Yardbarker Horiz

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scarlet Knights flock to Tampa

Head Coach Greg Schiano was brought to Tampa Bay to instill a new "Buccaneer Way" with the players, emphasizing discipline, accountability, and commitment. Will Schiano's style and methods carry over to the NFL game?

Clearly his former players from Rutgers don't have a problem with it.

With the draft and summer practice sessions in the books, there are a total of 28 former Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the NFL.  Tampa Bay now counts seven (one fourth) of those players on it's roster.  The next highest concentration of Rutgers players? Three each for Cincinnati, New England, and Tennessee.

Here are the Scarlet Knights turned Buccaneers:
Player Pos Ht Wt Yrs
Gibson, Gary DT 6'3" 312 7
Johnson, George DE 6'4" 265 2
LeGrand, Eric DT 6'2" 275 0
Underwood, Tiquan WR 6'1" 183 4
Wynn, Desmond G 6'5" 295 0
Zuttah, Jeremy OG 6'4" 308 5
Roberson, Derrick DB 5'10" 180 2

Gary Gibson entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2005 with the Baltimore Ravens and was on IR before his first season was complete.  In 2007 he signed with the Carolina Panthers and spent two seasons there, appearing in 12 games.  For the past three seasons, Gibson has been with the Saint Louis Rams and has appeared in 37 games with 22 starts.  He is a native of Plant City, Florida.

George Johnson entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He was an NFL sack leader during the 2011 preseason and appeared in four games for the Buccaneers last season.

Eric LeGrand entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011.  LeGrand was paralyzed while playing at Rutgers and, in a powerful display of dedication, Schiano and GM Mark Dominik have provided LeGrand with access to Tampa Bay Buccaneer team facilities to assist in his rehab, while the charismatic LeGrand brings his message about spinal cord injury to the Bay area.

Tiquan Underwood entered the NFL as a 7th round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009 and appeared in 13 games over two years with the Jags.  Underwood spent the 2010 season with the New England Patriots, appearing in six games.

Desmond Wynn entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012 with Tampa Bay.

Jeremy Zuttah entered the NFL as a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 and has been a member of the team ever since.  Zuttah has been a backup interior offensive linemen and has 44 starts at Guard, but with the departure of Jeff Faine this offseason should move into the starting lineup at center this year.  Zuttah has played in 15 or more games each of the past three seasons.

Derrick Roberson entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans in 2007 and has practice squad time with the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings as well.  In 2009, Roberson signed with Tampa Bay, appearing in six games.  In 2010, Roberson signed with the Cleveland Browns and appeared in two games.  Roberson is a native of Pompano Beach. Florida.

These players understand Schiano's style, and Schiano understands the talents of these players.  While it is unlikely they all make the 53-man roster post-camp this season, they will have contributed significantly to the team this summer by advancing the understanding of what the Head Coach wants from his players.

So, for this season at least, these Scarlet Knights bring more than just a camp body to the roster.  No wonder the Buccaneers have cornered the market on Scarlet Knights in 2012.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Buccaneer wideouts ready for breakout

With the drafting of Josh Freeman in 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers embarked on a complete renovation of the ball handlers on offense.  The first target was the wide receivers group, starting with Sammie Stroughter a few rounds later.  In 2010, WRs Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn were drafted.  Those three have taken more than the lions share of starts at wideout for the past two seasons.  Add in Preston Parker (2010 undrafted free agent) and Dezmon Briscoe (plundered from the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad in 2010) and you have a set of highly productive pass-catchers.  However, injury and youth have conspired to keep this group from reaching their potential.

The most productive pass-catcher in 2011 (and 2010) was TE Kellen Winslow, now departed in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks. Enter Vincent Jackson, free agent from San Diego and one of the most coveted players in the 2012 free agent pool.  Winslow caught 75 passes for 763 yards in 2011; Jackson caught 60 passes for 1,106 yards.  Winslow produced 2 touchdowns in 2011; Jackson scored 9 touchdowns in 2011.

Based on statistics, the Winslow and Jackson moves appear to shift the emphasis from the Tight End position out to the Wide Receivers for 2012.  This does not imply the Tampa Bay Tight End squad will not be productive, it just means the proven playmakers are now on the edge. In theory, this should force opposing defenses to play from the inside out instead of from the outside to the middle. There is no doubt the Buccaneers will be looking for a new, younger TE to emerge in 2012 (a story for another day), but that person will not be option #1 for Josh Freeman down after down after down.

When going to training camp on July 29th, the Buccaneer's Wide Reciever group will bring the following 2011 production (sorted by Receiving Yards):

Wideout Ht Wt Games Starts Rec Yds Avg Lng TD Notes
Jackson, Vincent 6'5" 230 16 16 60 1106 18.4 58 9 FA (SD)
Williams, Mike 6'2" 212 16 15 65 771 11.9 42 3
Parker, Preston 6'0" 200 16 0 40 554 13.9 51 3
Benn, Arrelious 6'2" 220 14 14 30 441 14.7 65T 3
Briscoe, Dezmon 6'2" 210 16 2 35 387 11.1 46 6
Stroughter, Sammie 5'10" 189 6 0 4 52 13 29 0
Underwood, Tiquan 6'1" 183 6 0 3 30 10 13 0 FA (NE)
Wright, Wallace 6'1" 197 16 0 2 21 10.5 14 0 FA (NYJ)
Gant, Ed 6'3" 200 4* 0 5 164 32.8 96 1 * All Preseason
Ellingson, Greg 6'3" 197 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2012 College FA
Lewis, Armahd 5'8" 171 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2012 College FA

Williams and Benn have been on the field for a great majority of snaps in each of their two seasons in the NFL.  Parker and Briscoe broke out last season to demonstrate they can be productive players.  Stroughter was slowed by injury in 2011.  Gant wowed during the 2011 preseason with a 96 yard touchdown catch and his NFL size.

If I had to build a depth chart today, it would probably shake out this way:

Right side WR (Freeman's Right Hand, Primary Receiver)
Vincent Jackson - The big paycheck means make him #1
Mike Williams - Won't learn anything from Jackson if he's learning some other position

Left Side WR (Freeman's Back, Secondary Receiver)
Arrelious Benn - Can be a deep threat
Dezmon Briscoe - Extremely productive in the red zone last season

Preston Parker - Slot is a 3rd down position; Parker is Mr. Third Down
Sammie Stroughter - He may also have some kick/punt return duties

Of those six, Stroughter is the player most in jeopardy to be replaced by one of the free agents, but his punt returning skills are hard to ignore.  Gant and Ellingson have the physical size to play into the interior from the slot.  Armahd is a burner, and Underwood and Wright bring experience from playoff-caliber teams.

How good could this group be?  Here are the best seasons of the players in this group with NFL game experience:

Wideout Ht Wt Rec Yds Avg Lng TD Year
Jackson, Vincent 6'5" 230 68 1167 17.2 55 9 2009
Williams, Mike 6'2" 212 65 964 14.8 58T 11 2010
Parker, Preston 6'0" 200 40 554 13.9 51 3 2011
Benn, Arrelious 6'2" 220 30 441 14.7 65T 3 2011
Briscoe, Dezmon 6'2" 210 35 387 11.1 46 6 2011
Stroughter, Sammie 5'10" 189 31 334 10.8 35 1 2009
Underwood, Tiquan 6'1" 183 8 111 13.9 22 0 2010
Wright, Wallace 6'1" 197 6 87 14.5 36 0 2007

It is a very solid group when playing to their potential.  A running game which opposing teams have to respect can only make this group more productive.

It is entirely possible for the Buccaneers to open the season with more than six WRs on the roster.  New offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan will make that call. In any case, this looks like one of the more polished groups on the pre-camp roster.  Look for a breakout year!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Buccaneers still seeking height up front

The Buccaneers have continued to seek out one specific trait more than others in offensive linemen: height. This offseason is no different as there are four rookie offensive linemen on the practice fields at One Buccaneer place 6'5" or taller, with three measuring 6'7"!

For comparison, the World Champion New York Giants have two offensive linemen listed at 6'7". The other Super Bowl team, the New England Patriots, have four offensive linemen listed at 6'7" or 6'8". The Buccaneers appear to be taking it to the next level with five players currently listed at 6'7" or higher.

Here are the measurables for the offensive linemen currently on the Tampa Bay Buccaneer offense:

Pos Name Ht Wt Yrs
C Economos, Andrew 6'1" 250 7
C Petrus, Moe 6'2" 302 0
C Larsen, Ted 6'2" 305 3
G Joseph, Davin 6'3" 313 7
G Zuttah, Jeremy 6'4" 308 5
G Wynn, Desmond 6'5" 295 0
G Nicks, Carl 6'5" 343 5
T Meredith, Jamon 6'5" 312 4
T Penn, Donald 6'5" 305 7
T Hardman, Derek 6'6" 300 3
T Sowell, Bradley 6'7" 320 0
T Hardrick, Jermarcus 6'7" 320 0
G VanDerMeulen, Mike 6'7" 304 0
T Trueblood, Jeremy 6'8" 320 7
T Dotson, Demar 6'9" 315 4

Is this a new trend in the NFL? Possibly, but more likely it's a tactical maneuver. Big and heavy has been around for a while. For example, Carl Nicks is 6'5" and a whopping 340+ lbs, plenty big to stop a bull rush with good technique. But what about a speed rush? It's difficult to get in front of a guy who's legs are just as long as yours but 30 lbs lighter, and that is how defensive ends have been making a living for the past few years. Defensive ends run forward, offensive linemen backpedal; if you have to be bigger than a defensive end to stop a bull rush, how do you find an advantage against speed? The answer is genetics, specifically height. Longer legs cover more ground in the same number of steps; longer arms impede speed by forcing the defensive end to take a wider track to the quarterback.

Tampa Bay is looking for players who are heavier than most NFL Defensive Ends (to counter a bull rush) and who have long legs (to counter a speed rush). Apparently the Buccaneers are not having much trouble finding them.

Friday, June 8, 2012

GM Mark Dominik shows he can do it all

Former Pro Personnel Director Mark Dominik was promoted to General Manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just after the 2008 season was completed. At the time, he was the youngest GM in the NFL. And he still is. But you know what?

He's got game.

The first part of Dominik's game is knowing his target. Dominik has been steadfast since he was first introduced at One Buccaneer Place: he wants a team that is physical, excercises ball control, and plays the kind of Buccaneer defense fans have learned to expect. After the 2010 season, it seemed the formula was on target, with a Top 10 running game on offense and a Top 10 fewest points allowed defense. The 2011 season deviated from the target and Dominik took action, so now it falls to new Head Coach Greg Schiano to bring the formula back in 2012.

The second part of Dominik's game is drafting. Dominik has spent his draft capital wisely. He rarely gives up picks and has had a full slate of picks each season except his first. His choices have been in line with his target, and he hasn't reached or under drafted his pick, with his overall draft grades well above average. He made the team younger as part of his rebuilding instead of trolling for players at the twilight of their careers - a significant and key difference between Dominik and his predecessor Bruce Allen.

The third part of Dominik's game is working the waiver wire and utilizing college free agents. Dominik has done well in this area in the past - RB Legarette Blount, G Ted Larson, DE Micheal Bennett, and WR Dezmond Briscoe to name a few. The time Dominik spent as Pro Personnel director serves him well in this area (during which he pulled T Donald Penn from the Vikings practice squad). After watching players come across his desk for years, Dominik knows how to stay up to date as well as understand the quality of players on the wire.

The last part of Dominik's game is free agency. Since arriving at the General Manger's office, Dominik has been focused on developing a strong young core of drafted players to build around. 2009 was, by default, learning what the team already had, and 2010 was not a great free agent market due to an extremely deep college draft. The lockout during the summer of 2011 prevented any real movement in the free agency market. So 2012 is the first season Dominik was able to flex his abilities in free agency - and he showed he can land some big fish. Top flight free agents like Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks as well as Dallas Clark and Eric Wright don't just fill holes, they improve the team. And that is how Dominik has stated he will always view free agency - a place to find a significant upgrade when appropriate.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the youngest GM in the NFL in Mark Dominik and he's shown he has all the tools needed to direct the team.  This sets the stage for a long period of stability in the front office for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, setting the foundation for good things to come.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Buccaneer linebackers have productive shoes to fill

Two years ago the Buccaneers went 10-6. The leading tacklers on the squad were Barrett Ruud (85 tackles, 33 assists) and Geno Hayes (72 tackles, 10 assists).

After the 2010 season, Ruud entered free agency and left Tampa Bay for the Titans.

After the 2011 season, Hayes entered free agency and has left Tampa Bay for the Bears.

Since the retirement of Derrick Brooks in after the 2008 season, Hayes and Ruud were #1 and #2 in tackles until Ruud departed. That's a great deal of production out the door in just two seasons. However, the timing may have been exactly right.

Ruud signed a one year deal with the Tennessee Titans but only played in 9 games before going on injured reserve. He entered free agency again this offseason and was not resigned. Apparently, the Titans fans also were not extremely impressed with his play. Ruud has now signed a one year pact with the Seattle Seahawks. It appears the Buccaneers may have released him for good reason and at an appropriate time.

After starting all 16 games in 2010, Hayes was benched in Week 9 of the 2011 season for three games, making the 2011 season his least productive since his rookie year of 2008. The statistics show a sharp drop-off in performance: appearing in 16 games in 2011, Hayes recorded 45 tackles and 19 assists compared to 72 tackles and 10 assists in 2010 (also 16 games) and 80 tackles and 18 assists in 2011 (his best season and only 15 games). The Bears have given Hayes a one-year contract.

Training camp will open this year with many young faces in the linebacking corps. To replace the productivity above, the Buccaneers have spent three draft picks in two years on linebackers: Mason Foster in 2011 and Najee Goode and Lavonte David in 2012.

Foster was extremely production last season, finishing the season with 58 tackles and 28 assists, leading all NFL rookie linebackers last season. The third rounder (#84 overall) was the third most productive tackler on the Tampa Bay squad last season behind veterans S Sean Jones and CB Ronde Barber. Foster, an extremely productive player in college, has shown flashes of being the type of player you can build around. Clearly, Foster will be on the field for the opening snap of the 2012 NFL season.

Goode and David, drafted with the third and fourth picks by the Buccaneers this past April, will have to climb past three veterans to reach the starting lineup. Dekoda Watson, Quincy Black, and Adam Hayward all appeared in at least 14 games last season (Watson and Hayward had two starts; Black had 12). These players will have experience on their side when camp opens.

And there will be three new faces: Rennie Curran was a midseason waiver wire pickup last season, Jacob Cutrera was signed last October and finished the season on IR, and Antonio Leak is a 2012 undrafted college free agent from Henderson State (Arkansas, Div II).

Linebacker could be the make-or-break position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012. They have a lot of experience and productivity to replace. They have a lot of draft picks invested. They play an even front scheme, which means linebackers have to make tackles while the linemen up front take up gaps.

And they need some young players to grow up quickly.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Buccaneers put their money up front

General Manager Mark Dominik has made one thing clear since taking the reins of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009: if you can protect the quarterback, you'll get a top flight salary.

The 2012 offseason has only solidified how much value Dominik puts on the offensive line. Even with the free agent contracts for WR Vincent Jackson and CB Eric Wright landing in the Top 5 of the current team payroll, the entire starting offensive still occupies half of the Top 10 slots:

#2 G Davin Joseph $9,500,000
#6 G Carl Nicks $6,500,000
#8 T Donald Penn $5,100,000
#9 T Jeremy Trueblood $5,000,000
#10 C Jeremy Zuttah $3,375,000

This is not something new this offseason. Center Jeff Faine, who was recently released, spent his entire Buccaneers career in the Top 5 of the team payroll, and Davin Joeseph has been a fixture there as well. How much Dominik valued Faine also shows in his buyout: $2.4 million for this year.

There are young players up and coming in the persons of Ted Larson and Derek Hardman (as was Zuttah until this offseason). Thus far, Dominik has been fortunate to not need to spend a significnat amount of draft capital on the offensive line. Except for recently signed Carl Nicks the starting squad is made of players remaining from the old regime.

At some point the defense-heavy drafting by Dominik will have to give way; one would think OL will be where picks will need to be spent. But there is another angle which is in play: If Tampa Bay becomes known for spending big bucks in the trenches, the best young linemen may beat a path to the door of One Buccaneer Place (like Carl Nicks). With the salary structure of the team already built to pay big along the line, Tampa Bay is well positioned to take advantage of anyone who comes knocking.

This could allow the drafting of young talent into the defensive unit to continue for a couple more seasons, resulting in a very talented young defense which can grow together for years to come. In essence, spending along the offensive front may allow for more opportunities on both sides of the ball in the near future.

And that is exactly where this team needs to be.