Yardbarker Horiz

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.
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