LB Khaseem Greene and S Derrick Wells: More Smart Defensive Additions

Back in the May the Bucs quietly picked up waived LB Khaseem Greene (so quietly I didn’t notice at first). It would be understandable if you dismissed this as an insignificant addition, but that would be hasty. Why? Because Greene—much like the other defensive off-season additions I have roundly applauded— fits the  Tampa 2 scheme Lovie Smith runs to perfection.

In college Greene starred at Rutgers– and I do mean starred. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in both 2011 and 2012, playing the middle linebacker position for the Knights with great athleticism and instincts. A fourth round pick of the Bears 2013, he never quite made a name for himself in Chicago. A recent scheme change sealed his fate there. But Tampa does have need of linebacker talent, especially in the middle, and Greene will get a long look in camp at OLB and MLB and especially as a Special Teams contributor.

In watching tape of Greene (there are quite a few highlight tapes on YouTube, including this one…

…I see a player who baits QBs into bad underneath throws, times his blitzes well, moves to the ball quickly and has some real thump versus the run.

At around the same time the Bucs added Greene they also signed former Minnesota safety David Wells. Wells played both safety in corner for the Gophers, showing promise as both a solid run-supporter and an open-field cover guy. After he was signed most news reports said the Bucs had signed a safety–– which technically is true. From my perspective, however, the promise he showed as a college cornerback intrigued the Bucs enough to ink him. NFL teams are falling all over themselves to find and develop big, fast defensive backs to counter the wide-open offenses that now define the league. Wells will be looked at as both a free safety and an outside corner, and he is well worth the trouble. Here’s a look at some college highlights:

Like Greene, Wells is a guy well down the depth chart who wil be hard pressed to make the final roster. No matter. Good teams stack the bottom of their rosters with affordable, talented young guys who excel on STs and who have a legit chance to make an impact, in time. What interests me most is the way Lovie and his defensive coaches are building redundancy at important spots. At linebacker newcomer Greene actually reminds me a lot of 2015 draft pick Kwon Alexander; their similarities on film are uncanny. And at safety new addition Wells has a very similar thick physical makeup and nasty game to headhunting vets Major Wright and DJ Swearinger. This harkens back to the Dungy days when that epic defensive staff had an amazing knack for defining the ideal skill set and size for each defensive position and then adding multiple capable bodies to each spot..often in the form of undrafted and/or unheralded players. Names like Jeff Gooch and Al Singleton and Shelton Quarles come to mind.

It bodes well for this team’s future on defense, I assure you. I have grave doubts about the offense, but with the possible exception of defensive end this D is going to be force in 2015.

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DJ Swearinger: Bucs add a High-Maintenance Hammer

Swearinger is a headhunter who tends to back up his smack.

Swearinger is a headhunter who tends to back up his smack.

So the Bucs scooped up safety DJ Swearinger off of waivers today after he was unceremoniously dumped by the Texans. Word on the street is that the former Gamecock star wore out his welcome with a high-strung, self-impressed makeup that allegedly led him to walk out of a Texans’ Special Teams meeting because he thought such duties were beneath him. Is that true? Who knows? There’s also conjecture that Swearinger was a bad influence on freakish DE Jadaveon Clowney, and that he kicks defenseless puppies.

I watched a lot of Swearinger at South Carolina, and he was one of my favorite SEC players of the last decade. I can attest to the fact that he displays epic levels of swagger, that he runs smack constantly, and that he thinks a lot of himself. And that last characteristic concerns me. The NFL has become a league chock full of annoying prima donnas, and, well, they suck. Lovie Smith seems to think that he can love the bad right out of me-first guys with dubious character (see Jameis Winston). The Bucs are gambling that in a locker room with grounded types like Lavonte David, Major Wright, Gerald McCoy, etc., Swearinger will come around.  There’s probably some truth to that.

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Bucs 2015 Draft Review: One Too Many Gambles

So you saw the title of this post and immediately thought: “Uh, every draft pick is a gamble.” And I’d agree. But there are degrees, my friend. For instance, Jameis Winston is clearly a monumentally bigger risk than, say, Florida DE Dante Fowler or USC DE/DT Leonard Williams, both dominant players who bring great work ethics and zero character concerns to their respective new teams.

Regardless, I’ve let the reality of this draft percolate for a few days and here’s my analysis of the Bucs’ picks:

winstonRound 1: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Even a casual scan of this blog will reveal that I am not a Winston fan. However, I do my best to be open-minded.

Winston has some very intriguing tools, including prototypical NFL size, good movement in the pocket, the ability to feather underneath passes, loft beautiful and catchable deep balls and zip the deep across-and-down-the field-routes that expose QBs with lesser arms. He had a very good grasp of FSU’s pro-style scheme, and on film he consistently scans his receivers before making a throw—usually to the correct target. His big frame and balance gives him a knack for shaking off pass rushers, he showed some toughness in the face of pressure, and he takes command of his huddle. Best if all, in my opinion, he has great anticipation skills, often making accurate throws before his WRs are out of their cuts. This is a critical and rare skill that, in my opinion, is a defining trait of the league’s better signal callers. Truth be told, sometimes the resemblance between Winston and Pittsburgh QB Roethlisberger is uncanny, as Big Ben possesses that same big body, big arm and ability to anticipate. Also on the positive side, I buy into the “Winston has football smarts” assessments, at least to a degree. His backwoods Alabama accent may imply country-boy naiveté, but it can be a dire mistake to associate a given dialect with a lack of intelligence. I believe Winston is far smarter than most assume.

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Could a trade (for a vet QB) be in the works?

A first overall pick...not named Winston.

A first overall pick…not named Winston?

With the draft a few days away—and several teams reportedly in contact with the Bucs to discuss possible trades—I’ve been pondering the best possible scenarios for such a switch. I’ve narrowed it down to two somewhat plausible options:

1. Trade down with Eagles; they get 1st pick, Bucs get vet QB Sam Bradford and extra picks

2. Trade with Chargers; they get 1st overall pick, Bucs get vet QB Phillips Rivers and possibly extra pick

My guess is that both of these scenarios have been floated by Licht, if only for the purposes of discussion. If so, it’s my firm opinion that—provided enough value in the form of extra picks—the Bucs would be nuts not to jump on such an offer. Let’s examine each briefly:

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What the Tebow-to-Eagles move could mean to the Bucs’ draft plans

timmySo news leaked earlier today that the Eagles will be signing Tim Tebow—who has been out of football for two seasons. Now, this could just be a low-risk stab by Kelly to see if Tebow has anything to offer, or even a publicity stunt to garner attention. But let’s engage in some logic-based conjecture for a moment.

Kelly is a coach steeped in spread-option football. As a pro coach he has adjusted to the league’s decided focus on vertical passing, but there have been indications that he believes that a true spread approach and a legit run/pass threat at QB could thrive in the NFL — despite a lack of precedent. Other spread-option coaches, including Urban Meyer, have long believed that a pro team that truly dedicated itself to the scheme could be very successful. I happen to agree with them. (Not so long ago Urban Meyer was told that his offense would never fly in the speed-rich SEC—so much for that).

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Trading Mike Glennon: A Study in Empty Arguments

A bird in the hand, folks.

A bird in the hand is, well, your franchise QB.

Rumors are running rampant that the Bucs will trade 3rd-year QB Mike Glennon, either prior to the draft or on draft day. When Glennon’s detractors are pressed they spout a cursory list of “reasons” why he is not worth retaining. Allow me to detonate each false objection, in turn.

“HE’S NOT MOBILE ENOUGH”
I love this line of logic best. A few mutts loudly proclaim that Glennon is a product of old-school thinking, of an age when QBs wore expensive fur coats and had nicknames like “Broadway Joe” and handlebar mustaches and never, ever posed a threat with their feet. “Look at Kaepernick and RGIII and Newton and Wilson”, they lisp. “Those guys are the wave of the future.” Well, if that’s the case, the future sorta sucks. Three of those four had 2014 seasons that ranged from crappy to just average. Wilson, of course, played very well, but here’s the deal: he’s not a true dual-threat QB. In college he played first at NC State then at Wisconsin, both pro-style schemes rather than spread-option offenses. His mobility is an undeniable asset, but he is succeeding as a pro primarily due to good decision-making and accurate pocket passing. Need more proof that the “mobility is a must” thing is hogwash? Check out this list of the top passing QBs in the NFL last season. Now find me a mobile or dual-threat or former spread-option QB anywhere near the top of that list. You’ll find exactly one: Mr. Wilson, all the way down at #15. The top guys — Brees, Roethlisberger, Luck, Manning, Ryan, Manning, Rodgers, etc. — are all pocket passers who seldom hurt teams with their legs. So wake up, already. Manning moves like he’s in thick mud. Brady takes five minutes to jog to the sidelines. Dan Marino had the escapability skills of a salted slug. Yet they’ll all be in Canton together. Mobility is overrated in pro QBs, folks, which means it’s hardly a disqualifier in the young Glennon. Indeed, Glennon’s size, intelligence and arm strength make him far more likely to join that elite list than any “mobile” QB you can name.

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2015 Bucs’ Mock Draft: A Winston-less Approach

winstonless

Aw, HELL naw.

So by now the Bucs off-season strategy is clear: bolster the defense via free agency then stock up the offense via the draft. That approach makes a lot of sense for two reasons: 1) this class is loaded with good offensive players at spots where the Bucs have needs (especially along the OL) and 2) it’s difficult for first-year defensive players unfamiliar with the demanding Tampa2 scheme to contribute early, which is why Lovie/Licht signed seasoned Tampa 2 vets Carter, Moore, Melton and Conte. As for offense, I do expect at least one more free agent to be added soon, and odds are it will be former Raiders OG Stefen Wisniewski, who visited the Bucs recently. Adding Wisniewski across from vet Mankins would ensure acceptable levels of OG play in 2015 no matter how the team fares in the draft, and would free the Bucs to focus on OT come draft day.

How do I think the Bucs will approach the #1 pick? If I had to place a wager I’d bet that (despite reports to the contrary) they’ll pass on Winston (for reasons I’ve detailed) and fall in love Mariota during his pending visit. I know that’s not a popular prediction, which makes it all the more enjoyable. I’d be OK with Mariota as the top pick since he has many intriguing qualities. But as noted in other posts, my hope is that the Bucs find a suitor enamored of either Winston or Mariota and trade down for extra picks. That’s unlikely, admittedly. Regardless, I’ve believed Glennon can be the starting QB since he was drafted—and a damn good one. With that in mind, here’s how I would approach the 2015 draft if I was suddenly named GM, an appointment that is frankly long overdue:

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Winston the #1 Overall Pick? Surely You Jest

It's simple: just say no, Bucs.

It’s simple: just say no, Bucs.

A few shorts months ago the pro football world was a relatively sane place. Jameis Winston, a talented QB with highly suspect character, was widely viewed as a troubled player some NFL team might gamble on well down the draft, but certainly not a top 5 pick. Fast forward to today, and Winston is suddenly the draft’s celebrated darling and the odds-on favorite to go #1 overall to my beloved Bucs, with NFL pundits gushing about his intelligence and skill set. How in the hell did that happen, you ask? Great question. How is that many informed football fans—and most of the respected, alleged NFL “experts”—are turning a blind eye to the kid’s off-the-field antics? You with the good questions again.

Let’s take a quick look back at some of Winston’s conduct-related highlights:

• Accused of raping a young woman in his college apartment
• A second woman later alleges sexual abuse
• Stole soda from a fast food joint while mocking the manager’s protests
• Along with friends used pellet gun to cause $4K in damage on campus
• Stole merchandise from a local Publix store
• Skipped a code of conduct hearing related to the rape case
• Jumped on a table in a public area screaming sexually charged expletives…while rape charges were pending
• Investigated for accepting money for autographs (but never charged)
• Accused of shaving points in Louisville game to help friend win a wager
• Defied a suspension by dressing out and taking the field against Clemson

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Sterling Moore: Budding Talent at Cornerback

The latest addition at CB will upgrade the nickel spot...and then some.

The latest addition at CB will upgrade the nickel spot…and then some.

Sterling Moore, you say? Who the hell is that? Good question. He’s certainly no household name. In fact, he wasn’t even drafted coming out of SMU in 2011, fighting his way into the league as a college free agent with the Raiders before ending up in Dallas by way of New England. So why did the Bucs make a virtual unknown a priority free agent? Dig a bit deeper with me:

In 2012 Dallas Cowboys’ owner/GM/flaming-rectum Jerry Jones traded both his first-round pick and his second-round pick to St. Louis to move up and draft cornerback Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. The Cowboys were desperate to add talent to their flagging secondary, and Claiborne was considered the cream of the crop. Well, I disagreed with Jones over-extending for Claiborne then, as I do now. Ya see, as an SEC fan I watched a lot of the hyped LSU cornerback. And while his cover skills were impressive, I thought he gambled too often and lacked punch as a tackler.

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Bruce Carter: Versatile Freak at Linebacker

Can Carter's mental game catch up to his sick physical gifts?

Can Carter’s mental game catch up to his sick physical gifts?

The Bucs added former Cowboy LB Carter this month. I anticipated them adding a LB in free agency but I did not have Carter on my wish list. I should have. And here’s why:

In a league full of physical marvels Carter is a legit freak. His speed and cover ability make him a great fit in a Tampa2 defense that has always valued undersized, physical, fleet LBs. Once again Licht and Lovie have focused on a guy who has extensive experience in the scheme, meaning he should contribute quickly. Carter’s ability to play all three LB spots is a big asset, as injuries inevitably push starters to the sidelines. Best of all, the Bucs seem to be landing Carter at a point in his career when the light has finally gone on, allowing him to match his rare athletic gifts with a confident, intuitive approach to the game. Coming out of UNC he was intriguing but raw, and the Cowboys did the Bucs the favor of getting some of the kinks out.

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