Bucs Central
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Around The NFL, editor, Gregg Rosenthal, of NFL.com has inked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the future, of the NFC South. While proclaiming the Carolina Panthers are the present – rightfully so, in the case of the Panthers – until one of the other teams in the South dethrones the standard of the conference, in the Panthers, they are the standard-bearer by which other teams, in the conference should be chasing.  Rosenthal intuitively links both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints as the past in the conference.

Jameis Winston has shown traits in his second preseason that Newton took years to master. He goes through his progressions in the pocket. He looks off defenders. His default setting is downfield, just like coach Dirk Koetter wants.

If the Falcons and Saints are the NFC South Past and the Panthers are the NFC South Present, the Bucs look like the future. There is no better feeling as a fan than seeing a young franchise quarterback emerge because you know he’s not leaving for a decade. Like every team in this division, the Bucs should have playoff expectations. The top-level talent is undeniable: running back Doug Martin, wide receiver Mike Evans, linebacker Lavonte David, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy can all be among the best at their positions. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith should upgrade Lovie Smith’s lackluster defense from a year ago.

Tampa’s offensive line finally appears settled, and the team should have its first legitimate pass rush in years. Rookie Noah Spence looks like a keeper, and veteran Robert Ayers adds much-needed production.

The Buccaneers playoff aspirations hinge on the maturation of Winston, there is no denying the fact.  The potential is there for a gargantuan leap, for Winston from his rookie season to his sophomoric season. Evident by Winston’s play during limited action this pre-season. It all boils down to his continued development and consistency from play-to-play and game-to-game.

Yet just as important as Winston’s maturation, will be the play of the defense.

A dreadful defensive display, masquerading as NFL caliber over the past two seasons  – it was down right putrid!

During the exhibition season under Mike Smith the defense has shown glimpses, of turning the corner – albeit in meaningless pre-season contest. Nevertheless it will be a combination of Winston’s development and a resurgence of defensive prowess, that was once synonymous when mentioning the glory teams of yesteryear for a once beleaguered franchise that fought their way out of the doldrums behind a suffocating defense.

The Chicago Sun-Times, is reporting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have traded for former Wisconsin and Chicago Bear 2011 first-round selection (29th overall) T Gabe Carimi. The move effectively addresses, on paper, depth concerns on the offensive line for the Bucs. Adam Schefter of ESPN, via his Twitter feed is reporting the Bucs will send a sixth-round pick in 2014 to the Bears pending Carimi passing a physical. Carimi is reportedly en-route to Tampa to be checked out by the team’s medical staff.

The hope is that reuniting a healthy Garimi who has choose to train on his own with LeCharles Bentley, a two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, in Arizona and not attend the Bears’ organized team activities with his former college position coach, Bob Bostad, who did a phenomenal job of getting the most out of a patchwork Bucs offensive line in 2012, that was seemingly in constant flux shuffling players to plug holes due to injuries will get a once promising prospects career that was derailed by injuries on track.

According to the Sun-Times, Carimi who attended the Bears’ voluntary minicamp in April stated his main goal this offseason was getting healthy and back to 100 percent. Garimi who dislocated his right knee cap in Week 2 of the 2011 regular season, during his rookie year has required several surgeries to repair the damage. He has started 14 of the 16 games he has played in. 1 as a rookie and 10 games at right tackle and three at right guard last season.

Based on grading on a play-by-play basis, in 2012, Pro Football Focus ranked Carimi 73rd among 80 qualifying offensive tackles, and 78th in pass protection. Carimi had a statistical grade of plus 10 overall for his run blocking prowess.

On October 24th, 1993, a 39-year-old Steve DeBerg became the oldest player in the history of the franchise.  On the other end of the timeline, can you name the youngest player ever deployed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

In 1997, with hopes of energizing one of the league’s poorest offenses, head coach Tony Dungy drafted 20-year-old Gator Reidel Anthony midway through the first round.  The skinny receiver was college football’s most devastating deep threat in 1996; his 18 yards per reception and 18 touchdown catches carried the University of Florida to a National Championship and earned Anthony All-American honors as a junior, and Tampa Bay looked to use his speed to soften defenses for rookie runner Warrick Dunn.

The season kicked off against the San Francisco 49ers.  After six minutes and a blocked field goal, the Tampa Bay offense took over at the 41 yard line, and across from receiver Horace Copeland, the 20-year, 315-day-old Reidel Anthony succeeded 1987 running back Charles Gladman as the youngest Buccaneer to ever take the field.  Three weeks later, Anthony became the youngest player in NFL history to catch a touchdown (and the third-youngest to cross the goal line).

His career floundered after a promising sophomore campaign, and Tony Dungy never built the offense he envisioned.  Neither man was a Buccaneer after the 2001 season.  But Anthony’s early successes are almost unprecedented in professional football; he was the ninth-youngest player of the modern era.  None of the other eight, so far, have survived more than five seasons with the team that drafted them.

In 36 years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had 32 players selected to the Pro Bowl.  Two players earned the designation without starting a single game.  Who were they?

The first was tight end Dave Moore.  In 2006, he was the last addition to Sean Payton’s NFC all-star roster.  Moore had proven himself as one of the league’s most consistent long snappers — a position coach Payton needed to fill.  But more than that, Moore had been the model of longevity on the top shelf of professional sports, and his selection was as much a show of admiration as it was utility.  In 1992, as a seventh-round rookie, Moore had barely stumbled out of camp before he was cut by the Dolphins.  Sam Wyche and the Buccaneers nabbed him from the waiver wire, found a place for him, and watched him outlast most of his contemporaries.

There were only two men from the 1992 draft class to play longer than Dave Moore: kicker Jason Hanson, and quarterback Brad Johnson.  Only three tight ends in history — Trey Junkin, Tony Gonzalez, and Pete Metzelaars — have appeared in more games.  Moore’s hunger led to a productive 15-year career, and at age 37, that unrivaled experience earned him his only Pro Bowl appearance and a perfect punctuation point on an ample body of work.

Two years later, an undrafted unknown named Clifton Smith earned a camp invite in Tampa.  He failed to make any impact from scrimmage and wasn’t given a fair shake at the return duties — the Buccaneers decided to employ speedy second-round pick Dexter Jackson on special teams — and Smith was cut before the start of the season.  But weeks passed, and the Dexter Jackson experiment was failing.  The minute wide receiver from Appalachian State had the speed and shiftiness of a world-class return man, but Jackson had a bad habit of collapsing mid-stride before contacting the defense.  After nine weeks of mounting frustration, Jackson was demoted and Smith was promoted to Tampa’s active roster.

Clifton had a decent debut in Jackson’s stead, but the following week, Smith exploded into the national consciousness.  His 97-yard kickoff return touchdown — the second in Buccaneer history — sparked a three-touchdown comeback against Kansas City.  Two weeks later, a 70-yard punt return score versus Detroit helped stretch the lead against the Lions.

Despite missing the first seven games of 2008, Smith’s 1310 return yards ranked second in Buccaneer history, and proved enough to earn him a trip to the Pro Bowl.  He became the only undrafted rookie Pro Bowler of the 21st century, and the first non-kicker since Seattle’s Rufus Porter in 1988.

Neither Moore (a second-string tight end) nor Smith (the replacement return man) started a single game in their all-star seasons.

Months ago, when the Glazers chose coach Greg Schiano to inherit the ruins that Raheem Morris left behind, we assumed their selection was based on Schiano’s character and method — a roughshod drill sergeant who was, for all intents and purposes, the exact opposite of Morris.

We weren’t wrong in that assumption.  In fact, the opening day victory (the first by a rookie coach in Tampa Bay since 1992) showcased exactly how different Schiano and Morris are in their approaches to coaching.  Using roughly the same roster (plus and minus a few players here-and-there), Schiano and staff transformed the league’s worst run-stopping defense into a suffocating iron blanket.  He changed the offense — Greg Olson’s parade of disorganization — into an efficient, straightforward punch in the gut.  The entire team looked uniform.  Energetic.  Revitalized.  Professional.

Rookies Doug Martin and Mark Barron helped justify their draft statuses with some outstanding opening day performances.  Martin carried the ball 24 times and caught four Josh Freeman passes to help carry the offense.  His 28 touches are tied for the Week 1 lead league-wide.

When Barron wasn’t deflecting passes or locking down his deep half, he was laying some absolutely skull-shattering hits on his opponents.

Lavonte David finished the game with six tackles, and was part of a swarming hive of Tampa Bay defenders that held Carolina to a franchise-low 10 rushing yards.

It’s a stunning reversal from a season prior, and a wonderful illustration of the power of scheme and coaching.  If the Buccaneers build on their win over the Panthers — if they continue to improve on their precision and tenacity and aggressiveness — then we’re looking at the foundation of something big.  Something great.

Football’s fun again.  Rejoice.

Thank God the preseason doesn’t count, because the Buccaneers were just shellacked 30-3 by Washington’s second-stringers.  Tampa’s depth chart has all the depth of an inflatable kiddie pool.  Seriously, is there any position with adequate backup?  The Redskins’ second and third units absolutely wrecked Tampa Bay, and created some serious questions about the unified strength of the Buccaneer roster.

Third-string quarterback Brett Ratliff, a 27-year-old undrafted passer out of Utah, made up for a lack of experience with shoddy mechanics and slow downfield reads.  And the porous blocking didn’t help.  New England castoff Tiquan Underwood was Ratliff’s most reliable target, and may have solidified a roster spot with his solid contribution on Wednesday night.  And on the other side of the ball, outside of a pair of Sam Baker interceptions, most of the defense struggled against Mike Shanahan’s patented blend of off-tackle rushes and intermediate passes.

One bright spot from the Washington game (and a week earlier, against the Patriots) was kicker Kai Forbath.  Which is an unfortunate place for a quality backup, because if there’s a reliable starter anywhere on this team, it’s Connor Barth.  Forbath has, in my estimation, almost no shot at making the roster; Barth’s 2011 was the best kicking season in franchise history.  The quiet kicker nailed 26 of 28 field goal attempts (93%), and clunked one of his misses off the uprights early in the season.  He was perfect in the clutch, and showcased a leg fit for any situation.  It’s unlikely Forbath has a chance.

And that’s a shame.  Kickers don’t garner much trade value in the NFL.  Teams rarely keep two on a roster, and if a backup shows any sort of promise, the interested parties will take their chances with the waiver wire instead of committing draft picks or players.  This will likely be the case with Forbath, who might be the best backup on Tampa Bay’s roster.

A week ago, Forbath drilled a 51-yarder and a 55-yarder against the Patriots, with room to spare.  Against the Redskins, he fired a torpedo through the uprights from 43 yards out for Tampa’s only points.  Kai went 5-for-5 on kicks in the preseason — four of them from more than 40 yards out — and looks to be one of the few second-teamers on Tampa’s roster with any real promise.  And the Bucs won’t get an ounce of use out of him.


It’s been a year and a half since Josh Freeman looked comfortable throwing long routes.  The gargantuan passer showcased improved footwork and decent timing, but the nagging inaccuracy from a year ago still pulls his throws off course.  It’s preseason, and as fans, we’re privy only to the superficial workings of Mike Sullivan’s offense… but so far, despite long-ball promises from the coaching staff, Josh seems hesitant throwing down field.

Tampa Bay’s first-team defense creamed New England, but the 20-7 end result of the first-string scrimmage was a product of Mark BarronRonde Barber, Michael Bennett, and smothering, opportunistic defense.  The offense stumbled in both passing and running, and the struggles aren’t mutually exclusive.

If the Buccaneers expect the running game to flourish, then Freeman needs to throw deep.  It’s why they spent $55 million on Vincent Jackson.  Josh doesn’t need to complete deep passes, but the threat of a quick score synergizes wonderfully with the power running game; it softens safeties, imbalances the pass rush, and supercharges a rushing offense.  A strong ground game opens the play action attack, and the cycle restarts.  One thing leads into the next.  Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount, and the Bucs have the talent to run for 2500 yards, and if the offense is built and conducted properly, Tampa Bay’s record should be directly attached to their rushing numbers.

But it starts with Freeman.

The defense looks to have found some footing.  Losing Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn to injuries in the first quarter didn’t hinder the front seven, who, for the first time in a long while, brought the boom of a professional defense.  The sheer physicality of the defensive line — especially Bennett — shattered the Patriot pocket for most of the evening.

The Patriots (admittedly without Wes Welker) looked outmatched against the Tampa Bay defense.  Michael Smith looked like Maurice Jones-Drew on kick return duty.  Vincent Jackson’s single-drive appearance was brief but promising.  Doug Martin did his best Earnest Graham impression in the passing game.

It doesn’t pay to get excited over preseason action, but Friday’s game was a lot more comfortable than the 31-14 beatdown New England delivered a season ago.

Turnover rates are high in professional sports.  Coaches and players are fired and replaced weekly, and a plethora of fresh talent and innovative instruction is tossed into the machine, where it either succeeds or gets gnawed and digested to make room for the next man up.

It’s a nasty, unforgiving process.  But it’s also exciting.  The perpetual evolution of our favorite teams keep us addicted to sports, and few teams have suffered more change through the last couple years than the Buccaneers.  In four seasons, we’ve gone from Jim Bates, Byron Leftwich, Jeff Jagodzinski, and Cadillac Williams… through Raheem Morris, Josh Freeman, Greg Olson, and LeGarrette Blount… and we find ourselves smack dab in the molten nucleus of the newest era in Tampa Bay football.

And it didn’t look so good tonight.

But failure’s part of the process.  Don’t judge a team on their missteps; judge them on how quickly — and confidently — they regain their balance.  Greg Schiano’s attention to detail has been so thoroughly discussed in local media that it’s becoming part of the Buccaneer mythology — alongside Tony Dungy’s honest stoicism, Monte Kiffin’s excited rasps, and Jon Gruden’s inability to convert third downs.  Trust the detail-driven Schiano to right the mistakes, lest they catch fire and spread, and burn him like they did his predecessor.  The team isn’t great, but hey, Schiano didn’t inherit a great team.  He didn’t inherit a competent team.  If there are serious mistakes, thank the football gods that it’s preseason, and that the Bucs hired a coach who — superficially, at least — seems capable of scaring the hiccups out of his crew.

That being said, there were a few points of concern.

  • LeGarrette’s injury looked bad.  When John Lynch — the Grand Poobah of Pain Infliction — prays that your “leg is intact,” it adds an extra twist to the knot of guts in your stomach.  Thankfully, Blount was walking the sidelines in the second half, no ice and no brace strapped to his leg.  But losing the “one” out of a “one-two punch” spells trouble early for the Schiano era.
  • Freeman looked an awful lot like 2011’s lumbering, timid, slow-armed patsy.  Awful being the operative word.  He stared down receivers, threw into coverage, and seemed reluctant to scramble.  His only saving grace?  Dan Orlovsky looked even worse.
  • Quincy Black must have one hell of a handshake to still have a job in the NFL.  He impresses the coaching staff during every training camp, then deflates when the season rolls around.  He’s the Michael Clayton of linebackers, but without the exciting rookie year.

Those are, of course, three pessimistic notes from a night rife with positivity.  For the second consecutive week, Doug Martin and Lavonte David showed the athleticism and instincts required to excel in the NFL.  Ahmad Black and his 4.7 40-yard dash were all over the Titans’ starting offense and special teams; the diminutive safety returned an interception to the two-yard line (setting up Tampa’s only touchdown), then saved a touchdown by snagging Tennessee’s Darius Reynaud from behind on a long punt return.  Situational pass-rusher Dekoda Watson and his explosive speed proved a handful for Tennessee’s blockers, and despite only one career sack, has been one of the few Buccaneers to produce consistent pressure on opposing passers since 2010.

Sometimes the bad outweighs the good — as was the case against the Titans.  But half the fun of a new era is watching the team rebound from adversity.

Six days to kickoff.  We await their rebuttal.

There’s never much to glean from the first preseason game.  In four weeks, after cuts and injuries whittle down the roster, we’ll be analyzing a different team with different goals and different setbacks.  But despite the turnover, every team displays subtle tendencies in the preseason — like tells at the poker table — that forecast the coming year.  These indicators shine under the scope of retrospection: Sabby Piscatelli being burned to a crisp in 2009, the Mike Williams jump ball in 2010, and Josh Freeman’s odd obsession with checkdowns in 2011.

Unfortunately, until the season reveals its high and low points, there’s no real way to discern the difference between a prophetic preseason tendency and a string of flukes born of early-season inexperience and abbreviated game plans.  But a few things caught my attention regardless.

  • Lavonte David looked especially comfortable on the weak side.  The rookie linebacker made some outstanding plays from scrimmage, and a great one-on-one tackle on a punt return.  And on a slippery field, no less.  His superior instincts create little wasted movement, and that physical efficiency combined with his on-field awareness makes him fast.  Faster than advertised.

  • Tiquan Underwood plays with a savvy that betrays his late draft status and career numbers.  The stringy speedster has been one of the hits of camp, perfectly embodying what head coach Greg Schiano wants in a football player.  He hauled  in three passes (all for first downs), including a 44-yard stunner between two Dolphin defenders.  If he can play with consistency and confidence, he’ll lock down the slot receiver position and help lift Tampa Bay’s offense to heights higher than his haircut.
  • Stay onside, defense.  For the love of all that is good, stay onside.
  • Much maligned Myron Lewis experienced a resurrection of spirit in training camp, but still hasn’t shaken his hesitance in coverage.  We’ve been fed stories about his resurgent run defense and fundamental coverage game, but Myron looked the same to me.  Cut his dreadlocks and scramble the jersey numbers, and we still could’ve picked him out of the defensive backfield.  Yeah him.  The guy giving up all the first downs.
  • It’s early, of course, but Doug Martin seems to have that knack — that ball carrier’s intuition — to squeeze through a hole, absorb hits, and fall forward into the pile.  It’s that Warrick Dunn run-and-cut.  The Emmitt Smith shimmy-and-drive.  It’s plausible (and hilariously ironic) that the 5-9 215-pound runner acts as the ox in Mike Sullivan’s offense, and the 250-pound juggernaut makes his bread as the breakaway threat.  A total reversal of archetypes.  Interesting.
  • And speaking of running backs, who else was excited to see four consecutive runs inside the five yard line?  Maybe it’s three years of conditioning via Greg Olson, but I would’ve bet money on a shotgun fade or a tight end in-route through traffic on third-and-goal.  How refreshing.  LeGarrette Blount’s goal line plunge in the first quarter expunged three seasons of shoddy offense.  And it was liberating.

Who knows what’ll stick?  Most of the conjecture spewed over the next few weeks will fall away as the year progresses.  But a few things — little tendencies here and there — will define this team down the road, because the seeds of the coming season are sewn in exhibition.

Recently signed DE Wallace Gilberry formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. Whom some feel is a near lock to make the Buccaneers 53-man roster after second-year DE Da’Quan Bowers suffered an Achilles injury during off-season conditioning is showing why he was signed.

By all accounts he’s a scrappy player who has clawed tooth and nail, to persevere and realize his dream of playing in the NFL. Gilberry returned to his hometown to give back to Baldwin County youth. To hold his first Wallace Gilberry football camp at Spanish Fort High School in Alabama.

An undrafted player out of Alabama in 2008 Gilberry has registered 14 sacks in his NFL career. He has appeared in 53 games, starting in three of them during his tenure with the Chiefs. Even though he was brought in to help bolster an anemic pass rush, more than just his playing experience and his pass rush prowess will be counted on this coming season. He personifies head coach Greg Schiano’s “Buccaneer Way” and “Buccaneer Men” fundamental core beliefs both on and off the field.

He’s not listening to the masses who feel he’s a shoo-in. Instead he’s preparing to arrive in Tampa looking to fight for a roster spot.

“I’m excited to go back down there and fight for a roster spot,” Gilberry told Tommy Hicks of AL.com. “That’s how I look at it. Some people say, ‘You’re a shoo-in,’ but to me, I’m fighting for a roster spot. I’m fighting for the opportunity to impress the coaching staff and show them they got the right guy. That’s how the game is. It always changes and change is good. The staff they have in place is definitely a good staff and they’re going in the right direction with it.”

Martin's deal worth $6,787,528 million with a $3,376,384 million signing bonus (Photo Credit: NFL.com)

Even though 620 WDAE, ESPN and various other media outlets have reported that Martin and the Bucs agreed to a  five-year deal, the reality is that it’s a hard four-year deal with the team holding an option for a fifth year. Referencing the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically:  Article 7 Rookie Compensation and Rookie Compensation Pool: Section 7. Fifth-Year Option for First Round Selections. Paragraph (f) Fifth-Year Option for All Other Selections in Round One. Subsection (i);

Fifth-Year Option for All Other Selections in Round One. For any other Drafted Rookie selected in round one, the Paragraph 5 Salary for the player’s Fifth-Year Option shall equal an amount that would apply in the fourth League Year of the Rookie Contract if one calculated the Transition Tender for that League Year by using the same methodology as set forth in Article 10, Section 4, but using the applicable third through twenty-fifth highest Salaries (as “Salary” is defined in Article 10) (as opposed to the ten highest Salaries) for players at the position at which the Rookie participated in the most plays during his third League Year. No other Salary (other than the minimum offseason workout per diem and compensation for community relations/sponsor appearances or promotional activities (subject to the maximum amounts permitted in Section 3(b)(iv) above)) is permitted for the Fifth-Year Option.

Article 7 Rookie Compensation and Rookie Compensation Pool: Section 7. Fifth-Year Option for First Round Selections. Paragraph (a) Exercise Period

Exercise Period. A Club has the unilateral right to extend from four years to five years the term of any Rookie Contract of a player selected in the first round of the Draft (the “Fifth-Year Option”). To do so, the Club must give written notice to the player after the final regular season game of the player’s third season but prior to May 3 of the following League Year (i.e., year four of the contract).

In other words the team must exercise their intent of the “Fifth-Year Option” by formally submitting a written notice to the player, after the final regular season game of the players third season, but prior to May 3rd of the following League Year. As mentioned in the opening, the deal struck between Martin and the Bucs is currently only a four-year deal with a club option for a fifth-year at a calculation rate of the top 3 through 25 Cap Percentage players at his position from the previous League Year or 120% of his Prior Year Salary.

Now that all the inner workings of the salary cap are out of the way on to the real reason you’re hear. Martin’s contract breakdown.

Total Value: $6,787,528 million
Signing Bonus: $3,376,384 million
Year 1 Cap: $1,234,096 million (Base Salary $390,000)
Year 2 Cap: $1,542,620 million (Base Salary $698,524)
Year 3 Cap: $1,851,144 million (Base Salary $1,007,048)
Year 4 Cap: $2,159,668 million (Base Salary $1,315,572)

4-time MVP Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison; Manning to Reggie Wayne; Manning to…Arrelious Benn? Hey, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. After 14 seasons as the face of the franchise, the Indianapolis Colts have decided to release the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. By doing so, Manning immediately becomes one of the biggest attractions on the free agent market. The Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, Cowboys, Chiefs and Redskins have been proposed as potential landing spots. I’m going to throw another team out there —The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

*&^!$#!, But Josh Freeman is our franchise quarterback! Ugh, I can already hear fans grumbling. I know that, folks. I like Freeman. I think he has the athletic ability to be a top-5 quarterback one day. And that’s why I’m proposing the Bucs make a play for Manning. In the grand scheme of things, this move benefits Freeman. Josh is young—still just 24—and needs a proven veteran to take him under their wing.

This idea has worked before with a quarterback named Steve Young. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Lifelong fans will remember Young as the number one overall pick in the 1984 supplemental draft. In two seasons with the team, he posted an 11-to-21 touchdown to interception ratio and looked like he was over-matched. Tampa Bay didn’t have an established veteran quarterback on its roster and in 1987, Young found himself second on the depth chart of the San Francisco 49ers, behind another quarterback you may have heard of—Joe Montana. Montana was in his ninth year in the league, had been selected to four Pro Bowls, and was a two-time Super Bowl winner. He was the perfect candidate for Young to mature under. He continued to learn from Montana, playing scarcely until 1992. After that, Young rolled off seven consecutive Pro Bowls en route to a Hall-of-Fame induction.

Twenty years from now, Bucs fans could be re-telling this story about Josh Freeman. Bringing Manning to Tampa might just be the ingredient that saves the franchise. First, the entire team will improve with him on the roster. He’s like a coach on the field. And really, I like what he’ll bring off the field even more than what he’ll do on it. The way he watches film, for example; Manning is a bit of a perfectionist. He studies every play and every defensive scheme, looking for any weaknesses he can use to his advantage. He reads coverage before the snap better than any quarterback I’ve seen. He’s a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. I’d like to think his precision would rub off on Freeman. Furthermore, Tampa Bay’s defense would improve with Manning under center. It’s like a baseball philosophy – If you can hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league, you can hit one off anybody. Playing consistently against Manning in practice would prepare Tampa’s defense for just about any other quarterback they’ll face. And if they can contain Manning and frustrate him, you can bet opposing quarterbacks will be too.

Josh Freeman would benefit from maturing under Manning.

Secondly, Raymond James Stadium didn’t sell out much last year…or the year before for that matter. The city of Tampa needs a star attraction. It’s getting annoying to have to watch bits and pieces of Bucs games on a crappy Internet feed, due to a TV blackout because the game isn’t selling out. Manning in a Bucs uniform would change that in a heartbeat. He is a living legend – the player people can’t wait to see because they know they might not see a player of his caliber for the rest of their lives. I think even casual football fans would be interested.  If you sign him, people will come.

Money isn’t a problem either. The Bucs have slightly more than $60 million in cap space available, the most in the NFL. Even if Tampa invests $20 million into Manning, that still leaves a hefty chunk of cap room that can be used to resign players, sign draft picks, and target other top tier free agents.

Signing Manning is a risk. I’m not disputing that. He’s coming off multiple neck surgeries. Usually that screams STAY AWAY! However, I believe he’s less hurt than people think. Video has leaked of him throwing in North Carolina and multiple sources say his workouts showed massive improvement. In today’s news conference, Manning clearly stated that he is not going to retire. And really, even a 90 percent Peyton Manning warrants free agent hype. His work ethic would completely transform Tampa Bay. He’s the veteran leader the Bucs desperately need – the missing link. Plus, just the other day, the Bucs signed former Colts quarterbacks coach Ron Turner to take the same position in Tampa. Could this be foreshadowing of things to come?

Honestly, no one has any idea where Manning is going to end up. That’s up to him. Arizona and Miami seem like solid venues but do they have the money available to afford him? I believe he’ll want to go someplace where he can start and have control of the offense. I think new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan would be fine with that. After all, he’s already had coaching experience in New York with his brother Eli.

Whether the Bucs sign him or not, a couple things are certain: Manning will work as hard as anyone to prove critics wrong, his work ethic will influence teammates to train harder, he’ll attract fans to the stadium, and he’ll give his heart and soul to the game – as he always has. What’s not to like?

Follow James on Twitter @JLoPresti87

The NFL combine is now underway and I can already hear Bucs fans clamoring for GM Mark Dominik to draft Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, or Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Bucs currently hold the 5th pick in April’s draft, and it is expected that at least one of these players will be available, assuming Tampa Bay doesn’t trade its pick and Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III are picked first and second. Picking any one of these players will fill a need for Tampa Bay, but they aren’t the top players Bucs coaches should be targeting.

Matt Kalil might be the safest pick in April's draft

Meet USC All-American Tackle Matt Kalil. He’s the brother of three-time Pro Bowl center, Ryan Kalil, who plays for the Carolina Panthers. Matt started at left tackle at USC over last year’s top-10 selection Tyron Smith, who had a strong rookie season in Dallas. He was considered the better pass blocker between the two, so he started at left tackle. Standing at 6-6 and weighing in at 306 pounds, Kalil is considered the best tackle in the draft, and I argue that he is the best player too. At the combine, Kalil has really impressed. He’s one of three offensive linemen to break the five second mark in the 40-yard dash (4.99 40-yard dash). He also ran the fastest 10-yard interval among lineman with a 1.70, and he finished among the leaders in the bench press, lifting 225 pounds 30 times. Scouts say that Kalil has quick feet, moves well laterally, is an excellent run blocker, and plays hard, with nasty attitude every play.

There has been talk that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the safest pick in the draft. I disagree. He was spectacular in college, but so were Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, David Carr and Joey Harrington. They were each locks to succeed in the NFL. Since 1998, 21 quarterbacks have been top-10 draft picks, many of which, first overall. Of the 21, only Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Philip Rivers were selected to at least three Pro Bowls.

Selecting an offensive tackle in the first 10 picks has proved to be the safest course of action over and over again. Since 2000 – picking an offensive tackle in the first 10 picks – there hasn’t been many busts.

2000Chris Samuels – drafted 3rd overall – 6-time Pro Bowler

2001Leonard Davis – 2nd overall – 3-time Pro Bowler

2002Mike Williams – 4th overall – started 55 games in five seasons, but injuries derailed his career; Bryant McKinnie – 7th overall – 1-time Pro Bowler – missed four games in 9 seasons.

2003Jordan Gross – 8th overall – 2-time Pro Bowler – started every game.

2004Robert Gallery – 2nd overall – No Pro Bowls; could be labeled a bust, but has played better since joining Seattle.

2006D’Brickashaw Ferguson – 4th overall – Been selected to last three Pro Bowls.

2007Joe Thomas – 3rd overall – 5-time Pro Bowler; has been selected every year in league; might be best in the league right now; Levi Brown – 5th overall – No Pro Bowls, but has started every game last four seasons – horrible pass blocker, but good run blocker.

2008Jake Long – 1st overall – 4-time Pro Bowler; also has been selected every year in league.

2009Jason Smith – 2nd overall – multiple concussions have plagued his career thus far; Andre Smith – 6th overall – injured for much of first two seasons, but solid season in 2011; Eugene Monroe – 8th overall – should have made Pro Bowl in 2010 – solid player during first three years in league – 12.1 overall rating on Pro Football Focus, which was the 7th highest in the league last season.

2010Trent Williams – 4th overall –failed drug tests have limited a promising career, but finished as an above-average pass and run blocker last year, according to Pro Football Focus; Russell Okung – 6th overall – Running back Marshawn Lynch thrived when Okung was healthy, but Okung hasn’t been able to stay healthy for long. Good run blocker, bad pass blocker.

2011 – Tyron Smith – 9th overall – started every game in 2011, future Pro Bowler. Top 5 offensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus – 13.7 overall rating.

Of this list, you can make a case that the players drafted after 2008 haven’t had enough time to be considered bust material yet. Before that, the only bust-worthy players are Mike Williams – because of unfortunate injuries – and Robert Gallery, though he’s played better since leaving Oakland.

Why am I so high on drafting Kalil when draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have the Minnesota Vikings picking Kalil? Well, it’s simple – I think they’re wrong. The general belief is that the Vikings will draft Kalil with the 3rd pick, but with the lack of wide receiver talent to complement Percy Harvin, and with a lackluster defense last season – especially from their corners – I believe they will fill those needs with either Blackmon or Claiborne.

Scouts say Claiborne is the best cover corner available in April's draft

First off, the Vikings pass coverage was the second-worst in football, according to Pro Football Focus’ rating system (-57.9). Claiborne is the best cover corner in the draft and would immediately start. Additionally, he has experience returning kicks at LSU, so the Vikings could also choose to draft him to replace injury-prone Percy Harvin on kickoffs. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has torn his ACL twice and isn’t the same player. Corners Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels were thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries to the secondary, and were repeatedly beaten in coverage. Minnesota’s defense recorded just eight interceptions – and only three of those by corners. Claiborne is a ball-hawk and is physical enough to match up against number one wide receivers.

Furthermore, the Vikings badly need a number one wide receiver to match with Percy Harvin. Justin Blackmon can fill that role. He would give quarterback Christian Ponder a solid deep threat to stretch defenses enough to give Harvin space underneath. Greg Camarillo and Devin Aromashodu just don’t fit the bill. Other than Harvin, no Vikings wide receiver had more than 500 yards receiving. Wide out Michael Jenkins finished second on the team with a mere 38 catches. An offense consisting of Blackmon, Harvin and a healthy Adrian Peterson is as scary as they come.

Lastly, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has gone on record as saying that drafting a left tackle to protect a young quarterback is “an old adage.” Kevin Siefert of ESPN’s NFC North Blog wrote that Spielman doesn’t seem too convinced that taking a left tackle is the best solution for the team. That doesn’t bode well for experts who seem so set on Kalil being the best-fit for Minnesota.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t be upset if the Bucs drafted Richardson, Blackmon or Claiborne. Each would fill a hole and are ‘sexy’ names that may attract season ticket holders. But drafting Kalil would give the Bucs a big boost on the offensive line – the same O-line that couldn’t open up running holes, surrendered 32 sacks, and couldn’t keep pressure off Josh Freeman long enough for him to complete passes longer than 20 yards. The Bucs need to draft Kalil to be left tackle and move Donald Penn to right tackle, thus pushing Jeremy Trueblood – the weakest link on the line – to the bench. Trueblood has been the worst offensive lineman on the Bucs for a couple years now. He’s also allowed more quarterback pressures (50) than any other O-lineman in the league.

If head coach Greg Schiano truly believes in building a firm foundation around Josh Freeman, he would be wise to select Kalil.

Follow James on Twitter @JLoPresti87

Bucs courting Sheridan to run the defense

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have yet to fill out Head Coach Greg Schiano’s coaching staff and are in the process of conducting interviews for Defensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks coach, Offensive Line coach, Special Teams coach and Running backs coach.

According to FootballScoop.com Schiano offered the Bucs vacant defensive coordinator job to Dolphins special teams’ coordinator Darren Rizzi (a former Rutgers assistant, under Schiano) but the Dolphins wouldn’t allow Rizzi out of his contract. Further, the curators of FootballScoop.com are now hearing through their vast network of sources and corroborated by the Coachingsearch.com that Schiano, is interviewing current Ohio State assistant Bill Sheridan who just recently accepted a position on Urban Meyers staff at Ohio State to become the Bucs defensive coordinator. Sheridan spent the past two seasons coaching linebackers for the Dolphins; prior to his stint with the Dolphins he was the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants.

Both Football Scoop and Coaching Search are reporting that Schiano and Mike Sullivan are considering a number of college coaches for the vacant offensive line job in Tampa. Alabama offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, whom both Football Scoop and Coaching Search previously reported that the Bucs have either interviewed or talked to are now reporting that Stoutland has decided not to interview – plans to stay at Alabama.