NFC South: Arron Sears
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper defended Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen in a conference call with the media. Although Kiper has the Panthers taking quarterback Cam Newton in his latest Insider mock draft, he says Clausen didn’t have a fair shake in his rookie season. That’s all true and Clausen still might develop into something, but the Panthers can’t count on that after his rookie season.
In that same conference call, Kiper said the Buccaneers need to address their biggest need and draft a defensive end at No. 20. He said the uncertainty about cornerback Aqib Talib’s future after an off-field incident might prompt the Bucs to take a cornerback, but he sees that coming later in the draft. I agree. Defensive end is a much bigger need. The Bucs have some other decent corners and they also could add help later in the draft. But the best way to help the Tampa Bay corners is with a pass rush.
New Orleans offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod is back home in Maryland during the lockout and has been working out at Towson State.
The New York Times takes a look back at Atlanta’s 2010 season. Perhaps the most interesting item came when cornerback Dunta Robinson was described as “good, not great’’. I tend to agree with that. There was a lot of hype when Robinson signed a big contract as a free agent last year. He ended up producing just one interception. That has led some people to claim he’s a bust. But Robinson was not a bust. He was solid and teams threw away from him. That’s a big part of the reason why Brent Grimes, the other starting corner, had five interceptions
Former Tampa Bay guard Arron Sears has been released from jail. This wasn’t Sears’ first problem. He took a leave of absence for what the team called a personal issue in 2009. He was released last year after the team said he had a setback.
The former Tampa Bay offensive lineman was arrested for failing to show at a December court appearance. He is being held without bail. Sears previously was arrested for assaulting a law enforcement officer in June and again in November when he was found wandering a busy Tampa road.
Sears, 26, missed the 2009 season with what the team described as a personal problem. He began working out again, but was released in April 2010. A second-round draft pick in 2007, Sears quickly emerged as a very solid starter at guard.
But his personal problem appears to have brought his career to an end. This is a sad story on many levels. From a football aspect, the Bucs have moved on. But you have to wonder what things would be like if Sears didn’t run into problems. He and Davin Joseph had the potential to form one of the league’s best guard tandems.
Bruce Allen is Washington’s general manager. He held that job in Tampa Bay from 2004 until he (and coach Jon Gruden) got fired after the 2008 season. That made me wonder a bit about how much Allen’s drafting has contributed to Tampa Bay’s surprising turnaround.
Allen did draft safety Tanard Jackson, who is suspended until at least next September for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He also drafted cornerback Aqib Talib and Davin Joseph, who currently are on injured reserve.
That leaves Allen’s draft haul as center Jeremy Zuttah, backup quarterback Josh Johnson, linebackers Quincy Black, Geno Hayes and Adam Hayward, tackle Jeremy Trueblood, receiver Maurice Stovall, running back Cadillac Williams and linebacker Barrett Ruud.
That’s a less-than-stellar cast. We’ll give Allen credit for drafting the starting linebacker corps, even though Ruud is probably on his way out of Tampa Bay. Trueblood was average for a few years, but he’s now playing behind James Lee. Zuttah’s a decent guy to have swinging between center and guard, but he’s nothing special. Williams had a nice rookie year and has made a couple of inspirational comebacks from major knee injuries, but he could be on the way out as the Bucs look for a younger pair of legs to go with LeGarrette Blount next year. It’s a minor miracle Stovall’s still on the roster and the Bucs would be in deep trouble if they ever had to start Johnson at quarterback.
Joseph’s a free agent next year and there’s no guarantee Jackson will be back. Talib’s a great natural talent, but he’s come with trouble.
Oh, and let’s talk about some of Allen’s other greatest hits. We’re going to leave tragic figures Gaines Adams and Arron Sears alone. But how about receiver Michael Clayton? The Bucs could have had St. Louis running back Steven Jackson or Atlanta receiver Michael Jenkins (a Tampa kid) or New Orleans defensive end Will Smith with that pick.
And who can remember Chris Colmer? Yeah, he’s the offensive tackle Allen drafted in the third round, despite a history of shoulder problems. The injury resurfaced as soon as Colmer joined the Bucs and he never played a down in the NFL.
At least with Clayton the Bucs got one productive season. But Allen’s history with other receivers was even worse. There was fifth-round choice Larry Brackens out of that football factory that sometimes is called Pearl River Community college and, then there was Allen’s all-time worst draft pick.
Yep, Allen saved it for his last draft. He and Gruden used a second-round pick on Dexter Jackson and walked into the media room a bit later and claimed he was going to be the second coming of Carolina’s Steve Smith. Turns out the only thing Jackson and Smith had in common was they were both short and since Jackson had gone to school at Appalachian State, he had spent some time in North Carolina.
But, hey, maybe Allen’s drafts did the current Bucs a favor, after all. If Allen hadn’t botched things at wide receiver the way he did, Mark Dominik never would have had to draft Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter.
David in Shanghai writes: Having watched all of the Bucs’ games, it's clear to me that Caddy is not the problem. The offensive line is just not getting it done. No one other than Barry Sanders could find a hole. It also seems he's had 4 or 5 big runs called back due to penalties away from the ball (bad luck).Part of it may be the play calling or formations. As a casual observer it seems obvious to me by the way they set up whether the Bucs are going to run or pass. Still, you could say that's true of other teams, such as the Saints late last week, but they are still able to run it. I really feel it's the line that is failing. Caddy is running hard, there's just nothing there. I admit I am pulling for him since he was drafted by the team and is an inspirational story, but I feel I'm right here. It has been disappointing reading other media (not you) suggesting he is the only problem. I would think the coaching staff could see the truth.
Pat Yasinskas: This is one of many letters about Cadillac Williams and Tampa Bay’s struggles in the running game and we’ll use this as a starting point for some other letters with some shoot-off questions. First, I’m sure the coaching staff does see what’s really happening and that’s part of the reason Williams still is the starter. That tells me they don’t think he’s the whole problem. I agree with that, but I do have to be fair and say Williams may be part of the problem. He’s had two major knee injuries and may not be what he once was. But I think he still could be an effective running back when things are working well around him. As far as the Bucs being obvious with their offense, I don't think many teams would put eight men in the box because quarterback Josh Freeman has brought the element of a deep passing game to this offense.
Damione in Tampa writes: Good question for you Pat. Is it time to start drafting offensive linemen? The o line is a supposed strength, but there’s always a reason (excuse) why they haven't looked the part. The firing of O coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, an injury to Jeff Faine, etc. But could it be the line just isn't as good as advertised? Derrick Ward’s recent success makes me wonder.
Pat Yasinskas: I think you might have hit on something when you suggested maybe this line isn’t as good as advertised. Really the only guy on this line that might be of Pro Bowl caliber is guard Davin Joseph. Faine’s out now with an injury. He’s been a decent center, but never a great one. The other guard spot has been an issue. Keydrick Vincent is just a guy. Had Arron Sears not had personal problems, he and Joseph could have formed a very nice guard tandem for the better part of a decade. Having to part ways with Sears hurt the Bucs more than a lot of people realize. As for the tackles, they are what they are. Left tackle Donald Penn got a boatload of money because the Bucs needed someone to protect Josh Freeman’s blind side. Penn’s adequate as a pass blocker, but he’s never going to be a Pro Bowler and neither will right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. So, is it coming to the time when the Bucs should draft some offensive line help? Yes, I think so.
Todd in Indianapolis writes: Why aren't we talking about Pete Mangurian losing his job? I just don't understand how the O-Line goes from a strength to a rebuilding project in the 2 years he has been the coach. The line has a lot of talent. They are all starters in this league.
Pat Yasinskas: Wow, you want to put all the blame on the offensive line coach? I think that’s a stretch. Mangurian is a guy with a good reputation. True, his line isn’t performing well, but I think there’s a lot more at play here. He’s working within offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s system and, as I said above, I think a lot of people might have been overrating this line when they called it a strength and the loss of Sears factored heavily into that. Joseph’s pretty good. But I think an offensive line need at least one blue-chip guy to be very good. I don’t think the Bucs have that guy.
Chris in Harrisburg, Pa., writes: With all these fines being handed out on viscous and illegal hits, how come Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins didn't receive one for that cheap shot at Josh Freeman's knees late in the game? I mean, he was clearly out of bounds and Jenkins takes a shot at his knees. Talk about intent right?
Pat Yasinskas: The week isn’t over yet and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we hear Friday that Jenkins gets fined. He was flagged on the play and it was pretty flagrant. It didn’t fall into the helmet-to-helmet category that drew so much attention early this week. The league acted quickly on those plays. But, usually, most fines become public on Fridays.
Pat Yasinskas: We’ll let readers hash this one out in the comments section below. But here’s my take. Sapp will make the Hall of Fame and Jenkins will not. The reason I say that is because Sapp had relatively high production throughout his career. Jenkins has had his career interrupted by injuries too many times to put together a body of work worthy of the Hall of Fame. The only way he’d have a shot is if he comes back from this injury, has a couple more big years and the Jets win a Super Bowl. I think there’s a chance Jenkins might just decide to retire after his injury. But, for a couple of years, at the height of the Carolina/Tampa Bay rivalry and before the injuries started, Jenkins actually was better than Sapp.
Mookie in Snelville, Ga., writes: Tell me you heard Mike Singletary say,"We will not try to stop Drew Brees, We will stop Drew Brees." ? Do you think that type of talk gets back to Drew, and do you think Singletary is dancing with the Devil making comments like that ?
Pat Yasinskas: I seem to recall hearing something about that. I know how things work in the NFL, and I feel pretty safe in saying that quote just might be taped up somewhere in the New Orleans locker room. Not sure it’s really a good idea to fire up Brees and the rest of his team.
Jessica in Bowie, Md., writes: Is there any chance that the Panthers could trade off for Vincent Jackson? I know it’s been only one game, but I have that vibe that another season will continue with no help for Steve Smith.
Pat Yasinskas: I get this question a lot and I understand where fans are coming from. But the short answer is I don’t see the Panthers doing anything like that. Owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney don’t seem to be looking for any quick fixes these days. Coach John Fox might feel a bit differently, but I don’t know that he’s the most important man in that building right now.
Nick in San Marcos writes: I’m tired of the QB bashing that has been going on for some time in Carolina, first Jake Delhomme now Matt Moore. I watched the Giants game and, yes, Moore made some mistakes but he was put into a situation no undrafted, barely named, starter should ever be in. Why in the world are the Panthers throwing 35 times a game and running 25 if that? That is just stupid, The Panthers were in this game, along with a bunch from last year and the years before ... When is everyone going to realize the REAL problem in Carolina... JEFF DAVIDSON. I feel like people overlook him.
Pat Yasinskas: I question some of the play calls Davidson makes. But before Davidson, a lot of people questioned Dan Henning. I really don’t see much difference between the two. The common thread there is Fox is the head coach, and the offensive coordinator is going to call the game the way the head coach wants.
Andy in Atlanta writes: I can't help but wonder about a young cornerstone player who is no longer with the Bucs -- Arron Sears. 1) Will the complete story of Sears' mysterious departure after the '08 season ever by revealed? 2) What is he doing now? 3) Is there a chance he'll ever return to the NFL?
Pat Yasinskas: The only way the Sears story can come out (legally and ethically) is if he decides to tell his story about what the team would only refer to as a “personal situation’’. I know Sears and the Bucs tried to work together, but the Bucs finally gave up because they saw no chance of things ending well. I honestly don’t know what Sears is doing now. From what I know, the chances of him returning to the NFL are pretty slim.
Ryan in Charlotte writes: Question. What exactly are the blackout rules? Does every team absolutely have to sell out all home games to prevent a local television blackout? That's the impression I keep getting, and if so, seems kind of unreasonable I think.
Pat Yasinskas: In a nutshell, the home team has to sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff. If that doesn’t happen, the game cannot be aired live on local television, which means a 75-mile radius.
Rum in Avondale, La., writes: After reading your Falcons mailbag -- did you catch Inside The NFL (on Showtime) last night? The guys on the show were ripping Matty Ice and the Falcons for their pitiful performance against the Steelers. You might want to let the Falcon fans know about it so they'll see what others are saying about losing to a 3rd-string QB.
Pat Yasinskas: No, I didn’t happen to catch it, but I’m sure the Falcons got their share of criticism throughout the media. I’m also pretty sure Mike Smith and his staff weren’t going around the building this week saying, “You guys were great in Pittsburgh’’. I’m sure the Falcons took a lot of heat from within this week, and it will be interesting to see if they can bounce back with a strong performance against Arizona.
Amit in Atlanta writes: When will Jerious Norwood get the carries he deserves? He seems to be healthy this year and the few touches he got against the Steelers were more positive than the touches Michael Turner got. Is there any chance Norwood will get at least 10 carries a game that he deserves?
Pat Yasinskas: Norwood is healthy at the moment. But the problem is he’s never been able to stay healthy for very long. I’d like to see him get at least a few more carries, too. But I don’t think the Falcons are ready to give up on Michael Turner and suddenly make Norwood a feature back.
Pat Yasinskas: Popular question early into my plunge into the mailbag and thank you for being more diplomatic than most. In return, I’ll try to be diplomatic. But, let’s think about it a bit and let me just ask you to use logistics and common sense when asking questions like that. The Panthers had a minicamp this past weekend. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have their minicamps scheduled for other times. There was nothing going on with the Falcons or Saints this past weekend – except for the lawsuit filed against the Saints by their former security director and we touched on that and let our news side handle it. My assignment was to go to Carolina and cover the minicamp and that’s what I did. Yes, Tampa Bay had a minicamp, too, but it was only a rookie minicamp. Carolina’s was a full minicamp with just about everyone there. I spent the draft with the Bucs and wrote a ton about them. My bosses felt it would be redundant for me to spend the weekend writing the same stories about the same Tampa Bay rookies we just wrote about. We’ll get to the Falcons and Saints when they’ve got something going on. And I’ll get back out to One Buc Place for some of the June workouts.
JP in Inverness, Fla., writes: Since the Bucs have gone from zero to hero at DT and certainly improved the receiving corps I have been wondering, I know conventional wisdom would be to at least have the WRs sit for a while, but with the Bucs schedule being so weak at the beginning of the year, I think sitting them until the second half might actually hurt them. Do you think we will see four rookie starters day one?
Pat Yasinskas: Very real possibility. I think defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price are instant starters. Same for receiver Arrelious Benn. Receiver Mike Williams also has a chance to start if he has a good preseason. My guess is both receivers start. It’s not like the Bucs have a lot of other attractive options.
Raymond in Brandon, Fla., writes: I enjoyed your coverage up to now but your latest article about the Mock Draft. I will never pay to be an insider and look at McShay's or Kiper's content -- ever. It's ridiculous. You tell it like it is and I am all for that with good intel. I'm glad you have the NFC south beat.
Pat Yasinskas: I appreciate that. But we’ve got a big team here at ESPN.com and it’s my job to sometimes point out some of our other fine content because I can't get to everything.
Greg in Tampa writes: Now that Arron Sears has been released, can you comment on what his "condition" was that caused him to miss 2009?
Pat Yasinskas: Journalistically, legally and ethically, all I can say is what the Bucs have said for a long time. Sears had a “personal issue.’’ Now, you can read between the lines and read some of the speculation that’s been out there and figure this out. It’s nothing sinister. The guy had a personal issue and he was trying to take care of it. He was coming along and he had a setback that prompted the Bucs to release him. He again is trying to get that issue under control. Sears is a talented football player and other teams are monitoring his progress. But he’s got to take care of things before he plays football again and that’s likely to be a long process.
Patterson in Atlanta writes: Do you think the Falcons draft class is enough to win the NFC South, if so what are the chances?
Pat Yasinskas: I thought Atlanta had a very solid draft. Wasn’t spectacular, but the Falcons didn’t need to do anything dramatic. Throw in the fact that last year’s top two picks will be coming back from injuries that kept them out for almost all of their rookie seasons and the Falcons are sitting nicely. They were 9-7 a year ago and that was with a bunch of injuries. With everybody healthy and a good core in place, I see them as the most logical challenger to the Saints in the NFC South.
Guard Arron Sears, who missed all of last season due to what the team has repeatedly referred to as a private matter, has been working out at One Buccaneer Place. That’s a positive sign because Sears is working out on his own, long before the rest of the team begins offseason conditioning. Dominik said the goal is for Sears to be in football shape for mandatory workouts in May and June and have him at 100 percent for the start of training camp.
With the Bucs already holding 10 picks in this year’s draft, they’re going to have a lot of rookies on the roster. With that in mind, Dominik said coach Raheem Morris has decided to push all organized team activities until after the draft. That would allow the rookies more time to get comfortable.
Linebacker Geno Hayes recently had shoulder surgery. Dominik said Sears is expected to be fully healthy in time for a mandatory minicamp in June.
Dominik said the Bucs will not use the franchise or transition tags this year. Wide receiver Antonio Bryant played under the franchise tag last season, but his production was disappointing. The Bucs may make an offer to Bryant before the start of free agency, but it’s not likely to keep him from testing the market.
First, and this one’s no surprise, the Bucs have placed guard Arron Sears on the reserve/non-football list. Sears had been away from the team for months while dealing with what the team has called a "private matter." He re-joined the team two weeks ago, but general manager Mark Dominik said it would take more than the two-week window where the Bucs could use a roster exemption to get Sears into football shape. The goal is to get Sears back on the field next year.
Also, the Bucs have placed punter Dirk Johnson and cornerback Torrie Cox on the injured-reserve list. Turns out Johnson tore a hamstring on that ugly fake punt in Atlanta on Sunday.
General manager Mark Dominik just addressed the Tampa Bay media about Sears’ situation and said the team will proceed very slowly with the offensive guard who has been away from the Bucs since April while dealing with what the team has repeatedly referred to as a private matter.
Domink didn’t shed any more light on what that matter is Wednesday.
“I’ll let Arron talk more about that when’s comfortable talking about it,’’ Dominik said.
Dominik said Sears won’t address the media until next week at the earliest. Although he’s back with the team, he will not practice this week. He’ll work on his strength and conditioning. Domink described Sears’ conditioning as “not great."
The Bucs will have a two-week roster exemption for Sears. At the end of that two-week window, the Bucs will have the option of placing him on the 53-man roster or putting him on a reserve list for the rest of the season.
What are the chances of Sears playing this year?
“In my mind, it would be wishful thinking,’’ Dominik said.
But Dominik said he remains optimistic and hopeful that Sears will return to full playing status at some point. The likely goal is to let Sears focus on getting in shape and get him ready for next season.
Sears had not been with the Bucs since the end of the last season as he dealt with what the team has called a private matter. Sears will have two weeks to practice before he counts against the 53-man roster. Sears can practice and attend team functions during those two weeks.
Sears had been a starting guard in 2007 and ’08. The Bucs have been using second-year pro Jeremy Zuttah in his place this season.
The Bucs just announced they have claimed guard Shawn Murphy off waivers from the Miami Dolphins.
Not much to read into here. The Bucs simply are taking a shot on a guy who was a fourth-round draft pick by Miami last year. They’re sticking with Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah as their starters and they’ve got an experienced interior lineman backing them up in Sean Mahan.
Basically, this means two things: The Bucs aren’t counting on Arron Sears, who’s been away from the team for months while dealing with a private matter, returning. It also means Murphy gets a free trip to London this weekend.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are next in our series of team-by-team mailbags.
Tek in Tampa writes: What should I feel as a true and faithful Buc fan right now? Upset or excited?
Pat Yasinskas: Can’t really say the Bucs have shown anything to get excited about. But I think you’re wrong if you get too upset, like a lot of fans are right now. Let’s face it: We all knew this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Bucs. That decision was made at the highest level (I’m talking about the Glazer family). Yes, the early results haven’t been pretty and there have been lots of questionable decisions. But you don’t just panic and fire a coach and scrap a rebuilding project after only four games. There might be more growing pains ahead. But keep an eye out for progress as the season goes on and that’s where you might find some reasons to be excited. If there’s not much progress and the Bucs go 0-16 or 1-15, then you consider finding a new coach. But, right now, that makes no sense.
R.J. in Land O’ Lakes writes: Hey Pat, any word yet about Aqib Talib possibly getting suspended? He's had a quite season so I'm thinking the NFL has forgotten about him but now that he had those 3 interceptions last week the league might all of sudden remember. Any inside information?
Pat Yasinskas: I talked with someone in Tampa Bay’s administration about that this week and there still remains a possibility Talib could be suspended. In fact, I think that’s a good possibility. It might not happen right away, though, because the NFL is still waiting for the legal process to play out on his offseason incident.
Ricky in Naples writes: Hey Pat, is Arron Sears still technically part of the Bucs? I've heard no news on him at all.
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, Sears remains property of the Bucs. He’s on the inactive list and doesn’t count against the roster. He has not returned to the team and there are no indications that’s close to happening. Sears is dealing with what the team calls a “private matter’’ and we’re not going to get into speculating on the details of that. If Sears or the team discusses the matter, then we’ll report it. For now, it’s wait and see. If Sears rejoins the team, he’ll have to notify the league of his intent and he can be added to the roster. The Bucs would like for that to happen, but their first priority is that Sears deals with this matter in a productive way.
Chris in Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Now I know this may be too early to ask, but what happens if Josh Johnson, over the course of the season, proves that he can be a starting QB, heck even a franchise QB for the Bucs. I mean, he looked solid against Washington for his first start, but I think the coaching staff limited the play calls for shorter yardage throws. In that case, what would the Tampa Bay do with Josh Freeman? Reports are the coaching staff isn't pleased with his worth ethic and study habits over the first couple weeks of the season, which led them to start Josh Johnson instead. Is this all true?
Pat Yasinskas: First off, that would be a nice problem to have. If Johnson plays well, he’ll start the rest of the season and the Bucs would use the offseason to figure out what that means for Freeman. But I think we’re getting way ahead of the game. My guess is Johnson will start the next few games and Freeman will take over at some point during the second half of the season. I haven’t heard any knocks on his study habits or work ethic. The plan all along has been to let Freeman sit for at least the first half of the season because the Bucs don’t want to ruin him by playing him before he’s ready.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Time for a quick trip through the morning headlines around the NFC South.
Atlanta rookie safety William Moore, whose development was slowed by injury, will be active Sunday for the first time this season, coach Mike Smith said.
The good news is Carolina defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu is taking up more space than ever. He’s toting 365 pounds. The bad news is he’s still on crutches and out for the season. Kemoeatu said he’s about three weeks away from ditching the crutches. After that, he’ll begin working out and getting ready for next season.
There’s still nothing new on Tampa Bay guard Arron Sears, who remains apart from the Bucs while dealing with what the team calls a private matter.
The Saints rank second in the league in local television ratings through four games. They trail only Pittsburgh.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in our continuing series of team-by-team mailbags:
Tony in Spring Hill, Fla., writes: I'm actually one of a few Bucs fans who was happy with the Glazers firing Gruden and hiring Morris, who seems like he has got something planned beyond the next 14 games. My question is, beyond some sort of miracle this season, what do Bucs fans look forward to in order to get more people in the seats? Do you see Freeman coming in before the bye week if Leftwich becomes interception prone?
Pat Yasinskas: Tony, I’m glad you can see the bigger picture. A lot of my neighbors and friends here in Tampa are freaking out about the Bucs starting 0-2. Did you really expect anything different? I mean, it’s been pretty clear since Raheem Morris was hired and started making moves that this was going to be a rebuilding season. It’s a lot like when Tony Dungy came here in 1996. Dungy, very slowly, changed things around and got his system to work. Morris may or may not have the same success, but you need to look beyond the short term at this situation. This season will be a success if the Bucs show progress later in the year, especially if Josh Freeman gets on the field and plays well. That will generate plenty of excitement. My guess is you’ll see Freeman starting after the Bucs return from their trip to London.
Carlos in Panama City writes: Pat, any news on the Arron Sears front, or do you still have to keep quiet on that one? Simply asking because Sears would allow Zuttah to move to center; Both would be a much better upgrade of the other (Sears is better than Zuttah and Zuttah is better than Mahan).
Pat Yasinskas: All I can say on that one is that Sears is dealing with a personal issue and we won’t say anything more about it unless Sears or the team wants to go into more detail. It’s a sensitive situation and I wish Sears all the best. But I don’t think you’ll see him returning to the Bucs anytime soon and they’re not counting on it. They’re going to stick with Sean Mahan as their starting center until Jeff Faine gets back.
Nelson in Tampa writes: I'm not hitting the panic button on my Bucs just yet, I'll give Raheem some time. But I'm looking to next year if we do have an awful season. What do you think are chances are at Tebow if that happens?
Pat Yasinskas: Ah, the Tim Tebow question. Knew that one would be coming before long. My short answer is he won’t land in Tampa Bay because the Bucs just invested a first-round draft pick in a quarterback with Freeman and they’ve made it very clear he’s the future of the franchise. If the Bucs have an early pick in the draft, I’d be stunned if they used it on Tebow, even if every Gators fan from Brooksville to Apopka was waving orange and blue flags on Dale Mabry Highway. That would be steering away from whatever plan Morris and general manager Mark Dominik have. That said, I know the talk last year was that Tebow couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL and would have to move to tight end. I disagree with that. The more I see of Tebow, the more I believe he’ll be able to do whatever it takes to be an NFL quarterback. But it won’t be in Tampa.
JR in Tampa writes: I was surprised to see that on your piece about Rising and Falling stars in the south, you only pointed out bad in Tampa. I mean, yes, they are looking very bad and as predicted. But on the Rising section, I can't believe you wouldn't give any praise to the bright spots here. I mean Cadillac has done this miracle from having rubber band ligaments and the overall offense being ranked in the top five in the NFL.
Pat Yasinskas: Your point is taken. But our weekly Stock Watch is limited to three players in each category and I’m usually going to put players from winning teams into the rising category. I think I might have put Cadillac Williams in the rising category in Week 1. Either way, let’s again give Cadillac his props for coming back from a second major knee injury. Also, I do recognize Tampa Bay’s offense is playing very well. That’s rare for this territory. But the Bucs have to do something about that defense before we can really raise their stock.
|J. Meric/Getty Images|
|One of the largest questions Tampa Bay needs to answer is who will be their starting QB from among Luke McCown (12), Byron Leftwich (7) and Josh Freeman (5).|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Take a look at any preseason magazine or watch any television show. The verdict is unanimous.
Everybody's got the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked to finish fourth in the NFC South. If you want to know where they're projected in the whole league, look somewhere between No. 25 and No. 32.
When you've got a new coach, a new general manager, uncertainty at quarterback and part ways with some of the biggest names in franchise history, you're going to be anointed as one of the NFL's worst teams.
"That's not a bad thing," middle linebacker Barrett Ruud said with a laugh. "That's the mindset we have going into this year. There may be no expectations for us from the outside. But, as a group, we think we can be pretty good.''
To understand what Tampa Bay has, you have to understand what the Bucs don't have. They don't have coach Jon Gruden, linebacker Derrick Brooks, receiver Joey Galloway, running back Warrick Dunn and quarterback Jeff Garcia back from the only NFC South team that's had a winning record each of the last two years.
That's been enough to drop expectations from prognosticators and fans to the lowest level since Sam Wyche and company were piling up double-digit losses in the mid 1990s. But maybe -- just maybe -- it doesn't have to be this way.
Maybe the Bucs aren't as bad as everyone thinks. They do have some positives.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|Barrett Ruud (right) is one of the Bucs' building blocks on defense.|
"We've got a nice core group of players,'' Ruud said. "We've got a really good offensive line. We've got four or five really good running backs. We've got two quarterbacks that are really hungry and they're battling to be the starter. And we've got a defense that kind of had our pride taken away at the end of last year and we're trying to get back to where a Tampa Bay defense is supposed to be.''
Ruud has some valid points. Forget the quarterback situation for a second. The rest of the offense looks pretty good. The offensive line is solid, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham are quality running backs and receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton and tight end Kellen Winslow might be able to make whoever is the quarterback look good.
But, more than anything, the Bucs have new coach Raheem Morris. Yes, he's the youngest coach in the league and that's one reason for the low expectations outside the organization. But Morris is the reason the expectations are high within the organization.
"We were 9-3 last year and had a rocky ending because the atmosphere wasn't right,'' Clayton said." But the team we've put together this year is a whole lot better than last year. You know the energy is going to be in the right place because of the atmosphere. Raheem maximizes you. Raheem does a good job of maximizing everybody's effort and we didn't have that last year.''
Who will be the quarterback? Even the Bucs don't know the short-term answer to this one yet. They'll pick a starter after Saturday night's preseason game in Jacksonville. It will be either Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich; they have been basically even through camp and one preseason game.
The Bucs will go with the quarterback they think can be more efficient because they believe the rest of their offense is solid. But it's no secret that the quarterback who opens the season is merely a stopgap. It's blatantly clear that Josh Freeman is the quarterback of the future.
Since drafting Freeman, Morris has gushed about the quarterback he coached
at Kansas State. The selection went against the wishes of many fans, who believed the Bucs should have focused on a defensive player. But that's history now because Morris and general manager Mark Dominik are committed to building this team around Freeman.
They want to bring Freeman along slowly and that's why they'll open the season with one of the veterans. But Freeman isn't going to sit forever. If McCown and/or Leftwich struggle, the same fans who booed Freeman's selection will be calling for him to start.
What's the defense going to look like without Brooks? It's going to be completely different and that's not just because the best player in franchise history is gone. Coordinator Monte Kiffin, the man who made the "Tampa Two'' scheme famous also is gone. The Bucs have a new coordinator in Jim Bates and a whole new defense.
There will be more bump coverage, but the emphasis still will be on speed. This isn't a very big defense. Former safety Jermaine Phillips has moved into Brooks' old spot on the weak side. Ruud's the only proven star in his prime and the veteran Barber will try to ease the transition.
What will the offense look like without Gruden? Again, things will be totally different. Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski brings in an offense that's focused on ball control and the Bucs have the parts in place to be a run-first team. Led by center Jeff Faine and guard Davin Joseph, the offensive line might be the team's biggest strength.
One of the first moves Morris and Dominik made was to bring in Ward. He's going to be used in tandem with Earnest Graham. Jagodzinski's first goal is to establish the running game, but he's also got big plans for the passing game.
Gruden relied mostly on a horizontal passing game, but those days are gone. Although the Bucs may not have a true speed receiver, they'll use play action to try to create opportunities for Bryant, Winslow and Clayton down the field.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|The Bucs took a risk in trading for Kellen Winslow and signing him to a new, long-term contract.|
Without much depth at wide receiver, camp was a golden opportunity for Dexter Jackson to redeem himself after a horrible rookie season. Jackson's been given a lot of chances, but hasn't been able to take advantage of him. A second-round pick from a year ago, there's a very real chance Jackson won't even make the roster. ...The move of Phillips to weakside linebacker is working out nicely and it comes with another component. Part of the reason the Bucs decided to move Phillips was because they wanted to get Sabby Piscitelli into the starting lineup at strong safety. He's embraced that chance and showed he can make big plays in the preseason opener.
The Bucs have known for months that they might have to go without starting guard Arron Sears, who hasn't reported to camp because of a "private matter." Sears was a very solid player the past two years, but there shouldn't be much drop off. The Bucs already were high on Jeremy Zuttah, who showed some promise as a rookie last year. He's had the entire offseason to work with the first unit. The Bucs would welcome Sears back, but they're not counting on that happening any time soon.
The Bucs knew what they were getting into when they traded for Winslow and turned around and gave him a huge contract. The tight end comes with enormous talent and baggage. Winslow had injury problems and often was the center of controversy in Cleveland. Morris is trying to light a fire under Winslow and already has criticized him. But that's all part of a plan to try to get the most out of Winslow's talents.
The Bucs also took a gamble by drafting wide receiver Sammie Stroughter in the seventh round. Stroughter has had some personal problems in the past. But all indications are he's put those behind him. Stroughter has been one of the stars in camp. At the moment, he's probably the leading candidate to be the No. 3 receiver. He's shown the ability to go across the middle and he also has return skills.
The Bucs had pictured Angelo Crowell as their starting strongside linebacker when they signed him as a free agent. But injuries have held Crowell back and Quincy Black appears to have locked up the starting job. Backup Adam Hayward also has had a strong preseason and can do a lot on special teams. Crowell no longer is a lock to make the roster. ... Defensive tackle was a big concern in the offseason because Chris Hovan is aging and Ryan Sims never has been dominant against the run. The Bucs will use those two as the starters, but they feel a lot better about this position as they prepare to break training camp. Third-round pick Roy Miller has had a strong preseason. So has Dre Moore, who did little as a rookie last year. Moore has kept himself in shape after struggling with weight issues last year. The Bucs plan to use a four-man rotation and play Miller and Moore a lot. Miller could emerge as a starter before long. ... Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson has been a backup throughout his career. But the new coaching staff penciled him in as a
starter from the very beginning and he hasn't disappointed. The coaches believe Wilkerson can play the run and rush the passer. They'll also rotate Stylez White into the lineup, but Wilkerson will get the majority of the snaps.