NFC South: Rudy Carpenter

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced a few minor house-keeping details.

As we previously reported, receiver Preston Parker has signed his tender as an exclusive-rights free agent. The team also announced running back LeGarrette Blount has signed the exclusive-rights tender, which means his salary will be $540,000 for 2012. The Bucs also announced they have released reserve quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

The Blount situation is worth noting. There was a time at the end of the 2010 season when Blount looked like a guy the Bucs might want to lock up with a long-term deal. He was coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season as an undrafted rookie and the Bucs looked like they had stumbled onto something great. But the only one stumbling last year was Blount. His numbers were down, except for fumbles (he had five and lost three). The previous coaching staff didn’t trust Blount enough to use him as a pass-blocker and that made the offense predictable.

New coach Greg Schiano already has made it clear that Blount needs to hold onto the ball if he’s going to get playing time. It’s pretty obvious the Bucs will add at least one running back in the draft or free agency and Blount is going to have to compete to keep his job as Tampa Bay’s main running back. There’s no doubt this is a huge year for Blount. If he can win the job and have a strong season, then the Bucs might be willing to give him a long-term deal, even though he would be a restricted free agent next year.

Carpenter’s release isn’t a huge surprise. Although Carpenter didn’t have much upside, the previous coaching staff liked him because he knew the offensive system. But the Bucs are putting in a new offense and they’ve brought in Dan Orlovsky to serve as the experienced backup to Josh Freeman. They’ll probably look for a developmental quarterback late in the draft or among undrafted free agents.

Benn, Trueblood out for Bucs

January, 1, 2012
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ATLANTA -- As expected, the Buccaneers will be without injured receiver Arrelious Benn and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood in Sunday’s game with the Falcons.

Both players have been declared inactive. Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe will get more playing time with Benn out. James Lee is expected to start in Trueblood’s place.

Also inactive for the Bucs are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and offensive tackle Derek Hardman.

Bucs' top 10 cap figures for 2012

December, 18, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Back in the preseason, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were getting grilled about why they weren’t spending big money in free agency, team officials kept explaining the team’s philosophy of building through the draft.

It made sense because the young team was coming off a 10-6 season and the implication from team officials was that we’d see some significant contract extensions during the season as the team began locking up some of its core young players for the long term.

Well, that hasn’t happened. Other than adding a year to safety Tanard Jackson’s contract while they were in London in October and quietly signing backup Rudy Carpenter to a modest two-year deal when they elevated him from the practice squad, the Bucs haven’t added on to any contracts.

Can’t blame them for that. When a team is losing eight straight games, there obviously aren’t many guys showing they deserve extensions. Running back LeGarrette Blount and receiver Mike Williams, two guys who could have been up for early extensions, haven’t been as productive as they were last season. Plus, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go signing players to extensions now when it’s uncertain if Raheem Morris will be coaching this team next season or a new coach with new schemes that could make some players irrelevant could be taking over.

With that in mind, let’s take a brief look ahead at Tampa Bay’s salary-cap situation for 2012. The Bucs currently have $92.873 million committed toward the cap. I’m seeing six other teams with less money committed toward the cap.

But you can pretty much go ahead and subtract $7.2 million from Tampa Bay’s figure. That’s the 2012 cap number for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who basically was signed as a “rental" player after Gerald McCoy suffered a season-ending injury. There’s at least a chance Haynesworth could be back with the Bucs, but it won’t be at the $7.2 million figure because McCoy is expected back healthy and Haynesworth is aging and hasn’t shown any big flashes. The Bucs could cut Haynesworth and not have to endure any salary-cap implications.

There could be some extensions after the season, but they won’t come until after the Bucs have sorted out their coaching situation and reviewed film of this season to see who showed talent and effort, so there might not be a lot of candidates.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 salary-cap figures (reminder, these are cap figures, not actual salary) for 2012 for the Buccaneers:

Inactives for the Buccaneers

December, 17, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- As expected, Tampa Bay receiver Arrelious Benn (concussion) is inactive for Saturday night’s game with the Dallas Cowboys.

That likely means more playing time for Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker.

The other inactives for the Buccaneers are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Myron Lewis, offensive lineman Derek Hardman and offensive tackle James Lee.

Buccaneers activate Rudy Carpenter

December, 3, 2011
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just sent out an announcement that could make Sunday’s game with the Carolina Panthers much more interesting.

The Bucs said they have promoted quarterback Rudy Carpenter to the 53-man roster from the practice squad. That could be a sign the Bucs might rest starter Josh Freeman, who has been limited by a shoulder injury all week.

Freeman was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Freeman has not missed a start since taking over the job midway through his rookie season. Backup QB Josh Johnson has not started a game since 2009.

The Bucs have said Freeman’s status will be a game-day decision. Linebacker Zac Diles was released in a move to create the roster spot for Carpenter.

The book on Josh Johnson

December, 1, 2011
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With Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman not throwing during the portion of Thursday’s practice that was open to the media, you have to start wondering if he’ll be able to play Sunday against Carolina.

[+] EnlargeJosh Johnson
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBucs quarterback Josh Johnson might get an opportunity to start on Sunday against Carolina.
Freeman suffered a right shoulder injury at the end of last Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, coach Raheem Morris said. Freeman was limited in Wednesday’s practice.

Freeman has not missed a start since taking over the job midway through his rookie season. But it now appears possible that streak could end at 36 games.

If it does, backup Josh Johnson would get the start and the Bucs likely would activate Rudy Carpenter from the practice squad to be the No. 2 quarterback.

Johnson is a completely different style of quarterback than Freeman. First off, Johnson is much smaller at 6-foot-3, and he’s listed at 205 pounds. When you see Johnson in person, you wonder if that weight might be a little inflated. Johnson’s not a classic drop-back passer, and he definitely doesn’t have the same arm strength as Freeman.

But Johnson’s biggest strength might be his running ability. He’s exceptionally fast. Before he was drafted by the Bucs in the fifth round in 2008, Johnson’s 4.44-second 40-yard dash was the best time of any quarterback at the scouting combine.

The Bucs have used Johnson, 25, in the Wildcat formation at times this year and he’s run five times for 17 yards. He also has attempted seven passes this season, completing two for 14 yards.

Johnson came out of the University of San Diego and was chosen as Most Valuable Player in the 2008 East-West Shrine Bowl.

Johnson’s most extensive playing time came in 2009, the year the Bucs drafted Freeman. Tampa Bay’s plan was to bring Freeman along slowly, and the Bucs opened the season with Byron Leftwich as their starter.

That didn’t last long. On Sept. 27, 2009, Johnson replaced an ineffective Leftwich and went on to start the next four games, before Freeman took over. Most of Johnson’s career passing stats came in 2009.

He’s completed 53.4 percent of his passes for 810 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Bucs likely would adjust their play-calling to take advantage of Johnson’s running ability if he does have to start.

Johnson also could be looking at extra incentive if he gets a start or two. He has said he aspires to be a full-time starter at some point. That’s not likely to happen in Tampa Bay as long as Freeman is around.

But, if Johnson gets to play and makes the most of it, that could help him down the line. Johnson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Say whatever you want about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being frugal.

There may be some truth to it, but not when it comes to playing practice-squad players. We already told you the Bucs gave Rudy Carpenter a contract worth more than double what a typical practice-squad player makes.

But the Bucs now have topped that. Apparently, the team has a very high opinion of practice squad defensive end George Johnson. After he was released at the end of the preseason, the Bucs quickly turned around and signed him to a sweet deal on Sept. 8. Presumably fearing they would lose Johnson to another team’s practice squad, the Bucs signed Johnson to a contract worth $170,000. The typical practice-squad contract is for $96,900.

But the Bucs renegotiated Johnson’s deal on Sept. 13, according to contract records obtained by ESPN.com. That’s when Johnson got a raise to $22,059 per week, which comes to $352,944 for 16 weeks. Johnson is being paid at the same rate as the minimum for players on the regular 53-man roster. If he had signed the new contract before the first game, he’d be making the $370,000 minimum, spread out over 17 weeks (including the bye).

It’s not hard to figure out what happened here. Obviously, some team tried to sign Johnson away from the Bucs shortly after the Week 1 games. The Bucs turned around, told Johnson they wanted to keep him and showed it by paying him like he was on the regular roster.

Paying Carpenter and Johnson way more than the standard practice-squad salary is not an unprecedented move by general manager Mark Dominik. Last year, he paid receiver Dezmon Briscoe the minimum for players on the regular roster to lure him away from Cincinnati's practice squad. Briscoe started off last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before being promoted later in the season. This year, he made the regular roster.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who frequently are accused by their fans of being cheap, made a very unique and generous move when they signed quarterback Rudy Carpenter to their practice squad just before the season.

Carpenter was the team’s No. 3 quarterback last year annd originally was scheduled to make $525,000 this season. But the Bucs decided to carry only two quarterbacks (Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson) on their regular roster. They released Carpenter and then turned around and signed him to the practice squad.

The league’s standard salary for players on the practice squad is $96,900 and that’s what the rest of Tampa Bay’s practice-squad players signed for. But not Carpenter.

According to numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Carpenter's contract is for $200,005. I’m not sure what that final $5 is for, but the Bucs were either being nice to a player who has history with the franchise or they feared losing Carpenter to someone else’s practice squad.

This is not unprecedented for the Bucs. Last year, they signed wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe to the practice squad, but his contract was about triple that of a practice-squad deal. To help keep Briscoe from signing with Cincinnati’s practice squad, the Bucs gave him a contract for the league minimum for players on the regular roster.

Catching up on NFC South transactions

September, 5, 2011
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We told you earlier Monday the Carolina Panthers signed Geoff Hangartner, who has a chance to start immediately at right guard. There also have been a bunch of minor transactions around the division. Let’s catch up on them now.
  • The Panthers waived offensive lineman C.J. Davis to clear a roster spot for Hangartner.
  • As expected the Buccaneers officially announced the signing of linebacker Zac Diles. The team also announced it had claimed tight end Zack Pianalto off waivers from Buffalo. To create roster spots, the Bucs waived cornerback D.J. Johnson and defensive end George Johnson. Don’t be surprised if they wind up on the practice squad.
  • The Buccaneers also announce they have signed eight players to their practice squad. They are tackle Will Barker, safety Ahmad Black, quarterback Rudy Carpenter, tight end Collin Franklin, receiver Ed Gant, tight end Daniel Hardy, running back Mossis Madu and linebacker Derrell Smith. All eight were with the Bucs in the preseason.
  • The Falcons filled out their practice squad by signing tight end Marquez Branson, who spent 2010 on the team’s practice squad.
  • To make room for tight end John Gilmore, the Saints released linebacker Ramon Humber. The Saints also signed tackle William Robinson, guard Dennis Landolt and receiver Montez Billings. They released long-snapper Kyle Nelson, quarterback Sean Canfield and center Cecil Newton from the practice squad.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Check here for a complete list of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster moves.

Surprise move: Perhaps the biggest surprise came Friday when the Buccaneers released middle linebacker Tyrone McKenzie. He came to training camp with an apparent shot to win the starting job after the Bucs let Barrett Ruud walk in free agency. McKenzie had helped organize players-only workouts during the lockout and ran the defense during that time.

But the fact the Bucs released him shows they’re more than content to go with rookie Mason Foster as their middle linebacker. He’ll start off as a two-down player, and outside linebacker Quincy Black, who will be an every-down player, will wear the radio helmet and call the defensive signals at least at the start of the season. But it looks as if the Bucs have total confidence in Foster. Adam Hayward, who can play outside or inside and on special teams, probably will be Foster’s backup.

A few other pleasant surprises who made the roster were cornerback D.J. Johnson, defensive end George Johnson and safety Devin Holland.

No-brainers: Like a lot of other teams, the Bucs decided to go with just two quarterbacks, waiving Rudy Carpenter. They may try to bring Carpenter back to the practice squad. But the fact they’re willing to expose him to waivers tells you all you really need to know about how the Bucs view Carpenter. He’s a smart guy who knows the system, but he has no upside because he lacks arm strength. If the Bucs truly thought Carpenter could become a No. 2 quarterback, they would have kept him around because backup Josh Johnson can become a free agent next year. Johnson probably will move on because he knows there’s no chance of starting as long as Josh Freeman is around.

What's next: General manager Mark Dominik isn’t likely to be plucking the waiver wire as much as he did last season. But he’ll keep his eyes open, and you could see a move or two. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs bring in a running back, particularly one who fits the profile of a third-down back. Veteran Earnest Graham can fill that role, if needed, but the Bucs also like to use him at fullback.

Final preseason tests for NFC South

September, 1, 2011
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The final preseason games for all NFC South teams are Thursday night.

Baltimore plays at Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. ET and Tampa Bay at Washington kicks off at the same time. Pittsburgh at Carolina and Tennessee at Houston start half an hour later. Since final preseason games generally don’t feature a lot of playing time for the starters, we’ll make our preview a little more comprehensive.

Instead of doing three things to watch on each team, we’ll do one.

Cam Newton’s last test. The Panthers appear to be set to go with the rookie quarterback as their starter for the regular season. He has not had a great preseason as a passer and probably won’t get a lot of playing time tonight. But it would be nice to see him complete a few passes against the Steelers. That would help his confidence and also bring some optimism to the fans.

Cameron Jordan’s role. The Saints pulled a surprise Tuesday when they cut starting defensive end Alex Brown. Conventional wisdom says that probably means they’re ready to use Jordan, a first-round draft pick, as a starter. Coach Sean Payton hasn’t committed that far and said the Saints will use a rotation at defensive end. But Jeff Charleston, Junior Galette and Turk McBride aren’t the kind of guys you expect to see in the starting lineup on a weekly basis.

Mike Johnson vs. Garrett Reynolds. This competition for Atlanta’s starting right guard job is coming down to the wire. Johnson missed some time early on with a concussion and that gave Reynolds the early edge. But coach Mike Smith has said Johnson still is a contender to start and a strong showing could be the deciding factor. No matter if it’s Johnson or Reynolds opening the regular season at Chicago on Sept. 11, the Falcons will have two new starters on the line that day. Center Todd McClure will miss the opener with a knee injury, and second-year pro Joe Hawley likely will get the start.

Rudy Carpenter in a starting role. He was Tampa Bay’s No. 3 quarterback last season. But Carpenter will get the start against the Redskins and there’s a lot riding on this one. Carpenter is in a competition with Jonathan Crompton for the No. 3 spot. But coach Raheem Morris admitted that it’s possible the Bucs may go into the regular season carrying only Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson on the active roster, which would free up a spot at another position. Carpenter needs a strong outing to prevent that from happening.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 6, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Buccaneers just finished their annual night practice at Raymond James Stadium, which also serves as sort of a fan festival. But there was plenty of football.

Let’s run through some observations.
  • Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who suffered a strained rotator cuff Friday, didn’t take part in the workout. But McCoy gave a fan a big thumbs-up when asked how he was feeling.
  • Cornerback E.J. Biggers made a spectacular leaping interception.
  • Cornerback Aqib Talib, who had some legal problems in the offseason, got a huge ovation when his name was announced to the crowd. Seconds later, he dropped what should have been an interception on a ball intended for Mike Williams that was thrown by Josh Freeman.
  • Former Bucs tight end Jimmie Giles was in the crowd and got a huge round of applause when he was shown on the scoreboard video screens.
  • Freeman looked sharp most of the night, particularly when throwing to tight end Kellen Winslow and Williams. But Freeman didn’t win the quarterback competition that was held at the end of the night. The quarterbacks all took turns throwing at targets on moving golf carts. The competition was won by third-stringer Rudy Carpenter.
  • He’s never been known as a speed back, but fullback Earnest Graham torched rookie linebacker in one-on-one coverage and caught a deep pass from Freeman.
  • I’ve been saying the Bucs need to add a solid veteran running back to play behind LeGarrette Blount. After watching Kregg Lumpkin, I think there’s at least a chance they might already have their backup.
  • Some excellent stuff from general manager Mark Dominik, who was interviewed during practice and the conversation was played on the video screens. Dominik had high praise for rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Then he delivered the line of the night when asked how he feels about his team right now. “It’s a team I want our town to fall back in love with,’’ Dominik said.

Best of NFL: NFC South players

June, 28, 2011
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Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC South:

Best leader: Drew Brees. I’ll make a case that he’s the best leader in the entire NFL. There are some other great leaders in this division, but Brees stands above them all. He’s gone out of his way to keep the Saints together during the lockout and that should pay dividends when the season gets here. Even before the lockout, Brees had complete control of the New Orleans locker room. A lot of people thought the Saints were taking a bad gamble when they brought in Jeremy Shockey a few years ago. Shockey was a controversial figure in New York and literally pushed quarterback Eli Manning around. Shockey had a short and relatively productive career in New Orleans and you rarely heard a peep out of him. That’s largely because Shockey was smart enough to realize you don’t challenge Brees.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Steve Smith
Craig Jones/Getty ImagesSteve Smith celebrated a touchdown against the Vikings by rowing a boat.
Best celebrator: Steve Smith. The Carolina receiver has been limited a bit in recent years as the NFL has tightened its rules on celebrating. But think back a few years to when the Minnesota Vikings were in the middle of a scandal after a bye-week cruise on a party boat on a lake. The Panthers played the Vikings while the story was still hot. Smith scored a touchdown, sat down and began doing a rowing motion. When reporters asked him what that was all about after the game, Smith said something like “I was out on the lake." Smith had some other good celebrations, but that was the funniest I’ve ever seen.

Best short fuse: Smith. Do we even need to explain? He’s had at least three physical altercations with teammates. And there are some in Charlotte who say they’ve been able to literally hear ticking as Smith awaits the end of the lockout and some clarity on his future.

Best QB arm: Josh Freeman. Brees and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan have very good arms, but they’re not the kind of guys who can throw the ball 70 yards down the field. Freeman can do it. Heck, I was out at one of his offseason workouts in May and he and backups Rudy Carpenter and Josh Johnson were throwing at the goal post from the 50 yard line. That’s 60 yards. Carpenter and Johnson hit the middle of the post a couple of times, but you could tell they were putting everything they had into the throws. Freeman hit the middle of the post with ease and it didn’t even look like he was putting anything close to his full body into the throws.

Best actor (penalty division): Roddy White. Opponents will tell you the Falcons' wide receiver is a master at pushing off defensive backs. I’ve witnessed it on several occasions. Heck, I’ve even been in postgame interviews when White has kind of chuckled when asked if he might have gotten away with a push off on a big pass play.
As I visited with Josh Freeman the other day, the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought up a very significant point that I don’t think has been talked about enough during the lockout.

Freeman
Freeman
Freeman started talking about how, in addition to leading group workouts for the team, he’s been spending a lot of time studying film. Sometimes he does it with teammates, but, mostly, it’s been on his own.

“Usually, that’s something that you do with your coach,’’ Freeman said.

In the lockout, Freeman hasn’t been able to break down film with offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt the way he did last offseason. That’s a plight facing quarterbacks all around the league.

Wonder how they all deal with it?

Well, I’m sure it varies, but I asked Freeman how he is handling that issue and he provided a very interesting answer.

“I have all of our (2011) opponents’ games from last season on my computer and I can put them on my projector,’’ Freeman said. “Obviously, I’m familiar with the teams in the division, but I’ve been studying the other teams that we’ll be playing. The Colts, the Bears and the Packers, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching them and trying to figure out their tendencies and nuances.’’

Freeman got the film from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff before the lockout began. Backups Rudy Carpenter and Josh Johnson got the same package. I’m not certain, but I’m guessing the Bucs are not unique in this area.

I’m pretty sure Sean Payton and his staff made sure Drew Brees got something similar. I’d also guess Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey made sure Matt Ryan had some tape to watch during and after his honeymoon. If that somehow didn’t happen, Brees and Ryan are very resourceful guys and I’m sure they could find a way to get video of their upcoming opponents.

I’m not sure if the Panthers, who have an entirely new coaching staff were able to slip rookie Cam Newton any video while he was in their building during the brief period the lockout was lifted in April.

But new coach Ron Rivera and his staff seem to be pretty sharp guys and I’m guessing they also set up some sort of video package for Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike before the lockout.
If you saw Arrelious Benn working out with some of his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates on a recent day, you never would have guessed the wide receiver had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament just about six months ago.

He was running and catching passes as a group of Bucs, led by quarterback Josh Freeman, went through drills. He even stayed on the field for some extra work as most of the other players strolled off.

“I’m way ahead of schedule,’’ Benn said.

A second-round draft pick last season, Benn started slowly but started to come on around midseason. But his season was cut short when he injured his knee in a Week 16 game against Seattle.

Benn wouldn’t reveal what kind of timetable he originally was given for a return when he had the surgery. But he said he thinks he’ll be ready for training camp if it starts on time.

Benn did most of his rehab work in Tampa and also was working out with backup quarterback Rudy Carpenter in California in recent weeks.

“I can run straight as fast as I want, but I still want to take it light,’’ Benn said.

Benn said he’s able to make cuts on the knee that wasn’t injured and should be able to do that on both knees soon.

“I’m new to the ACL thing, but I didn’t think I’d be back this fast,’’ Benn said. “I feel like it never happened. I’ve got to be smart. I’ve still got things coming back together in my knee.’’

Benn said he was cleared to run at full speed about three weeks ago and plans to continue taking part in Freeman’s workouts.

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