Bucs Central
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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.

Bucs release Albert Haynesworth after half a season in Tampa.

Well, that was short-lived. The Bucs announced today that they have released veteran defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth after just seven games with the team. After being claimed off waivers from New England, Haynesworth started six games and recorded 23 tackles. By cutting him, the Bucs free up $7.2 million worth of cap space which can be used this offseason. The Bucs now lead the NFL in team cap space with roughly $67 million available.

“I appreciate Albert playing for us after some key injuries this past season,” said Bucs GM Mark Dominik in a statement from the team. “He was very professional and we now wish him all the best as he moves forward.”

Haynesworth was once one of the most sought-after players in free agency after recording back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons in 2007 and 2008. Now, just three years later, he will have to begin searching for a fourth team in fewer than seven months.

Bucs roll over unused cap space to 2012

There has been widespread speculation that the Bucs could have upwards of $60 million, when the new NFL league year begins and the bell rings to usher in free agency on 13 March 2012. It has been reported by both John Clayton, of ESPN.com and Profootballtalk.com that the Bucs have between $23.5 and $25.5 million in unused cap space from 2011, that general manager Mark Dominik, and further more the Glazer’s have decided to roll every penny in to 2012 cap spaceas they plan to use it.

“We’ll be more active in free agency than we were last year,” Dominik said Tuesday via the Tampa Tribune. “We purposely rolled every penny we could into this year’s cap. Clubs didn’t have to do that, but we wanted to. We have plans.”

With the Bucs having $93 million dollars allocated towards the cap in 2012 – and the cap reportedly going to be in the neighborhood of $125 – $129 million. It gives the team an estimated $60 million in available wiggle room to use to attract free agents. The team could gain another $7.2 million by cutting Albert Haynesworth. And yet, another $3 million by borrowing from a future years cap, bringing the potential overall available cap space number, to roughly $70 million with an overall adjusted cap figure of roughly $156.5 million plus or minus a few million if they release Haynesworth and borrow from 2013.

The Bucs have been mentioned by various sources as a potential landing spot for free agents Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Carr, Dwayne Bowe, Mario Williams, Brent Grimes, Curtis Lofton, Carl Nicks, Ben Grubbs, Mike Tolbert and any other free agent for that matter. It’s expected however, and has been reported that many marquee players could be franchise tagged. As almost every team will be flush with available cap room.

So when the clock strikes midnight and the bell rings to usher in the start of free agency for the 2012 league year. And if, Dominik is to be believed that the team will look to spend and become more active in free agency than in years past. Cap space should not be a concern.

“We’ll be involved in free agency,” Dominik said. “To what capacity, it depends on what the list looks like. We’re prepared, and that’s the most important thing.”

But what should be a concern is after the nose dive the team took – seeing the entire coaching staff fired Dominik quite possibly is selling to save himself. The blackouts fans have endured over that past two seasons and lagging ticket sales might force Dominik and Team Glazer to spend to begin to rebuild, repair and earn the trust of the fan base back. To coincide with new head coach Greg Schiano’s TBA (Trust, Belief & Accountability) philosophy not to mention his remarks when he was introduced as the teams’ head coach when he told Buccaneer faithful that the players, coaches and the franchise needed to reconnect with the fan base because the team needed to earn that trust, that players, coaches and the franchise would do the right things both on the field, in the community. So the fans could once again be proud of the product.

Mike Sullivan was a catalyst for Eli Manning’s transformation from an average quarterback into an “ELIte” one. Now let’s see what he can do with Josh Freeman – a bigger, faster, more mobile version of the Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Sullivan, who spent six years as the New York Giants wide receivers coach, and the past two seasons as its quarterbacks coach, was recently hired as the Buccaneers’ new offensive coordinator. Under Sullivan’s teachings, Manning enjoyed his two most productive seasons as a pro. This season, he set a Giants franchise record with 4,933 passing yards, threw nine fewer interceptions compared to 2010, and posted a career-best 8.4 yards per passing attempt. Granted, Manning was blessed with two of the most dynamic wide receivers in the league—Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks—but, you have to give Eli credit for finally putting together all the intangibles. I think Sullivan is the main cause for that.

The glaring question Bucs fans are asking is, “What can he (Sullivan) do to improve Josh Freeman?” What Freeman needs is a good communicator. Someone to show him what he is doing wrong, and what he needs to do to fix it. It sounds simple enough, but it can be difficult to decipher why a wide receiver zigged when he should have zagged, why an interception was thrown, or why the quarterback held onto the ball for too long and was sacked. What fans see on the field is completely different from what coaches see.

Mike Sullivan may use martial arts teaching to whip Bucs players into shape.

Freeman has the talent to be a Super Bowl quarterback. This season was subpar, but 2010’s 25 touchdown-six interception performance put Freeman on the map as a quarterback to be feared for years to come. Sullivan’s coaching prowess will help Freeman mature into the quarterback fans believe he can be. How? Perhaps it’s through martial arts.

Channel an inner Chuck Norris or Mr. Miyagi and think about this. Wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off. Ok, not really. Interestingly though, Sullivan is a former Army Ranger, has a blue belt in jujitsu, and is passionate about mixed martial arts. Between the hard-nosed coaching styles of Sullivan and head coach Greg Schiano, the Buccaneers better show a significant change in team discipline, or else some players might find themselves looking for a new team next season. During Sullivan’s two years as quarterbacks coach, he used a triangle teaching design from the Gracie Barra Costa Mesa – which is from a famous mixed martial arts family – to highlight three goals for his quarterbacks: decision-making, accuracy, and leadership. These three points were crucial to a quarterbacks’ success.

Don’t have expectations that this system will work right off the bat, however. It took Manning time to adjust to Sullivan’s teaching routine, and it could take longer for Freeman. Or, the change could be as easy as flipping a switch. Either way, I expect this Bucs team to be better conditioned, more crisp – especially in the first quarter – and more focused from a play-to-play standpoint. This is what Bucs fans have been yearning from the team for years.

It’s been secretive to say the least, but based on what little news has trickled out since the team announced that former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano would become the teams 9th head coach in the franchise’s history. What we do know is that Schiano has taken a page out of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick playbook with regards to his stance on assistants talking to members of the media. A tactic Belichick learned from his mentor, Bill Parcells.

From a fans perspective it’s been a PR nightmare as there has been very little concrete information flowing of who has actually been interviewed, hired and the actual positions they will be coaching for the Bucs in 2012. This has caused a backlash by some; due to just the overall uncertainty and lack of real news. As most everything is simply hearsay, with not much in the way of credible news and information being disseminated by the team.

What should be kept in mind however is that great leaders surround themselves with great people that they can trust. It should not be about how much weight a candidate’s name carries, but rather is the candidate the right fit.

Here is what we do know:
Schiano, based on his past will be very hands on, as the head coach – in all aspects of the team. Jimmy Raye was hired as a Senior Offensive Assistant, rumors have implied that former North Carolina head coach Butch Davis was hired as a Senior Defensive Assistant and that former Giants QB coach Mike Sullivan was officially hired as the teams’ offensive coordinator.

As for the remaining staff – Schiano has hired seven former Rutgers coaches. What positions they will actually coach has yet to be written in stone. But based on their respective resume a conclusion could be made for the following.

Bob Fraser – LB Coach/Assistant HC
Tem Lukubu – LB Coach
Randy Melvin – D-line Coach
Jeff Hafley – Assistant DB Coach
Brian Angelichio – TE Coach
PJ Fleck – WR Coach
Jay Butler – Strength Coach

Rumor Mill
On Friday there was a rumor floating around Twitter that the Bucs are targeting Pittsburgh Panthers offensive Line coach Tony Wise, a veteran coach with more than 37-years coaching experience. With 18 of those years coaching offensive lines in the NFL for Dallas, Chicago, Carolina, Miami and the Jets.  To become the team’s offensive line coach.

If you have turned on a radio, watched local news or ESPN, or read a newspaper recently,—yes, some people still do that—then you have undoubtedly seen the news of the Buccaneers latest head coaching hire, Greg Schiano. College football fans might remember his Rutgers team as the one continually ripping away the Big East title aspirations from the South Florida Bulls. Am I bitter? Maybe. But, as much as I despise his Rutgers-led teams defeating USF, I stand firm in the fact that I believe the Bucs got themselves a winner.

Bucs new head coach Greg Schiano

So, who is Greg Schiano? Eleven years ago he took over a Rutgers team in shambles. They were the laughing stock of Division-I football, and several losing seasons in a row raised discussion of moving the team down to Division-II. C’mon it can’t be that bad. Don’t be so sure, Mr. Italicize. ESPN readers voted Rutgers as the WORST college team in the HISTORY of Division-I football.

In his eleven years as coach, Schiano totaled a 68-67 record, which is unbelievable considering he was a combined 3-20 during the first two years of his tenure. Sure, it took a couple years of recruiting, but Schiano ultimately showed he was the right man for the job. He led Rutgers to winning seasons six of his last seven years and won five consecutive bowl games. And, interestingly enough, Schiano produced 16 players that are currently on a NFL roster during his tenure, according to Pro Football Reference. Boise State has nine. Wisconsin has 14. Alabama has 18.

Before Rutgers, he was the defensive coordinator for Miami Hurricanes football. He coached from 1999-2000, and Miami was 18-5 during the span, including 11-1 in 2000. He coached NFL players Ed Reed, Adrian Wilson, Dan Morgan, Nate Webster, Jonathan Vilma, and Philip Buchanon during his two seasons; while also helping recruit future NFL defensive talent such as Vince Wilfork, (the late) Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Orien Harris, and Kelly Jennings.

He has experience coaching in the NFL as well. From 1996-1998, he served as a defensive assistant and then as the defensive back coach for the Chicago Bears. And even more appealing, Schiano’s coaching roots began at Penn State. It’s poignant considering the recent tragedy, but it really puts into perspective what kind of coach Schiano is molded to be like.

What can Bucs fans expect? One thing is certain. Schiano is a hard-nosed motivator, who will provide the discipline Bucs players desperate need. Maybe not want, but definitely need. He focuses on strong defense, solid special teams, and a smash-mouth type of offense, with deep-play threats mixed in. I guess the question Bucs fans need to ask now is, “Does he prefer drafting Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon?”

Fantasy football championships are won with good drafting, some luck, and those one or two roster transactions that give owners the edge that propels them to the top of the standings. Congratulations to everyone who won a league title this year. If you won while having at least one Bucs player on your active roster, I applaud you. Even a second or third place finish is golf-clap worthy. Owners who bought into Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount – I understand your disgust. Unfortunately, there was plenty of heartache for owners who drafted the likes of Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Chris Cooley, Kenny Britt, and several other under-achievers too. But, there were also fantasy God-sends; guys who seemed to play their best games right around the time you waited to use that number one waiver wire priority slot. Every owner has that guy—or perhaps, guys—that they picked up on a hunch during the season, which later went on to lead the team to a fantasy title. There are many to choose from, but these guys stood apart from the rest.



Carson Palmer: Six months ago this guy was reclining on his couch eating Oreos and Doritos, and watching reruns of ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Boy Meets World’. All it took was one broken collarbone by Jason Campbell, and a panic in the Raiders front office when they realized Rich Gannon had retired, before Palmer suddenly became one of the more relevant fantasy pickups of the season. His numbers weren’t spectacular, (16 TD’s; 13 INT’s) but he saved owners who took chances on one-hit wonders Kevin Kolb, Sam Bradford, and (cough) Josh Freeman.

Tim Tebow – Just when you thought I might leave him out. Sorry, whether you love him or despise him, you can’t discount his production, err, at least his fourth quarter stats. Since Tebow started Week 7 versus Miami, he averaged 17.12 fantasy points a week according to default Yahoo settings. Yes, he had some ugly games sprinkled in, but overall his stats indicate a top 15 quarterback for fantasy purposes. In real life…well that’s another discussion.

 Running Back:

C.J. Spiller: If not for an unfortunate fractured right ankle, Cowboys’ running back DeMarco Murray would have won the top spot in a landslide. Instead, the award goes to Buffalo’s lightning-quick running back C.J. Spiller. For 11 weeks he laid in wait in fantasy free agent pools just baiting owners to pick him up. When All-Pro back Fred Jackson hobbled to the sidelines with a fractured fibula, Spiller stepped up in a big way. He scored the fourth-most fantasy points among running backs during the final four weeks of the season, and that includes a non-existent performance Week 14 versus San Diego. He was money for owners in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues too, catching an average of four balls a game, along with two receiving touchdowns.

Roy Helu: I really fought with myself about putting Oakland’s Michael Bush, New Orleans’ Darren Sproles, or Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch in here, but then I realized I wouldn’t be following my own directions about picking only unwanted players for this list. Finally, I settled on Washington’s Roy Helu. If Coach Mike Shanahan had actually made up his mind and settled on a starting running back for more than four weeks, Helu had the potential to be the Arian Foster of the 2011 fantasy season. He showed the ability to run through (or jump over) defenders and still had the shiftiness to catch the ball out of the backfield and outrun would-be tacklers. In a seven-week stretch, Helu recorded 404 yards rushing and caught the ball 35 times for 239 yards (including a ridiculous 14 catches for 105 yards against San Francisco). He only managed to find the end zone twice; however, I blame that more on the ineptitude of a Rex Grossman-led offense than I do Helu’s effectiveness. If Shanahan finally makes a decision on a starter this offseason, look for Helu to carry most of the load.

Wide Receiver:

Victor Cruz shows why he deserves to be the fantasy pickup of the year.

Victor Cruz: Who’s our favorite player? Well, today it’s not Mr. Derrick Brooks, Bucs fans. It’s New York Giants wide out Victor Cruz. Was there any other waiver wire pickup that helped fantasy owners more than Cruz? That’s a rhetorical question there, boys and girls. Cruz was far and away the savior to fantasy lineups across the nation. His 1539 receiving yards ranked third in the league, as did his 96 yards-per-game. He was also a stud for those who made it into the fantasy playoffs, catching nine balls for 342 yards and two scores. For those engulfed in fantasy football frenzy and are already pre-ranking players for next year, I rank him as a late second, early third round pick.

Laurent Robinson: If there is one other player besides Cruz that people can make an argument for as a fantasy golden nugget, it’s this guy. Owners of slumping receivers – such as Chad Ochocinco, Braylon Edwards, Austin Collie and the Bucs Mike Williams (do you sense a trend here) – welcomed Robinson into their lineups with open arms. And did he ever bless those who put faith in him. From Week 8 on, he may have been one of the ten best non-quarterback players in the league. He recorded 625 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns, including a whopping seven touchdowns in a five-game stretch. It’s tough to say what his production will be next season because of a talented group of receivers around him, but if this year is any indication, Dallas will throw the ball a lot, and quarterback Tony Romo does a pretty good job of spreading the ball around. He should be a sixth or seventh round selection, with second or third round upside if injuries occur.

Tight End:

Hey guys, I can catch the ball too.

Brandon Pettigrew: Wow, Detroit’s offense was scary good this year. If only the defense focused more on being good and less on being scary, the Lions might have gone further than the first round of the playoffs. Still, let’s not discount the mind-boggling offensive numbers quarterback Matthew Stafford put up. And who was it that may have benefitted the most? That’d be Pettigrew. Dumb journalist, what about Calvin Johnson? Hey, no need to get hostile here Mr. Italicize, here me out. Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron – who’s pretty much the harbinger of touchdowns and sick catches – is going to produce no matter who is throwing the ball to him. Heck, if Shaun Hill and Dan Orlovsky can do it, any NFL quarterback can. Okay, so back to Pettigrew. He’s quietly put together solid back-to-back years, catching 154 balls for 1499 yards and nine touchdowns. He was Stafford’s go-to-guy down the stretch, averaging slightly less than seven catches a game over the final four contests. With Johnson double-teamed most of the game, Pettigrew benefitted from loose coverage. Those in PPR leagues would be wise to select him next year, as I believe he will make a run at 90-100 catches.

Jermaine Gresham: No one expected anything from the Bengals offense this year, other than maybe a couple players being arrested during the season (and after the season, Jerome Simpson), thus adding to the NFL lead in that category. Remember back to opening week? Rookie quarterback, rookie number one wide receiver, aging running back, and unspectacular second-year tight end – doesn’t sound exciting at first. Instead, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green looked like they’d been playing catch for years, Jermaine Gresham was up-and-down, but showed a lot of potential, and Cedric Benson…well, he was still bad…but you get my drift. At 6-5, 260 pounds, Gresham is a budding superstar. Think Packers Jermichael Finley except that Gresham’s got Dalton throwing to him rather than MVP Aaron Rodgers. For next year, think ‘Discount Double-Check’ when you draft Gresham six rounds after the other elite tight ends and then reap the savings.


Dan Bailey: Normally, I would discard kickers because the point difference between the number one kicker and the tenth usually rounds up to about 20 points. Nevertheless, I can’t discard Dan ‘Beetle’ Bailey because I ended up owned him in every single one of my leagues. He also was a lineup saver to any owner who drafted San Diego’s Nate Kaeding. Who? Yeah, he’s the guy whom ESPN ranked as the number one kicker at the beginning on the year, only to see him get hurt on literally the opening kickoff of the season. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, though if you catch it quickly enough, that cookie becomes salvageable again. Bailey owners would agree. His 32 field goals were tied for the third-most in the NFL and his 6-for-6 outing Week 3 against Washington catapulted him from a fantasy afterthought to an every-week starter.

Again, congrats to those who won fantasy championships this year. As always, this season provided tons of excitement, some disappointment – even some anger – as star players were lost for the year and new talent took their place. If you are like me and live for fantasy football throughout the year, stay tuned for April’s draft, as I will be dissecting certain teams’ offensive selections and how they will impact fantasy rosters for 2012.

So ends the season, one of the most disappointing in team history.


It’s over.  It’s blessedly, mercifully over.  Ten straight losses, five straight blowouts, and the end of a sixteen week torture session.  Rejoice fans, you get a whole eight months without having to watch Jeremy Trueblood whiff on blocks, Kellen Winslow draw offensive pass interference flags, Tanard Jackson bounce off opposing running backs like a rubber bullet against a refrigerator door, and Roy Miller drop back into coverage.

The Buccaneers didn’t finish with the worst record — hell, they claim victories over the Saints and Falcons — but their early season success betrays their late-season ineptitude.  They were the worst team in the 2011 National Football League, and for the first time in years, the season’s final gun brought more relief than remorse.


The house Raheem Morris and company built in 2010 has crumbled.  It needs to be demolished — the walls, the floors, everything.  Those building blocks we thought we had in players like Mike Williams, Gerald McCoy, and LeGarrette Blount may not survive the purge.  No one from this regime is safe, not Josh Freeman, not Mason Foster… and after the performance they gave to close the season, it’s no wonder.

A new coach brings a new philosophy, and if (when) Morris and Greg Olson are fired, it marks a complete removal from the Jon Gruden and Monte Kiffin era.  Farewell to the horizontal West Coast offense, so long to the Cover-2 (though Raheem claims to have abandoned it already).  And say goodbye to the players who fit those schemes: your Tanard Jacksons, Geno Hayeses, and…

… and…

You know, no one on the offense really fits that short-throwing West Coast scheme that Greg Olson employs.  No wonder it doesn’t work.


Has a team ever so blatantly surrendered halfway through a season?  What happened out there?  The Buccaneers were run ragged through the gauntlet of NFL elites — six consecutive games against San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago (with Jay Cutler), New Orleans, Houston (with Matt Schaub), and Green Bay — and came out, understandably, 1-5.

The turning point came in Week 12.  They rolled into Tennessee a respectable 4-6, showed some serious fight, but lost a close one to the Titans late in the fourth quarter.  The team left their vigor and energy in Nashville, because they were destroyed in the following five weeks.  The Buccaneers didn’t even bother showing up after their loss to the Titans.  They bristled at comments attacking their effort, and every week, we got a new chant about how things were turning around, but come game day, the team fell flat.  Deflated.  Exhausted.  Disinterested.

It’s like no one told them they were accountable.  No one told them they were professionals.  The only man in the building who seemed to care was the head coach, and their apathy will cost him his job.