Monday, March 29, 2010

Adding Nuance To The Numbers


Rick Stroud had an article in the St Petersburg Times that is causing a lot of buzz. He took a look back at the draft failures of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004, the year Bruce Allen took over as GM. On the one hand it supports the Glazers contention that they have to start drafting better and build the team that way. On the other hand however many people are using the article as a reason for pessimism. The thought is if the it's the same people in the scouting by in large directing the draft, that we will see similar failures this year.

In particular this morning Dan Sileo was on 620 WDAE hurling around invective. It was kinda funny I have to say because Sileo is a big time Jon Gruden supporter who is still bitter about he and Bruce Allen being let go. But when faced with the facts about how bad the Bucs drafted while both guys were here he TOTALLY bypassed them for blame and instead pointed the finger at new GM Mark Dominik and head of college scouting Dennis Hickey as being the guilty parties. It seems that Sileo is in such a rush to blame anyone but the guys he liked that he decided to go with the "the inmates were running the asylum" defense when it comes to the Bucs draft room from 2004-2008.

Well after hearing that bit of hackery along with a few other, less hyperbolic, sources using Stroud's article to cast doubt in the hearts of Buccaneer fans, I decided to do a little bit of research and add a little more nuance to the numbers from the column.

First for those who haven't read Stroud's column already and are too lazy to click the link (yes you lol) here what I feel like is the relevant part.*


Take a look at the numbers.

The only player remaining from the 2004 draft is WR Michael Clayton, the Bucs' first-round pick whose career has gone south since his rookie year. The Bucs did re-sign Clayton last year to a five-year, $24 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. He rewarded them with 16 receptions.

The 2004 draft was the first under then-general manager Bruce Allen. The 2005 draft wasn't much better, netting only two starters from 13 picks — RB Cadillac Williams and LB Barrett Ruud — and no backups. Two of those picks are with other teams, and nine are out of the NFL.

Guards Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood are the only starters remaining from the 2006 draft. From 11 draft choices, one other is a Bucs backup (WR Maurice Stovall), one is with another team, and seven are out of the league.

The 2007 draft was the Gaines Adams draft. Three starters remain: S Tanard Jackson, LB Quincy Black and S Sabby Piscitelli. Of the 10 picks, four are no longer in the NFL. The 2008 draft netted CB Aqib Talib in the first round. But it produced WR Dexter Jackson as a second-round pick. He was cut in training camp in August.



Before I get into the meat of my post, its worth laying out some ground rules. First off most teams don't really think they are getting an immediate starter with guy picked after the third round or so. Second in general 1st round picks and high 2nd round picks are supposed to not only start but contend for Pro Bowls, but its seen as a bonus if you can get that from a player selected in later rounds. Third, a guy not being in Tampa any more is not automatically a bust. They could have found a better opportunity elsewhere or the Bucs could have found an upgrade.

The last caveat may just blow your mind, This is NOT a defense of the Bucs drafts from 2004 through 2008. Rather I am just adding context to the conversation because I think that's what's lacking right now. As usual with some radio guys they try to make everything black and white, but also as usual there are actually some shades of grey here.

Before I go any further I want to acknowledge the fact that two draft picks from that time frame, Gaines Adams and Marquis Cooper have passed on. Now at the times of their deaths neither guy was a Buccaneer and with Cooper it seemed that as a former 3rd round pick his career did not live up to that selection, with Gaines I would say the jury was still somewhat out. Still I'm not sure that either guy should be included in such an analysis because it just seems too crass. So people can judge for themselves whether that's the right approach or not but I'm not going there with either guy.

Now that we have that out of the way...


Let's look beyond the numbers in Stroud's column

There are two things that are apparent when you look at the players the Buccaneers selected from 04 to 08. The first is that there is a heavy slant towards offensive players. The second is that the later picks after the 4th round tended to be reach guys who were more potential than production.

In total 26 out of the 47 draft picks from that time period were offensive guys. That's better than 55%. But really its even worse than that because if you go year by year there was only one year where we drafted more defensive guys than offensive guys, in 2007 and it just so happens that most of those defensive guys are still here and productive for better or for worse. On the flip side in 2005 we we used 8 out of our 12 picks on offensive guys.
Caddilac Williams 1st rd

Alex Smith 3rd rd

Chris Colmer 3rd rd

Dan Buenning 4th rd

Larry Brackins (?!) 5th rd

Rick Razzano 7th rd

Parris Warren 7th rd

J.R. Russell 7th rd

Now I am willing to be fair enough to say that Buenning and Warren may have had much better careers if each hadn't had major injuries and inopportune times. And Alex Smith will never probably be an all star but he was decent here for a little while.

But Larry Brackins? The guy from JUCO? In the 5th round?

But the selection of Brackins is the symptom, not the disease.

It was the Buccaneers' willingness to reach on guys like Larry Brackins that goes to their philosophy at that time. Allen and Gruden were all about free agency and bringing in veteran guys to start or backup the starters. Other than their picks in the first three rounds or so it seems apparent that instead of going after guys who were solid prospects, they instead were on the eternal quest for the diamond in the rough ie the guys with more potential than production. Now there is nothing against that approach per se, but it can't be your wholesale second day draft philosophy. If it is sooner or later the fact that you never developed your own draft picks will eventually catch up to you. And that's exactly what ended up happening.


On the other hand you also have to be fair and point out some of the draft successes during that time period. Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, Tanard Jackson, Aqib Talib, Jeremy Zuttah, Cadillac Williams, and Barrett Ruud have all been pretty productive players so far. Aaron Sears looked like the real deal before personal problems derailed his career last year. Alex Smith and Will Allen started quite a few games for the Bucs and Geno Hayes seems poised to be a standout while Maurice Stovall still has the potential to be a very good player for the team.


Still you can't come away from our draft history from those 5 years and feel good about it. But at the same time you can't separate the head coach and GM from that history. Gruden and Allen were so focused on free agents that the draft appeared to be an after thought to them. They didn't do their due diligence and it showed. Some of the biggest failures weren't the first round picks but the 2nd and 3rd round picks like Dexter Jackson and Chris Colmer. And again what do those two guys have in common?


They are both offensive players.


That's what makes Sileo's argument so laughable. The funny thing is if you have listened to the guy for any stretch of time you come away convinced that if the Bucs had drafted better he would have given ALL the credit to Gruden and Allen. But since the drafting was so atrocious all of a sudden it was Dominik and Hickey running the draft.


Go figure.


Listen, I don't know if the front office people for the Bucs are geniuses or a bunch of numbskulls. I do know that so far we have one draft to go on under the new regime. And last year 4 out of the 6 guys we drafted were significant contributors. And the other two guys, Xavier Fulton and E.J. Biggers at least still looked the part. Bad season and all you still never saw that under Gruden and Allen and that's a fact. And to Sileo's strawman that Bruce Allen got a job with the Redskins and thus that must mean that our bad drafts weren't his fault, hmmm do you think MAYBE that had something to do with his dad being a coaching legend for the Redskins? I mean in what world does Dan Snyder hiring somebody give them credibility?!


The truth is I am on record as being opposed to the Buccaneers focusing exclusively on the draft without participating much in upgrading the team through free agency. I believe in building through the draft but I also feel strongly that you have to sprinkle in some free agents as well to fill holes that would otherwise probably take a few years to fill with a draft pick. But, having said that I still believe that the core of the team should be the guys you draft. And it appears that in that regard at least the Bucs and I are on the same page.


I will leave you with this. Tell me if you recognize any of these names.


Marquis Hill


Guss Scott


Dexter Reid


Cedric Cobbs


P.K. Sam


No?


Those are the New England Patriots 2nd, 3rd, two 4ths and 5th round picks from 2004. Are people scrutinizing THEIR scouting department? And is it just a coincidence that Bill Belichick is also a guy who values free agents over developing draft picks?


I think not on both counts.


The lesson here is, give it time. We will all see pretty soon whether Raheem Morris, Mark Dominik and Dennis Hickey are up to the job of selecting the right guys for this team. No need to ASSume that the past will have any bearing on the future in that regard, especially now that the people at the top have changed.

Deep Thought


HALF of the basketball watchers in my twitter stream are using Butler's Final Four appearance to push the notion that the NCAA tournament is infinitely better than college football's BCS process because the small school gets a shot to win it all.

THE OTHER HALF says this is the worst Final Four ever and they probably won't even watch.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Curb Your Enthusiasm


2009

Tyson Jackson - 0

B.J. Raji - 1

Peria Jerry - 0

Ziggy Hood - 1

2008

Glen Dorsey - 1

Sedrick Ellis - 4

Kentwan Balmer - 0

2007

Amobi Okoye - 5.5

Adam Carriker - 2

Justin Harrell - 0

2006

Haloti Ngata - 1

Broderick Bunkley - 0

John McCargo - 0

2005

Travis Johnson - 1

Marcus Spears - 1.5

Luis Castillo - 3.5

Mike Patterson - 3.5


Source

I was talking to some friends recently and I remarked to them that the biggest problem the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had last year was a PR problem. In my opinion the Glazers knew that they were about to blow up the team to try to rebuild it last spring. I don't care if it was because of them owning Man U, or if they truly were just moving in a different direction philosophically any reasonable football person would have taken a look at our roster right after Derrick Brooks was let go and said we would be lucky to win 6 games, especially with our schedule. But instead of the Glazers getting in front of the story, they sat back and left fans to their own devices for the most part. Now I keep pointing to the Glazers because I don't think you could have reasonably expected the Coach and or GM to come out and say it without the say so of the owners even if they also knew it to be true. Now if you know fans like I know fans, they not only want a Superbowl every season, they also think their team is the Superbowl winning team before any games are played every season. So even though we had what in my estimation was one of the toughest schedules in the league, many average every day fans thought we were going to contend for the playoffs. When you have that mindset going into a season then a 3-13 record is even worse than it might have been otherwise. And to make it worse fans then assume rightly or wrongly that they have been lied to about the team, about the head coach, about the financial situation, pretty much everything. At that point its hard to get them bag on the bandwagon and I think you are seeing that played out in the fact that Joel Glazer came out at the coaches meeting and admitted that the season ticket holder list was so low that we would probably experience blackouts here during the season for the first time since they owned the team.


Well at this point at least everyone is admitting that we are rebuilding which should bring at least a few die hard fans back in the fold. But I fear another PR debacle is right around the corner and that is with our draft. Specifically I am talking about our upcoming 1st round pick. Now I have been and still am of the opinion that two ex defensive coordinators in Steve Spagnulo and Jim Schwartz are not going to let the top two defensive tackles get passed them no matter what people are saying about Sam Bradford. But there is the chance that one or both of them might. There is talk now of the Lions potentially taking an offensive tackle to help protect their first round quarterback from last year, Matthew Stafford. So the Bucs could potentially have their pick between Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh but here is whether the problem lies.


The media has hyped both players up to such heights that most fans are probably of the opinion that if we get one of them all of our problems on defense will be solved. Unfortunately up until this point the Bucs have done nothing to try to dampen those fantasies and so if we do end up picking one of them I fear that the Bucs will fully embrace the narrative and put unrealistic expectations for them on their shoulders. Imagine for a second that after a 3-13 season fans we get Suh and fans start thinking maybe 9-7 is attainable and instead we only win 6 games. That have and even greater effect on discouraging the fan base than this past season did.


Check out the list above. Those are all of the defensive tackles or defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme that would be tackles in a 4-3 scheme taken in the 1st round in the last 5 years and their sack totals for their rookie season. Notice that out of 17 draftees only 4 had more than 2 sacks in their rookie season. Notice further that Amobe Okoye was the tops on that list with 5.5 sacks his rookie year, a full sack less than what Gaines Adams, God rest his soul, had his rookie season when fans here were calling him a bust. Now there is no doubt that every player is different but again ask yourself a question. If we are lucky enough to draft Suh or McCoy and they get 5.5 sacks but we only win 6 games do you think fans will consider them to have lived up to their billing or that they will figure they are a bust?


Now I still think its far fetched to think both guys will still be on the board when we pick at 3. But if one or both of them are I hope the powers at be over at One Buc realize the reality of the situation and go to the media early and often to soften expectations. If they can perhaps get fans to have lower expectations heading into their rookie season then if they go out and shine they look even better. And if they're average then at least some fans might be more willing to be patient with them. To me that's the ideal situation you should want for your 1st round pick regardless so they can go out and perform without the worry that every mistake they make will be under a magnifying glass. Its worth a try at least.


And of course I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Warren Sapp only had 1 sack his rookie season. And he didn't turn out so bad for the franchise did he?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Safeties In The First Round


So I was bored just checking my twitter feed and I noticed this tweet from Sports Illustrated's Peter King.


@SI_PeterKing RT @twilson22: You're way off on safeties in 1st round. They have lowest bust factor of any position on D ... Way too dangerous in top 10
.

For the uninitiated, whomever twilson22 is said to King "You're way off on safeties in first round. They have lowest bust factor o any position on D"

To which King replied "Way too dangerous in top 10"

This kind of dovetailed with another tweet I saw earlier in the day from former NFL personnel guy Daniel Jeremiah:


Currently, there are 10 starting safeties that went undrafted while there are 9 starters that went in the 1st Rd


So I figured since I had some time to burn I would go through and do a little research on safeties taken in the first round. Here we go year by year.


2009

0

2008

Kenny Phillips

2007

Michael Griffin

Reggie Nelson

2006

Michael Huff

Donte Whitner

2005

Antrell Rolle

2004

Sean Taylor

2003

Troy Palomalu

2002

Roy Williams

Ed Reed

2001

Adam Archuleta

Derek Gibson

2000

Rashard Anderson

1999

0


Now I fully admit that 2000 and 2001 were not exactly banner years for safeties taken in the first round. But setting aside those to years do you see any busts anywhere else in the list?

It turns out that those 9 first rounders that Mr Jeremiah referred to as starting just so happen to be all 9 first round safeties in the last 7 years. 9 for 9 ain't bad if you ask me. Especially when you look at the wealth of guys drafted at other positions in the first round that didn't last very long in the NFL.


So maybe, just MAYBE, folks should be looking more at drafting safeties in the first round.


Just sayin

Context Matters: Deonte Thompson Edition


Its funny how a story can turn.

On Monday evening Orlando Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler posted a blog post entitled "Florida Gators WR Deonte Thompson sounds happy to usher in post-Tebow era" the premise of which came from this quote:


“You never know with Tim,” Thompson said. “You can bolt, you think he’s running but he’ll come up and pass it to you. You just have to be ready at all times. With Brantley, everything’s with rhythm, time. You know what I mean, a real quarterback.


Almost immediately the national media picked up on the quote and it became fodder for sports talk radio. Then yesterday Urban Meyer confronted Fowler at the Gators' spring practice and had this to say.


“You’re a bad guy, man. You’re a bad guy,” Meyer told Sentinel reporter Jeremy Fowler. “If that was my son we’d be going at it right now.”


snip


“I told you this five years ago – don’t mess with our players. Don’t do it – you did it,” Meyer said. “You do it one more time and the Orlando Sentinel’s not welcome here ever again. Is that clear? It’s yes or no.”


And now Urban Meyer has become fodder for the national media and sports talk radio as well. So what gives? Whose right and whose wrong here and why is it such a big story?

Well in my opinion everybody was somewhat wrong and everybody was somewhat right but the problem really is nobody is focusing on the real issue here and that's context.

When I read Thompson's quotes on Monday I didn't really think it was a big deal because I understood immediately what he meant. When he said "real" quarterback he of course meant a traditional drop back quarterback and we all know that Tim Tebow was anything but that. I did however have a feeling that the media and sports radio wouldn't see it that way and low and behold I was right.

All week I have read article after article and heard sports radio host after sports radio host using Deonte Thompson's quote to either "confirm" the notion that Tim Tebow is not going to be a viable quarterback in the NFL, a hot topic these days leading into the draft, or alternately to bash Thompson as an underachiever who hasn't produced and seems to be blaming Tebow for his lack of production. Neither use of the quote was fair in my opinion but sports media isn't always about fairness these days.

Make no mistake about it, that initial blog post by Fowler definitely colored the comments as a knock or a shot against Tebow and this is where it starts to get dicey. On twitter last night another journalist, Benjamin Volin, who was there when Thompson gave the quote confirmed Urban Meyer's assertion that in the same interview referred to Tim Tebow as a "living legend". If that quote is included in the blog post by Foley then it would be hard to make the case that Thompson was "happy to usher in post Tebow era" as the title of the blog post asserted, no? Volin further had this to say:


All I will say about this is that 8 people were in on that Deonte Thompson interview and only one person ran right home to post that quote


And in another tweet he used the word "innocuous" to describe Thompson's quote about Tebow. That gives me the distinct impression that Fowler did in fact make a mountain after a molehill and that but for Fowler this wouldn't be a story. But I have to say this in Fowler's defense. I follow him on twitter and have been following him since the college football season started last year. If anything I've found his coverage of the Gators to almost be TOO glowing at times so its hard for me to imagine that he was trying to stir the pot with his blog post. This is a situation where in my mind maybe he thought he really did have a story even if it was based on shaky grounds at best.

Which brings us to Urban Meyer. Now make no mistake about it, Meyer was wrong in the way he confronted Fowler on the practice field. There is no doubt that he meant to embarrass Fowler in front of his peers and threatening to block the Orlando Sentinel from covering the Gators because of what he perceived as being bad press was way out of bounds.

But let me tell you something as an ex player. Urban Meyer probably couldn't have done anything better from a recruiting standpoint than to stand up for Thompson like he did. I can tell you from experience that if there is a star football player in high school following this story right now he has to come away feeling good about the fact that Meyer was willing to go nose to nose with a journalist in defense of one of his guys. That's the kind of trait you admire in a coach as a player even if it seems to be over the top to the average observer. So while Meyer was wrong, it probably will help him rather than hurt him when it comes to recruiting.

But the problem I have is this, people have already turned this story into one about Urban Meyer and his support for Tim Tebow rather than a story about his support for Deonte Thompson. I won't assume the motives behind that leap in logic and its true that sticking up for Thompson may in some small way help Tebow, but it overlooks what this young man has probably been going through the last few days.

Imagine for a moment that you are Deonte Thompson and you are trying to get ready for a breakout season as it appears it is finally your chance to be the man. You give what you think is a regular interview and you use one word, the word "real" instead of "traditional", to describe your former teammate and all of a sudden you are at the center of a controversy. You google Thompson's name and you come up with articles bashing Tebow as not being an NFL quarterback and you come up with articles bashing Thompson for daring speak ill of Tebow in any way shape or form. And remember, this kid actually gave Tebow a huge compliment in the same interview by calling him a "living legend". You turn on ESPN and people were throwing around his quote as if it would be the deciding factor in whether a team picked Tebow in the first round. You look around at message boards and you see people viciously attacking this young man because they are such big Tebow fans that they won't tolerate ANY criticism or perceived criticism of him.

So today as you watch the story of Meyer's confrontation with Fowler, check to see if you hear anyone correct the story about what Thompson said. Check to see if anybody, in the midst of criticizing Meyer for getting after Fowler, admit that he actually had a point about Fowler taking Thompson out of context. Check to see if some of the same sports talk radio hosts who were either bashing Tebow or bashing Thompson the last few days will admit that they made more out of Thompson's quote than they should have.

Some how I doubt if you will hear or see anything of the sort. And that is THE problem in my opinion. Its funny because this morning I heard several local sports radio hosts who had in fact helped push this story actually have the stones to say that Meyer himself made it a story yesterday by confronting Fowler. Talk about a total lack of self awareness and a total lack of accountability.

In the end no matter whose side you are on in all of this, Urban Meyer's or Jeremy Fowler's, just remember that there is a college kid who has had his world turned upside down over the course of this week over a quote that was made up to mean something other than what he seemed to mean. And maybe, just maybe, some of these same folks owe that guy an apology.

Just saying.


Update: As if on cue here is what ESPN's Skip Bayless had to say about Deonte Thompson just a short while ago on First and 10:

Deonte Thompsom was a highly publicized recruit out of Belle Glade Florida who was making an excuse as to why in his first two years he didn't contribute very much. 'Its kinda Tim Tebow's fault that he didn't throw me enough balls. He wasn't on time. He wasn't a "real" quarterback'"


And from where does Skip glean this assertion? Hell even he probably doesn't know.

Let's look at the original blog post again.

I’ve received plenty of feedback Tuesday from Thompson supporters vouching for the guy. I’ve interviewed Thompson numerous times in the past and he never said anything inflammatory.

Either way, Thompson’s ready to be the top receiver for Florida.

“I’ve been ready,” Thompson said. “Somebody’s got to. Why not me, right?…It feels like a fresh start.”

The only way to capitalize on a fresh start is through grunt work, and new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni likes what he sees of Thompson so far.

“He knows he hasn’t lived up to the billing,” Azzanni said. “That’s what’s great about him. He’s humbled. He’s let his guard down. Coach, coach me. I want to catch all the balls I might not have caught in the fall. I want to run better routes. What do I need to do?”


Does that sound like the guy Skip was describing?

Better yet here's Volin's write up of the incident before Urban Meyer had even confronted anyone.

Poor choice of words? Sure. But was his intent to rip Tebow? Not at all, and that’s coming from someone who has interviewed Thompson dozens of times since his days at Glades Central High.

Thompson, 21 years old, is guilty only of not being a polished public speaker. If Thompson had used the word “traditional” — what he was implying — instead of “real,” this would never have been a national news story.

But Tebow is such a lightning rod that any comment made against him is blown way out of proportion.


But do you think Skip Bayless will ever apologize to Deonte Thompson?

I wouldn't hold my breath...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Against The Overtime Changes

The last few years there has been this ground swell, mostly led by sports pundits rather than fans, to change the overtime rules for the NFL. It seems that the core of the argument seems to be one about "fairness". Its not "fair" they say if both teams don't get a chance to score. I'm not quite sure what they think "fairness" is supposed to mean when it comes to football but none of the arguments have ever made any sense to me. Now the owners have come together and approved new rules for overtime that will only be implemented in the playoffs and I gotta say they are fixing something that isn't broken in my opinion and really although overtime games are rare if there IS a playoff game next year that goes into overtime the owners are going to subject themselves to the wrath of the law of unintended consequences.

First lets dispense with this notion of fairness. Football is not fair. NFL football is for damn sure not fair. The rules of football are about competition, not fairness and it has worked for decades that way. Hell every so often you see them change the rules so that the offensive guys get even MORE of an advantage over defensive guys all in the name of competition (ie scoring in that case). So when I hear people using the "fairness" argument in support of changing the overtime rules I generally just laugh and tune them out. But now with these new rules supposedly things are supposed to be fair now correct? Well let me give you the real perspective.

The new rules as best as I can tell are meant to insure that both teams get a turn with the ball unless the team with the first possession scores a touchdown. Now that sounds great in theory but let me give you a very likely situation to let you understand what this means in practice.

Not every team has a high powered offense and many of them have average offenses with outstanding defenses and they rely on their field goal kicking to pull them through close games that their defense keeps them in. So lets say a game goes into overtime and this defensive team gets the ball first. They find themselves in a situation where its 4th and 1 on say the 30 yard line. Normally they would be able to kick a 47 yard field goal and be rewarded for working their way down the field and having an accurate field goal kicker with a win. But now the head coach of that team has to go through a different thought process. If he kicks the field goal then he opens himself up to lose should the other team score a touchdown. And after all its 4th and 1 and maybe they can get a first down and keep driving for a touchdown to end the game. Besides that if you miss the field goal then the other team gets the ball at damn near midfield and they only need a field goal to win.

On the other hand, the team that loses the toss really only has to have two concerns to begin with. The first is just making sure that the other team doesn't score a touchdown. And secondly determining how aggressive to be when they get their turn with the ball. And this is what you call "fairness"?! Giving basically all of the options to the team that loses the coin toss?

Like I said, this is going to sound so awesome to people who have been fooled by sports pundits into thinking there was a problem with overtime in the first place, right up until their team gets hosed by the new rule. There will be a game where a team scratches and claws to tie the game up right at the end of regulation and then they will get the ball in overtime and kick a field goal and then after all that some how some way the other team will end up scoring a touchdown and people are going to be PISSED. There is a reason why sudden death worked for so many years. Its because it was only supposed to be an extension of the game in regulation. An extension only until one team scores and then everybody goes home. Now because of "fairness" its about everybody getting a chance to score I suppose.

More than anything else I can't support the change because I am old school. I believe that defenses should have to stop a team from going down and scoring a field goal if they don't want to lose in overtime. I don't buy any of the bullshit reports about moving the kickoff back helping teams score field goals easier. Teams still have kickers that push the ball out of the endzone on a regular basis. If a team is having an easy time in overtime marching down the field for a field goal then either their offense is just that good, or the opposing team's defense is just that bad. Either way its FOOTBALL and there's nothing wrong with that.

You want to know my answer to how you fix overtime if its really that necessary? You change the 5 yard chuck rule to the 10 yard chuck rule and you allow defenders to chuck offensive players for 10 yards down the field. Right now teams can't even play cover 2 the way it was meant to be played because the cornerbacks can't reroute at 5 yards for fear of being called for a penalty that carries with it an automatic first down even though it only grants 5 positive yards to the offensive team. Maybe, just maybe if corners were allowed to do their job more often teams wouldn't be able to move the ball down the field with such ease. And such it wouldn't be quite as easy for teams to go down and score a field goal on the first possession of overtime.

But the owners would never go for that. Why? Because for them scoring sells and defense is boring. They don't care about "fairness" in that situation, no siree. They only care about scoreboards being filled up and high Nielsen TV ratings for all the games. So instead we get a boondoggle masquerading as "fairness" that is going to piss a lot of people off when it doesn't go their way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bull Rush

My latest edition of Bull Rush is up over at joebucsfan. Today I talk about the all time great pass rushers that I patterned my moves after. I think its a read that most will enjoy. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yeah, But Whose Gonna Coach Em?


For months now there has been speculation about which defensive tackle the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might select with the 3rd pick in the draft. While early on it looked as if they wouldn't get the chance at Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, here lately with reports that the Rams or a trading partner of theirs might take Sam Bradford with the 1st pick in the draft, the prospect of having one or both guys still on the board at 3 is looking a lot more realistic. Now most pundits have gone back and forth with each guy, some thinking Suh is just too talented to pass up while others noting (rightly in my opinion) that McCoy is a better fit for our defense. But here's the thing, while the anticipation grows as draft weekend approaches, there is a question that Buccaneers fans should have in the back of their mind in addition to which defensive tackle we will take. And that question should be "who is going coach them"?

It seems like a simple question, and a quite important one to boot, yet I don't know about you but I haven't heard many pundits in the Tampa Bay area asking it. I guess the assumption is that if you draft Suh or McCoy they will just magically turn into Pro Bowlers without any coaching. Of course we know that history has shown us that's hardly ever the case. So who IS going to coach them and how much should it matter?

Well the first part of the question is pretty simple. Todd Wash is the Buccaneers defensive line coach, you can see it right there at their website. And who is Todd Wash? Well from his bio it appears that he was a pretty good linebacker in college and he is pretty smart too as he has two degrees. Also from his bio we see that he started his coaching career in 1996 and worked his way up in the college ranks before becoming a quality control coach here in 2007 and then working his way up to head defensive line coach last year and sole defensive line coach going into the 2010 season.

The first thing I noticed when reading up on Wash is that this is his first NFL job. Nothing wrong with that of course, Rod Marinelli got his first NFL gig here in Tampa as well after all. But the fact that he has been in coaching at all just a bit over 10 years combined with the fact that this is his first NFL job is a bit worrisome to me. I don't want to make it seem as if I am throwing Wash under the bus because I don't know him and I have personally never seen him in action at practice or during the game but there are some things that can't be ignored. And the biggest fact that gives me pause is that we haven't had a defensive lineman have double digit sacks in the 3 seasons that he has been here.

Now I would try to give him a pass on that first season since after all he wasn't a position coach but a quality control guy. However in his bio he takes credit for Gaines Adams getting 6 sacks that year as a rookie and so I feel like that year is fair game as well.

So what's the closest a defensive lineman has gotten to double digit sacks during his tenure?
That would be the 8 that Greg (Stylez) White got in his first season as a Buccaneer in 07.

The most by a defensive tackle?

That would be the 6 that Jovan Haye got ALSO in 07.

In the last two years the most sacks any defensive end has gotten in a season is 6.5 and the most any defensive tackle has gotten is 2.

And please keep in mind that this will be Wash's first stint coaching the entire defensive line by himself. Last year he handled defensive ends while the now departed Coach Robert Nunn handled the defensive tackles.

Now obviously after the way our defensive tackles performed most of the year I don't think anybody is shedding many tears over Nunn's departure. But what does it say about the Buccaneers that they didn't even attempt to replace him going into what may be the most important draft in team history looking to draft a franchise defensive tackle?* Considering how important most people think it will be that draft Suh or McCoy, why hasn't anybody asked this question before now?

Listen, for all I know Todd Wash is going to turn one of those guys into the next Reggie White next year and erase any doubt about his prowess as a defensive line coach. I for one would be the first to salute him if he does. But what has he shown in his career thus far that would inspire that kind of faith in him and his abilities? You can discard last year's performance all you want but then you still have to acknowledge 2008 where Ryan Sims led all defensive tackles with 1.5 sacks on the season and Gaines led all ends with 6.5. I don't know that Coach Marinelli EVER went through a season where the highest sack total for one of his interior lineman was 2 or less let alone allow that for two years straight, and he is the type of guy that Wash is going to need to try to emulate.

I saw enough head scratching calls on the defensive line this year to further make me skeptical of what we are going to get from Suh or McCoy if we draft one of them. Time and time again we either didn't run any pass rush games or the ones we ran were harry high school type stuff. Not only that but to this day I am still trying to understand why in the game where White was hurt we moved Jimmy Wilkerson from his starting position at left end over to right end, and then allowed Tim Crowder who backs up both starts to start at left end which didn't take advantage of either of their strengths.

You put that all together and you have a recipe for disappointment. Again I could be wrong and I hope I am, but put me on record right now saying that if we draft Suh or McCoy neither guy will have more than 5 sacks next year. That's not hating that's being realistic based on the evidence at hand.

Just one more thing for you to consider heading into next season.
* I don't really wanna have to go there but did the Bucs let Nunn go without replacing because they had so much faith in Wash, or was it just another instance of them trying to save money? Its not an easy question and I don't have the answer but I think it has to be asked and addressed

Hear Me, Hear Me





I was privileged to be able to sit down with the proprietors of the joebucsfan website last night and do a radio show. We had some really good in depth discussions about the future of the Buccaneers and we also had some pretty good interviews. If you get a chance check out these links and you can hear us for yourself. Not bad for our first time if you ask me ;)

Interview with Roy Cummings

Talking newly acquired Bucs receiver Reggie Brown

More links to come as they get posted.


Coach Morris' magic number

What do we do with Aaron Sears?

Drafting Eric Berry

March Madness

I haven't done any posts on college basketball this year but I have been following it and I would bet some of my commenters have as well. So I have decided to do a bracket and I am inviting anyone who would like to join to feel free to sign up as well. Just a little something to pass the time until the NFL draft or our next earth shattering free agent signing.

That last line was a joke lol

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Still Carrying Their Water


Looks like another "anonymous source" over at One Buc has decided to kick Antonio Bryant one more time on the way out the door.


• Sources say the Buccaneers' strategy for grooming QB Josh Freeman was part of the reason the team chose not to be more aggressive in its efforts to re-sign unrestricted free-agent WR Antonio Bryant, who signed with the Bengals March 10. Tampa Bay was concerned that Bryant might put pressure on Freeman and demand the ball be thrown to him, which is not an environment the team is seeking to create for its young quarterback.


Really?

So we are up to something like what, 5 difference excuses now as to why the Buccaneers didn't resign AB? And why the incessant need to knock a guy who isn't even here anymore?

You know what I'm getting from all this? That although countless Bucs officials have played up Josh Freeman's poise, they REALLY think he's either such a delicate flower or such a mental midget that just the thought that his best receiver might actually demand the ball would destroy his confidence all together.

Now I don't know if that's what they really believe over at One Buc and I certainly don't have that opinion of Freeman, but what the hell else am I supposed to think when all of these bullshit quotes keep coming out trying to justify why they didn't spend the money to keep Bryant here? Not much more money in fact than they gave Michael Clayton for a helluva lot less production.

And I mean the notion that a wide receiver is a diva or unfit to pay on our team just because they want the ball? That's about the dumbest thing I have heard in all my years in and around football and that's saying something.

You know who we probably would have also allowed to leave as a free agent if that's the case?

Jerry Rice


DESPITE HIS complaints about not getting the ball enough, Jerry Rice not only is tied for fourth in the NFL in receptions but, according to Niners statistics, is also the most frequent target of San Francisco passes.


Not every receiver that complains about not getting enough balls thrown their way is Keyshawn or T.O. In fact, as I have said before, I WANT my number one receiver to demand the ball. Hell if he doesn't want the ball, what good is he? Receiver is the one position on the whole football team where their value and success is dependent on another player in such a major way. If a receiver has a quarterback that either can not or will not get them the ball then there aren't many ways for them to help the team win. So if there is a receiver happy with not getting the ball then basically they are saying that they don't believe in their own abilities and they are happy with just collecting a check every week.

While we are on the subject, lets take a look at some of the things Antonio Bryant DIDN'T do last year that perhaps he could have.


1. He DIDN'T sell Coach Morris out and question his coaching ability. With the atmosphere the way it was around here at the end of the season it would have been low hanging fruit for Bryant to pile on in an attempt to get Coach Morris fired. Hell most fans would have probably loved the guy for it. But instead his comments were generally supportive of this regime.

2. He DIDN'T call out his teammates, several of which make for very easy targets. You don't think he was disgusted when they gave Michael Clayton a long term deal but refused to give him one? But did he throw Clayton under the bus even one single time this year? Not that any of us heard of.

3. He DIDN'T ask to go on IR after the season started with such chaos. The truth is had he not played this season on his bad knee he probably would have had a higher value in free agency. But while some folks are trying to call him a quitter without having the courage to put their name on it, the truth is the guy fought through the pain and played almost the whole season.

4. Last but not least, he DIDN'T rain on the Josh Freeman love fest even though he had plenty of ammunition had he wanted to do so. He could have talked about all the missed read Freeman had during the season, and believe me there were plenty. He could have talked about how Freeman's fumble problems cost us a couple of games. He could have talked about the decision not to resign Jeff Garcia even though he had a great rapport with him. Instead once again he kept his mouth shut for the most part.


I really can't understand why the Bucs continue to go down this path of criticizing Bryant anonymously even though he is now a Cincinnati Bengal. It not only does nothing to help our team, its also very classless. But as much disdain as this whole ordeal has filled me with towards the Bucs, I have to say that I have sports journalists in my cross hairs as well.

Why exactly were these "sources" granted anonymity for this information about Antonio Bryant? There isn't a legal issue involved, they weren't saying anything truly confidential (obviously) so why then would a sports journalist agree to allow them to say whatever the hell they wanted to about AB without having to sign their name to it?

I wonder if that same journalist would grant Bryant anonymity if he wanted to rip the whole Buccaneer staff. Some how I doubt it but really I wouldn't want him to do that either. Rather, I would want him to treat Bryant AND the unnamed Buccaneers official both if they wanted to rip each other. Is that too much to ask that if someone wants to throw a player or a coach or a GM under the bus that they have to sign their name to it?

Evidently in this day and times it is. And that ladies and gentlemen is a very sad thing...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Please Stop, Seriously


I hoped that I could have moved on from talking about Antonio Bryant by now, especially after he signed a 4 year $28 million dollar deal with the Bengals. That contract almost by itself refutes all the bullshit the Bucs have put out about the guy, and at the same time makes it even more infuriating that they didn't at least keep the door open to matching any offer in an effort to bring him back. But here we are a couple of days later and I am still hearing radio pundits smearing the guy in an effort, I guess, to give cover to the Bucs for not resigning him. What's pissing me off the most is that some of the arguments now don't even match up with previous smears against the guy. Why can't they just wish him well and keep his name out their mouths and instead focus on the question of why we still have Michael Clayton on our roster who couldn't catch a cold ass naked in the North Pole?

There is one argument in particular that almost made me pull over on the side of the road because it had me just that annoyed. All of a sudden the story is that Antonio Bryant is a quitter, that he "quit" on the team at some magical point last season that nobody can really point to.

Seriously?

Calling an NFL player a quitter is maybe the worst knock you can put against a guy. Nobody who works their ass off to try to win wants a quitter on their team. And any guy who gets labeled a quitter is going to have to work overtime to win his new teammates over in trying to convince them that he's not one. And whats most disgusting about the smear is that you almost can't disprove it which means rightly or wrongly you might have to go the rest of your career trying to live that criticism down even if its total bullshit.

Almost.

See if any of the radio hosts who are now repeating this line of crap over and over again about Bryant ever took two minutes to think this through logically, they would realize that it conflicts with an earlier "anonymous" Bucs justification for not resigning AB. That being that his knee was soooooo bad that he would never regain the form he once had.

Concerns over Bryant's knee and a commitment to build through the draft led to the decision not to offer him a contract. Bryant, who has played with four teams in his seven-year career, earned $9.88 million as the franchise player in 2009.


Now explain to me how a guy who has a knee as bad as the Bucs wanted us to believe AB's is could then ALSO be a quitter after he goes out and play on that same knee for 13 out of the 16 games last year? And STILL ends up being the team leader in receptions and receiving yardage at the wide receiver position?

See, this smear, and yes its definitely a smear, doesn't make any logical sense at all when you put it together with the old smear about his knee not holding up.

So then why would some anonymous official from the Bucs feed this kind garbage to these water carrying radio hosts? Well its probably because that while AB did play most of the year, he didn't play the two games after the Bucs' golden child, Josh Freeman, was named a starter. Remember that last year the Bucs did everything they could to insure that Freeman would have every advantage possible to succeed. They decided against allowing him to start while Jeff Faine was out for fear of getting him killed (a concern they evidently have for Josh Johnson). They also decided against allowing him to start the game in London against a very good Patriots defense. And finally they decided that giving him the start after the off week would give him the greatest chance to go out and make all of them look good.

But there was one small glitch. See the team's best receiver, AB, DID play in London and unfortunately the game combined with the long flights over and back really did a number on his knee. So unfortunately he wasn't able to play in either of those first two games of Freeman's reign.

Now do you think the Bucs officials who had so much riding on Freeman last season were happy about Bryant having to sit out those games? Hell I can tell you from experience that they weren't and they probably put as much pressure as possible on him to play anyway. And yet when he DID play through the pain to try to help the team what did he end up getting for his trouble after the season?

Another anonymous Buccaneers jack ass claiming that he didn't run "crisp" routes and "freelanced" too much.

In closing, can the radio hosts I'm talking about, and if you read this I am sure you will know if I'm talking about you, stop being fucking sock puppets for the Buccaneer brass, especially when it comes to bashing former Buccaneers? At the very least try to think through whatever bullshit they are feeding you and try to discern if it even makes any sense. It doesn't really help you at all to keep reporting lies as fact about players, instead it makes you look like major league tools. If the Bucs are going to keep using you to fight their battles, at the least tell them to leave some money on the night stand before they leave.

It is what it is.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Its ALWAYS About The Money


I few days ago I wrote a post about Antonio Bryant and the Bucs' decision to "move on" without trying to resign him. The gist of the post was that I wasn't buying their official reasons for letting him walk, with the primary reasons being his attitude and his age (29).

This evening I saw in my twitter stream that the Bucs had dealt their 2011 sixth round pick to the Eagles for wide receiver Reggie Brown. Of course when I heard about it I had to poke a little fun seeing as how Brown only had 9 catches last year but I want to make a serious point here which relates to my earlier post on Bryant. My point then was that the stated reasons for allowing Antonio Bryant to walk weren't valid. From my point of view trading for Reggie Brown just confirmed that fact.

Understand that I am not trying to take shots at Brown here, I am more so taking shots at the good folks over at One Buc Palace. See you can't try to intimate that you allowed one guy to leave because of his age and attitude then turn around and give up a draft pick for a guy who is the same age and has reportedly had attitude problems of his own in the past. Of course the Bucs also leaked anonymously to the press that somehow Bryant caused quite a few interceptions last year because he didn't run "crisp" routes but since Brown only caught 9 balls total I can't see a way to try to compare and contrast that strawman.

But I digress.

What is the major difference aside from production in the two players?

Compensation.

Antonio Bryant had the franchise tag last year coming off a Pro Bowl season and made more than $9 million dollars. Even coming off a subpar season he figures to get a pretty nice contract on the open market. Brown on the other hand had a deal with the Eagles that runs through 2014. His compensation according to online reports is right around or a little bit more than $1 million dollars each year until 2013 when it shoots up to $3 million or more for the last two seasons. That is probably going to end up being a fraction of what Bryant signs for whenever he lands on a new team.

This isn't rocket science folks.

The Bucs simply aren't going to spend any money in the foreseeable future. Now I am not one of these people who are going to rail about Manchester United or throw the Glazers under the bus for not spending money. When you boil it all the way down its their team and they have every right to run it how they see fit. But my only request is that they don't try to treat us like a bunch of blithering idiots. There was one overriding reason why Antonio Bryant wasn't resigned and that was his price tag. It wasn't about his age or his attitude or his route running, it was about the amount of zeros on the contract he was asking for.

Now for me that isn't even necessarily a bad thing but if you are going to make a move that is about money then you should have the courage to say that. Don't throw a guy under the bus who played pretty well for you for a year and a half just to try to shield yourself from a criticism. Just stand up and be honest about it and quit trying to play the fan base for fools.

End of rant

Friday, March 5, 2010

'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out


Ok I won't lie, when I was asked to do this short post about the most important drill at the combine, I just about wigged out. Seriously, I started this blog just as a hobby just to pass the time, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be ever be asked to write something for ESPN.com (and behind a paywall no less). So I want to take the opportunity to thank all the people who have supported this blog over the last 6 months or so. I will try my best to continue to put out posts that are both interesting and informative and maybe even a little fun.

On Barrett Ruud


Over the past season there has been a fair share of Barrett Ruud bashing. I will be honest and say that Ruud isn't exactly what I consider a prototypical middle linebacker but I think most of the main criticisms of him are bogus and borne of a fundamental lack of understanding about the role he plays in our defense. For that reason I wanted to debunk one of the most wide spread talking points against him, the one about him not making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

First off every Bucs fan should try to burn all the images of Barrett Ruud from the first 10 games out of your memory. The scheme simply sucked and it put him at a disadvantage in that he was called upon to take on centers and guards as if he was in a 3-4 defense and that is not really his strong point. And because it isn't likely that we are going to go back to that scheme or a 3-4 defense at least in the next season, that's not really a fair way to judge the value he brings to the team.

Now here in Tampa we have been blessed and somewhat spoiled to have some really good middle linebackers over the past 15 years or so. Hardy Nickerson or "Hardware" as we called him was a very physical and very intimidating presence in the middle our defense and he was also athletic enough to cover the deep middle in our Tampa 2 coverage. After Hardy we had Shelton Quarles who was a little more athletic if a little less intimidating in leading our defense in the middle. Now we have Ruud who just plays the game some what differently from both of those guys but is none the less still effective. He matches up well with tight ends, he is able to cover that deep middle, and he doesn't miss very many tackles. Still some folks around Tampa would have you to believe that Ruud isn't a playmaker or I guess they want to infer that he is afraid to come down hill and hit somebody. Well I for one watch all the games and I have seen nothing of the sort. And since players can't very well combat these criticisms themselves, I feel its important that people know the truth.

Lets talk about the role of the middle linebacker in a Tampa 2 defense. First and foremost, yes they have to play the run and fill their gap, but they also have to cover the deep middle/seam routes on the pass. It sounds like an easy concept, but in practice its pretty damn hard. Especially when you factor in having to react to a play action pass. In Tampa 2 our Safeties split the deep section of the passing zone into two halves. The most vulnerable part of this section is always the middle because in Tampa 2 the safeties split and pay more of their attention to what the wideouts are doing, making sure to cover the corners' backs on any deep balls. Nowadays their job is even harder because of the 5 yard chuck rule because the corners generally aren't able to get the good reroute like they use to and force the wide receivers further inside where its easier for the safeties to help cover them. That means more wide receivers are able to get off the line with an outside move and get up the sideline on go routes. In turn the safeties have to be ready to get over the top of any sideline deep route thus leaving a relatively big piece of real estate open right down the middle of the field.

If your middle linebacker gets sucked into the line on playaction pass in this situation, then a tight end or slot receiver will basically have free reign to burn you for 20 or more yards a pop right down the seam. THAT is why there are times when you see Barrett Ruud hesitate before he comes down hill. He is trying to discern whether its really a run or if he needs to get back in pass coverage. And if you noticed the seam route wasn't really a pass that hurt us a lot this year.



I know some folks pine for the days when we had Shelton Quarles manning the middle, and one thing is for sure and that is I am a HUGE fan of Quarles from all the way back when we played together. But some of those same people probably don't realize that Quarles only had 5 tackles for a loss his final year as a starter. And when I say only, that's not a knock against Quarles, its more an illustration about the position both he and Ruud play. Tackles for loss aren't really put at a premium for a middle linebacker in our version of a Tampa 2. That is more the job of the Will linebacker which is why you saw Derrick Brooks make so many plays behind the line in his career and why Geno Hayes had more than his fair share last year in his first full season as a starter.

Now I would say that all things being equal Quarles was probably a better overall athlete than Ruud but one thing is almost undeniable and that is that Ruud is exceptional in coverage. Just compare his 16 passes defensed and his 5 interceptions in his past 3 years as a starter with Quarles' 8 passes defensed and 0 interceptions in his last 3 years as a starter. Again, that's not to say that Ruud is better than Quarles, its just to say that the guy has put in work. And some folks should at least acknowledge that.

As far as I can tell this talking point is a reaction to people who point out Ruuds impressive tackle totals as a starter. For instance one year Ruud reportedly had over 200 tackles from the middle linebacker position. So instead of giving him credit for being a productive player in that regard, some folks have decided they can just dismiss all those tackles by saying they happened too far down the field. Of course there are no statisticians that track that kind of thing so its a hard talking point to refute. But all I need are my two eyes so allow me to call bullshit on that.

To be honest with you when it comes to being physical, I have seen Ruud really rock some fullbacks on iso plays. An iso is what some people refer to as a fullback lead where the fullback goes through the hole first to try to create space and the tailback follows behind him and tries to cut off his block to get yardage inside. We used to call it an attitude play because you can watch the fullback and the linebacker he is taking on to see which one of them is going to be the hammer and which is going to be the nail. As a matter of fact if a team runs enough of those plays you might well either see the fullback slow down a bit, or tipping as we call it, because they are tired of being pounded into oblivion, or you might see the linebacker all of a sudden try to go around the block instead of through it because their shoulders are probably on fire. Ruud takes on that block the same way from the first play of the game through the last. I won't say he wins every single collision but he for damn sure wins his fair share.

So as you can tell now this talking point about tackles for losses is a helluva lot more complex than many area sports pundits would have you believe. But there is at least one legitimate criticism of Ruud that I have and I don't mind sharing it with you.

I am a guy who believes you have to play defense with a lot of emotion, that emotion usually being pissed off. When I watch a middle linebacker I don't want to see him just make a tackle, I want to see him try to tear a guy's head off. Whether its behind the line or a tackle after a five yard gain I want to see that middle linebacker get a guy down on the ground as if he just said something foul about his mama. Now that just isn't the kind of linebacker Ruud is, and likely isn't the kind he ever will be. I think week after week Offensive Coordinators fear him a lot more than the running backs on the other teams do. That's because the offensive coordinators know that he will make the tackle if he gets the chance while the running backs know he won't necessarily try to take them out on that tackle. The yardage will still be the same but at times you want to see a running back get up and go back to the huddle in such a way that you can tell that tackle is going to stay on their mind all game. And in truth, as much as I get on Jeremy Trueblood for getting dumb penalties, I for one wouldn't mind Ruud getting a personal foul or two a season, just to send a message.

But here is where I tend differ from other people who it seems spend every other day bashing Barrett Ruud. While I see the area in his game where I feel like he could improve, I ALSO see the areas in his game where he happens to play at a high level. I won't say that Ruud is a Pro Bowler right now or that he is every going to best to ever play the game at that position, but what I WILL say is that for what we ask him to do he is definitely doing a better than average job. And remember, I'm just talking about what he is doing in a physical sense on the field, I didn't even touch on how well he does getting us lined up play after play or his apparently high football IQ

There is an old saying that you never appreciate what you have until its gone. Well if Ruud ends up leaving I have a feeling more than a few Bucs fans will come to understand what that saying means. There might be a few middle linebackers that could play the position better than Ruud here, but certainly no more than a handful. And if you think the teams that those few guys play are are just going to let them walk away you're crazy. And if you think the Glazers are going to break the bank for them then you haven't been paying attention. Bucs fans who are clamoring for a new middle linebacker would do well to remember another old saying.

"Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Couldn't Survive Without My Radio


Just a quick heads up, I'll be on with "The Sports Babe" at around 12:25 today on 1040 AM here in Tampa. If you want to listen online I think this link will work.


Update: If you missed my segment live you can click this link and download the podcast. I was on during the first hour.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Geno Atkins


I know that not many people watched the Senior Bowl this year, but I happened to be one of the few who did. Throughout the game this one guy kept flashing to me and it was a defensive tackle out of Georgia by the name of Geno Atkins. Now I watched my fair share of SEC ball this year and I remember that Georgia had some tackles inside who had ability but never seemed to make a lot of plays. Well this guy Atkins showed a ton of pass rush potential in that Senior Bowl game and I really liked the way he used his hands.

I asked around and some scouts think he have a lot of ability but so far he hasn't really tapped into his potential. Now normally for me that might be a red flag about the guy's work ethic but so far I haven't heard anything negative in that regard. Actually he just completed what appears to be a very impressive combine where he threw up 225 pounds 34 times and ran a 4.78 at 295 pounds or so.

Now as you know I am a film guy so I want to try to find a way to watch more of him, but I expect Atkins is going to be rocketing up some people's boards now and might be in that bottom of the 2nd/top of the 3rd round area. I have to say that If I keep digging and nothing negative comes up on him, I would fully endorse the Bucs using a 3rd round pick on that guy. Somebody that big, and that fast, who actually already has pass rush moves is going to generally going to make plays in this league.

As the draft approaches keep checking back and I'll try to update with what I hear on him.

What Can Berry Do For You?


At this point it may seem like I am lobbying for Eric Berry and perhaps I am. But the thing of it is, I want the Bucs to be successful, and THAT'S why I would like to see him on the team. But regardless of whether he is a Buccaneer or not I think maybe fans out there would like to know why I am so high on him and what he can do for a defense.

The thing to know about Eric Berry is that he is very versatile. Last year at Tennessee he played almost every position on defense aside from defensive line. He is physical when he is in the box and he is fluid with good ball skills when he is covering the back line. He is also good covering tight ends and slot receivers in one on one situations. He also is one of the best blitzers from the secondary that I have seen coming out of college football in some time. So what does that translate into when he is on your defense?

First of all it means that you won't have to substitute as much. Many times offenses will use personnel as well as formations to try to dictate what the defense is going to do. When your safeties aren't good in coverage then you end up having to take out a linebacker and put in an extra corner when an offense goes to a three wide receiver set most of the time. That makes you a lot more vulnerable to that team running the ball against what essentially becomes only 6 people in the box. When you have a guy like Berry however you can match him up on the slot receiver, keep all three linebackers in the game and still be stout against the run with 7 in the box.

Second of all some teams will put in an extra tight end along with a fullback at times to give the appearance of running the ball down hill at the defense only to go play action pass. The Saints in particular use this set quite a bit and it has been very effective for them. Now a defense that doesn't have a physical safety may elect to take someone out of the back line and put in an extra defensive lineman to match up against the offense's heavy personnel. But if you have a guy like Eric Berry, again you can keep basically your regular personnel in the game and be more sound against both the run and the pass.

Third of all when your team is in a division where there are several talented tight ends, you are going to need to have a safety that matches up well with them or you end up having to double them lest they burn you up and down the field. Berry has been a corner early in his career at Tennessee and he still has corner's feet. You can single him up on most tight ends and he has enough size and quickness to cover them down the field and he is physical enough to tackle them should they actually make the catch. And if you aren't doubling the tight end then that free another guy up to cover underneath routes which makes your pass defense more fundamentally sound.


Fourth of all a lot of the better running teams nowadays set up their blocking schemes so that they double team the inside guys up front, get up on the linebackers late, and leave the free hitter, usually the safety, unblocked and tell the running back that the free hitter is his guy. What that means is they try to make sure that they get enough push up front without pentration (a philosophy that I happen to endorse) that the running back can get a full head of steam before he sees contact and when he does see contact its going to be one one one, him and the safety, and he either has to juke the guy and or run over him and if he can do that then he will get big yardage. Sometimes its not enough that your safety can get the guy down after a 5 or 6 yard gain in those situations. Sometimes you are going to need a thumper who actually punishes the running back for even considering trying to run them over. Eric Berry is the kind of safety who likes to thump people all over the field.

Now those are the kinds of things that you can do in terms of reacting (or not reacting) to what and offense is trying to do, but having a guy like Berry also opens up the playbook for the things a defensive coordinator might want to do to dictate to an offense.

If you want to have a defense that blitzes a lot then you are going to need to have corners and at least one safety who can cover. Having Berry on your team allows you to go with more man blitzes with confidence that you won't give up the big play because your safety ends up in a mismatch. Also because he is such a good blitzer you can use him to confuse the opposing quarterback on where to set the protection. Using the Bucs as an example for years and years we have almost exclusively used Ronde Barber to blitz on third down. Last season we saw that when the Bucs tried to use other DBs to blitz it didn't turn out so well. Now if you line up Ronde on one side and Berry on the other, the center can be sure which way to slide and that will open things up so that we can get pressure on the quarterback and force them into mistakes.

In addition to all those things Eric Berry has a ton of range and great ball skills, exactly what you need in a safety if you play a lot of Tampa 2. He just ran a could of mid 4.4s at the combine which shows you he has track speed. But he is also a very instinctive player and if you watch him on film you can see him breaking on balls almost before the quarterback even begins to throw it. Considering how many times our corners got beat on deep balls last year, getting a guy who can help over the top you would think would be a high priority.

Of course if one of the big defensive tackles are still on the board I expect the Bucs will have to take them, but even then I am not so sure that it would be the right move. I know a lot of analysts aren't saying this but both Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy running mid to high 4.9s in the 40 is underwhelming compared to how they have both been sold. Don't get me wrong, there is no discounting what both guys did on the field this year, but if you are going to tell me that a guy is going to be the best defensive lineman in the last 20 years or so then Im going to need for him to run at least a 4.8 if not better. Big Daddy Dan Wilkenson who really WAS a freak of nature ran a 4.7 back in the day. Our very own Warren Sapp was also a freak of nature who ran a 4.6. A 4.9 isn't terrible but it isn't earth shattering either. And when you get down to it, while both guys will help whichever teams they go to, how much will a defensive coordinator be able to add to their playbook just because they have them on their team?


I can tell you right now, not much.


Now I don't want to make it seem like Eric Berry is the second coming, but the guy is a damned good football player and having him on your team allows you to do a lot more things than normal. Just look at the Steelers with Troy Polomalu. When he got hurt their defensive coordinator was limited in what he could call. But when he was able to play you saw how much more aggressive they could play as a defense. I truly believe that while Berry and Polomalu are some what different kinds of players, he could have a similar impact on any defense that he plays on.

And I for one continue to hope that that team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Combine Bench Press



One of the top prospect for this year's NFL draft, Gerald McCoy had a disappointing day in the weight room yesterday. While his main competition for the top spot, Ndamukong Suh, was busy tossing up 225 pounds 32 times, McCoy only manged to get the same weight up 23 times (a report on NFL.com's blog of 26 reps was evidently erroneous). Of course this has sent all of the draftniks into a tizzy and now people are openly questioning McCoy's work ethic.

Well I don't know if McCoy has been sitting on a beach every day sipping pina coladas or if he has been locked up somewhere with dumbells and hot sauce all day. What I do know from personal experience is that the combine bench press can be deceiver, both on the positive and negative side. If you google "Gerald McCoy" and "work ethic" you get tons of articles about people raving about how hard he works. But with one bad showing on his bench press he has opened himself up to people questioning what had been one of his biggest selling points.

McCoy wasn't the only highly rated prospect to fall short in the bench press either. USF's Jason Paul-Pierre, a guy some think may go as high as 3 to the Bucs (which I already thought was crazy) only managed to get the weight up 19 times. Now its a kind of unwritten rule for defensive linemen. You want to get the weight up 25 times or more so you can be one of the leaders in that categor, but to not be seen as too weak to play in the NFL you want to at least get the weight up 20 times so as to not raise any red flags. For a guy like JPP whose rise up the draft boards has been driven more by potential than production, only putting the weight up 19 times may have some serious consequences.

I am a long time proponent of film over workouts anyway. I think that you will always have guys who look average on film who put up great numbers at the combine. But being a great athlete doesn't always equal being a great football player and coaches and GMs should always be aware of that. I will say however that plenty of teams use the combine numbers for question marks. What I mean is if a guy looks good on film but there are some nagging questions about them, many times teams will use combine numbers to answer them. If a guy looks good but might be a tad slow then the 40 numbers are brought into play. If a guy looks fast in a straight line but maybe not very quick in changing directions that's when the cone drill numbers come into play. And if a guy looks good but maybe gets pushed around a bit, that's when the bench press numbers get pulled.

Now I don't know for sure if teams have questions about McCoy's or Paul-Pierre's strength, but if they did before the combine, its going to be even worse now.

Its at this point that I want to make an observation about the process and also to give a personal anecdote.

First, I think its ludicrous that defensive linemen and offensive lineman are still being made to life 225 pounds for reps. It makes sense for the smaller guys because by and in large they probably rep out with 225 on a regular basis. However for most big guys this is some thing that they rarely if ever do aside from at the combine or at their pro day at their school. To be honest with you doing 225 for reps is more about endurance than strength anyway. There are some guys who can do 225 pounds 30 times or more but couldn't shed a blocker to save their life. There are other guys who can barely get it up 20 times but can rag doll an offensive lineman. That's because there is never going to be a time in any game where a guy has to do 30 bench presses in a row but there WILL be a time when a 325 plus pounder will try to lock on to them and they need to be able to get that guy up off of them.



For most big guys this means that you train with heavier weights for lower reps most of the time. I for one would much rather see an offensive or defensive lineman rep out with 275 pounds than 225. For one 275 pounds is closer to the weight they will have to push around when they face off with an opponent in football, and for two you would get to see how well they handle heavier weight consistently. I would be much more impressed with seeing guys do 275 15 or 20 times than watching them do 225 25 times or more.

But hey, that's just me.

As for my story....

I was a guy who played for a high school team that didn't have a weight lifting program to speak of. For that reason when I got to college at UT I was behind most of the guys in my class. I worked my butt off in the weight room the whole time I was there but even though I got stronger every year it seemed like I could never catch up to some of those guys. I believe I ended my career at UT having maxed out with heavy weight for reps that was the equivalent of a little over 400 pounds. Not bad, but certainly not as good as some of my classmates who had maxed out at 450 and above.

Well thankfully for me I hooked up with a guy by the name of Dean Lotz (rest in peace) who had formerly been the strength coach at several colleges, most recently at that time the University of Memphis. The one thing he did in training me to get ready for our pro day at UT (I wasn't fortunate enough to get invited to the combine even though I had 9 sacks as a senior in the SEC, go figure) was to explain to me the why we needed to train certain ways for the testing that were different from how I had trained at Tennessee. Specifically while we would be working on trying to build up my strength for sure, he was more concerned with building up my endurance for the bench press test.

At first I have to admit that I wasn't convinced. Instead of doing 225 on a regular basis, instead every week he would have me max out at least once with 185, a 90 pound difference. He explained to me that I would be plenty strong enough to lift the 225, but I had to get used to the breathing and timing of doing a lot of reps. The most we used to do with heavy weights at Tennessee, like I imagine it is at most schools, was 10 reps and that was just every blue moon. The scouts, as I said before, want to see you do 20. So the first day I was with him I tried to max out with 225 and I ended up getting in about 14 or 15 reps. After that I didn't max out with 225 again for two months. Instead we worked really heavy weight for low reps most of the week and then every Friday I maxed out with 185. It got to the point where I could easily do 30 reps with 185 so I started feeling somewhat confident. Finally a week before it was time to go do my pro day we tested again with 225. This time I got it up 26 times with relative ease and I have to say I shocked myself. I should note that while we were still lifting heavy most of the week, my low rep bench max hadn't gone up more than 10 pounds.

So off I went to my Pro Day and many of my classmates were there as well. I ended up doing 24 reps that day which was less than I hoped for but still pretty good for me. By contrast some of my teammates who had always been stronger than me through out our time at UT ended up with several reps less than me. I don't doubt that they could still bench more than me if we had gone to a higher weight, but what was apparent to me is that they didn't have someone training them properly to get ready for the endurance part of repping 225.

I say all that to say this, a guy not putting up big numbers on the bench press COULD be a sign that they haven't been working out, but it COULD have also been that they weren't trained properly. I can't say which is which quite honestly and I wouldn't want to unless I was sure. But I will say that the way to try to decide on something like that is to watch the rest of their workout. Guys who haven't been training will end up gassing out when its time for position drills. In most of the timed drills their second time will always be slower than their first time. And the last thing to look for is pulled muscles as that is usually a sign that either a guy isn't flexible, and or they aren't in good enough shape to finish all the drills.

And for any future NFL prospects, please be sure to train properly for the combine bench press. If you don't you might be one of the strongest prospects there but end up having folks question your strength and work ethic. And trust me, nobody wants to have that happen to them.

On Antonio Bryant


Last week Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris announced that the team would not be resigning Antonio Bryant. I think the phrase he used was that they were "moving on". To me this was a head scratching development. Don't get me wrong, I think the Bucs would have been wise to let Bryant test free agency to see what the market was like and then try to match whatever offer he had. But to basically close the door on his return just didn't make any sense to me. I didn't want to have a knee jerk reaction to that decision so I gave it a few days to try to think it through, but I still can't see a way that this makes sense.

Let me first caveat the rest of my post by saying there are things that go on behind the scenes with any team that nobody ever hears about. There could have been things that Antonio Bryant was doing in the locker room or on the practice field that the powers that be saw as detrimental to the team and or to quarterback Josh Freeman's development. If that were the case then I could accept the decision to let him go a lot better. But being as that I haven't heard any of those things for myself, I can only go with what is readily available and is public knowledge. So first I am going to make the case for bringing him back and second I am going to talk about the state decisions to let him walk.

Just one season ago Bryant was a Pro Bowl player with 83 catches for over 1,200 yards and 7 touchdowns. He brought the big play back to the Tampa Bay offense and he made numerous circus catches. Last year he was hurt and started only 11 games, participating in 13 and his numbers fell off precipitously to 39 catches for 600 yards and 4 touchdowns. But you can't view those numbers in a bubble. Bryant had to adjust to 3 different quarterbacks and two new offensive coordinators. Still with all that he was the best wide receiver statistics wise by 8 catches and and by over 200 yards on the team. His 4 touchdowns weren't great but no other wide receiver had more than 1. In short he was the best option that we had all year when we had to throw the ball at the position.

I know people are going after him for supposedly shutting it down because he missed some games this year with his knee, but one thing to keep in mind is that in every one of the 13 games he participated in last season he had at least one catch. Its a modest statistic but something most of our other wide receivers can't say. Its also apparent that after he came back from resting his knee after the Patriots game, his statistics went up the rest of the year. So whether or not the perception was that the team needed him for the two games he missed, it seems at least from the production that him resting his knee was the right way to go.

Now before the Bucs articulated their reasons for allowing Bryant to go via free agency, the dominating perception was that it had to do with his attitude mostly attributed to some interviews he gave. This is an issue I want to talk about because for me I wasn't upset by some of the things he said and in truth I WANT my best receiver to want and demand the ball. My hard and fast rule is that as long as the guy doesn't throw the quarterback or the head coach under the bus I am good with them expressing frustration about not being a part of the offense. So lets take a look at some things he said.


"It’s not (about) me," Bryant said. "I know there's things I’m capable of doing on the field that can get other people open. We just have to find ways for other people to get me open. There’s a lot of double coverage. It’s to the point where teams don’t respond to other things happening on the field. They just keep rolling that safety over.

"We’ve been able to use that where I just go out and run a deep route and take that safety and then you have (Kellen) Winslow come underneath or (Maurice Stovall) come. So, it works to our benefit to some degree.

"But on a personal level, did I like that? No, because I couldn’t get the ball."



I defy anyone who knows anything about football to find something false about what he said. He was right in that most teams at the end of the season were rolling a safety to him to keep him from making big plays. He was also correct that by him running deep routes he was opening things up for guys like Kellen Winslow and Maurice Stovall underneath. And maybe the best part of this whole quote in my opinion is that he said he didn't like it because he wasn't getting the ball.

You show me a guy who is happy being a decoy and I'll show you a loser. The best football players want to contribute and make plays to help their team win. I don't care if its Jerry Rice or Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald. None of those guys are happy just opening things up for other people.


Bryant acknowledged his early-season knee injury, one that limited him through the first half of the season and caused him to miss three games. That, too, limited his effectiveness and will, perhaps, make his market value hard to determine. He has 37 catches for 585 yards in 12 games, this after tallying 1,248 yards in 2008 when he was the focal point of coach Jon Gruden's offense.

Not that Bryant is obsessing over it.

"I’m not worried about (teams) judging me," he said. "If it’s not one thing it’s another. It’s 'Oh, he has an attitude. Oh, he has baggage.' Okay, now you don’t see that. Now, what is it? Man, turn on the film and let it play."



So in this instance not only does Bryant run from his injury, he in the words of the Stephen Holder acknowledged that it limited his effectiveness. Again, what did he say that wasn't true? We should be concerned because he is confident in his abilities? I don't think so.

Here is the final part of that post and the section I think a lot of fans got upset about.


As mentioned above, Bryant was far more effective last season. And that was in no small part a result of Gruden's efforts to feature him.

"Most definitely," Bryant said. "I think in the Carolina game (in December 2008), I caught every ball that was thrown to me that night. I probably missed one. The difference between this year and last year, is we (practiced) that stuff every day. Before I went out there on the field, I knew exactly what (Panthers CB) Ken Lucas was going to do. As soon as he touched me, I almost knocked him over because I knew. I told my coach on the sideline excactly what he was going to do. And as soon as he put his hand out, I did it and ran.

"The ball was under thrown, but he was beat so bad. We have situations where you have your guys you want to get the ball to and I’m not on that sheet right now. The tight end is the quarterback’s best friend. They’re committed to Kellen. But that commitment is not helping me. I know how everything operates so I’m just going to be a team guy and do my part."



The one thing about articles like this one that I don't like is that the author never lets you know what question Bryant is responding to. Look at Bryant's quote. Its obvious that he didn't just start talking off the top of his head, but was responding to someone's question. What that question was I guess we will never know.

But look at the quote in its totality. First Bryant talks about his performance in the Carolina game in 2008 and that was a truly magnificent game for him. He then goes on to contrast that with how the game plan goes this year. Was he wrong in saying that the offensive guys were more prepared in 2008 than they were last season? From what I saw during the games he wasn't. Maybe he shouldn't have come out and admitted that they were less prepared this year so as to protect offensive coordinator Greg Olsen, but I personally didn't think he said anything that was that bad in that regard.

The other thing he points out is that he wasn't the focal point in the game plans this season, even when he was healthy. Its on this point I think some fans may not understand what he meant. A lot of people think that you call an offensive play and then the quarterback just drops back and throws to the guy whose open. If only that were really the case. The truth of the matter is that on every passing play there is a primary option, a guy who the offensive coordinator wants the ball to go to based on the coverage the opposing defense plays. At times of course the defense switches up on defense or their guy just covers our guy and the quarterback has to go to a second or third option. But what Bryant seems to be saying here is that more often than not he wasn't the primary option on passing plays. If that was the case, and again watching the games it seemed that he was correct, then why WOULDN'T he speak out about it. I love the things that Winslow can do in our offense and the way he creates mismatches with the opposing defenses, but you can't have a tight end be your primary option on the majority of your passing plays.

Bigger than that wide receivers have a tendency to play better when you get them involved early in the game. When you have a guy like Bryant who is head and shoulders above the rest of the receivers on your team, you feed that guy to not only help him but also to help your quarterback get a rapport with him so they can both have big games. I'm not suggesting you force the ball to Bryant and risk throwing a pick, but there are more than enough "safe" routes to get the ball in his hands early and often. Even if Bryant had never come out and said it, that still would have been one of my criticisms of the offense last year. Aside from the times when Freeman scrambled and threw the ball on the run, our passing game didn't function well because there never seemed to be a method to the madness.

I could see if this only happened a few times throughout the year but instead it was an every game occurrence. Let me put it to you this way, the most catches Bryant had in any one game last year was 5 and he did that 3 times. If he is your number one receiver, and he was, that is almost inexcusable. There has to be a way that at least in one game you get that guy 7 or 8 catches. I don't care if its on wide receiver screens or smoke routes or quick slants. Some how some way if you want to be successful your top wide receiver need to touch the ball more than 5 times in a game.

As for the Buccaneers they have given two reasons as far as I can tell so far for their decision to allow Bryant to go. The first is that they want to get younger on offense, something that sounds kind of laughable when you think about it. So lets think about it.

The starting backfield at the end of the season of Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham are going into their 6th and 7th NFL seasons respectively. The quarterback is coming off his rookie season. Winslow is going into his 7th season. Every guy on the offensive line except for center Jeff Faine has played 4 or fewer seasons in the NFL. Faine is the old head of everybody heading into his 8th seasons. How young, exactly, are we supposed to be trying to get here?

Keep in mind that as far as the other receivers go we already have some young guys in Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall. Is Antonio Bryant who is going into his 8th year like Faine REALLY supposed to be "too old" to play with this offense? Especially when you look at some wide receivers in this league playing at a high level well into their 30s? I'm not buying that.

The other reason as far as I can tell is that Bryant didn't run crisp enough routes and caused interceptions. Now this goes back to my post on Roy Miller. The NFL can be a dirty game. Folks will look at you cross eyed if you say you can't play because you are injured, but then when you go out and play through the pain they give you no benefit of the doubt when you don't play up to the highest of levels.

Do I believe Bryant didn't run as crisp routes last season as he did in 08? Yes. Do I think its probably because he had knee surgery in the preseason and tried to play through the pain? OF COURSEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

But the shady part of that knock on him is where they say he "caused" interceptions. I'm calling bullshit on that. First off all you never, not one time, heard that criticism during the season. As a matter of fact during the season what you did hear was the coaching staff getting on Freeman about his decision making and his accuracy. Now considering how much they wanted and needed for Freeman to be the star going into next year, are you really going to try to convince me that they heaped criticism on him that should have been directed and Antonio Bryant?


Hell to the nawl!


Once again, not buying it.

So what do we have left? We have a receiver who can block but can't catch a cold but naked in the north pole. We have a kid coming off his rookie season who was productive but who will be coming off an injury. We have another guy who may or may not be snatched from us in free agency who to date has been mostly a special teams player but who has shown some flash over the last couple of years. And a bunch of other no name guys who haven't played much in the NFL.

All I can say in closing is this. If we don't get a big name receiver via free agency and or the draft we are going to be in a world of hurt next year. If you thought this year was bad, just wait until our only viable option in the passing game is our tight end. There are a few guys who are trying to get off their current teams like Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall who perhaps we could pick up and really bolster or receiver corps, but it doesn't appear that we are leaning in that direction. No matter how much Freeman gets better over the offseason, he won't be able to perform without someone to throw it to. And as it stands we just let our best option walk right out the door for nothing in return.

I hope it works out for the Buccaneer brass, but I just don't see it happening right now.