SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. BUCS’ SOLID ROOKIE CLASS HAS MADE AN INSTANT IMPACTUsually an NFL team’s rookie class is evaluated on how well the team’s top two or three draft picks perform and how quickly members of the draft class see action on the field. Without having a first-round pick due to general manager Mark Dominik’s trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, the expectations for Tampa Bay’s 2013 rookie class outside of One Buccaneer Place were rather low.
The Bucs certainly got immediate value for their first-round pick from Dominik’s big trade, as Revis has been incredibly solid as a shutdown cornerback this season with a team-high 10 pass breakups and two forced fumbles to go along with 46 tackles, three tackles for loss, two interceptions, a sack and a fumble recovery, but how about the actually rookies that acquired through the draft? From top to bottom, this Buccaneers draft class may be one of the better ones in team history in terms of productivity and instant impact.
Two of the team’s first three picks were opening day starters in cornerback Johnthan Banks, Tampa Bay’s second-round pick, and nose tackle Akeem Spence, who is one of the Bucs’ two fourth-round picks. Banks has played like a rookie at times and given up yards and touchdowns, but has also recorded 45 tackles and six pass breakups, and is tied for second on the team with three interceptions, including a game-sealing pick at Detroit.
Spence has done a good job of drawing double teams and creating one-on-one situations for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has recorded a career-high eight sacks through 14 games. Spence has held his own as a rookie, recording 45 tackles (40 solo), two tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a sack of Tom Brady in Week 3.
Tampa Bay’s rookies have been an instant impact on offense, too. Undrafted free agent tight end Tim Wright, a converted wide receiver, became a starter by default after Luke Stocker and Nate Byham were put on injured reserve near the start of the season, while fellow tight end Tom Crabtree recovered from a preseason ankle sprain. Wright has 45 catches, which is tied for the most by a rookie tight end this year, for 486 yards and four touchdowns.
In Week 4, the Buccaneers decided to bench and ultimately jettison starting quarterback Josh Freeman and replace him with Mike Glennon, the team’s third-round pick. All Glennon has done is come in and break virtually every franchise rookie passing record in Tampa Bay. While he is far from being a finished product, Glennon has had a promising start to his Buccaneers career, completing 349-of-209 passes (59.9 percent) for 2,231 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions and a QB rating of 85.3.
All of those numbers are Bucs rookie records, and his 181 pass attempts in his first four games were the most by a rookie in NFL history over the first four games of a quarterback’s career.
To come away with four immediate starters that a team would feel good about moving forward – and not just playing them out of necessity – in any draft class is quite an accomplishment. Tampa Bay’s veterans have appreciated the work ethic of the 2013 rookie class.
“Johnthan Banks had to come in and earn his spot,” Joseph said. “So did Akeem Spence. They had to earn the snaps that they got. That’s Coach Schiano’s mentality. Everybody has to earn what he gets. Nobody is given anything. That puts everything in perspective, whether you are going into your 12th year or if this is your first year. Everybody has to earn everything here.
“They are definitely talented and it really shows how much work they have put in since they’ve gotten here. They have contributed at a high level. We’re not talking about role players. We’re talking about NFL starters and main pieces of our offense and defense. It’s good seeing those guys put in so much work to help us out.
It would be one thing is those three draft picks and an undrafted free agent were the only contributing members of the 2013 rookie class, but that’s not the case. Prior to a broken ankle he suffered against Miami on Monday Night Football, running back Mike James, Tampa Bay’s sixth-round pick, rushed for 295 yards on 60 rushes, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. His 158-yard rushing performance against Seattle, a game in which he also threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree, is the second-highest rushing output by a Buccaneers back this season.
Defensive end Will Gholston, the second of Tampa Bay’s fourth-round picks, has made quite an impact as a nickel rusher from the defensive tackle position, and as a dime rusher from the defensive end position. With 23 tackles, three passes defensed, two tackles for loss and two sacks, Gholston has already out-performed starting defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who has just 13 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.
At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, the chiseled Gholston has incredible upside. Gholston The Bucs don’t intend to re-sign Te’o-Nesheim, and will allow Gholston to challenge Da’Quan Bowers, who has been a disappointment this year with just seven tackles and one sack, and any newcomers the offseason might bring for the starting defensive end spot opposite Adrian Clayborn.
“This has been a very productive draft class, if I do say so myself,” Spence said. “Coach Schiano really gave it to us when we were here for our rookie mini-camp and then when we came in the week before training camp. He said the best thing we can do is to be available. That’s what Tim, Mike G. and Mike James did early on, and Will has done it lately. They have made themselves available. There were injuries and our rookies had the chance to step in and we didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m proud of all our rookies. We have KG (former Rutgers linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud) now on special teams. He’s doing a great job. We’re all making an impact and that’s big for our rookie class. That’s what we said we wanted to do when we got here and it’s crazy how it’s worked out. We’re doing it, and we’re having fun.”
The only member of Tampa Bay’s six-player 2013 draft class that hasn’t had much of an impact this season is fifth-round defensive end Steven Means. The former University of Buffalo standout has been inactive for six games this year and has recorded four tackles as a reserve player on defense in Tampa Bay’s dime rush package.
“It’s been a real learning process,” Means said. “I have to learn a lot of different things. I have to use the coaching and to get out of my own way. That’s something I’m starting to do more of now. I have to keep going. I’m taking the coaching better and I’m giving every play my all now. Not being out there on the field was the hardest thing for me. I was on the sidelines [inactive], but I couldn’t be out there on the field with my teammates. I’m taking practice reps like they are my game reps and just going relentless on every play to try to get better.”
When only one rookie doesn’t make an immediate impact, that’s the sign of a pretty good draft class. Combining the production and potential of the 2013 rookie class with the likes of strong safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David, safety Keith Tandy, who is second on the team with three interceptions this season, and cornerback Leonard Johnson from the 2012 rookie class has bolstered Tampa Bay’s roster and infused it with talent.
While many Bucs fans are calling for the heads of Schiano and Dominik due to the fact that the team is 11-19 over the past 30 games, the combination of Schiano and Dominik – with assistance from director of player personnel Dennis Hickey and director of college scouting Eric Stokes – has undoubtedly been the best head coach-G.M. combo in the Bucs’ war room since Rich McKay and Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs’ two most recent draft classes are better than any in the six years that Jon Gruden teamed with McKay and former general manager Bruce Allen had together, and better than any from the combination of Dominik and former head coach Raheem Morris. Perhaps one more draft class together is what Schiano and Dominik need to get the Bucs over the hump and into the playoffs.
FAB 2. SCHIANO’S WAYS ARE THE KEY TO ROOKIE PRODUCTIVITYWith five out of six members of Tampa Bay’s 2013 rookie class actively contributing on Sundays, I wanted to know what was the catalyst for the rookies’ success this season. After a little digging in the locker room, the answer I found from the players is two-fold.
First, Bucs head coach Greg Schiano is a big believer in not hazing rookies, and he sent a clear message to the veterans last year during his first season in Tampa Bay. Outside of rookies having to make a couple of food runs for the veterans, carrying some of the veterans’ shoulder pads during training camp and singing for the team during the annual rookie show in the auditorium, there is no hazing.
The veterans quickly saw how Schiano’s rookies performed last year when Doug Martin burst onto the scene as a Pro Bowl running back with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, including a team-record 251 yards and four touchdowns against Oakland. Linebacker Lavonte David led the Buccaneers in tackles as a rookie with 139 tackles and a franchise-record 20 tackles for loss, while strong safety Mark Barron contributed 89 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble last year.
“At the end of the day it’s all about winning,” Bucs right guard Davin Joseph said. “If you have some guys that can help you win, I’m all for it – whether they are rookies or not. They’re rookies when they get here, and then after a day they’re Buccaneers.”
After a training camp practice this past summer, Bucs rookie nose tackle Akeem Spence was doing an interview off the field. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy saw that and went behind Spence and picked up his shoulder pads and helmet for him and headed to the locker room. Usually it’s the other way around with the rookies carrying in the veterans’ equipment, so I shouted out to McCoy and asked him if he lost a bet.
“No,” McCoy said. “I’m just being a teammate.”
Spence credits Schiano for the way the rookies are treated at One Buccaneer Place.
“That’s big by Coach Schiano and what he instilled in our guys during his first year,” Spence said. “In turn, the veterans instilled it in us. Even when we go out for our rookie dinner, our guys don’t try to run the bill up. The vets help us out, and I think that’s great what Coach did. It’s teamwork all the way.”
Spence didn’t know what to expect when he entered the league. He’s heard horror stories from former Illinois teammates and friends around the league that have been subjected to rookie hazing and outrageous bills on rookie dinner night. Look no further than the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin incidents that took place in Miami.
“Coming in here you hear stories about guys in the league trying to do you dirty,” Spence said. “But it wasn’t like that here at all. They welcomed us with open arms. Gerald got with me before and after practice just trying to work on my technique. He knew I was going to be lined up next to him and he worked with me on my pass rush. He’s worked with Will Gholston now, trying to get him ready. [Darrelle] Revis and Dashon [Goldson] took Johnthan Banks under their wing to get him ready.
“It’s not like that around the league. Stories I’ve heard are about guys telling rookies the wrong things to mess them up because guys are feeling threatened by the new guys. It’s not like that here.”
In fact, it’s quite the opposite as Spence credits veteran Gary Gibson for helping him become the team’s starting nose tackle, even though both players were vying for the right to replace Roy Miller.
“When I got here, Gibby was willing to work with me on some of my movements and he told me a lot of things to help me out even though we are competing for the same starting job,” Spence said. “It made me look at him in a whole different light. In our D-line group, Gerald is trying to help everybody, too. He’s trying to help A.C. and help our practice squad guys. He’s a great person and I couldn’t have done this without his help.”
With three rookie defensive linemen in Spence, Gholston and Steven Means, McCoy has been quite busy serving as a mentor, leader and coach inside Tampa Bay’s defensive line room and on the field.
“Gerald’s work ethic and his intensity to become better sets him apart,” Gholston said. “He’s not sitting there in the room saying, ‘I know this stuff, you don’t have to coach me up.’ He’s asking questions while he’s coaching everybody up and taking their opinions and trying to get better. He sets the example. That relentless work ethic to get better is what motivates me to be better. That not only rubs off on me, it rubs off on everybody else in the room. You can see it.”
Means revealed how McCoy made the rookies spend additional time on the practice field before practice with him earlier in the season.
“Guys like Gerald are real helpful and they are taking us young guys under their wings as mentors,” Means said. “Gerald used to make us rookies come out earlier to practice and he would go over stuff with us like our pass rush moves. He told us that we weren’t allowed to stay in the locker room until we learned how to play football. That was something he did to really help us. We have a certain amount of time to get ready before we go out onto the practice field and he made us get out there about 20 minutes early. He told us we weren’t going to get that extra 20 minutes in the locker room before practice until we learned how to play football. So we went out there and went over drills and refined our techniques with Gerald.”
Means admits that he has been slow to take the coaching this season, and he has been his own worst enemy. That has resulted in him playing the least out of any member of Tampa Bay’s 2013 rookie class. But he has lately come around thanks to honing in on McCoy’s message.
“One of the reasons why I’m not playing as much is because of my inconsistent play,” Means said. “I’m seeing that now. Watching a guy like Gerald come off the ball like a crazy man on every single play and seeing A.C. (Adrian Clayborn) get relentless every time gives me a real perspective on what being a professional player is all about.”
The second reason why the Buccaneers’ 2013 rookie class has made an instant impact is because of the extra week of training camp practice the players had. Schiano and the coaches got together with the rookie class for a week prior to the start of training camp. In late July, the rookies got a preview of what was to come in the month of August so they knew what to expect from the grueling practices from a mental and a physical standpoint.
“The program they put us through during OTAs kind of forces the rookie class to bond,” rookie quarterback Mike Glennon said. “We got closer because we were working extremely hard together and all of us drafted guys went to the rookie symposium together. Then we all practiced together a week before the veterans got here and that made a huge difference because some of the pressure was off. You get to know the guys better during that and we where in the hotel together for quite awhile, too. That forces guys to get closer together.”
All NFL teams have a rookie mini-camp after the draft to get the rookies acclimated to the playbook and the style and tempo of practice prior to joining the veterans for the OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp. Schiano believes that another rookies-only week of practices prior to training camp is essential in preparing the young players for the rigors of camp.
“That week was big for us,” Spence said. “We came here and reported a week before the veterans did. That week was real big. It was like a refresher for us prior to camp. We got the playbook down and then hit the ground running. We got some live reps one-on-one before the vets came in and that helped us a lot. When the time came for the start of the season I think Coach was even surprised a bit. Tim Wright is always in his playbook. Mike G. is one of the first ones here every day. Will came along a little bit slow, but he’s got it now and he’s rolling. I’m proud of our rookie class and I’m happy for each and every one of us.”
The preparation from the extra week of practice has paid off for Spence and his fellow rookies this season.
“It’s crazy because one day it’s seeing Tim cracking the starting lineup, and the next day he’s having a big game,” Spence said. “Then you see Mike James go off when Doug went down and we didn’t miss a beat. I was thinking, ‘This rookie class is looking real good right now.’ When Mike G. stepped in it took him a while to get going, but then he got going and the wins came. It’s like a well-oiled machine now. Our rookies did what Coach said to do. They were available because of their preparation.”
FAB 3. SCHIANO HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER, BUT IS IT TOO LATE?PewterReport.com was among the first to chronicle some of the positive changes happening at One Buccaneer Place and with head coach Greg Schiano prior to the team’s valiant effort at Seattle and Tampa Bay’s first victory of the year against Miami. Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been quick to point out that nothing has changed, but he is merely covering for a head coach he likes playing for, much the same way Schiano covered for Darrelle Revis by not revealing that the cornerback’s knee wasn’t 100 percent to start the season.
To say that Schiano hasn’t changed would be admitting that the head coach’s approach was wrong at the start of the season, and that it contributed to the team’s dreadful 0-8 start to the 2013 campaign. So that’s why McCoy protects a head coach he enjoys playing for.
But the reality is that Schiano has made some very positive changes in the way he handles the team and they have paid dividends, as the Bucs have won four out of the last six games. Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood and linebacker Dekoda Watson bucked McCoy’s approach and openly discussed how Schiano had changed for the better in a previous SR’s Fab 5.
Underwood has the distinction of playing for Schiano at Rutgers, in addition to playing for him over the past two years in Tampa Bay. This week I solicited the opinions of another Rutgers alum in running back Brian Leonard, who is known as a straight shooter, for his opinion on Schiano’s ways.
“He’s definitely changed since college, but he still has the same standards and expectations,” Leonard said. “Obviously, it’s a different level. In college you have 18-year old boys and only 20 hours to coach them and you have to make them into men. Here, you have professionals that should know what to do and they shouldn’t need the discipline that you need in college. So he has changed his ways in some aspects.
“I wasn’t here last year, but some of the things I’ve heard were about the meals have changed. Checking in for every single meal was mandatory. That’s not mandatory any more. It’s just one check in now – the pre-game meal. I’ve heard some of the guys say that the practices are a little different now. Even the last two Wednesdays we haven’t had the pads on, and we usually call them ‘Buc Wednesdays’ because that’s what defines our team and makes us different from other teams around the league because we’re in pads. It’s getting towards the end of the season and now we’re in spiders (helmets and no pads) instead of shells (shoulder pads and helmets).”
Leonard also noted that Schiano has calmed down on the sidelines for the most part since midseason. Although the Tampa Bay head coach got testy with the officials while complaining about the antics of San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was routinely coaching from the field rather than the sidelines last Sunday, which drew Schiano’s ire.
“I definitely have noticed that he’s more relaxed and more calm on the sidelines,” Leonard said. “But there are times when he still gets on to people, which he needs to. You need that. The head coach needs that respect from the players. It can’t be a buddy-buddy relationship. It has to be a player-coach relationship.”
McCoy has raved about Schiano’s open-door policy at One Buccaneer Place, and Schiano has said he enjoys those exchanges because he learns more about the NFL from the players than anybody. Leonard agrees that his willingness to listen and learn from the players this year has been a key component for the team’s recent improvement.
“Off the field he has an open door policy in which guys can go up and talk to him any time they want,” Leonard said. “He takes our input. The captains come in every Friday and talk to him about the things that might need changing or the things that are good. He’s open to change, and that’s the best thing about him. He’s open to what the guys are talking about. If it’s about calming down in practice or taking a few reps off in practice, he’ll do that.”
One of the reasons Schiano has been more relaxed since midseason is that he has been turning over the management of the team to the captains. Schiano was chided for his micromanaging ways in the past, but has given captains like McCoy, safety Dashon Goldson, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Davin Joseph and linebacker Adam Hayward, who is the special teams captain, more autonomy in running the team through the locker room.
“I think that’s what makes us a good team – when the players start policing themselves,” Leonard said. “When the players start encouraging others it always helps. That’s how this team is developing now and you can see it over the second half of the season. The outsiders might have thought that Coach Schiano was losing this team. But after we’ve won four out of the last six games, I don’t think anyone thinks that anymore. It has opened their eyes.”
When asked about the calls for Schiano to be fired from some media outlets, including PewterReport.com, after the team’s winless start during the first half of the season, as well as the “Fire Schiano” billboards that surfaced around the Tampa Bay area prior to the team’s first game against Carolina, Leonard said that served as a rallying moment for the team. By seeing how Schiano handled all of the criticism directed towards him, the players gained even more respect for their head coach.
“He didn’t waver through any of that,” Leonard said. “If you know Coach Schiano, he’s one of the most mentally tough coaches you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t let that stuff affect him. He’s made us mentally tough, too. You have to keep your head down and do your job no matter what’s happening outside. If you just keep doing your job things will change here. So far in the second half of the season we’ve four out of the last six games of the year. It’s hard to win games in this league.
“I really have seen a change in the guys’ attitude towards Coach Schiano from the beginning of the season until now. There’s a big change in the guys’ attitudes towards the team and towards the coaches. A lot of things have changed and they’ve changed for the better. Everything is better when you’re winning some games and attitudes get better.”
Although there wasn’t one specific moment that sparked a change in the way Schiano did things or his relationship with the players, Leonard and others point to the week prior to the Seattle game as the time when everything started to sink in at One Buccaneer Place.
“Even though we lost that game, that was a big, important game for us,” Leonard said. “To go out to Seattle and play them the way we did was the stepping stone for the last four wins we’ve had. That was kind of the pivotal point, but you could feel it building a week or so before that.
“We had some tough breaks with the quarterback change. Obviously, that’s tough. Then there was the MRSA that went through the locker room. That was kind of distracting. And we’ve had injuries to Carl, Mike and Doug. We’ve had a couple of games that we lost right there at the end. Those are always tough losses. A couple of wins here and there, and this season would look completely different. But the way we stuck together, even though we lost the first eight games, that’s important.”
Leonard might be biased because Schiano has done an awful lot for his college and pro career through the years, including giving him employment in 2013. But he comes across as sincere when he says that big things are in store for the Buccaneers with Schiano at the helm.
“Coach Schiano is going to turn this program around and it’s going to be a championship program,” Leonard said. “We’re going to be one of the better teams in the league. I have no doubt.”
Leonard may not have any doubt, but there are plenty within the media and the Buccaneers fan base that do have doubts about Schiano. Aside from his hand in impressively acquiring more talent over the past two years in the offseason and improving the play of the Bucs defense and McCoy, who was labeled a bust before Schiano’s arrival, the New Jersey-born coach has struggled in producing an explosive, consistent offense in Tampa Bay over the past year and half, in addition to making the necessary adjustments after halftime that would allow the Buccaneers to hang on to a lead or come back and win the game in the second half.
Does Schiano have to win at least one of the following two games to stay in 2014, or does losing three straight games seal his fate in Tampa Bay? Will Schiano stay if he makes a change at offensive coordinator with the hope of scoring more points and establishing more consistency on offense? It will be interesting to see what the Glazers do at the end of the season regarding Schiano’s future in Tampa Bay.
FAB 4. BUCCANEERS NEED MORE EXPLOSIVE WIDE RECEIVERSAs the 2014 NFL Draft draws closer, the Buccaneers currently have the seventh overall pick, up from the ninth pick due to Sunday’s 33-14 loss to San Francisco. In last week’s SR’s Fab 5, we chronicled the top pass-rushing defensive ends that the Buccaneers could select with the team’s first-round pick as Tampa Bay is in desperate need of a pass rusher to team with defensive end Adrian Clayborn and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
But over the past few games, and especially against the 49ers, the Bucs receivers have struggled mightily to get open against man coverage. Sources tell PewterReport.com that a big reason for Mike Glennon’s struggles in a 90-yard effort against Buffalo and in the most recent loss to San Francisco is that there were few open receivers against the talented Bills and 49ers secondaries.
The only receiver with deep speed on the team is Tiquan Underwood, who is more of a straight-line burner than he is a receiver with the quickness to separate in short and intermediate routes. Tampa Bay’s primary wide receiver, Vincent Jackson, uses his size, strength and leaping ability to fight cornerbacks for the ball, but he is rarely wide open.
Mike Williams, whose season ended prematurely on injured reserve, is a similar receiver to Jackson, although he possesses better hands and a smaller frame. There have been times too where he has struggled to shake man coverage and get open in his Buccaneers career.
It’s no secret that the Bucs rank last in the NFL in yards after catch this season with just 1,039 yards after catch and a 4.11-yard average. With the Buccaneers moving forward with Mike Glennon at quarterback in 2014 should Greg Schiano remain the head coach, it is imperative to get him some fast, explosive weapons on offense that can get open and score touchdowns.
With several teams needing help at quarterback in the first round, the Bucs could be in position to take the first wide receiver. There are currently four receivers that project as first-round picks, and two of them will square off in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl when Fresno State takes on USC on Saturday.
USC junior Marqise Lee, who is 6-foot, 195 pounds, is a playmaker with 247 career catches for 3,537 yards and 27 touchdowns. Lee’s 2013 statistics have suffered since the graduation of Matt Barkley as he has caught only 50 passes for 673 yards (13.5 avg.) with two touchdowns.
But after a freshman season in which he had 73 receptions for 1,143 yards (15.7 avg.) with 11 touchdowns, Lee broke out with 118 catches for 1,721 yards (14.6 avg.) and 14 TDs last year as a sophomore. Lee has had 14 100-yard games for the Trojans, including a 13-catch, 224-yard, two-touchdown performance against UCLA as a freshman and a monumental, 16-catch, 345-yard, two-touchdown effort against Arizona as a sophomore in 2012. Click here to watch Lee’s highlight video.
With plenty of speed to burn, Lee has 12 career catches over 50 yards or more, including five over 70 yards. He has also been a proven commodity on special teams with eight kick returns for 151 yards this year after returning 30 kicks for 856 yards, including a 100-yard TD, last year, and returning 10 kicks for 285 yards and with an 88-yard score in 2011.
Fresno State redshirt sophomore Davante Adams caught 102 passes for 1,312 yards (12.9 avg.) and 14 touchdowns last year before hauling in 122 receptions for 1,645 yards (13.5 avg.) and 23 touchdowns in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder has 13 100-yard games as Derek Carr’s favorite target.
Adams had a 16-catch, 185-yard, three-touchdown effort against Idaho State early in 2013, and followed that up with an eight-catch, 221-yard, four-touchdown performance against UNLV. A few weeks later, Adams tore into New Mexico by catching nine passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns, followed by a 13-catch, 246-yard, three-score showing in a 62-52 loss to San Jose State. Click here to watch Adams in action.
Adams is a faster version of Tampa Bay’s Williams, and possesses great body control and agility, but isn’t a true speed demon. There are also some questions about the level of competition Adams has exploited during his college career, but there is no doubt about his talent. The Bulldogs’ leading target is a fast-riser up draft boards, but it’s doubtful he would be the first receiver off the board.
If the Bucs are interested in a younger version of Jackson, they could turn to Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, who is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound weapon. After catching 82 passes for 1,105 yards (13.5 avg.) and five touchdowns as a freshman, Evans has hauled in 65 passes for 1,322 yards (20.3 avg.) and 12 touchdowns during his sophomore year. In his two years in College Station, Evans has racked up eight 100-yard games, including a monstrous, seven-catch, 279-yard (39.9 avg.) effort against Alabama that included a 95-yard touchdown, and an 11-catch, 287-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece against Auburn. Click here to watch Evans’ highlights.
The redshirt sophomore, who could be the first receiver off the board, racks up yardage the same way Jackson does, by using his size and leaping ability to tower over smaller defensive backs. He has pretty good speed, but will likely time in the 4.5-range and isn’t a true burner that the Bucs may need.
The one pass-catcher to really keep an eye on is Clemson junior Sammy Watkins, who is believed to be the front-runner for being the first receiver off the draft board. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Watkins has good size and excellent speed.
Watkins had 82 catches for 1,219 yards (14.9 avg.) and 12 touchdowns in a breakout freshman campaign before slumping the next year with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three scores (12.4 avg.) after being suspended for the first two games of the season after being arrested for marijuana possession in May of 2012. Watkins has rebounded in 2013, catching 85 passes for 1,237 yards (14.6 avg.) with 10 touchdowns.
Watkins has had 14 100-yard games in his Tigers career with 11 catches of 50 yards or more, including a 91-yarder and a 96-yarder in 2013. He is also an accomplished special teamer with 33 punt returns for 826 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown, in 2011. Check out Watkins’ highlights by clicking here.
Clemson has also used his 4.4 speed on reverses and end around. Watkins ran the ball 32 times for 231 yards in 2011, 14 times for 97 yards and a TD in 2012, and five times for eight yards in 2013.
If the Bucs were looking for a wide receiver in the first round, Watkins might fit the team’s needs the best, although Clemson rarely produces great pro players and Tampa Bay has been burned twice by two highly-touted Tigers in defensive end Gaines Adams (first round in 2007) and Da’Quan Bowers (second round in 2011).
Bucs head coach Greg Schiano favors bigger receivers, and there will be several to choose from in the 2014 NFL Draft if he wants to go another route in the first round. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior, is projected to be a high second-round pick, in addition to Florida State redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin, who is a 6-foot-5, 235-pound touchdown maker.
In the third round, Schiano is familiar with Rutgers junior Brandon Coleman, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, and Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief is also a big target in the third round at 6-foot-2, 226 pounds. With as many as 40 pass-catchers with draftable grades, the 2014 NFL Draft will be loaded at wide receiver and it’s a safe bet that the team will use at least one pick on speedy weapon to aid Glennon and the league’s worst-ranked offense.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• One of the reasons why the Buccaneers may be shifting their focus from drafting a defensive end in the first round is the emergence of rookie pass rusher Will Gholston, who has 23 tackles and two sacks as a reserve and has outperformed both starter Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (13 tackles, one sack) and former second-round pick, Da’Quan Bowers (seven tackles, one sack). Gholston is one of the players Bucs head coach Greg Schiano was referring to in terms of having some potential dominant players already inside the walls of One Buccaneer Place. In fact, he can’t stop gushing about the 6-foot-6, 280-pounder.
“He’s immensely gifted, right?” Schiano said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s long, he’s strong, all the things you want out of a defensive end. He came out early, so he’s a little young, right? His best days are clearly ahead of him and what we’ve tried to do is forced feed him without suffocating him, if that makes sense. We’ve given him, what we feel, was as much as he could handle early on and maybe even a little more than he could. Towards the beginning, middle of the season, we probably gave him a little more but Will has really come on and now you can see the light going on in different parts of his game. And he’s recognizing things more quickly, he’s playing with – that strength that he has, he’s now playing with that strength. But again, that all, when you’re a young player – and he is considerably, he came out as a junior – when you’re a young player, who’s figuring it out, a lot of your abilities kind of get squelched a little bit. Then as you start to be more comfortable with the defenses and the calls and the techniques – it appears like you just line up and go straight ahead but there’s a lot more to it for the defensive ends. They have to play several techniques, they have to read defensive linemen as they’re getting up the field and what’s happened through repetition and a lot of hard work, Will has gotten better and better.
“I am really fired up about him and we’re going to need him this week. He’s a guy who tries to do exactly what you coach him to do, he’s knocking balls down, which he should with that long reach. There’s a sense that defensive linemen have when they rush the passer, “Okay, I’m not going to get home, but I’m going to see the quarterback and when that long arm comes off the football,’ boom, ours go up and he’s knocked some balls down. Those are plays that you don’t have to defend, you don’t have to see the result, and maybe you get a tip ball interception. That’s why you like those big long defensive ends and I think we’ve all seen him when he’s flat out turned and pursued to the football that for a guy his size, he can really run.”
• We will have more on the upcoming quarterback draft class next week, but keep an eye on a couple of fast-risers. Don’t be surprised if Fresno State senior Derek Carr challenges Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater for the right to be the top quarterback selected in 2014. Carr is rocketing up draft boards and the only thing that has held him back so long is his last name as he is the younger brother of former top overall pick David Carr, who didn’t have a successful NFL career with the Houston Texans.
Another name to watch is Central Florida junior quarterback Blake Bortles, who could be a first-rounder if he elects to forego his senior season and enter the NFL. The Bucs could draft a quarterback as early as the second round to add competition for Mike Glennon, but it won’t be Clemson’s Tajh Boyd or Georgia’s Aaron Murray, whose stock has been hit by a torn ACL. The Bucs don’t feel like either quarterback has an NFL arm or size.
• I have a couple of items I want to address as the 2013 season winds down. First, I was surprised by the objection and intolerance of some Bucs fans over last week’s SR’s Fab 5, which led with the Faith and Football theme at last Sunday’s Bucs game. Some thought I was injecting my personal beliefs or preaching about Christianity, which I wasn’t.
I didn’t inject my personal viewpoints at all in last week’s SR’s Fab 5, nor do I write about or personally promote Christianity – or religion in general – with any regularity on PewterReport.com. However, since the Buccaneers organization decided to promote the event and the team decided to make Faith and Football the theme of the game with the Christian rock band MercyMe, team chaplain Doug Gilcrease and players like Gerald McCoy and Dan Orlovsky giving the chance to share stories about their faith and how it helps them deal with their lives as professional football players with Bucs fans in attendance, it certainly had a football element to it, which is why I decided to report on it.
In my opinion, it’s perfectly fine to be a non-believer, an atheist or an agnostic. That’s one of the great freedoms of this great country. What I object to is the call for a whitewashing and banishing of a mention of any religion just because a person may not believe in it. Non-believers, atheists and agnostics certainly have the right to voice their objections, and I didn’t delete or edit a single comment. But your rights don’t trump those of Christians or people with religious beliefs, and they have a right to read about the beliefs of some Tampa Bay players, especially during the week of a Faith and Football event when it is the most appropriate.
I found the revelation that McCoy can see perfectly on the field without glasses, but that he has poor vision without glasses off the field to be incredibly enlightening, yet there were no comments about that. Instead, over half of the comments were those of a somewhat intolerant nature. Just know that I’m praying hard for you guys and wishing you everyone a Merry Christmas. (Oops. Sorry for the personal religious injection.)
The second point I feel compelled to once again address is that of Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, Pewter Report’s credentials and access to the team. For some reason, there are a few Bucs fans that continue to believe that Pewter Report’s tone shift from calling for Schiano’s firing after a 0-5 start – that turned into a disappointing 0-8 record – to one of a wait-and-see approach has something to do with us fearing for our access to the team.
I can assure you there has never been one second of concern on my part in my 18 years of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that I would lose my credential or lose any access to the Bucs front office, coaches or players. The Glazers don’t run that kind of organization, and my relationship with Bucs director of communications Nelson Luis is as strong as it has been with any of his predecessors.
As Bucs running back Brian Leonard pointed out earlier in this edition of SR’s Fab 5, Schiano is a very mentally tough individual and he knows that my calling for his firing earlier in the season wasn’t personal and there was no venom behind it. It was strictly based on his performance as the team’s head coach.
However, I will say that I have taken a great deal of heat for my tone change at midseason from the anti-Schiano crowd, and yet it looks like that may have been wise reporting as the Bucs have won four of the last six and Schiano has a much greater chance of sticking around in 2014. The tone change could not be helped for two reasons.
First, more and more Buccaneers players began to rally behind Schiano on and off the record, which we have been reporting for weeks now. To ignore that – even though it went against the grain of my earlier “fire Schiano” narratives – would be negligent on my part as a reporter, even if it meant drawing criticism for an about face in the tone of our reporting.
And second, some of the reasoning for calling for Schiano’s firing earlier in the season was due to some bad information I received from the Josh Freeman camp, which I have previously detailed. I don’t think Schiano did a very good job of defending himself and he let the Freeman camp attempt to blame him and the team for the leaks about the crestfallen quarterback. I have come to learn that some of the characterizations of Schiano from those sources weren’t true after all, and that also played a role in the turn of Pewter Report’s reporting on Schiano over the second half of the season.
The bottom line is that the team’s next two performances will have a large impact on Schiano’s future in Tampa Bay. Sources tell me that the team isn’t sure if he’ll stay or go yet, but there is a chance for either scenario playing out depending on how well or poorly the Buccaneers play on the road at St. Louis and at New Orleans.
• And finally, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I’ve been taking advantage of some of the great holiday offers from some of Pewter Report’s advertisers, and I’m encouraging you to do the same. I started off by getting a fantastic massage from Tru Beautè Med Spa to help deal with some of the stress that comes from the holiday season – and from a very long season covering the Buccaneers. As you may know, Tru Beautè Med Spa sponsors the weekly Bucs MVP, and has drawn rave reviews from wide receiver Vincent Jackson, tight end Tim Wright and running back Bobby Rainey among other MVPs, who have earned a free massage for their play on the field. My massage from Valerie was so good that I purchased one for my wife, and I encourage you to buy a gift certificate to Tru Beautè Med Spa for the holiday season. Click here to view the spa packages Tru Beautè Med Spa has available.
Then I ordered some delicious smoked turkey for Christmas dinner from Holy Hog BBQ. If you haven’t tried Holy Hog BBQ – with two locations in Tampa Bay and one at the Tampa Bay Times Forum – you’re really missing out. It’s not too late to place your order for smoked turkey or a ham for Christmas or your New Year’s party. Not only is Holy Hog BBQ a great place to eat, they also have a fantastic catering menu. Keep them in mind to cater your college bowl parties or the Super Bowl. Click here to visit the HolyHogBBQ.com website and order your holiday catering.
I finished up some last-minute holiday shopping by ordering some delicious Florida wine for my family in Virginia from Keel and Curley, which is the official wine of PewterReport.com. Did you know that Keel and Curley ships wine to 33 different states? It’s not too late to place your holiday order so that your family and friends in Florida or across the country can have some of Keel and Curley’s award-winning wine to ring in the New Year. Click here to visit the KeelAndCurleyWinery.com website and order your catering.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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