted his value for the Buccaneers opting instead to sign a one-year contract with the Saint Louis Rams.

Lorig, on the other hand, has come out of nowhere to unseat the granddaddy of the Bucs backfield, the venerable Earnest Graham.  Graham will play, and play plenty, this season for Tampa Bay -- I do not doubt this for a moment.  But Lorig, who also spent practice time last season at tight end and defensive end, continues to impress with his 6'4", 275 lb frame (similar to 2011 2nd round pick DE Da'Quan Bowers).  This, in a nutshell, is the tradeoff the Buccaneers are making:  experience for power.

Cadillac Williams (5'11", 217 lbs) vs. LeGarette Blount (6'0", 247 lbs)
Earnest Graham (5'9", 225 lbs) vs. Erik Lorig (6'4", 275 lbs)

That's an increase of 80 pounds of running back, plus additional height at both positions (following a notable offensive trend of the past two years). GM Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris have talked at great length about becoming a bigger, more powerful running team.

Apparently, the next step towards that goal has been taken.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Second Draft Just Two Games Away

The Second Draft is one week from Saturday.  It feels like 10 days until Christmas.

Tampa Bay's leadership group of GM Mark Dominik, Scouting Director Dennis Hickey, and Pro Personnel Director Shelton Quarles have given Buccaneers fans a second draft day each of the past two seasons.  When the other teams drop their roster count to 53 men, Dominik leads a feeding frenzy at One Buccaneer place, reeling in players like RB LeGarrette Blout and WR Desmon Briscoe.  Or OG Ted Larson and RB Kregg Lumpkin.  You get the picture.

Apparently nothing gets past One Buc place, or at least no player.  The rest of the NFL has taken notice as well.  The Buccaneers know for every good player which makes a roster, or every veteran who keeps his roster position, another player has to be let go.  

Tampa Bay keeps detailed notes on each NFL player.  Did they target them for the draft?  Was it a player who was graded to have the intangibles as well as the tangibles?  And they will move quickly on September 3rd to sweep up players not only for their practice squad (Ryan Purvis, Briscoe last year) but players for their regular season roster as well (Blount, Lumpkin, and Larson; all last year as well).

Will there be a similar haul this season?  Cetainly there will be talent out there, and Tampa Bay is certainly building a reputation for giving practice squad players playing time.  It was the quality on the practice squad which helped the team get to the end of the season with 10 wins while injuries piled up by the roadside.  Now those players are rising through the depth chart.  Wouldn't you call Tampa if you had a big, fat you-will-regret-cutting-me chip on your shoulder?

So, enjoy the last two preseason games.  And don't forget there is one more Buccaneer holiday before the season begins!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Talib To Meet With Goodell Tuesday

Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib will have a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday.

There is no way this ends well -- you remember those trips to the Principal's office, right?

Unfortunately, Talib and the commissioner are not strangers, a fact that can only play against Talib.  After an altercation with a cab driver (which was settled on a plea), Goodell held Talib out for a game last season.  This past summer, Talib was implicated in gunplay back in Texas.  And while the report of his impending release by the Buccaneers was wrong, General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris have to be getting tired of these visits to New York.  Particularly during preseason, right after a game where the defense was roughed up a bit.  Clearly, Talib has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that he will not (and can not) be a leader on a defense where personal accountability is so important.  It has to impact his value to the team.

Talib has not been found guilty at this point, and if Goodell has league resources looking into the situation in Texas he must be careful not to tip his hat.  The fear is that, having missed a game last season, Talib may be in for a much bigger smack to the wallet (i.e. longer suspension) this time around.

With an early season schedule packing some serious heat (DET, @MIN, ATL, IND), this no time to be one man down.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Buccaneers Pass on Three Defensive Starters

As the Buccaneers wound up the 2010 season, Tim Crowder was starting at left defensive end and Barret Ruud was the man in the middle of the Tampa2.  Stylez White, who started all but three games last year, was coming off the bench.  In 2011, none of them are with the team as training camp hits full speed.

Each man was a significant contributor last season:

  • Ruud started all 16 games in 2010 (as he did in 2009 and 2008) and contributed 85 tackles, 33 assists, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception.
  • White started 13 games in 2010 and recorded 28 tackles, 8 assists, and led the team with 4.5 sacks last season.  He also forced two fumbles.
  • Crowder started 9 games in his second season with Tampa Bay since getting claimed from the waiver wire early in 2009.  He has appeared in every game since joining the team.  Last season, he recorded 22 tackles, 9 assists, 3 sacks and a forced fumble.
These men were the first, tenth, and thirteenth most productive tacklers last season, making Middle Linebacker and Defensive End (both left and right) positions to watch during the 2011 preseason.

DE White Will Not Return to Buccaneers

In a tweet left less than 60 minutes ago, Stylez G. White confirmed the Buccaneers are no longer interested in his services:



 Stylez G. White 


We all wish him well!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Buccaneers May Pass On Free Agents . . . Again

It's the biggest difference between Mark Dominik and Bruce Allen.  And it's hard for fans to sit through.

Bruce Allen brought in free agents by the truckload (and continues to do so in Washington).  Mark Dominik treads lightly into free agency.  And fans, addicted to the fast paced fantasy football mindset, are beside themselves waiting for that big name player to drag big game stats into Raymond James.

First and foremost, I overturned the Spend-To-Win Myth a couple years ago.  Please come to grips with it before reading further.

For 2011, I think there are many reasons the Buccaneers may not make a big splash in NFL Free Agency (just like last season), turning their $50+ million cap surplus inward for a select few of their own free agents instead.  My reasons for believing this are named Miller, Freeman, and Blount.  To name just a few.

Tampa Bay currently has 72 (plus or minus the last few hours) players from last season and 16 college free agents under contract -- there is not much more room left in camp for a free agency haul.

But I think staying away from the deep end of the free agent pool has much more to do with next year -- and the next.  In fact, I get the feeling Dominik is planning three years ahead (at least), when some very talented draft classes come out of their rookie contracts.

It starts next offseason when players like Josh Johnson, Geno Hayes, and Aqib Talib are in their fourth season, the typical length of a rookie contract.

In 2013, Dominik's first draft class will be reaching the end of their contracts.  Josh Freeman alone will require a significant paycheck to retain his services, not to mention Roy Miller, EJ Biggers, Sammie Stroughter, Kyle Moore, Micheal Bennett, and Rudy Carpenter.

2014 includes Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Cody Grimm, Myron Lewis, and Ted Larson.

Somewhere in there are the undrafted contributors like LeGarrette Blount, Derek Hardman, and Will Barker.

So Dominik should be tight fisted.  He has said all along (and again this week: listen for a minute each at 8:00, 17:30, and 19:40) he believes on drafting, developing, and rewarding the best talent creates the most consistent winners.  And his own drafting success may put him up against the salary cap in the next two years.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bucs Leadership Ready For ATL

The Buccaneers leadership is geared for a big finish to the week.

Should the players ratify the current version of the Labor Agreement, Buccaneer officials will fly to Atlanta this evening.  The NFL teams will vote to ratify the agreement tomorrow if things stay on track.

One possible scenario could let the Buccaneers start their training camp one week from Friday (July 29th), which was the planned training camp start date from the beginning.  In this scenario, college free agent signings would have to happen as early as possible, perhaps this weekend but most likely on Monday.  With a rookie salary structure in place, getting this year's draft picks to sign the dotted line should require much less debate.  The question then becomes timing around NFL free agents and a chance for teams to dive into that pool.

In any case, it's going to be a very fast, very busy run up to the new season.  Keep your fingers crossed, the next 36 hours are crucial!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Morris Talked With Players? No Big Deal

In the world of sports blogging, there are those who report news and those who report anything.

JoeBucFan is certainly one of the latter.

The latest misstep by Joe-Falcon-Fan is "breaking" the news the Coach Raheem Morris has been in contact with players during the lockout.  But, with a cursory look around the NFL, this can be filed under "Not News".  Just like when he reported that Aqib Talib would be released by the team as soon as possible, but wasn't during the two days the NFL lockout was lifted (Is Joe truly an alter ego of Rick Stroud or Steve Duemig?  One has to wonder with the excess of attention they get from Joe).

And while other Not-As-Awesome-As-Yardbarker sports sites picked up Joe-Saints-Fan's blathering, I'm happy to report the 'Barkers saw it for what it was.

Let me demonstrate:
- 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has already been scolded by the NFL for talking to QB Alex Smith.
- Back in April, the NFL allowed the Dallas Cowboys to spend an evening together with coaches and staff at a fundraiser
- In May, the Dolphins got together as a team for a fundraiser with full knowledge of the NFL
- Just yesterday, the Kansas City Chiefs spent a day together helping the town of Joplin, Missouri, recover from a devastating tornado earlier this spring.

This has been going on for several months, and has been reported on as a story in and of itself.

If Coach Morris called three of his players, or they called him, it's far less than other teams.  If the NFL comes down on the Buccaneers it would be unfair at this point.  The league is going to have to allow a lot of slack if they want to start enforcing this now.  And they won't.  And everyone knows it.

Except Joe-Panther-Fan.

So Joe should think that Joe is not doing Joe any favors by making up news.

Does he hold a grudge against the team?  It is starting to look that way.

Morris Talked With Players? No Big Deal

In the world of sports blogging, there are those who report news and those who report anything.

JoeBucFan is certainly one of the latter.

The latest misstep by Joe-Falcon-Fan is "breaking" the news the Coach Raheem Morris has been in contact with players during the lockout.  But, with a cursory look around the NFL, this can be filed under "Not News".  Just like when he reported that Aqib Talib would be released by the team as soon as possible, but wasn't during the two days the NFL lockout was lifted (Is Joe truly an alter ego of Rick Stroud or Steve Duemig?  One has to wonder with the excess of attention they get from Joe).

And while other Not-As-Awesome-As-Yardbarker sports sites picked up Joe-Saints-Fan's blathering, I'm happy to report the 'Barkers saw it for what it was.

Let me demonstrate:
- 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has already been scolded by the NFL for talking to QB Alex Smith.
- Back in April, the NFL allowed the Dallas Cowboys to spend an evening together with coaches and staff at a fundraiser
- In May, the Dolphins got together as a team for a fundraiser with full knowledge of the NFL
- Just yesterday, the Kansas City Chiefs spent a day together helping the town of Joplin, Missouri, recover from a devastating tornado earlier this spring.

This has been going on for several months, and has been reported on as a story in and of itself.

If Coach Morris called three of his players, or they called him, it's far less than other teams.  If the NFL comes down on the Buccaneers it would be unfair at this point.  The league is going to have to allow a lot of slack if they want to start enforcing this now.  And they won't.  And everyone knows it.

Except Joe-Panther-Fan.

So Joe should think that Joe is not doing Joe any favors by making up news.

Does he hold a grudge against the team?  It is starting to look that way.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Analysis: Alex Magee Trade

On October 10th, 2010, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik pulled the trigger on a trade which brought defensive end Alex Magee to Tampa.

The details of the deal:
Tampa Bay:  Gets DE Alex Magee; Gets Chiefs 2011 NFL Draft 6th round draft pick
Kansas City:  Gets Buccaneers 2011 NFL Draft 5th round draft pick

This trade filled in the only gap in the Buccaneers 2011 NFL Draft slate, providing them with (at least) one choice in each round.  The hole in the 6th round in 2011 was created by the 2009 draft day trade with the Cleveland Browns to move up two spots in the first round to select QB Josh Freeman.

Let's break down the components of the Magee trade in particular.

Tampa Bay
Alex Magee is currently listed as a defensive tackle on the latest Buccaneers roster.  The 6'3", 298 pounder was originally selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft (the same draft and round in which the Buccaneers selected DT Roy Miller).  Magee went on to play in 15 games his rookie season (starting 1) and recorded 6 tackles, 2 assists, and 2 sacks.  Magee started 2010 with Kansas City, appearing in 2 games and recording 2 tackles and 2 assists.  After arriving in Tampa, Magee went on to play in eight of the remaining twelve games of the 2010 season and recorded a duplicate of his entire rookie season (6 tackles, 2 assists, 2 sacks).  Magee played college football at Purdue University and was also part of an Illinois 7A High School State Championship team at Oswego High School.  According to Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris, Magee was a player the Buccaneers had targeted in 2009 (video, first minute or so).

The Buccaneers used the Kansas City Chiefs 2011 NFL Draft 6th round pick to select Allen Bradford, a running back from the University of Southern California.

Kansas City
The Chiefs picked in the 5th round, Pick #4 (135th overall), and selected quarterback Ricky Stanzi, 6'4", 223lbs from the University of Iowa.  This pick was originally acquired from the Denver Broncos during the 2010 NFL Draft.

Dominik gave up two 7th round picks in the 2010 draft to get the pick which he dealt to the Chiefs.  The Broncos used those two 7th round picks to select DB Syd'Quan Thompson (played in 13 games last season) and DE Jammie Kerlew (Kerlew is currently not listed on the Broncos offseason roster).  For comparison, Tampa Bay drafted Cody Grimm, Dakota Watson, and Erik Lorig in the same draft, same round.

The 5th round pick Dominik kept in the 2011 NFL Draft was used by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to draft S Ahmad Black from the University of Florida.

Analysis
As far as players go, it comes down to the value of Alex Magee and Allen Bradford versus Ricky Stanzi.  Since Bradford and Stanzi have yet to play an NFL down, the trade cannot be graded on player production yet.  We'll have to revisit that in the future.

As far as value, the Buccaneers come out with a 5th round pick and an experienced defensive lineman, while the Chiefs come out with a 5th round pick, period.  Add in the possibility of the Buccaneers getting a 3rd round talent for what amounts to two 7th round draft choices and you see Tampa Bay came through this looking really good.  Dominik has proven to be a very shrewd personnel man and this trade does nothing but polish that image.

The real test will be in training camp this upcoming season.  Will Magee stick on a team which has spent a great deal of draft capital on the defensive line?  Will Bradford pierce a backfield loaded with veteran as well as youthful talent?  Will Stanzi make the Chiefs roster, and if so at what position?

So although the final analysis of this trade cannot be fully realized yet, the tendency leans heavily towards the Buccaneers getting the better end of the bargain.

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