NFC South: Jermaine Phillips
Pat Yasinskas: A lot of fans are throwing Phillips’ name out there. I see the logic and wouldn’t totally rule out the Bucs bringing him back. He’s familiar with the system and the coaching staff is familiar with Phillips. However, there are a couple of reasons why this might not happen. First off, Phillips is 31 and the Bucs are committed to a youth movement. Second, Phillips suffered a major injury that forced him to miss 14 games this past season. I don’t have any information on if he’s fully recovered. But the fact that we’re in late September and Phillips never has signed with any other team could be a sign that he’s not physically ready to play.
Victor in Texas writes: Now that Jackson is out can Sabby Piscitelli, Corey Lynch, or Cody Grimm step up and make plays or are we just doomed in the FS position? Are there any good safeties out there right now that we could sign or trade for that could help us at all?
Pat Yasinskas: I’m sure general manager Mark Dominik and his personnel staff are looking at all available options. But it’s not like there are a lot of great safeties sitting on the street this time of year. Even if the Bucs bring someone in, it would take some time for him to learn the system. In the short term, they might have to go with what they’ve got and that’s not particularly appealing. Sean Jones is the starter at strong safety. He’s a solid veteran. A lot of teams like to say the safety positions are interchangeable and Jones is probably the one guy in this bunch that can play both safety spots. Keep him where he’s at or move him to free safety? I’m not sure that part really matters. The real question is who do you line up next to Jones? Piscitelli didn’t have a bad preseason, but lost his starting job to Jones. Piscitelli is the most experienced alternative, but he doesn’t have the coverage skills to succeed as a free safety. If you’re going to start Piscitelli, it’s probably at strong safety with Jones moving to free safety. Grimm is a guy the Bucs like a lot. But he was a seventh-round draft pick for a reason. He’s listed at 6-foot and 202 pounds, which is not great size for a safety. I think that 6-foot figure is generous. I’ve stood next to Grimm. If we were on a basketball court, my first instinct would be to post him up. Lynch had a good preseason, but he’s viewed more as just a special-teams player. There also have been some questions about moving one of the cornerbacks to safety. While I wouldn’t totally rule that out, I’d say it’s unlikely because it’s difficult to make a position switch like that in the middle of a season.
Marques in San Diego writes: Can you possibly shed more light on the problems of our now suspended young safety? I have been a fan of Tanard Jackson since his college days and I was really bummed when he was suspended last year. This will be a big blow for the team and was wondering what specifically he violated and why the suspension is so severe?
Pat Yasinskas: The NFL doesn’t provide a lot of details when a player is suspended for something like this. But you can look at Jackson’s history and add this suspension and deduce several things. He obviously has been in the league’s substance abuse program for some time and there are indications he might have been placed in it as soon as he got into the league. That would suggest he’s tested positive for an illegal substance at least three times now. His four-game suspension last year was an indication there was at least one previous incident. That suspension also put Jackson on notice that another violation would lead to a more severe penalty. Even with that knowledge, he still committed another violation. It’s sad because Jackson is a very talented player and I hope he can get his life together and not throw away his career.
Corey in Lemoore, Calif., writes: I’m a huge Bucs fan and was wondering is Mike Williams the real deal or could he end up like Michael Clayton doing nothing after a great rookie season? I’m hoping he becomes a star and bring hope back to the franchise?
Pat Yasinskas: I’m a little hesitant to anoint Williams as a great receiver after only two games. But so far, things are looking very good. He had a great preseason and is off to an excellent start. I also think the fact he’s with quarterback Josh Freeman and in an offense that will throw the ball downfield probably means he’s not the next Clayton.
Pat Yasinskas: I get a lot of questions on Phillips from Tampa Bay fans, and, strangely, many of them think he still is on the roster. That’s not the case. Phillips, who the Bucs began switching from safety to linebacker before last season, wound up moving back to safety. But he appeared in only two games before suffering a season-ending injury. The Bucs elected not to bring him back after the 2009 season. Phillips has not been signed by any other team. I don’t know the exact reason why, but his age (31), health and a domestic incident in January all could be factors. Given the league’s recent history of suspending players that violate the conduct code, teams might be hesitant to sign Phillips if he’s facing a possible suspension.
Joshua in Charlotte, N.C., writes: Good work for your rankings of the different positions. You've included a lot more players than I expected, including backups. My biggest complaint is putting both New Orleans corners at the top of the list. I know they had injury issues last year so they're not entirely to blame, but New Orleans was ranked towards the bottom of the league in pass defense - despite playing on an aggressive defense against one-dimensional offenses that had to pass to keep up with New Orleans’ offense. While I don't think Chris Gamble deserves to be at the top of the list, I'd move him up a notch to fourth and drop Tracy Porter to fifth. You mentioned sacks being an issue, but New Orleans had more sacks last year and performed worse than Carolina. Even with Julius Peppers, Carolina was in the bottom third in sacks and still fourth in pass defense. Gamble is a stud and deserves better.
Pat Yasinskas: Your points are taken, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. One of the purposes of this blog is to generate conversation, and judging by the number of comments on the cornerbacks post, we’re accomplishing that. My opinion, based largely on talking to coaches, front-office people and players is Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter clearly are the best two cornerbacks in the NFC South at the moment. Look at what the New Orleans defense did in the games when Porter and Greer were healthy. They were healthy early on and they were a huge part of the reason Darren Sharper was allowed to play center field and produce so many early interceptions. Sharper’s numbers dropped when they went out. Also, looking at where New Orleans ranked on pass defense (based on yards allowed) isn’t a fair way to judge Porter and Greer. A lot of those yards came when they were out. Even when they were in the lineup, a lot of teams were throwing constantly to keep up with the New Orleans offense, so the yardage totals were high. Bottom line: When healthy, Greer and Porter are a dynamic duo. They were healthy enough last season for the Saints to win the Super Bowl. As far as Gamble, I have the utmost respect for him and think he’s been a very good cornerback for a long time. Putting him at No. 5 was not a knock at Gamble at all. I debated going as high as No. 3 with him, but, projecting a little bit, and thinking about supporting casts, I also put Aqib Talib and Dunta Robinson in front of him.
Jeff in Tampa writes: Do the owners plan on expanding the roster and game-day player limits if they go to an 18-game schedule - say 60 man roster and 54-man game-day roster? This way starters will never be on special teams, and some much needed depth on game day will be available for the long grind?
Pat Yasinskas: Jeff, why don’t you just call Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay directly and ask him? Rich, who is co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, and I were just talking about you when I was at Falcons’ camp a few weeks ago, and he remembers you fondly. Time to let the rest of you in on the back story here. Jeff is Jeff Bender, and he was supposed to be the starting quarterback at Tampa’s Jesuit High back in 1976. But McKay’s father, John, just got hired to take over the expansion Buccaneers and Rich enrolled at Jesuit for his senior year and became the quarterback under legendary coach Bill Minahan. Bender dutifully served as the backup that season and went on to have two pretty good years as the starter. Anyway, Jeff, I think it’s likely an 18-game regular season would come with expanded rosters, expanded practice squads and probably some different rules on how the injured-reserve list is treated. As it stands now, if a player goes on injured reserve, he’s done for the season. In an expanded format, I think we could see something more like what Major League Baseball does and players would be allowed to return after a specified period.
Michael in St. Petersburg, Fla., writes: There is constant talk of receiver competition with the Bucs and trade talks. With Minnesota hurting a receiver could we send one there for a late-round pick?
Pat Yasinskas: Minnesota traded cornerback Benny Sapp to Miami for receiver Greg Camarillo on Wednesday. For the Bucs, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn and Reggie Brown are pretty much guaranteed roster spots, and there’s no way the Bucs are shopping any of them. That basically leaves Michael Clayton or Maurice Stovall. If the Bucs could swing a draft pick (and I mean any draft pick) for either of those two guys, Mark Dominik instantly gets my vote for NFL Executive of the Year.
Pat Yasinskas: The fellows at Pewter Report have a point. The Bucs weren’t thrilled with Zuttah’s play last year. That’s why they signed Keydrick Vincent, who has a good chance to start. Zuttah could be headed for backup duty.
Jonathan in Fort Mill, S.C., writes: Why do NFL GM's wait until the last moment to start negotiations? There has to be some logical reason because every NFL team does this, but it just boggles the mind. You draft a player in April, then wait until the end of July to begin contract talks, when there is a snag, they miss training camp and the million dollars the team just invested is delayed until the player can master the play book & schematics. What gives?
Pat Yasinskas: Well, let’s put some, but not all of the blame on the general managers. I’d put most of the blame on agents. They’re out to get every penny they can and they like to wait as long as possible to see what a client’s market value is. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s pretty much the way it’s been in the NFL.
John in Anchorage writes: What happened to Jermaine Phillips? it seems like all the talk of the strong safety battle is between Sean Jones and Sabby Piscitelli. Is he being thrown in the OLB rotation? Or is his career in Tampa over with?
Pat Yasinskas: Phillips isn’t currently on Tampa Bay’s roster -- or any roster. He was a free agent and the Bucs chose not to re-sign him. I’m not sure what his health status is, but no other team has stepped forward to sign Phillips.
Chris in Atlanta writes: Obviously with our recent history with Michael Vick, DeAngelo Hall and especially Bobby Petrino the Falcons are committed to "character" guys throughout the organization. While they have done well so far, do you think this approach is effective enough to win Super Bowls or will they have to loosen the standards and take more risk on high talent perhaps marginal character players that we see playing in Pro Bowls and getting the lion share of media hype?
Pat Yasinskas: I like the approach and I salute owner Arthur Blank, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff for carrying it out. I’d give it a little more time before you start shouting for the rules to bend. I saw this approach work pretty well in Tampa Bay during the Tony Dungy/Rich McKay years and it’s been working in Carolina after owner Jerry Richardson took some early lumps and decided he didn’t need any more players who were prone to trouble.
Brett in Raleigh writes: I just saw Jonathan Stewart was put on the PUP list. What do you know about this? Is it the active one that Wes Welker is on that doesn't really mean anything or is he on the one the makes him ineligible for the first 6 weeks?
Pat Yasinskas: No, this is only a procedural thing for the start of training camp. Stewart can come off the list and begin practicing at any time in the preseason. I suspect the Panthers are just being cautious on this one and you’ll see him before too long.
Pat Yasinskas: I tend to agree with you that the Bucs had decent safeties when Phillips and Jackson were the starters. Then, they messed around with switching Phillips to linebacker last year and that didn’t really work out. I thought Phillips would go back to strong safety and take Piscitelli’s place. But the fact the Bucs signed Sean Jones as a free agent is the main reason Jackson is hanging out there as a free agent apparently not drawing a lot of interest.
Brett in Atlanta writes: The return of Peria Jerry and Harry Douglas from injury are much anticipated but filled with question marks. Can you shed some light on their recovery times?
PY: The Falcons, like a lot of NFL teams, treat injuries like military secrets. Coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are especially reluctant to put timetables on injuries, so there is no official word. But sources in Atlanta tell me the “soft’’ target date for Douglas is the start of training camp. The Falcons have been especially guarded with Jerry, but word is he should be able to hit the field some time during the preseason and should be ready for the start of the preseason as long as he has no setbacks.
Nathan in Cary, N.C., writes: I understand the frustration on the part of Carolina fans at not seeing some of the bigger names locked up to long term contracts. However, I do not understand how Richard Marshall has made this list. He is a decent corner, sufficient would be a good word, but he is certainly not a centerpiece to this team. I even thought thatCaptain Munnerlyn outplayed him for a good bit of last season (the AZ game was the best example). I guess my question is, why are people upset that the Panthers have not re-signed a guy who is, at best, a good nickel corner?
PY: To be fair, let’s go with Marshall as a starting corner because he is one. Next, let’s rank him as a player and I think the logical answer is decent. He’s got a second-round tender on him as a restricted free agent and will make about $1 million this year if he plays for the tender. But Marshall’s made some noise about wanting a long-term deal and I’m not sure that’s the best tact to take in this situation. First off, as Nathan says, Marshall’s not exactly a cornerstone of the team, so it’s not like holding out would give him tremendous leverage over the Panthers. Second, maybe Marshall hasn’t been paying attention, but owner Jerry Richardson, concerned about the labor situation, isn’t giving out big contracts to anyone.
Rob in Fort Mill, S.C., writes: Per your Tuesday mailbag, "He’s not paying people like Marshall or Williams big money now because he doesn’t want to give big signing bonuses as he prepares his franchise for the possibility of a lockout. " If he doesn't have to pay the players during the lockout, how can that be a reason for not signing new contracts to core players?
PY: Because the way contracts are done is so they usually have a large chunk of the money up front in the form of a signing bonus. Richardson would have to lay out money now. That’s money he’s conserving or avoiding going into debt to get. He’s saving what he’s got and hoping that’s enough for the Panthers to weather the storm of a possible lockout.
Nate in Palmer, Alaska, writes: I do believe Ronde Barber one day he will be in the HOF. The only thing Ronde is lacking compared to a guy like Deion Sanders who is almost guaranteed the HOF is some height (4 inches)and a big mouth. Barber unfortunately had the luck of playing for a semi-sour Bucs squad for a lot of his years, a lack of playoffs and, National media coverage. I don't believe he is 1st ballot HOF but I believe in looking at him as a player and person in the NFL, he has the HOF stats, he's played hard, he's a classy guy, and he is a positive representation of the NFL. Maybe that isn't what gets a person to the HOF though.
PY: All valid points. Ronde got some national exposure back when his twin brother, Tiki, still was playing. He also got plenty of attention when the Bucs were good. But the Bucs weren’t all that good when Barber first joined them and it took him a few seasons to make a real impact. He then went into a very productive stretch that forms the basis of his argument to be a Hall of Fame candidate. The problem I see there was the Bucs won only one championship and a lot of people view Barber as a system player, who benefited from playing Tampa Two in Monte Kiffin’s scheme with Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch there to help him look good. I respect Barber’s durability, but 3-13 seasons with no interceptions aren’t the best way to put the final touches on your résumé.
Are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ready to give up on Sabby Piscitelli as their starting strong safety?
If you watched Piscitelli last season, it was ugly. He had all sorts of problems in coverage and his tackling was bad. That’s a pretty brutal combination for a strong safety. But the Bucs did see something last year that inspired them to move Jermaine Phillips to linebacker in an effort to get Piscitelli on the field.
In the eyes of the fans, Piscitelli quickly went from being the next John Lynch to the symbol of all that was wrong with Tampa Bay’s defense. He certainly deserved some criticism, but I’m not ready to write this guy off just yet.
Strong safety is a position like right field in Little League or softball. When you’ve got a good defense, it’s not all that important. Fact is, the Bucs had a horrible defense last year and Piscitelli went from being hidden to being exploited badly.
Maybe -- and I’m just saying maybe -- all the moves on defense will make the Bucs better and give Piscitelli a chance. In theory, their pass rush should be better and the cornerback tandem of Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib should keep the pressure off the safeties.
I think back to this time a year ago when a lot of New Orleans fans wanted to run off strong safety Roman Harper. On a bad defense in 2008, Harper was hung out in coverage a lot and he struggled. In 2009, the Saints upgraded their defense all over the place. Harper no longer got stuck in long-term coverage and turned in an excellent season. He was allowed to do what he does best, which is to make hits and sort of be an extra linebacker.
That’s kind of the ideal role for a strong safety. Maybe the improvements to Tampa Bay’s defense will prevent Piscitelli from having to do too much deep coverage and that would be a big plus. But if Piscitelli really is going to be the next Lynch, he has to start hitting like Lynch. Or, at very least, he has to make the tackles that are in front of him. If he can’t do that, Jones is waiting in the wings.
James in Austin, Texas, writes: Do you think by the Bucs signing Sean Jones, he is just a 'safety' net because both Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips didn’t play the full length of the season? Does it mean they are not going to draft Eric Berry? Instead they could draft Jason Pierre-Paul who would be crucial in the Tampa 2.
Pat Yasinskas: I think the best way to summarize the Sean Jones signing is that he gives them flexibility at safety and in the draft. I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of them taking Berry at No. 3 if the two defensive tackles are not available. But I think the arrival of Jones means the Bucs don’t have to absolutely draft a safety early.
Dave in Valdosta, Ga., writes: Any chance on the Bucs looking at T.O. for their receiver? It seems he did a really good job for the Bills. He seemed to be a team player. This way the Bucs could draft a good WR but not have to throw to him in on every play. I know the Bucs are trying to get younger but sign him to a 1-year contract. What do you think?
Pat Yasinskas: I just don’t think Terrell Owens fits the plan in Tampa Bay. Sure, he’s a talented receiver, but he’s older. Also, it’s all about Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay. Yes, Owens can help a quarterback, but he also has the ability to ruin a quarterback. I think the downside is too much here.
Neil in Jackson, Miss., writes: You mentioned that the Saints don't have to lose a free agent to sign Justin Fargas because he was released by the Raiders. But couldn't we sign him anyways because of the Scott Fujita signing? Surely we aren't planning to pay Justin Fargas more than we were willing to pay Scott Fujita.
Pat Yasinskas: The Saints could sign Fargas and it would have nothing to do with them losing Fujita. As part of the final eight, the Saints can only sign an unrestricted free agent when they lose one. Yes, they have lost Fujita and that clears the way for them to sign a free agent at a similar price. But Fargas is not a true unrestricted free agent because he was released by the Raiders. There are no limitations on the Saints signing players released by other teams.
Mario in Panama writes: I put a lot of importance on a position people don't: fullback. In my view, Heath Evans was on its way to a Pro Bowl season when he went down, and Saints overall offensive production incidentally went down, after that. What do you think about it and how is his recovery going?
Pat Yasinskas: Agree totally. Thought Evans was a great addition to the Saints and there was a visible drop-off in the offense in the first few games after he got hurt. Everything I’ve heard is that he’s on track for a full recovery.
Ned in parts unknown writes: Since the Falcons don’t have a second round pick, do you think packaging John Abraham and Jamaal Anderson into a deal for a team’s second-round pick would pay off for the falcons?
Pat Yasinskas: If some team were willing to make that deal, I’m sure the Falcons would jump on it. Fact is, Abraham and Anderson aren’t going to get you a second-round pick. They simply don’t have that kind of value. Abraham is old and Anderson never has played up to his potential.
Al in Washington, D.C., writes: I'm intrigued by your take on the Panthers' DTs. I feel good about a starting rotation of Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler, and Ed Johnson. Corvey Irvin is a project with a lot of upside, which would give us 4 guys. Ron Meeks likes to move DTs inside anyway, and Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson can handle that. Granted, I wouldn't like to see Nick Hayden and Derek Landri pressed into significant service at this point, but I won't be upset if this is our opening day roster. Am I putting too much faith in those first three, or undervaluing experienced depth?
Pat Yasinskas: In my opinion, Leonard, Tyler and Johnson aren’t guys I’d want to count on as the definitive starters. Yes, they have some good qualities. But the John Fox defense always has been built around the defensive line. Right now, the Panthers have “just guys’’ at defensive tackle. I think they need to add one quality defensive tackle.
Randy in Hampton, Va., writes: I know the Falcons organization is turning itself around and looking for quality "good" character guys. Do you think that the Falcons would release Jonathan Babineaux given his off-field trouble, or is it safe to say that with the D-line being so bad they wouldn't?
Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think Babineaux is going anywhere. He is the best defensive lineman the Falcons have. Yes, he had some trouble off the field last year. But I think that has been dealt with and Babineaux has been told that can’t happen again.
He seems to still have the locker room. Center Jeff Faine used very strong words Wednesday to say he believes Morris should not be let go after a first season that hasn’t gone well at all. Injured safety/linebacker Jermaine Phillips made some pretty similar comments Monday.
Does it really matter what the players think? Yes, it absolutely does. Most owners around the league try to get a sense of where the players stand before firing a coach. Although the Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, does operate with a great deal of stealth in the public eye, the three brothers who run the team are very smart and always very aware of what’s going on in their building.
I’m sure they’ve seen the quotes from these players and they might have heard some of the same straight from players. I’m not reporting here that the Glazer brothers have been surveying players, but that wouldn’t surprise me.
At any rate, this kind of support can only help the chances of Morris sticking around for a second season. If the players still believe in him, that’s a big positive.
One thing I found very interesting was Faine’s response when asked about Morris firing both his offensive and defensive coordinators already. The public assumption is that Morris made the hires of Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates totally by himself.
Faine indicated that might not have been the case. I’ve never heard any indication that Jagodzinski and Bates weren’t the guys Morris wanted and the rule of thumb around the league is that a coach usually hires his own coaching staff.
But this statement by Faine makes me wonder a bit. I do know for a fact that, at the very least, ownership didn’t allow Morris to do everything he wanted with the support staff. And I also think there’s a realization high in the organization that general manager Mark Dominik probably could benefit from a stronger surrounding cast in the front office.
Of course, the best thing that could happen for Morris' future would be for the Bucs, particularly rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, to go out and play well (just show some signs of progress) in the final three games. That might be enough to keep Morris in place, although I think that would come with some movement on the coaching staff, in the front office and heavy turnover on the roster.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Finally, a bit of good news for the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and easily the first positive to happen to their secondary this season. Safety Tanard Jackson is expected to play Sunday against Philadelphia.
Jackson returned to practice Wednesday after being suspended for the first four games for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. The secondary had struggled mightily in his absence with Sabby Piscitelli giving up big plays early on and Jermaine Phillips suffering a season-ending injury.
Jackson isn’t officially back on the 53-man roster yet and the Bucs have an exemption for a week. But they’re expected to activate Jackson some time before Sunday.
Jackson’s return means the Bucs will have their best defensive back on the field for the first time this year. He’ll jump into a starting role opposite Piscitelli and veteran Will Allen will return to a backup role.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
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The Panthers gave Delhomme a contract extension and a vote of confidence in the offseason, but they can’t go on like this much longer. It’s pretty baffling because Delhomme was a pretty dependable quarterback for a long time, but he suddenly has turned into a turnover machine.
Back in the offseason, the Bucs decided to move Jermaine Phillips to linebacker so they could get Piscitelli in the starting lineup. Maybe Piscitelli should have been the one they moved to linebacker.
Fox had a built-in excuse two years ago when Delhomme went out with an elbow injury. He often reminded us of the fact the Panthers were playing without their quarterback and he got a free pass. There’s no excuse this year. Fox could have gone out and done something at quarterback after Delhomme fell apart in last season’s playoffs. He didn’t.
General manager Mickey Loomis has had his share of misses on the defensive side in recent years, but signing Sharper already has proven to be a solid move. His veteran presence helps the entire secondary and he still can make plays.
He’s got a fresh start with his former defensive coordinator (coach Mike Smith) and he’s showing he really is a leader. The Falcons aren’t missing Keith Brooking at all.
But you can never forget that he’s an enormous talent. He caught two touchdowns on Sunday, which is two more than he had all of last year. Makes you wonder what’s possible if he can stay healthy all season.
|Kim Klement/US Presswire|
|Miles Austin and the Dallas receivers had their way with the Tampa Bay secondary.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hmmm, let's test our memories here. Who's the last person to be stopped by a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary?
Oh, got it.
It was that cab driver who pulled over to call police back in August and allege cornerback Aqib Talib had punched him from the backseat. It sure as heck wasn't Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton or Miles Austin. They just kept catching and running ... and running.
"We just gave up too many plays on the defensive side of the ball," Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said.
It would be nice to cut Morris some slack in his first game as an NFL head coach. But that's not going to happen because what took place Sunday was about much more than Tampa Bay's defense surrendering (and we mean surrendering) 462 yards of offense in a 34-21 loss to Dallas.
What happened Sunday goes way beyond Morris being new to his role. You could give him some slack for the offense, but that unit actually played better than just about anyone expected. The defense was what let Morris down -- specifically, the defensive backs.
"We've got to stand up and take responsibility," safety-turned-linebacker-turned safety again Jermaine Phillips said. "It's nothing for us to be alarmed about or worried about."
I'll agree with the thing about taking responsibility, but I think there is plenty to worry about for Tampa Bay's secondary. These are supposed to be Morris' "guys." These are the guys he knows best and, so far, all they've done is fail him.
It goes even deeper than Tony Romo throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns. It goes back to Talib's incident, for which he hasn't drawn any disciplinary action yet. It goes back to Tanard Jackson getting suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
It goes back to Morris' offseason decision that Sabby Piscitelli could be a starting safety in the NFL and Phillips should switch to linebacker. Maybe, if all those things hadn't happened, the Bucs might have had a smoother transition from the Cover 2 defense to the Cover Nobody defense.
"There's no secret about it," Morris said of one of the touchdown passes allowed by Piscitelli. "I looked right at Sabby. I grabbed him right next to me. He looked at me and said "plaster."
Yep, a Tampa Bay defense got plastered.
Where have you gone Monte Kiffin?
He's not here anymore. This is Morris' team and Derrick Brooks isn't coming to rescue him.
When you go from being an assistant to being a head coach and start making major changes, you've got to take all that comes with it and it would help to bring along the best part of your past. Tampa Bay's secondary was, by far, its weakest link against a Dallas passing game that -- for a day anyway -- looked better without Terrell Owens.
Everywhere you looked, the Cowboys were making big plays. Crayton's touchdown went for 80 yards, Williams' for 66 and Austin's for 42. Everywhere you looked, Tampa Bay's secondary was out of place. Piscitelli seemed to be at the center of it all, which begs you to ask if he's the one who should have made the offseason move to linebacker?
Phillips, who moved back to safety to take Jackson's place, also was a culprit. So was cornerback Elbert Mack. Even though they didn't make any noticeably horrible plays, you still have to consider Talib and Ronde Barber guilty by association.
They all used to hang out in Morris' room when he was coaching defensive backs.
"We have to watch the film and everyone has to stand up to their responsibility, including myself on a couple of plays," Piscitelli said. "We can't give up plays like that and we know that as a secondary. We will bounce back hard and learn from our mistakes."
Those mistakes will be pointed out in film sessions Monday at One Buccaneer Place and they won't be any prettier then. But shouldn't the secondary be one area where the Bucs don't have to play catch-up in the second week of the regular season?
The secondary, after all, supposedly was Morris' specialty. All the preseason questions about whether he's ready to be a head coach remain valid -- so far.
"Romo did exactly what we thought he would do," Morris said.
Oh, so the Bucs fully expected Romo to stand in the pocket all day and carve their secondary to shreds? No, that's obviously not what they wanted. But they had to know it could happen, unless Morris got totally fooled into thinking his defense was good after watching it spend months practicing against Jeff Jagodzinski's offense.
Let's be fair to the secondary and point out the Bucs didn't put any pressure on Romo. All that offseason talk about Gaines Adams developing moves and Jimmy Wilkerson being a double-digit sack guy appears to be just talk. And let's not let the linebackers off too easy. Geno Hayes, the guy who was supposed to be the first person besides Brooks to start at weakside linebacker since the early 1990s, couldn't even show up at the stadium on time Sunday morning.
Morris yanked him from the starting lineup and inserted Matt McCoy. Maybe Morris should have yanked the whole secondary. Then again, there's not much behind Piscitelli, Phillips, Barber, Talib and Mack -- and Jackson, when he comes back.
For better or worse, these are Morris' guys.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
What does that mean for the Bucs' linebacker corps? Not much, really. Crowell was signed as a free agent and the early expectation was that he would be the starter on the strong side. But even before Saturday night's injury in Jacksonville, that wasn't anywhere close to happening.
Crowell had been bothered by an assortment of injuries ever since joining the Bucs and never made much progress toward claiming a starting job. The Bucs had pretty much decided on Quincy Black as their starter on the strong side even before Crowell's latest injury.
They're also very high on Adam Hayward and project him as the top backup to Black. Geno Hayes also has had a nice preseason and is the top backup to Jermaine Phillips at the moment. Given the fact that safety Tanard Jackson will be suspended for the first four games of the season, the Bucs have said Phillips could get some playing time at safety, the position he previously played before moving to linebacker this offseason. That could give Hayes a shot at significant playing time on the weak side.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Buccaneers signed a veteran safety Wednesday, but it's not the type of move that's going to solve all of their problems.
They brought in Steve Cargile, who's been bouncing around the league since 2004. Cargile has appeared in 15 career games with Denver and spent the 2006 preseason with the Bucs.
His signing comes a day after the Bucs revealed that starting safety Tanard Jackson will be suspended for the first four games. Cargile isn't an immediate favorite to take over Jackson's job, but he gives the Bucs someone with a bit of experience.
Jackson still ran with the first team through most of Wednesday afternoon's practice. The most obvious solution is to plug veteran Will Allen into the starting spot, but Allen is banged up right now. Allen should be ready for the regular season.
The Bucs still aren't ruling out the possibility of using linebacker Jermaine Phillips at safety, where he spent his career before moving this offseason. But that doesn't seem to be the main priority right now. The Bucs went through practice with Phillips getting most of the work with the first team at weakside linebacker, but did get a bit of work at safety.
Phillips' background is at strong safety, which is the same spot Sabby Piscitelli is in. But Phillips said he wouldn't have any trouble playing free safety if the Bucs asked.
"Safety is safety,'' Phillips said.
The Bucs also made a few other roster moves Wednesday. They released safety C.J. Byrd and waived receiver Joel Filani with an injury settlement. They also released cornerback Mike Hawkins, who hadn't even joined the team yet. Hawkins had been claimed off waivers from Dallas earlier Wednesday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- I'm heading out to One Buccaneer Place in just a bit to catch what is scheduled to be the last official practice of training camp for the Bucs.
Obviously, I'll be keeping a close eye on the safety situation now that Tanard Jackson has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Veteran Will Allen is one option to slide into Jackson's spot.
But I also think there's a decent chance the Bucs consider moving Jermaine Phillips back to safety. He's spent the whole offseason working on a move to weakside linebacker. But Phillips was a pretty solid safety before the move.
The Bucs don't have much other depth at safety, but they do have some at linebacker with Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Angelo Crowell. From what I've seen and heard, the Bucs are happy with how Phillips has handled the move to linebacker.
But, with Jackson out for the first four games, Phillips still might be the best safety on the roster and pairing him with Sabby Piscitelli at safety and starting one of those other guys at weakside linebacker might be the best combination the Bucs can come up with.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
They've got veteran Will Allen as their top backup option right now. But Allen's not any sort of long-term solution and he might not even be their best alternative to get through the first four games. The Bucs had moved former safety Jermaine Phillips to weak-side linebacker at the start of the offseason.
Moving Phillips back to safety and pairing him with Sabby Piscitelli could be a more attractive option for the Bucs. They have more depth at linebacker with Quincy Black, Adam Hayward and Angelo Crowell each capable of taking on a starting role.
|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.