ScrappyBuc blog A Tampa Bay Buccaneers Blog Sun, 19 Jul 2015 22:33:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 LB Khaseem Greene and S Derrick Wells: More Smart Defensive Additions Sun, 19 Jul 2015 22:33:55 +0000

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.

DJ Swearinger: Bucs add a High-Maintenance Hammer Wed, 13 May 2015 21:29:43 +0000
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.

Beyond the character stuff I have few concerns about the guy. Yes, he had occasional lapses in coverage as a pro and his tackling was sub-par at times last season since he tends to head-hunt rather than wrap, but those things can be fixed with reps and coaching. At 23 years old, he’s young and physically gifted. He has a ballhawk’s mentality and a knack for the interception, and he’s versatile too, showing the ability to play both safety roles and even run with receivers in space as a corner, on occasion. Despite his occasional struggles in space versus speedy wide receivers, he’s extremely good in coverage against backs and tight ends. But his best trait, far and away, is his physical play. He has a thick, muscular build and explosive power. Unlike many DBs,  Swearinger seems to relish battling against big blockers, and the collisions he initiates are concussive. Receivers and backs who venture into his territory live to regret it, since the guy hits like a swung bat. And he always seems to be pissed off about something, with a genuinely reckless approach to contact and a tendency to mix it up after plays.

Check out the clip below of a hit he delivered as a Gamecock. It sums up everything about the guy in one clip: his closing speed, his athleticism, his teeth-rattling striking ability, his ballhawking skills and his tendency to run his mouth and showboat.

Some folks will see this clip and immediately be reminded of former Buc Dashon Goldson—and their tendency to de-cleat guys is similar—but Swearinger is a more active, instinctive, versatile player. In fact, his angry, in-your-face style reminds me most of another former Buc: middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson. And I can’t think of a higher compliment.

Does his tendency to launch into his tackles concern me? Anything but, actually. Despite new rules intended to gut the spirit of the game protect players from injury, football is still a contact sport, and every great defense has a player who sets the tone in terms of attitude and physical play. The Bucs have underrated talent on the defensive side of the ball, but their star players (McCoy, David, etc.) are not vicious guys. A junkyard dog like Swearinger can be invaluable in mano-a-mano slugfests where teams line up and try to pound each others’ brains out—the sort of games that are common come playoff time. Swearinger can wear down backs and tight ends with big hits, make receivers flinch and drop balls over the middle, get into a QB’s head with a constant stream of verbal abuse, and fire up his teammates so they play with intensity down after down. Despite gobs of talent the NFL has very few legit alpha dogs and intimidators—and this guy is one of them.

I believe Swearinger has a very real chance to claim the starting strong-safety job in 2015. He’ll need to beat out incumbent Bradley McDougald, a player who more closely fits the mold of the modern NFL safety, with better top-end speed and a longer frame than the vertically-challenged Swearinger. It will be an interesting battle, and I grant McDougald the edge early on give his experience in the complex Tampa 2 scheme. But I give Swearinger the edge over time since he is simply a more dynamic presence.

Reminds me of: former Eagle/Bronco safety Brian Dawkins.

The verdict: Though it’s a clear gamble, I applaud the addition. This defense is on the verge of being special, and one of the things it requires to get there is a mean-spirited, in-the-box presence. If the Bucs can inject a little humility and patience into the guy—without altering his wonderfully fierce approach to the game—the Bucs’ stole a helluva player. In scanning sports sites it’s clear that many alleged “experts” see this as the ho-hum addition, but they are wrong. Swearinger will be an essential part of the Bucs’ eventual rise to title contention, which is why I give this signing a solid 8 out of 10 on the Scrappy Scale.

Bucs 2015 Draft Review: One Too Many Gambles Thu, 07 May 2015 11:00:52 +0000

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.

If I could stop my evaluation there he would not just be deemed a great pick, he’d be a legit franchise-savior. Alas, I cannot. While I made a Roethlisberger comparison above, all too often Winston displays the same terminally slow wind-up of another (former) Steelers QB: Byron Leftwich. The protracted motion will get him killed if not remedied by coaching, as will his tendency to hold the ball too long and the bad decision-making he is prone to under pressure. The Leftwich comparison is especially troubling when you realize that Winston’s talented O-line at FSU often gave him gobs of time to throw the ball; in Tampa behind a suspect line he’ll be in for a very rude awakening. His confidence in his arm can also lead him to make hare-brained throws into tight, stacked coverage far too often—hence the flinch-inducing number of picks. And despite his swagger, when he faces talented defenses his confidence sometimes wavers or evaporates. Watch last year’s film of Winston versus the Florida Gators, for instance, and you’ll see a QB who imploded mentally and emotionally, throwing an astounding four picks and looking visibly shaken for much of the game. Yes, he came back to make some big throws down the stretch versus the Gators—something he did a number of times in 2014, to his credit—but the UF game was essentially lost due to Winston’s blunders until Fisher in desperation turned to (and was bailed out by) his run game. The same can be said of Winston in the bowl game against Oregon: he simply self-destructed. The comical play in which he skittered about the pocket, panicked and inexplicably flicked the ball over his head to set up a Oregon TD was telling. At FSU he was accustomed to dominating lesser opponents. Good luck finding the same thing in the pros.

And lastly, Winston’s character concerns make him an enormous and arguably stupid risk. How did he survive this laundry list of missteps yet still end up the top overall pick? Ya got me. In the 2014 draft Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel slid to the bottom of the first round over character concerns that in comparison to Winston’s seem like child’s play—something I have yet to hear anyone explain away.

Bottom line: despite Licht’s awkward smiles and Lovie’s monotone assurances, Winston is an inadvisable gamble, especially as the top overall player selected. An intriguing, talented, polarizing, pseudo-sincere, hope-rending gamble. I wish the Bucs had bypassed Winston and taken the trade allegedly offered by the Eagles for Bradford and extra picks—an offer I thought they might see. Alas, they did not. Now we’re left to hope that Winston overcomes both the holes in his game and the holes in his character. Can he? Maybe. But if I had to place a wager I’d put my money on the underrated Mike Glennon being under center by mid-season. Which would be just fine by me.

Scrappy’s Grade: 7 out of 10


smithRound 2: Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State
The Bucs did the right thing here in targeting a tackle. It was a glaring need Licht tried to address in ham-fisted fashion last season with departed stiff Anthony Collins and timid, late-round draft pick Kevin Pamphile. Out of desperation last season the Bucs moved solid RT Demar Dotson to the left side, with mixed results. They went into this off-season needing either 1) a talented guy to assume the LT role and allow Dotson to move back to RT, or, if they felt Dotson could handle LT going forward, 2) a talented RT.

On the plus side (pun intended), Smith is a monster of man, going 6-6, 335…with his weight by some accounts often soaring north of 350. He played the LT spot at Penn State almost exclusively. He looks the part of a dominating NFL-caliber tackle, using his enormous frame and athleticism to wall off pass rushers and create big-time movement in the run game. If you could draw up an ideal NFL tackle he’d look a lot like this guy. Best of all, he bolsters his physical gifts with a nasty playing style. He is a legit mauler in the run game, engulfing and essentially eliminating the player in front of him. His highlight film is full of rag-dolled victims in the run game. To put it another way, when Smith is moving forward he’s a marvelous player. He turned in a great week at the Senior Bowl, showing up in shape and motivated and man-handling some impressive DE talent.

However, Smith’s track record at Penn State was anything but stellar, as he struggled to maintain ideal weight, block consistently versus quality opponents or play with consistent effort. His kick-slide and lateral movement is also far from special; on film I see a player who lurches when sliding laterally—which may explain why he often struggled versus quick, athletic DEs in college. Before the Senior Bowl practices many scouts saw him as a 3rd rounder at best, and a guy destined to be either a RT or, more likely, a guard. Now we hear Licht gushing about him like he’s a plug-and-play left tackle. My take? I think of Smith as another Donald Penn—a guy with natural ability who will play well but who will also spend his career fighting a tendency toward laziness as well as his fork and spoon. What’s even more puzzling is that new OC Kirk Koetter has always favored mobile linemen for his scheme, yet Smith is far from nimble, especially on the second level.

Bottom line: If Smith puts forth the kind of effort and dedication he displayed at the Senior Bowl (knowing that his draft stock was at stake) rather than the up-and-down effort he showed during most of his college career—the Bucs stole a quality player at a need spot. But what are the odds? If he just coasts, the Bucs reached too high for him. Smith has an outside shot at developing into a starting LT…but not in 2015, IMO. I think he’ll struggle mightily as a LT in camp and be moved to RT, and Dotson will once again asked to assume the critical LT spot. Far from ideal, but if there’s a silver lining that duo should provide considerably better OT play than we saw last season.

Scrappy’s Grade: 7 out of 10


marpetRound 2: Ali Marpet, OG, Hobart
This pick likely inspired more filthy worlds among the Buc faithful than any other, if only because “Marpet” was not a name appearing on most fans’ wish lists. He played at tiny Hobart college, a school that the average Florida 5A high school team would work by a few touchdowns. So why the hell did the Bucs take Marpet—and even trade up for the guy? Two reasons: hype and substance.

First, the hype. Marpet had become something of a darling in scouting circles, and for good reason. Many scouts came to agree that he was worth a top 100 selection—as rare for a Division III player as a unicorn that farts rose petals. On film he threw his opponents around like bar midgets and showed a mile-wide mean streak, and when interviewed came across as a humble, hard-working, smart kid. Problem was, the hype was masking the fact that his average opponent had a fraction of the talent of the average D-1 college player. I mean, have you ever heard of Endicott College? I rest my case.

And now the substance. Marpet’s talent was hotly debated among NFL types until he showed up at the Senior Bowl bigger and stronger than he had ever been at Hobart—and mopped the floor with the cream of the college crop. Most impressive about Marpet’s play was the fact that—despite being an OT at Hobart—he was taking names and whipping ass inside to OG. Wow. Seeing a small-school kid rough up elite players from the Big 10, Pac-10, SEC, etc. was a revelation. So after reaching for Smith—and knowing that RG was as big a need as OT—the Bucs rolled the dice and traded up to grab Marpet. Am I OK with the move? Yes, I am. Marpet is the type of OL that competent NFL front offices like Denver and New England seem to uncover year in and year out—mobile, hostile, smart, athletic, and absolutely committed to the game. Is Marpet perfect? Well, no. He showed up at Hobart at about 225 lbs., fought to add weight, and packed on even more over the last three months or so. He’s a “blown-up” player; that is, he’s carrying more weight than God intended his frame to hold. He also has relatively short arms. But on film you see a guy who moves well at all levels (he ran the fastest 40 among all OL at the combine), always seems to anticipate his opponents’ next move and finishes his blocks with a shove that is essentially a non-verbal “Screw you.” If I have an issue with the decision it’s that the Bucs swung a trade to move up when other talented guards would have been there for them in the 3rd anyway—players like AJ Cann and John Miller…and possibly Marpet. But they wanted the guy and they got him.

Bottom line: Marpet fits best at RG, a huge need for the Bucs. Groom him there, but give him some reps at center so the Bucs have a viable insurance policy behind less-than-impressive 2014 free agent center Dietrich-Smith. And what the hell—give him a few reps at OT, his college position. He lacks the length and weight to be a dominant tackle, but with Dotson and Smith both question marks it would pay to have options.

Scrappy Grade: 8 out of 10


alaexanderRound 4: Kwon Alexander, LB, LSU
As an SEC fan I watched Alexander quite a bit. After the Bucs took him, I went back and watched even more tape. And the guy puzzles me. On paper Alexander is an ideal Tampa 2 linebacker, with the speed, height/weight ratio, cover skills and thump in his game that Dungy-inspired defenses have featured for many years now. He can absolutely fly in a straight line, and at times he seems crazy decisive at the snap, honing in on ball carriers like a missile. Scouts love to throw around the phrase “side-line-to-sideline speed” but in this case it’s absolutely fitting. Alexander also shows the ability to use that speed in coverage, dropping deep at the snap to confound RBs and WRs in the passing game. He is fearless versus run blocking, exploding into and discarding fullbacks and linemen, and he gathers and hits like a hammer. Truth be told, when I watch the guy I get all giddy about what Lovie can do with him. And then he screws up and makes me re-think everything.

Despite all the positives, every once in a while Alexander will look completely lost, stuttering in one spot after the snap, getting lost in traffic as the action goes the other way, or biting so decisively on a play fake that it makes you shudder. The instincts you see one moment are gone the next, and I find myself having flashbacks to former Buc LB Dekoda Watson whose inability to process plays often rendered useless his freakish physical gifts. Is Alexander another Watson? No, I don’t think so. Though I see similarities, I also see flashes of playmaking brilliance in Alexander that I never saw in Watson: stalemating a guard in the hole with a concussive hit, stripping the ball from an upright running back, running stride for stride with a wideout down the middle of the field, knifing into the backfield to pressure a QB, etc. Despite the lapses I see a kid who is just starting to put it all together, and if he does…watch out. Know what else I see? Despite the fact that practically every scouting report slots him as an OLB and specifically a WLB, I see a future 3-down, Tampa 2, fire-breathing middle linebacker. Why? Because Alexander has a thicker build than most WLBs, a frame that will hold even more muscle, a hyper-physical approach to taking on blockers, and a nice feel for coverage. And he has a Mike linebacker’s angry, in-your-face playing style…something that cannot be faked.

Bottom line: Alexander should be a Special Teams demon right away—an important if under-valued role. I also see him getting a lot of reps at SLB, the spot where T2 coordinators have typically groomed their future middle linebackers. As for the 2015 MLB starter, the Bucs are hoping free agent Bruce Carter will assume that role, though he’ll have his work cut out to beat out steady thumper Danny Lansanah  (the likely SLB opposite David). Regardless, Alexander is a solid developmental LB with the raw tools to develop into an impact T2 Mike…something the Bucs have not enjoyed since the days of Shelton Quarles and, more accurately, Hardy Nickerson. I would have preferred Kansas LB Ben Heeney, whose instincts are off the charts, but Alexander is no poor consolation prize. In fact, it can easily be argued that he had the best set of raw tools for the Tampa 2 scheme of any LB in this draft.

Scrappy Grade: 7 out of 10


bellRound 5: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
I had two reactions to this pick: exasperation and excitement. The exasperation stemmed from my belief that GM Licht just doesn’t get it; that is, that he places far too much emphasis on skill players over linemen. And that is an amateurish trait, folks. I love great skill play as much as the next guy, but you win games up front. In last year’s draft, with O-line the screaming need, Licht inexplicably took a WR at #1, a TE at #2, and brittle, limited RB —a spot where the Bucs had ample talent already—at #3…all of this knowing that he did not have a 4th rounder. I literally screamed at my TV set. Granted, Mike Evans is a spectacular player, but was he a wiser option than an impact DT or OT? Hell, no. Was TE Sefarian-Jenkins in round 2, a guy who made little impact over a 2-14 season, a smart option over a starting OT or OG? Again: hell, no. Was RB Charles Sims a smarter add than a talented OG or DT? Puh-leeeease. That three-player sequence, folks, was among the worst in the entire history of the draft. Flash forward to 2015, and I was sure that Licht had learned his lesson and that he’d use 3-4 picks on the OL alone. Uh, no. After reaching for OT Smith and trading up for OG Marpet, he developed amnesia and once again went chasing after skill players like a giddy schoolboy. Spectacularly stupid stuff. I mean, consider how a consistently competitive team like the Super-Bowl-Champ Patriots approached the 2015 draft: DT, S, DE, OG, OG, etc. Tell me, do you think Licht knows more about roster building than Belichek?

I always try to find a positive, though, and Bell is, well, a positive. First, because he has absolutely epic hair that looks like someone fashioned a Christmas wreath out of used steel-wool and plunked it onto his head. It’s just awesome. But it’s his game that will wow you. I watched him play for Nebraska and he just jumped off the screen with his quickness, fearless play over the middle, frantic athleticism and ability to pluck the ball in traffic. At this stage he’s primarily a deep threat type, but with his wiry strength and body control he can develop into much more, over time. In fact, his potential is much higher than most assume since QB play at Nebraska sucked so badly that Bell seldom had a chance to strut his stuff. Better yet, he is the sort of kid coaches adore: a locker room anchor, an all-out-effort player and a selfless kid who seems to relish freeing up teammates as a blocker. I predict that Bell will make a big splash in pre-season much like Paris Warren did back in the mid-2000s. So…part of me can understand who the Bucs felt compelled to grab Bell at this spot since, frankly, he should have been selected much higher up the draft.

Bottom line: Bell will not be a top three WR this season unless injuries are an issue. The Bucs’ top trio will once again be Jackson, Evans and the underrated Murphy. But WR depth is important, and Bell can contribute early and often as a slot WR. Over time he has the tools to become a legit #2 WR. In short, Bell if the Bucs can stay healthy the Bucs should have legit four-deep talent at WR for the first time in, well, a long time. That’s great and all, but they still should have added another OL here—maybe a guy like talented OG Robert Myers of Tennessee State, who went 14 picks after Bell to the Ravens, or maybe Tayo Fabuluje, a hulking OT who went 15 or so picks later to the Bears. Accordingly, my modest grade here is not a reflection of Bell’s upside and ability so much as it is Licht’s mind-blowing tendency to ignore the team’s biggest need.

Scrappy Grade: 6 out of 10


clayRound 5: Kaelin Clay, WR/KR, Utah
Again with a skill player when OL is the need. Listen, Clay is intriguing on some levels. He can absolutely jet in a straight line, and he shows some impressive KR ability. However, he doesn’t bring anything to the table that incumbents Robert Herron and (especially) Solomon Patton and Russell Shephard don’t already offer. He’s worth a look, but Shephard and Patton have SEC pedigrees, better hands, comparable speed and greater upside, in my humble opinion.

Bottom line: I believe Clay could have been signed after the draft as a free agent. By focusing on yet another skill player Licht once again surrendered the chance to land an OL prospect for a very needy line…like OT Tyrus Thompson of Oklahoma who went one pick later to the Vikings, or OG Ian Silberman of Boston College, who the 49ers snagged 6 picks later. For the love.

Scrappy Grade: 5 out of 10.


iosefaRound 7: Joey Iosefa, FB, Hawaii
Hey, look! Another skill player. How refreshing. I mean, why would a 2-14 team with the worst Oline play of the modern era need to draft another lineman? (I hope you’re picking up on my sarcasm because I’m laying it on pretty thick). But I want to be fair to Iosefa, who actually does have some interesting qualities.

On the not-so-great side Iosefa is a one-speed runner who shows no burst running the ball. In the pros he’d likely be run down quickly on most plays. He probably has limited upside as a tailback despite a highlight film riddled with nice runs. To be honest, current Buc FB Javorskie Lane is a better natural athlete and runner, which arguably makes Iosefa another redundant pick much like Clay.

But…Iosefa actually has a more well-rounded skill set than most assume, showing soft hands a receiver, good position and strength as a pass blocker, a knack for setting up his blocks and a wonderfully nasty way of finishing off runs by inflicting pain. And though he does lack speed, when you watch his highlight runs the word “Alstott” does come to mind since he has a knack for lining up would-be tacklers and splattering them. He has a more effective running style than your average FB prospect, with some natural shiftiness that puts tacklers off balance before he plows into them. However, if he has a chance to stick it will be because he lead blocks and plays special teams better than any other option on the roster.

Bottom line: You’ll hear folks say that the traditional FB position is dead in the modern NFL—and that’s largely true—but in short yardage or red-zone situations a bruising fullback can still be of great value, especially if your Oline blows. The addition of massive-but-hardly-nimble OT Smith implies, at least to me, that the Bucs will run more of a power-run scheme than most imaged they would under new OC Kotter, and Iosefa is consistent with such a meat-grinder approach. I give Lane the edge at FB for now, but this Iosefa kid is tough, seems to relish contact and will not go quietly. If he can put a couple of LBs to sleep in camp as a lead blocker—and outplay Lane on Special Teams—he may just stick around and buy himself some reps during games. If I had to guess, though, I’d say he’ll end up on the practice squad this season rather than the final 53-man roster where he’l be groomed as a WCO-style fullback. Oh, and just so it’s said, promising OT Corey Robinson of South Carolina went to the Lions nine picks after the Bucs took Iosefa.

Scrappy Grade: 6 out of 10


Overall grade: About a 7 out of 10, or a C-

All in all a fairly pedestrian effort that will forever be marked by the selection of the mercurial Winston atop an entire draft class. Winston, who was not the best overall talent in this group, and arguably not the best QB in this draft. Winston, the only draft pick to survive gobs of character-based red flags apparently unscathed. Winston, the prospect with undeniable holes in his game who still managed to go from mid-round gamble to peerless franchise savior within a matter of months. A mystery for the ages.

Beyond the FSU product, Licht did finally address the O-line, but the picture at OT is still unclear. There is a bright spot or two, but no single pick really knocked my socks off. Was Licht’s effort enough to make the Bucs competitive in 2015? Maybe, primarily because of astute free-agency additons (Melton, Moore, Carter) that will bolster an already-solid defense. But in the end the Bucs have painted themselves into a corner with Winston, and it will all come down to how well the much-maligned rookie plays…and the way he conducts himself away from the game. And that, like I say, is an enormous and inadvisable gamble.

Could a trade (for a vet QB) be in the works? Tue, 28 Apr 2015 12:00:45 +0000
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:

1. Trade with Eagles for Bradford and picks
Chip Kelly is a smart dude. So smart, in fact, that his seemingly strange decision to shuttle Nick Foles and acquire Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez makes much more sense now in insight. First, because the Eagles were clearly not sold on Foles being able to do all of the things Kelly wants his QB to do, including consistent accuracy. Bradford, however, is known as a very accurate guy when he’d protected. More important, Bradford played in a spread-option scheme at Oklahoma which makes him a more natural fit in Kelly’s offense. Question is, did Kelly acquire Bradford to run his show, or to use as a possible bargaining chip to move up in the draft to get his real target, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota? The latter scenario is not as far-fetched as it might sound. Kelly has coveted Mariota openly, and he knew he did not have the firepower to move up without offering value to a team like Tennessee or Tampa Bay in the form of a talented pocket passer. If he cannot not swing a deal he has upgraded his QB spot with Bradford, regardless. If a team like the Bucs is open to a trade involving Bradford Kelly could acquire the QB he really wanted all along (Mariota). Again, smart.

From the Bucs perspective, a trade for Bradford and picks would be very intriguing. They are contemplating using the first overall pick to acquire Winston, yet Bradford offers better value. First, because Bradford was a first overall pick himself with a higher overall grade than Winston as a prospect, and also because, unlike Winston, Bradford has proven that he belongs as a pro starter. Yes, his injuries are a concern and he has not exactly lit the league on fire yet, but he did earn an Offensive Rookie of the Year award for a solid first 2010 season and his numbers when healthy have been very good. Bradford is also a great kid and locker room presence with zero character concerns—a  legit “face of the franchise” type. If the Eagles can sweeten the deal enough with extra picks—and Kelly actually offers Bradford in trade—the Bucs would be foolish to decline.

2. Trade with Chargers for Rivers
Unsubstantiated rumors have been swirling for some time that the Chargers might want to go in a different direction at QB. Rivers has been a fantastic player for them but has never won a title and can be a controversial guy with his fiery manner and tendency to yip at opponents. Rivers has also held off in signing a contract due to concerns about the club possibly moving to Los Angeles. Could a trade with the Bucs for Rivers be a possibility? I doubt it. In my opinion the Chargers would be nuts to let go of one of the league’s premier talents at the position for a big gamble in Winston or Mariota…and they know it. Rivers is only 33 and relatively healthy, and still statistically a top 10 player at his position. However, with Rivers not 100% happy in San Diego there is an outside chance of such a trade. The sticking pint would be value; that is, I can’t see San Diego’s GM being willing to ffer much more beyond Rivers for the chance to move up, and the Bucs would almost certainly demand additional value in the form of picks.

Could this deal happen? Again, very doubtful. If a trade was orchestrated, odds are it would be between the Titans and Chargers, not the Titans and the Bucs, since the Titans seem much more focused on Mariota than Winston. Teams trading away franchise-caliber QBs, in this age of potent passing offenses, is also about as rare as a polka-dotted unicorn. But if by some chance Rivers is floated out as a trade chip to acquire the first pick, the Bucs would be nuts not to try and make it happen. Add a super-talented vet, invest heavily in picks along the O-line and voilà—you’re a just-add-water contender in 2015.

Like I say, both are long-shot scenarios, with the Bradford-to-Tampa version the most likely of the two. If the Bucs can’t swing a deal to trade down for extra picks and a vet QB, I still strongly advocate them using the first pick on a defensive star like Florida DE Fowler or USC DT Williams, then acquiring a QB or two later down in the draft to compete with Glennon. Like many Buc fans I do not trust Winston’s suspect behavior or tendency toward untimely picks, so I’d much rather see my Bucs play the percentages by going with less-hyped, high-character additions while making the bolstering of their offensive and defensive lines the top draft priority.

What the Tebow-to-Eagles move could mean to the Bucs’ draft plans Mon, 20 Apr 2015 01:44:20 +0000

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).

Of course, such a move would require a big-time revamping of the Eagles roster. Oh, wait, that’s well underway. Nick Foles, a prototypical pocket guy and the sort of young passing talent most NFL teams covet, was recently jettisoned by the Eagles. Foles was ostensibly replaced by Sam Bradford, a move that makes sense on some levels, especially when you consider that Bradford ran a spread scheme very effectively at Oklahoma. Problem is, Bradford is a slim, injury-prone player who is best suited to be a protected pocket passer in the NFL. If Kelly hopes to use his QB as a legit run/pass threat—conjecture at this stage, admittedly—Bradford is not an ideal fit. A guy like Tebow, however, certainly is, if only as a backup. Hmmmmmm.

Now stick with me. Would Kelly want to have both a pure pocket passer and a run/pass QB as his starter and top backup? I highly doubt it. Teams generally commit to a single system in which a certain type of QB will thrive, and they need redundancy at the spot since starting QBs are so often injured were injured. So if Tebow is being added to pose a legit threat for a QB job (again, conjecture at this stage), which player out there would have similar skill set and experience? One leaps to mind: Marcus Mariota, a player Kelly openly covets and has implied he might be willing to trade up for.

And here’s where the plot really thickens. What do the Bucs need? A talented pocket-passer to challenge Glennon for the starting QB role. Most draft pundits are openly assuming that the Bucs will take FSU’s Jameis Winston with the top pick, a move I adamantly oppose. But what if Kelly were to dangle Bradford in front of the Bucs? Most draft experts have long assumed that the Eagles lack the firepower to move up to the top pick to take Mariota, but Bradford would change that dynamic. Bradford is a tremendously talented passer and a former no. 1 overall pick, and in my humble opinion a better QB than Winston in almost every regard (mobility, arm, release, accuracy, poise, etc.). And unlike Winston, Bradford is a super-solid character kid and locker-room asset. If Kelly does want Mariota and the Bucs do like Bradford, this could be a win-win scenario for both clubs.

Sound crazy? It shouldn’t. In fact, the Eagles have confirmed that a team recently offered them a first-round pick for Bradford. The identity of that team, by the way, was not disclosed. Another “hmmmmmmmm”. Could it have been the Bucs? Absolutely. The sticking point would be the negotiation process, with the Eagles insisting that Bradford is worth a high first-round pick and the Bucs countering with “Maybe, but certainly not the top pick in the draft; give us Bradford and an extra high pick or two and we’ll talk”. Could the Bucs and Eagles already have a draft-day deal in place in which Bradford goes to Tampa and Kelly gets his guy in Mariota? I haven’t seen anyone imply such a thing, but yes, they certainly could. Is it likely? I wouldn’t go that far. But Tebow going to Philly should have more folks wondering if such a move is in the works for the reasons explained above.

And so it’s said, this long-time Buc fan would applaud a trade for Bradford—and move away from Winston—until his hands bled.


Trading Mike Glennon: A Study in Empty Arguments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 02:18:45 +0000
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.

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.

This one is tough to even take seriously, and I’ll tell you why: no QB in the game would have succeeded in Tampa in 2014. Read that again. The Bucs’ new offensive coordinator (Jeff Tedford) bailed after suffering heart problems, leaving an over-his-head young QB coach (Marcus Arroyo) to call plays. Then, in his first year as the Bucs GM, Licht singlehandedly cripped the offensive line by dumping vet O-linemen Penn, Zuttah and Joseph and “replacing” them with free agent OT James Collins of Cincy, C Evan Dietrich-Smith from Green Bay and OG Oniel Cousins from the Browns. In an 11th-hour panic move, he also overpaid for fading OG Logan Mankins from the Patriots. The result? The three vets he let walk all went on to play solid ball as starters for their new teams. But with the exception of Mankins, who somewhat held his own, the new OL additions collectively played worse than any NFL OL in recent memory. I’m talking deep-down, shameful, spackle-your-shoes-with-breakfast bad. Josh McCown, who looked like the second coming of Fran Tarkenton in Chicago the season prior, was a shadow of his former self in Tampa, fumbling and bumbling his way to losses as he literally ran for his life after each snap. Glennon, once again asked to be the savior as he was in his rookie season, fared little better. Like I say: It was the Oline, folks, not QB play. Still doubt it? Then Google up some articles on Tom Brady from early last season. The Patriots Oline was in disarray after the loss of Mankins and repeatedly exposed their QB to pressure and sacks, yet it was Brady — yes, the future Hall-of-Fame QB — who was labeled “washed up” and blamed for the anemic Patriots’ passing game by everyone from the media to the fans. In the end the Pats patched up their Oline and, given adequate time in the pocket, Brady went from goat to hero, lighting up opposing defenses and winning yet another Super Bowl. Ya see, it’s not rocket science, folks. Skill play matters but in the end you still win and lose up front…and the Bucs’ flinch-inducing Oline play was the primary cause behind a forgettable season. Not the QBs.

This one was pulled straight out of someone’s keester followed by a popping noise. I watched Mike Glennon as a college player and he was very impressive, displaying all of the qualities of a special QB talent: intelligence, the ability to scan multiple targets and make the right decision quickly, a quick release, great length, a big-time arm, vocal leadership in the huddle, an understand of when to rip a throw and when to use touch, anticipation on timing routes, a calm demeanor, the ability to read defenses and check down pre-snap, etc. So what happened, you say? As detailed above, last season was a throwaway due to upchuck-worthy Oline play. In 2013, however—Glennon’s rookie campaign—O-line play was, well, average. Yet behind that average line and in an offense riddled with injuries at the skill spots Glennon stepped into the breach and threw for 19 TDs and only 9 picks. How do those numbers compare to what the league’s “franchise-caliber guys” did as rookies, most of them surrounded by far better talent? Well, I won’t bore you with the numbers, so let me just say this: Glennon’s rookie TD-to-INT ration is better, and in most cases FAR better, than the first-year production of guys like Brees and Manning and Brady and Luck and Roethlisberger and Ryan and River, etc. Don’t believe me? Look it up. While compiling those impressive stats he also:

• made the All Rookie team
• set the franchise record for passing yards by a rookie
• had an 87% completion rate vs. Atlanta (11/17), the second-best single-game mark in the NFL that season and second highest in team history
• set a Buccaneers rookie single-game record with a passer rating of 138.4 against a solid Lions’ defense
• was the first rookie in team history to throw a touchdown in eight consecutive games, also marking the longest streak by a rookie in the NFL since 2012 (Russell Wilson)
• was the first rookie in NFL history to throw for a touchdown in his first eight starts
• was one of only two rookies in NFL history to post two games with a passer rating of 137 or higher

I could go on, but you get the idea. Those are the stats of a special if not elite talent, especially given context. So why the lack of love for the kid? I suspect two things: 1) he’s pretty goofy looking and many fans want a dashing, endorsement-worthy guy at QB and 2) he is being blamed for the team’s losing ways because most fans don’t dig deep enough to understand where the true problems lie.

Do I think the Bucs should keep Glennon and give him a shot to start? Bet your ass I do. In fact, the only reason why I’d understand Licht and Lovie trading him is if new OC Koetter plans to tailor a scheme around the skills of a mobile QB (read: Marcus Mariota). If that’s the case it would make little sense to keep two QBs with radically different profiles since you want a good fit for the given approach and redundancy at the critical QB spot. If mobility in his QBs matters to Koetter, I could see them trading Glennon to a team like the Browns in exchange for a guy like Johnny Manziel (to act as Mariota’s backup). But as I noted above, that would be ignoring a simple, proven fact: pocket passers rule the day in the modern NFL. And Glennon is a prototypical young pocket passer, folks — one who will succeed as a starter in Tampa Bay, or elsewhere.

2015 Bucs’ Mock Draft: A Winston-less Approach Sat, 28 Mar 2015 19:07:01 +0000

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:


Heaven help QBs everywhere.

What, you say? Pass on the two top-rated QBs? Why yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying. I don’t see either as a safe pick—Winston due to his penchant for throwing picks and glaring character issues, and Mariota since there’s little precedent for a successful transition from a spread scheme to a pro-style offense. The former Gator is my favorite player in this draft and in my humble opinion the best overall athlete in this class. He’s a big-time playmaker who will be a star for some team, and he’d address a huge need at weak side DE. A few months back Fowler was seen as a mid-to-late first rounder, but as scouts have reviewed his tape and watched him dismember opponents like Hannibal Lecter with a skill-saw he has predictably skyrocketed up the charts. He’s now a top 5 if not top 3 player on most mock drafts, so it’s no stretch that he’d move up to #1. Stack him across from 2014 free-agent Jacquies Smith and you have two fear-inducing DEs who will complement DT McCoy and new addition DT Melton perfectly, giving the Bucs a hellacious front four that would ingest opponents’ livers with fava beans and a nice Chianti.


A project worth picking.

Petty has his detractors, and with good reason. He struggled at times with accuracy under pressure and his deep ball was inconsistent. He also carries with him all of the doubts that surround Mariota given that he played in a simplified college system in which he was never asked to take snaps under center or click through multiple receiving options. He is a project, without question, who cannot be expected to do much his first year. That said, his skill set is impressive: natural leadership skills, winning pedigree, intelligence, touch, timing, solid mechanics, good height and bulk, surprising mobility, legit toughness, a quick release and a live arm. His athleticism, release and character trump Winston’s, and his size, accuracy, arm strength and pocket presence are better than Mariota’s. I believe he’s the most underrated QB talent in this draft. As for a comparison to a vet, I see some Matthew Stafford in his game. He simply needs time, reps and patience in a pro scheme to blossom into the best QB in this class, something he’d enjoy in Tampa behind the underrated Glennon.


Plug-and-play option at RT.

The Bucs need a starter at RT like Obama needs a teleprompter. Which is to say, desperately. Demar Dotson’s late-in-the-season move to left tackle is likely permanent, and second-year player Kevin Pamphile has some ability but plays too passively. Williams is not as hyped as the top-rated tackles because he lacks elite feet, but with four solid years of play for the Sooners is capable of stepping in as a first-day starter. Williams is a massive, physically overpowering 6-5, 340 lb. bruiser who smacks around opposing D-linemen in the run game and does a credible job as a pass blocker. The Bucs’ Oline last season was a chunky pile of hot buffalo dung. I was literally screaming at the TV set when Licht (who let capable starters Penn, Zuttah and Joseph walk in free agency) let one round after another slide by without addressing OT and OG in the last draft. The remedy is guys like Williams who play with solid technique and blot out the sun. So it’s said, my favorite OT in this class is UF’s DJ Humphries but I’m afraid he’ll be gone by this stage. If he and Williams have both been picked then Penn State’s Donovan Smith or Humphries’ former teammate Chaz Green are intriguing talents at OT, as well.


Fearsome facial hair.

I’ll admit it: I like hard-ass, lunch pail, throwback types, and Heeney is certainly one of them. On a very average Kansas team he jumped out on tape repeatedly as a reckless, tackle-racking, teeth-rattling dynamo. But beyond the grit and fearlessness, Heeney also possesses fantastic athleticism and great instincts both against the run and the pass. This, my friends, is the sort of player who is worth gambling on at this spot, if not earlier, since he has the rare skill-set to possibly be that most elusive of prizes: an impact, 3-down, Tampa 2 middle linebacker, something we have not seen in Tampa since Shelton Quarles manned the middle, and arguably since Hardy Nickerson before that. Before you dismiss his as another blue-color, try-hard player, know that he recently posted the best 60-yard shuttle time posted by a LB at the combine…ever. Hey, he may turn out to be only a solid backup LB and ST ace, which ain’t bad for a 4th rounder. But I think his ceiling is much higher, and I think he’d bring some much-needed playmaking and swagger to the MLB spot and the LB corps as a whole. Plus, he has a sweet beard.


Scrappy likes scrappers.

If we learned anything last season it’s the critical importance of depth along the Oline. We also learned that “prize” free agent center Evan Dietrich-Smith is an athletically limited player with Weebles in his family tree, struggling in both pass and run protection. Was it all his fault? Well, no. With a partial exception for the venerable Logan Mankins the guards flanking him played like little girly men. But even if OG play is miraculously fixed the Bucs can’t afford to gamble on the fact that Dietrich-Smith will suddenly play great ball; they need a backup plan at center. Mason would provide two things: solid depth at both OG spots and a legit challenge to take the center job away from the incumbent (echoes of Zuttah, anyone?). He is quick, powerful and like Humphries plays with a chip on his shoulder, down after down. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that the Bucs are planning on visiting Mason, which means I am smarter than they are.


Stack the deck with a pocket passer.

Yes, he played out of the shotgun on most snaps in college and will need to adjust to the pro game. Yes, he’s a virtual unknown, and he’s coming off a bad leg injury that essentially killed his chances to be discussed among the better QBs in this class. But wow, can this kid rip the ball. Halliday plays with supreme confidence and has that cocky, “I will soon set records and impregnate hot runway models” it-factor that the league’s better QBs all exude. He also fits the profile of the successful modern pro passer. Take a gander at the top 10-15 QBs in the NFL last season. See the pattern? Pocket guys, limited mobility, big arms, long frames. Halliday has all of the gifts needed to be special in time, and he’d ramp up competition at the position to a very high level. Now consider this: if the Bucs follow the inspired plan I’ve outlined here they would enter camp with four—read that again, four—young, tall, smart, strong-armed QBs. So tell me: in what world would drafting monster-character-risk-and-interception-factory Winston (and letting Glennon leave to succeed elsewhere) be a better move than entering camp with Glennon, Petty, Halliday and the unheralded-but-intriguing Seth Lobato all fighting like drunken ninjas for two roster spots? An insano world where dogs fornicate openly with possums, that’s where.


Overlooked gem has make-it skills.

Another Gator player? Why yes, yes indeed. The lanky, athletic Ball can straight-up, well, ball and has a nose for the, well, ball. He fell of the radar of many teams after an injury early in the season, but insiders know that he is an intriguing talent. Ball would provide a legit challenge for the strong side LB job and would match up very well against the NFC South’s big, fast TEs. Why another LB, you ask? Good question. Alex Magee was recently released and ran off to play baseball, capable vet Jonathan Casillas left for New England late last season and MLB starter Mason Foster is likely going to fly the coop in free agency. The Bucs need to add two new bodies to the mix. Oh, and though the nickel back job will likely be in the good hands of either Leonard Johnson or newcomer Sterling Moore, Notre Dame DB Cody Riggs is worth a long look here, as well, since he was born to be a nickel corner.

So there ya have it, an inspired mock draft, as promised. Share your thoughts on my proposed approach below.

Winston the #1 Overall Pick? Surely You Jest Wed, 25 Mar 2015 02:23:23 +0000
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

Where there is smoke there is usually fire, folks.

Beyond the crappy conduct stuff, Winston raises a host of other red flags. He has left the door open to drop football for a baseball career, something that has traditionally made NFL front offices very leery. He is not a great athlete, with a soft, strange build and an awkward, lumbering gait. He threw far too many numb-skulled interceptions at FSU, posting 28 picks the last two seasons—including 17 over an 11-game stretch, and  staggering three against the Florida Gators this past season…in the first quarter alone. In fact, he led the entire FBS in picks on intermediate-distance throws. And though his mechanics are OK, he has a slow, almost casual windup that I believe pro DBs will read like a book. To top it all off, he has a strange personality and is prone to bizarre emotional tirades.

So I ask: how did Winston go from pariah to hyped franchise savior seemingly overnight? Well, some might question whether skin color is a factor. Consider that Johnny Manziel, who had a fraction of the character concerns surrounding Winston, had already begun his slide down draft charts by this time last season, and ended up near the bottom of the first round on draft day. Yet Winston, whose track record makes Manziel’s seem like childsplay, is seemingly immune from repercussions. Could it be that we’ve unwittingly cultivated an atmosphere in which a simple truth can’t be expressed for fear of being labeled a racist or a bigot? Point is, if a kid is a big character risk or a jackass his skin color should be irrelevant. And don’t waste my time talking about Winston’s impressive interviews during the combine. Manziel charmed most teams during his pre-draft interviews, too, and has been an abject failure so far in Cleveland.

But I digress. Two factors are working in Winston’s favor, in my opinion:

Combine hype
The NFL combine has become a circus of sorts where draft prospects are poked and prodded like cattle, and where awed attendees collectively gasp over fast 40 times and high vertical jumps. Amid the hoopla far too many folks—including not a few NFL coaches and front-offices types—lose sight of the fact that nothing trumps what a college player actually did against competition. And that’s what happened with Winston. By all accounts he looked very good throwing passes in shorts to uncovered receivers without a pass rush in his face, leading some scouts to compare him to Peyton Manning. I shit you not. Yet game film reveals a QB who whined, pouted, knocked heads with coaches (another huge character flag) and threw too many stupid picks.

Supply and demand
Though recent hype has clouded this issue, not so long ago the “experts” seemed to agree that there was not an elite, franchise-caliber, just-add-water QB (the caliber of Rodgers, Luck, etc.) in this class. And they were absolutely correct. But the media hype machine never rests, and Winston (and to some extent Mariota) have seen their stock artificially elevated. Never mind the fact that decision-making is the biggest common denominator among successful pocket passers, or that spread-option QBs invariably struggle as pros. There’s a draft to hype, dammit, and that means we need players to gush over, no matter their limitations.

Listen, Winston has undeniable talent. He has a big arm and a large frame, and made some impressive throws in crunch time for FSU. He ticks many of the boxes that make NFL teams breathe heavily, including a college career spent in a pro-style scheme. Yes, he may defy the odds and end up being the face of a franchise. Yes, the Bucs need to add another QB to the mix and yes, concerns about Mariota’s ability to make the transition to the pros are somewhat legit, if overstated. But NFL history is littered with the discarded bodies of immature, over-hyped young QBs who bombed out of the league in short order, many of them with track records not nearly as spotty as Winston’s. As the old saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Wanna know what’s refreshing? Seems most fans agree.

Come on, Lovie and Licht. Defy the pressure and the predictions and make a wise choice by scratching Winston off your draft board, then either drafting Mariota or a productive, high-character non-QB who fills a glaring need like Florida DE Fowler or Texas A&M OT Ogbuehi. Or, maybe trade down and get some extra picks. Regardless, you’d be wiser to take a promising signal caller with no glaring character issues in the mid-rounds (SE Louisiana’s Bryan Bennett, for example) to push the inexplicably underrated Mike Glennon than you would be to burn this unique opportunity on Winston.

My guess is that you both know that already.

Sterling Moore: Budding Talent at Cornerback Sat, 21 Mar 2015 01:38:30 +0000
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.

Flash forward to 2014 and tape reveals Claiborne struggling mightily as a starter in Dallas. Struggling so badly, in fact, that the Cowboys were forced to turn to backups, including a no-name, undrafted kid on their roster by the name of — you guessed it — Sterling Moore. And guess what? The non-name backup played lights out, shaming the celebrated high draft pick. That’s right, the 6th overall pick of the 2012 draft was badly outplayed by an kid who did not even play football until his senior year of high school.

So where does Moore fit with the Bucs? Well, though he has the ability to play outside as a starting CB — and I believe he may end up there down the line — he is not going to displace Banks, Verner or even Jenkins in that role right now. However, his size, lateral quickness and physical game make him a great fit at the nickel back spot, a job that’s essentially a full-time gig in modern NFL defenses. Of course, he’ll need to displace incumbent nickel starter Leonard Johnson, and that will be easier said than done since Johnson is himself a human tick who made it to the pros the hard way, and who has endeared himself to the coaching staff with his fiery disposition and physical game. Competition = good. Though they are very similar players I do give Moore the edge since I believe he’s the better athlete.

What’s great about the Moore addition is that the Bucs have assembled credible CB depth across the board. I was hoping they’d draft Notre Dame DB Cody Riggs to challenge the tough-but-limited Johnson for the nickel role, but it’s tough to argue against Moore being a smarter/safer move since he’s already proven that he belongs as a pro. In fact, though I see DT Melton and LB Carter as more important additions, Moore is my sentimental favorite among the new Bucs so far given his long-shot profile and scrappy game. Can’t wait to see him in a Bucs hideously puke-inducing new uniform.

Reminds me of: A more athletic Leonard Johnson.

Verdict: The 25-year old Moore fits the defense, is steeped in the Tampa2 and is only getting better. Considering age, skill set and fit, I give this one an 8 out of 10 on the Scrappy Scale.

]]> 1
Bruce Carter: Versatile Freak at Linebacker Sat, 21 Mar 2015 00:55:29 +0000
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.

So where does Carter fit? Odds are he’ll end up as the strongside starter, at least to begin with — a role primarily filled by Dominick-find Danny Lansanah last season. Lansanah, however, ended up getting MLB reps last season and looked solid there, likely making the Bucs’ brass consider life without entrenched MLB starter Mason Foster. And that’s understandable. Foster (now a Bear) was steady but also anything but special, and he’s far from a playmaker or enforcer type. Lansanah, on the other hand — while limited in terms of his speed and range — proved to be a physical presence inside with a knack for making plays near the line of scrimmage. So…on paper right now I see the 2015 starters as David at WLB, Lansanah at MLB and Carter at SLB. All of that said, Carter’s rare athleticism, cover skills and explosive play will lead the Bucs to experiment with him at the middle linebacker spot in camp, and he has a legit chance to win the role, relegating Lansanah to MLB duty again. After the 3-tech tackle the MLB is the most critical role in this defense, and physical, instinctive MLB play can make the difference between a good and a great defensive showing.

If I have a reservation it’s with Carter’s instincts and ability to diagnose plays. He has yet to convince me that he has an innate feel for the game like, well, Lansanah. When I watch Carter he reminds me a lot of former Buc LB Quincy Black, a player sadly lost to injury just as he seemed to be coming into his own. Like Black, Carter blew scouts away with his Tarzan physique and insane measurables (long jump, vertical jump, shuttle, etc.) coming put of college. But, like Carter, his mental game too time to catch up to his physical blessings, especially within a scheme that asks an awful lot of it’s Mike ‘backer. Regardless, keep an eye on Carter, a guy who could be anything from a solid contributor at strongside linebacker to the first game-changing Buccaneer middle linebacker since the great Hardy Nickerson.

Reminds me of: Former Bucs LB Quincy Black

Verdict: Carter fits the defense and his eye-popping physical ability makes his ceiling very high, but his instincts and the mental side of his game need improvement. Considering age, skill set and fit, I give this one an 7 out of 10 on the Scrappy Scale.

]]> 2