NFC South: B.J. Askew

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

The Bucs announced this afternoon that fullback B.J. Askew has been placed on the injured-reserve list.

That means Earnest Graham, who had been a backup running back behind Cadillac Williams, will slide over and take Askew’s role as the starting fullback. The Bucs also signed cornerback Marcus McCauley and released cornerback Derrick Roberson. They later re-signed Roberson to the practice squad. Graham had shared backup running back duties with Derrick Ward, but it’s likely Ward will now get almost all the work as Williams’ backup.

Askew suffered neck injuries in a car accident last week. Speaking of car wrecks, the Bucs play the Patriots in London on Sunday.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Time for a final check on the injuries that matter most around the NFC South.

Good news for the Saints on the injury front. Key players Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, Kendrick Clancy, Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod are all listed as probable for Sunday.

Tampa Bay’s Earnest Graham will be back in the starting lineup, but not as a running back. He’ll start at fullback because B.J. Askew has been ruled out for Sunday after being injured in a car wreck earlier this week.

Carolina’s Steve Smith (knee) is listed as probable for Sunday. I’m pretty sure you’ll see plenty of Smith against a struggling Tampa Bay secondary.

Still waiting for the Falcons to release their injury report with an update on fullback Ovie Mughelli. As soon as I get word, I’ll let you know.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in our series of team-by-team mailbags. Side note to Atlanta fans: The Falcons will be next and thanks for answering my plea to freshen up your questions in light of the Roddy White contract. You've given me more than enough new questions to work with, but you're welcome to keep sending.

Anyway, let's move on and talk about the Bucs.

Chris in Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Pat, how is Josh Freeman coming along? Is there any chance of seeing him starting on opening day? If not, who do you see opening up as the starter?

Pat Yasinskas: Freeman is coming along just about the way the Bucs expected. He's playing like a rookie, which means he's doing some things extremely well, but he's also making some mistakes. The only way he'll win the job for opening day is if he suddenly starts lighting it up in practices and preseason games, but the Bucs are content to go slowly with Freeman. That's been the plan all along. Right now, it's truly a battle between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich for the starting job. Both have done some good things in camp, but there's not a clear-cut winner yet. The plan is to start McCown in the first preseason game and Leftwich in the second. Either one of those guys can win the job with a strong showing in the preseason games.


Ed in Cape Coral, Fla., writes: Pat - I like the Bucs new offense, I don't care who is under center, I think it will be pretty good and for once I am excited to see them on the field. Also for once I am afraid to see what will be of their defense. Bates has a great history, but what do you see of their starters, can they do what the coaches think they can?

Pat Yasinskas: I'm with you on the offense, Ed. Tampa Bay has a very good offensive line. I also like their running backs. Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham (and maybe even Cadillac Williams) can form a nice combination at tailback and B.J. Askew is a solid fullback. With all that, the Bucs should be able to run the ball and that's going to take pressure off whoever ends up at quarterback. There also are some weapons in the passing game with Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow. This is going to give whoever plays quarterback a decent chance to succeed. As far as the defense, well, it's a work in progress. Aside from linebacker Barrett Ruud, the Bucs don't have another true starter on defense. They've got some nice parts in place and Jim Bates is a good coach. But I think there will be some growing pains for the defense early on.


Mobycack in Greeley, Colo., writes: Say Plaxico Burress is allowed to play this season, and isn't in prison, what are the chances that the Bucs would bring him in?

Pat Yasinskas: Let's not rule that one out. The Bucs have been sniffing around wide receivers all offseason and they've been keeping an eye on the Burress situation. They have the salary-cap money to do something if they want. Aside from Bryant, they don't have much in the receiving corps and Burress could solve that. Michael Clayton appears ticketed to be the No. 2 receiver right now, but there's still time for that to change.


Freeman in Pittsburgh, Pa., writes: Tampa Bay is flying under the radar. The defense may have a new scheme and we may have purged a little (lol), but with the young talent that we already had along with the acquired talent, we will surprise a lot of teams. Along with the added weapons to the offense, I can see the Bucs going well into the playoffs. What do you think?

Pat Yasinskas: Living in Tampa, I hear from a lot of people that they fear the Bucs are going to be really bad. I don't buy into that at all. When I hear that stuff, I usually point to the Atlanta Falcons of last year. There were a lot of people who had them No. 32 in the league or said they'd win only a few games at this exact time last year. I was one of those people. But the Falcons came out, won 11 games and made the playoffs. In some areas, the Bucs are better off than the Falcons of a year ago. I'm not saying the Bucs will make the playoffs, but I will say it's possible.


Chris in Virginia writes: Hey Pat, everyone is talking about McCown, Leftwich, and Freeman but I haven't forgotten about the speedy little 5th round pick from last year. How does Morris feel about the wildcat and is there any chance of him implementing it in the bucs offense?

Pat Yasinskas: I assume you're talking about quarterback Josh Johnson. Well, don't get too fired up about that one. Fact is, he's a long shot to even make the team right now. The Bucs almost certainly will carry only three quarterbacks. McCown, Leftwich and Freeman almost certainly will be those three. Johnson could end up on the practice squad or somewhere else. I think coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will stick with the basics on offense. Installing a new system with a new quarterback is enough of a challenge. Part of the reason Jon Gruden's not in Tampa Bay is because his offense was too complicated. The Bucs are going with an anti-Gruden system in a lot of ways and they want to keep things simple.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Very quietly, the Buccaneers waived fullback Byron Storer on Friday.

The Bucs have not announced the move to the media, but they reported the transaction to the NFL office Friday afternoon. Storer was waived with an injury settlement.

The move comes a few days after coach Raheem Morris said Storer had suffered a major setback in his recovery from last season's knee injury. This leaves the Bucs short on depth at fullback, where B.J. Askew is the starter, but there's not much after him.

Tailback Earnest Graham was forced into some fullback duty last season when both Askew and Storer were injured. The Bucs brought back veteran Jameel Cook after those injuries and he remains with the team. But the Bucs likely will look to bring in someone to compete with Cook for the backup role.

Brooks' career by the numbers

February, 26, 2009
2/26/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- The crew over at ESPN Stats & Information assembled a nice packet on Derrick Brooks' time with the Buccaneers.

 Brooks

To start with, Brooks ranks first in team history in games (224), starts (221), Pro Bowl selections (11) and first-team All-Pro selections (five). Only four other defensive players in history played at least as many games for one franchise as Brooks did for the Bucs: Darrell Green (Redskins), Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Cowboys), Jim Marshall (Vikings) and Clay Matthews (Browns).

Brooks, the 2002 Associate Press Defensive Player of the Year, also had seven career defensive touchdowns.

With Brooks' departure from the Bucs, cornerback Ronde Barber remains as the only starter from the Super Bowl XXXVII championship team. Fullback Jameel Cook, who left and returned to the Bucs, and safety Jermaine Phillips, who appeared in that game as a special teams player, are the only other players still (sort of) with the Bucs.

Phillips can become a free agent Friday, and Cook's spot on the roster in 2009 is far from a lock with two fullbacks (B.J. Askew and Byron Storer) expected back from injuries.

Looking ahead at possible free agents

November, 20, 2008
11/20/08
3:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

We started talking about potential 2009 free agents in the previous post on the Carolina Panthers and that's prompted several of you to ask for lists of possible free agents for all the NFC South teams.

My friends at kffl.com do a nice job of keeping their list up to date and, with their help, here's a list for each of the NFC South teams:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Jeff Garcia, quarterback Luke McCown, fullback B.J. Askew, tackle Anthony Davis, defensive end Kevin Carter, defensive tackle Ryan Sims, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, safety Jermaine Phillips and safety Will Allen are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Fullback Byron Storer is slated to be a restricted free agent.

New Orleans Saints: Running back Aaron Stecker, receivers Devery Henderson and Lance Moore, tight end Mark Campbell, tackle Jon Stincomb, defensive tackle Antwan Lake and linebacker Jonathan Vilma highlight the list of potential unrestricted free agents. Offensive lineman Jahri Evans and Zach Strief are potential restricted free agents. A couple of notes here: Expect the Saints to either extend Vilma's contract or place the franchise tag on him (there are implications that would impact the conditional draft picks the Saints are giving up for Vilma and Jeremy Shockey). Also, look for the Saints to try to extend Evans' contract.

Carolina Panthers: Defensive end Julius Peppers, cornerback Chris Gamble, offensive tackle Jordan Gross, offensive tackle Frank Omiyale and long snapper Jason Kyle highlight the list of potential unrestricted free agents. Tight end Jeff King and linebacker James Anderson can become restricted free agents. Subtle point here, but keep an eye on Kyle. I wouldn't be surprised if the Panthers quietly try to extend one of the best long snappers in the game. They believe in continuity and already have extended kicker John Kasay. If you've never heard of Kyle before, it's only because the guy almost never has had a bad snap.

Atlanta Falcons: Guard Harvey Dahl, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, cornerback Brent Grimes and safety Lawyer Milloy highlight the list of potential unrestricted free agents. Babineaux and Dahl probably are the top targets for extensions.

Opening the mail: Tampa Bay edition

November, 13, 2008
11/13/08
1:53
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Here's the Tampa Bay version of the mailbag. If you have more questions on the Bucs or about any other NFC South team, send them along.

Roger in parts unknown writes: My question is as a Bucs fan I have been very upset with the lack of playmakers on offense I know this probably a question asked frequently but how come Jon Gruden seems like he is so stubborn when it comes to getting offensive playmakers even when I watched the draft I just knew we were going to draft Desean Jackson but we passed on him and drafted Dexter Jackson who can't even keep his KR job and now look at Jackson he is quickly developing in to a major weapon for the Eagles I know Gruden says he believes in his receivers he has now but at some point you have to realize that alot of the time it just takes one playmaker to take you over the top if you are already a playoff caliber team.

Pat Yasinskas: Jon Gruden obviously wanted a playmaker and thought he was getting one in Dexter Jackson. That clearly isn't working out so far. Not sure if Gruden deserves all the blame, though. The scouting department has to take some blame on this one.


Ray in Norfolk, VA writes: Pat, Great blogs on the NFC south and I enjoy reading it everyday while at work. I only have one gripe...why aren't the Tampa Bay Bucs getting any love? They are having a great season (for them; as they are highly exceeding my expectations as a fan) and even mounted a huge comeback of a 21 pt. deficeit before the by week...still no love from you guys...I can't wait for the Bucs/Panthers re-match so then ESPN can claim how good the Bucs are and they are going to win the NFC South. Keep up the good work and I'll be on the look out for those Bucs blogs!

Pat Yasinskas: I do my best to spread it around. I was out at Tampa Bay's practice Wednesday and had several items from there. I'll have a lengthy column on receiver Antonio Bryant on Friday. I got to sit down with him yesterday and talk about how he has emerged as the No. 1 receiver after being out of the league last year. If your Bucs keep winning, I think Bryant's got a shot at the Pro Bowl. I'll also be covering the game between Minnesota and Tampa Bay on Sunday.


Brad in Denver writes: Who do you like to win the NFC south? I personally think the Bucs are the best team, with impressive wins over Atlanta and Carolina, they should be the clear-cut favorites.

Pat Yasinskas: The Bucs, Panthers and Falcons all have a chance to win the division and get to the playoffs. I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite because they're all good. But I think the Dec. 8 game between Tampa Bay and Carolina might decide an awful lot in this division.


Noah in Lakeland, FL writes: I think the NFC East is slightly better than the South. Simply because its best team (Giants) are better than the South's best team (Panthers/Bucs) and its worst team (Eagles) is better than the South's worst team (Saints). Plus the South gets to play against the NFL's weakest division, the AFC West.

Pat Yasinskas: I'm with you on that. All very valid points.


Mike in Edmonton Alberta Canada writes: Pat, how do you like the Buccaneers chances of winning this weekend against the Vikings in Tampa after the Vikings big win against the Packers last weekend? What are the keys to victory for the Bucs?

Pat Yasinskas: The Bucs have a chance against anybody because their defense is good enough to keep them in any game. That defense will be one of the keys to this game because, obviously, Adrian Peterson presents a huge challenge. The Bucs have to contain him and I'm sure Monte Kiffin will use defensive backs in the box to help out. On the flip side, I think it's real important for the Bucs to have some effectiveness in the running game against a very good front four. If fullback B.J. Askew is able to make his return from injury, that could help the running game a lot.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- This might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but it could be the best injury update the Bucs have had in a long time.

Fullback B.J. Askew, who hasn't played since Week Three, fully participated in practice Wednesday. That's a pretty strong sign Askew might be ready to return Sunday against Minnesota. Askew had been sidelined with a hamstring injury and the Bucs struggled to find consistency in the running game without him.

Backup Byron Storer had moved into Askew's starting role, but went out for the season with a knee injury in the sixth game. The Bucs have been using Jameel Cook as their fullback since then.

But getting Askew back would upgrade the blocking and likely be a big boost for Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams.

Audibles: NFC South Week 9 previews

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
4:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders, 4:15 p.m. ET

In a season that's been all about the future, the Falcons will visit their past.

They'll face DeAngelo Hall, the cornerback they once drafted in the first round. Hall's spotty play so far in Oakland could be another boost for Atlanta rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

Hall's problems in Atlanta got overshadowed by Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino. The Falcons already have moved beyond their former quarterback and coach. Moving beyond Hall -- and perhaps getting receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins behind him in coverage a few times -- could be another major step in Atlanta's dramatic turnaround.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. ET

Fullbacks don't seem like a big deal, until you don't have one.

That's the situation the Bucs have found themselves in with starter B.J. Askew out with an injury and not looking like he's ready to come back any time soon. That's part of the reason the Bucs scored just nine points in Dallas in Week 8 and why they haven't been able to run the ball consistently.

They're using Jameel Cook, whom they signed off the street a couple weeks ago, as their lead blocker. Cook was with the Bucs in 2005, but the offense (which had Chris Simms at quarterback at that point) is dramatically different.

Against a struggling defense like the Chiefs, this is a perfect opportunity for Cook to show the coaches he can handle the playbook. If the Bucs truly are going to contend for the NFC South title, they need more out of Cook and they need a lot more than nine points a game.

Evening roundup

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
6:58
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Here's a look at the day's headlines around the NFC South.

SAINTS

Receiver Marques Colston (thumb) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (sports hernia) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. Here's the full rundown on the injury situation. Coach Sean Payton told the Carolina media in a conference call that Shockey and Colston were close to being able to play last week, but Sunday's game in Charlotte has been the target for both players.

PANTHERS

Receiver D.J. Hackett was the only player who didn't practice -- at least to some degree -- Wednesday. Offensive linemen Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil, who missed Sunday's loss at Tampa Bay, were among those practicing on a limited basis.

FALCONS

NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger compared rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to Peyton Manning, in terms of poise and confidence. I agree with Baldinger, in that regard, but think it's a little too early to begin comparing Ryan overall to one of the all-time greats after only six games. Then again, Ryan and the Falcons are 4-2. Manning and the Colts went 3-13 in his rookie season (1998).

BUCCANEERS

Receiver Joey Galloway at least got some limited practice in. Fullback B.J. Askew again was held out of practice and with Byron Storer out for the season, the Bucs signed fullback Jameel Cook. He's been with the Bucs previously and knows the system, so it wouldn't be a stretch to look for him to start Sunday against Seattle. That would allow the Bucs to move Earnest Graham, who filled in last week, to move back to tailback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Earnest Graham had a stellar performance Sunday as he switched over to fullback. But it doesn't sound like the Buccaneers have any plans to make his move from tailback permanent.

"You know what?" coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "Earnest is a heck of a tailback. We possibly could be looking for a fullback. Obviously moving a tight end into that position has always been a part of our contingency plan."

The Bucs are looking for a fullback with Byron Storer out for the season and B.J. Askew banged up. They'll likely sign a fullback in the next day or two. There could be some more movement in the Tampa Bay backfield.

Cadillac Williams is eligible to be activated from the physically unable to perform list. The Bucs have a three-week window in which they could activate Williams, who is recovering from a knee injury, and allow him to begin practicing. But it doesn't sound like the Bucs are ready to open that window just yet.

"We're going to keep looking at him," Gruden said. "We've said it time and time again: He's getting better and better and better. We're going to continue to work with him privately without activating him onto the 53-man roster immediately. But we really like what we've seen. It's been over a year now since he's had the injury. All of his hard work is going to pay off but it won't be this week that he's activated, but it could be coming soon."

There also is the possibility the Bucs could put Williams on the injured reserve list and delay his comeback until 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Apparently, it is the season to pay tribute to fullbacks in Tampa Bay.

At next week's game with Seattle, the Bucs will hold a ceremony for recently-retired fullback Mike Alstott, perhaps the most popular player in franchise history. After Sunday's victory against Carolina, they rolled out the red (and pewter) carpet for a fullback who didn't even begin the day as a fullback.

"I just want everybody to know that what Earnest Graham did today, although he didn't show up on the stat sheet, makes coaching worthwhile,'' coach Jon Gruden said after the Bucs defeated the Carolina Panthers 27-3. "I want to thank him for that.''

On a day when benched quarterback Jeff Garcia came back as the starter (he's already got the nod for next week), Gruden spent most of his postgame news conference raving about Graham.

 
 Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
 Bucs running back Earnest Graham only rushed for 11 yards, but he set the table for teammate Warrick Dunn's big day in a win over the Carolina Panthers.

"I'd just like to tell our fans what he did today is what this game is all about,'' Gruden said.

Gruden's right. If Tampa Bay fans didn't see what Graham did (and they may not have because the position is anonymous by its nature), they should at least know about it.

Graham was the reason Warrick Dunn rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries. That was 115 yards Graham could have had.

"I feel proud to block for Warrick,'' Graham said.

Try getting any other starting tailback around the league to say those words. You probably wouldn't have much luck. Graham has been Tampa Bay's starting tailback since the middle of last season and had established himself as the team's primary ball carrier.

But he voluntarily gave up carries for bruises when Byron Storer, Tampa Bay's only active fullback, went down with a knee injury early in the game. B.J. Askew, the usual starting fullback, was inactive because of an injury.

Gruden's initial reaction was to turn to the contingency plan the Bucs have in place every week in case they run short of fullbacks. He, and the rest of the offensive coaching staff, began getting tight end Alex Smith ready to go in at fullback.

That's when Graham approached Gruden on the sideline.

"I came to Gruden and said, 'If you need a fullback, I'm your fullback,' '' Graham said.

The Bucs instantly scratched the contingency plan and prevented further complications for their offense. If Smith had to play fullback, reserves Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore would have had to take on more duties at tight end. With Graham at fullback, all the Bucs had to do was plug in Dunn, a 10,000-yard career rusher.

Dunn, who returned to the Bucs as Graham's backup after six seasons with Atlanta, got 21 of his carries after the first quarter and had six carries for 45 yards in the fourth quarter.

"The guy sacrificed his day to get in there and block and he did a great job,'' Dunn said. "He was reading it the right way, putting hits on guys. I'm speechless a little bit because of what he sacrificed for his football team today. That's one of the most unselfish acts I've seen on a football team in a long time.''

Gruden certainly wasn't speechless after Graham helped the Bucs get to 4-2. The coach even rated the performance ahead of any by Alstott, who was known more as a runner and receiver than a blocker.

"Earnest Graham stepped up so unselfishly and played as good as we've had a fullback play since I've been here,'' Gruden said.

At 5-foot-9 and 225 pounds, Graham doesn't have the prototypical size of a fullback. But, despite his status as a starting tailback, he does have some experience at the position. Before injuries elevated him to a starting job last year, Graham had taken lots of practice reps at fullback (while also working as the third-string tailback and a regular on special teams) in his first three seasons with the Bucs.

On Sunday, Graham looked like a Pro Bowl fullback.

"He didn't just go into the hole today and just curl up,'' Gruden said. "He laid himself into the hole with as much authority as he runs the football with.''

Graham finished with five carries for 11 yards. Although he did score a 1-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, did he miss carrying the ball?

"No, I didn't miss it,'' Graham said. "I feel proud to be able to block for Warrick. It was the most fun I've had in a game, period. I had a blast.''

The arrangement probably was temporary. The Bucs will evaluate the condition of Askew and Storer on Monday. If either is expected to still be out, the Bucs probably will go out and sign a fullback.

But they'll always know they can turn to their starting tailback.

"If I've got to do it, I'll do it,'' Graham said.

Bucs running out of fullbacks

October, 12, 2008
10/12/08
1:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Bucs are up 14-0, but they might have to protect that lead without a fullback.

Byron Storer just came off the field after being injured while chasing down a Carolina kick return. We're told he has an injured right knee and his return is questionable. The Bucs don't have another active fullback. B.J. Askew, the usual starter, is inactive due to injury.

The Bucs may have to use one of their tailbacks or tight ends at fullback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Bucs just sent out an e-mail announcing wide receiver Joey Galloway, fullback B.J. Askew and safety Sabby Piscitelli did not make the trip to Denver because of injuries.

Galloway will miss his third straight game.

Evening roundup

October, 3, 2008
10/03/08
6:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

BUCCANEERS

Receiver Joey Galloway and fullback B.J. Askew have been declared out with injuries for Sunday's game.

General manager Bruce Allen said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin never asked to go to the Raiders.

PANTHERS/FALCONS

Defensive end Julius Peppers was fined $10,000 for a hit on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.

SAINTS

With Sedrick Ellis out two to four weeks, the Saints will have to rely on the trio of Kendrick Clancy, Antwan Lake and Brian Young at defensive tackle. End Charles Grant also can slide inside on passing downs.

Safety Kevin Kaesviharn drew a $25,000 fine for a helmet-to-helmet hit on San Francisco's Josh Morgan.

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