NFC South: Sabby Piscitelli

TAMPA, Fla. -- They talked like they were drafting the second coming of John Lynch.

Instead, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of a past regime might have hit on a second Sabby Piscitelli.

The current regime was only too happy to give up on 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron on Tuesday as the NFL's trading deadline approached. Barron was shipped to the St. Louis Rams for fourth- and sixth-round picks in 2015. The Bucs also traded reserve linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots. The Bucs will get New England’s fifth-round pick next season and send their 2015 sixth-round pick to the Patriots.

Barron
But it's the trade of Barron that's most significant. The current tandem of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht obviously didn't share the same high opinion of Barron that former coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik did only two years ago.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but the Bucs could have taken linebacker Luke Kuechly with the seventh overall pick in the first round in 2012. Instead, they passed and took Barron. Kuechly won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 while playing for Carolina.

Barron hasn't been a total bust like Piscitelli, but he has produced only three interceptions in three seasons. Barron never has come close to playing up to his potential.

Barron became expendable in part because the Bucs have a trio of mediocre safeties in Bradley McDougald, Major Wright and Keith Tandy. None of those safeties has as much natural talent as Barron. But Barron's talent wasn't showing in the current system.

Barron also became expendable because he just wasn't as good as advertised. Maybe Barron turns into a force in St. Louis. But he was nothing more than mediocre in Tampa Bay.

Anybody else think the 2012 Bucs should have gone linebacker and drafted Kuechly?

Statistical superlatives on the Bucs

November, 12, 2012
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Let’s take a look at some statistical superlatives on Tampa Bay’s 34-24 victory against San Diego on Sunday with some help from ESPN Stats & Information and the Buccaneers’ media relations department.
  • Josh Freeman became the first Tampa Bay quarterback to throw for two or more touchdowns in five consecutive games since Brad Johnson in 2002.
  • Freeman compiled a 137.5 passer rating. He how has a passer rating over 100 in each of his last five games and is the only quarterback in franchise history to have such a streak reach five games.
  • Freeman also has thrown a touchdown pass in 12 consecutive games. Freeman previously set the franchise record with a touchdown pass in 15 straight games during the 2010 and ’11 seasons.
  • Leonard Johnson’s 83-yard interception return was the fourth-longest in franchise history. Shelton Quarles set the record with a 98-yard return in 2001 and Derrick Brooks had a 97-yard return in 2002. Sabby Piscitelli had an 84-yard return in 2008. But Piscitelli’s return didn’t go for a touchdown. The ones by Quarles, Brooks and Johnson did go for touchdowns.
  • In the second quarter, Dekoda Watson blocked a punt and Adam Hayward picked it up and ran 29 yards for a touchdown. That was the first time the Bucs scored on a blocked punt since 2009.
  • The Bucs scored a touchdown on offense, defense and special teams. That’s the first time they’ve done that since Oct. 18, 2009. It is only the fifth time in franchise history that the Bucs scored in all three phases.
  • Rookie running back Doug Martin had 119 yards of total offense. That’s the sixth time this season that Martin has produced at least 100 yards from scrimmage. He’s done that in each of the last five games.
  • Speaking of rookies, linebacker Lavonte David led the Bucs with 14 tackles and now leads the team with 81 on the season. Sunday marked the third time David has recorded 10 or more tackles in a game. He also had 16 last week against Oakland. David also leads the Bucs with 12 tackles for a loss.
At a time when everyone seems to be filling up lockout time with various lists of bests, it’s a little refreshing to come across something totally different.

Delhomme
Delhomme
Bill Barnwell has a look at the 25 least valuable players in the NFL. There are only two current NFC South representatives and we’ll come back to those in a moment. That’s because we’ve got to start with the top two guys on the list.

Both are NFC South outcasts. At No. 1 is Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme, who spent most of his career with Carolina and was with New Orleans before that. At No. 2 is San Francisco safety Sabby Piscitelli.

Sad to say, I can’t put up an argument for either of those guys not to be in those spots. Delhomme is one of the most genuine and gregarious human beings I’ve ever covered. For a time in Carolina, he was a pretty good quarterback. But sometime before he left the Panthers, Delhomme started taking throwing lessons from Chuck Knoblauch and Steve Sax and he hasn’t stopped throwing interceptions.

Piscitelli? Well, there’s really not a lot to say. People in Tampa Bay once expected him to be the second coming of John Lynch. I’m pretty sure you could go pull Lynch out of the broadcast booth right now, throw a uniform on him and he’d still be way better than Piscitelli.

The two current NFC South players on the list are Tampa Bay offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (No. 9) and Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen (No. 13). I’m not saying Clausen will ever be great, but I think it’s unfair to judge him on last season when he was playing for John Fox. Trueblood? Well, he’s fair game. He lost his starting job last season to James Lee.
Raymond JamesAP Photo/Brian BlancoParts of Raymond James Stadium are expected to be empty when the 9-2 Falcons play the 7-4 Bucs.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Of all the people I know in the Tampa Bay area, a friend I’ll call “Dan’’ is the biggest sports fan.

Literally -- he’s 6-foot-7 and a former college basketball player. And figuratively -- he listens to sports-talk radio all day, reads the NFC South Blog and the rest of the sports internet world and still subscribes to two daily newspapers. He’s the only person I know under 50 who still subscribes to two daily newspapers.

He can name the full rosters of every pro sports team in Tampa Bay and every big football and basketball college program in the state of Florida. Heck, Dan even got emotional the other day when the Buccaneers cut Sabby Piscitelli.

So, when I talked to Dan the other night, I asked if he was going to Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. He said no and I asked him why.

“I can’t afford it,’’ Dan said. “I’ll listen to it on the radio.’’

Like a lot of people in Florida, Dan lost his job because of an economic downturn that has hit Florida especially hard. He used to make very good money. But, even in those days, he didn’t have season tickets and he went to games only on rare occasions.

But what if things were still good? Would Dan buy a ticket for Sunday?

“Nah,’’ he said. “Maybe if it were a playoff game.’’

Well, guess what? Sunday essentially is a playoff game for the Buccaneers. They’re 7-4 and they need a win against the Falcons to have any chance to win the NFC South. They need a win to remain firmly in the playoff picture.

Even without Dan, you’d think the Bucs would have no trouble selling out this game. The game has been “flexed’’ to the 4:15 p.m. time slot, the Bucs will be inducting former coach John McKay into the Ring of Honor and will be wearing their creamsicle-color throwback uniforms. The game is being played in one of the league’s nicest stadiums.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Ronde Barber
Kim Klement/US PRESSWIREA team official guessed that Ronde Barber and the Buccaneers should expect to see about 45,000 fans at Sunday's game.
But selling out is not going to happen. It’s not even going to come close to happening. I talked to a team official the other day and he said the Bucs are guessing they’ll be lucky to sell 50,000 tickets and actually get 45,000 to show up at the stadium, which seats more than 65,000.

This is nothing new this year. After selling out every home game since the opening of Raymond James Stadium in 1998, the Bucs haven’t sold out a home game this season. That means they haven’t had a home game aired on local television this year. At most of their games, they’ve announced that tickets distributed were somewhere in the 40,000s, and the Tampa Sports Authority, which runs the stadium, usually says the actual turnstile count is somewhere in the upper 30,000s or lower 40,000s.

I understand the economy and have seen lots of other friends besides Dan lose their jobs or take cuts in pay. I understand that Florida is full of transplants from elsewhere who would rather stay home and watch the team from their old hometown on television. I understand Florida’s weather is nice and there are a lot of other things to do on a Sunday and some of them are free or inexpensive.

But I can’t understand why the Atlanta game isn’t selling out or at least coming close to it. Back in the offseason, when the Bucs started sending out subtle messages about the strong possibility of television blackouts, I believed them. But I also thought that if the team played well, all those people who filled the stadium for a decade would come flocking back and the attendance problem would fix itself.

It hasn’t, and I’m at a loss to explain it. I understand season tickets cost thousands of dollars and are a luxury for the majority of people in Tampa Bay. But single-game tickets are a different story, and the winning by the Bucs hasn’t made much difference in walk-up sales.

That’s more than a little surprising, especially for this game. If there’s one game this year worth plopping down, let’s just say, $50 for, this would have to be it. As I mentioned, it is essentially a playoff game.

The Bucs have done their part. They’ve put a good product on the field. With quarterback Josh Freeman and a group of play-making young receivers, they have the most exciting and entertaining offense in franchise history. Their defense isn’t quite up to the old Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin level, but it has come on strong in recent weeks.

Nobody seems to have noticed. I’ve got a couple of other theories on all this, but I’m fast running out of them.

First, last year’s 3-13 record didn’t help. Neither did the release of Derrick Brooks and a few other popular veterans following the 2008 season. There was some bitterness about all that, and it’s understandable. But we live in a knee-jerk society and you’d think the Bucs' winning football would have erased this by now.

Second, the fans seem to dislike the Glazer family, which owns the team. The perception is that the Glazers are “cheap’’ because they haven’t signed a lot of free agents and have had one of the league’s lowest payrolls the past couple years. There may be a bit of truth to that. But, overall, I think the perception is unfair and inaccurate. The Glazers are businessmen, but they also want to win. They brought Tampa Bay its only Super Bowl title and years of competitive teams. They’ve got a competitive team right now. Tampa Bay has a large transient population, but there still are enough natives or longtime residents who should remember what things were like back when Hugh Culverhouse ran the team.

Culverhouse operated in a day when there was no salary cap or floor. He always had the league’s lowest payrolls and he didn’t care if the Bucs won because he was pocketing millions off television contracts. The Glazers might not be the best owners in the league, but they’re not the worst. And compared to Culverhouse, they are gems.

Next year the Bucs are not raising season-ticket prices and they’re offering fans a 10-month payment plan. Indications from team officials are those sales are going fairly well, but they haven’t produced overwhelming results.

But let’s stick to this season. Let’s say the Bucs knock off Atlanta and go to Washington and beat the Redskins. Then, they come home for a Dec. 19 game with Detroit, which will probably draw about 40,000 people. Let’s give the Bucs a win against the Lions too. That puts them at 10-4 heading into a Dec. 26 game with Seattle. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m.

It could have big playoff implications for the Bucs and even the Seahawks in the crazy NFC West. It could get flexed into a better time slot by the league and television networks.

Day after Christmas? Bucs and Seahawks? It’ll be a Christmas miracle if more than 40,000 people show up. Let’s take it one step further and say the Bucs do get into the playoffs and somehow end up hosting a game.

Do they sell it out?

I doubt it. They can’t sell out the Atlanta game, which is pretty much the same thing as a playoff game.

You know that old riddle -- if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, I’ve never been able to figure that one out or spent a lot of time trying. But I do know one thing for certain: There’s a very nice football tree growing on Dale Mabry Highway right now. But, for whatever reason, Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be noticing.

Looking at NFC South payrolls

December, 2, 2010
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We’ve talked all year about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be a little frugal when it comes to paying out big salaries for players.

There’s no denying that. But, now that the Bucs are 7-4, I’m wondering if being frugal is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the gap between the Bucs and the rest of the league has widened even more than it was at the beginning of the season. With the releases of some veterans like Sabby Piscitelli and Keydrick Vincent, Tampa Bay’s payroll has been trimmed even more.

A few months ago, the Bucs were up around $85 million in money committed to this year’s salary cap. Of course, we must note there is no salary cap this year. But these figures are still the best way to gauge how teams are spending. These numbers aren’t actual salaries. They include salaries, but also included pro-rated signing bonuses, other bonuses and, in some cases, cap hits for guys no longer on the team.

According to the latest numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Tampa Bay is by far the league’s lowest team in this category. The Bucs are on the books for $80.8 million this year. I’m looking around the rest of the league and the only other teams that are at less than $100 million are Arizona ($98.1 million), Jacksonville ($91.5 million) and Kansas City ($93.7 million). The league average is $124.2 million.

I’m also looking at the two highest figures around the league. Washington leads at $192.2 million and Dallas is next at $167.3 million. Gee, they’re not really thriving, which makes me wonder if you have to spend huge money to succeed.

Beyond the Bucs, there is plenty of evidence that you don’t need a high payroll to win. The Atlanta Falcons are tied for the best record in the league and they’re committed to $118.8 million this year.

New Orleans is on the upper end of things, but they’re not quite with the big boys. The Saints are at about $147 million. Then, there are the Carolina Panthers, who are in a league of their own. They are right at $110 million. But more than $30 million of that is “dead money’’, which counts for players no longer on the team. If you factored in only the guys on Carolina’s roster, the Panthers would have a lower figure than the Buccaneers.

Bucs still pondering safety options

December, 1, 2010
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Their game with the Atlanta Falcons and their explosive offense is four days away and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still aren't sure what they're going to do at safety Sunday.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"It's just common place here and One Buc Place and what we've been doing all season,'' coach Raheem Morris said Wednesday afternoon.

Morris is right about that. In Tampa Bay's surprising 7-4 start, the Bucs have stayed true to their youth movement. When injuries or disciplinary issues have hit at other positions, they've turned to their own practice squad, the practice squads of other teams and the waiver wire. It's led to some positive results, particularly with LeGarrette Blount at running back.

The Bucs are hoping a young player can make a similar rise at safety, a position that has been depleted. It started early in the year when Tanard Jackson was suspended for a year for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. It continued Sunday when rookie Cody Grimm, who had done a decent job as a starter, suffered a season-ending injury. Then, the Bucs went even younger Tuesday when they released underachieving former starter Sabby Piscitelli.

That leaves them with one certainty at safety. Sean Jones will start at one spot, but the other is wide open. The leading candidate could be Corey Lynch, who has been mostly a special-teams player. The Bucs also have Vince Anderson, who they promoted from the practice squad Tuesday and they also signed Larry Asante off Cleveland's practice squad.

Morris said he still is evaluating the young players and wasn't about to declare a starter. But Morris also has been giving veteran cornerback Ronde Barber some work at safety for several weeks. We don't know if Barber's reps have increased this week, but that would make some sense. Atlanta has tight end Tony Gonzalez and putting Barber on him, as a safety, might give the Bucs their best possible matchup there.

All Morris would say was that Barber could move to safety "a little bit."

Buccaneers stick to youth movement

November, 30, 2010
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The thing I like best about what Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris have done this year is how they've embraced the team's youth movement and stayed firmly with it.

Gee, if John Fox had tried that, he might not be so far out the door in Carolina.

Anyway, the latest example of Tampa Bay's dedication to sticking with youth came Tuesday as the team announced a series of roster moves. It shouldn't really be this way, but the biggest one of the moves in the eyes of the Tampa Bay fan base is the team cutting fourth-year safety Sabby Piscitelli.

Yep, the Bucs cut a guy who never did much of anything and it's big news. That's partly because the Tampa Bay fan base, for reasons I could never figure out, long ago bought into the theory that Piscitelli was going to be the next John Lynch or at least the next Jermaine Phillips. He wasn't anywhere close to either.

The guy came out of college without a spectacular résumé and wasn't a first-round draft pick. Despite that, the Bucs gave him a lot of chances, probably far more than they should have. Maybe it was because Piscitelli looked the part. He had good size and could run a bit.

But the Bucs found out early on that Piscitelli had absolutely no ball skills, no intangibles and no instincts. At best, he's a guy you keep around on special teams to run downfield on kickoffs and punts. But even Piscitelli's tackling wasn't that good and it was a bit of a surprise when he made it out of training camp this year after griping about how he hadn't been given a chance to compete for a starting job.

The only real surprise here is that Piscitelli's release came on the same day the Bucs put rookie safety Cody Grimm on injured reserve. If nothing else, it looked like Grimm's injury was going to get Piscitelli some playing time the rest of the season.

But this is why I salute the Bucs. They knew Piscitelli had no future in Tampa Bay, so they pulled the plug and set up a situation where some guys who possibly could have futures in Tampa Bay will get a chance even though the team is in the playoff hunt. The Bucs promoted safety Vince Anderson and signed safety Larry Asante from Cleveland's practice squad. They'll throw those guys out there with Corey Lynch, another young safety, and see if someone rises up. If not, they'll likely have to find two safeties in the offseason because there is no guarantee Tanard Jackson will come back from a one-year suspension.

This approach shouldn't come as a total shock. All season long, Dominik and Morris have been trying methodically to upgrade their roster by wisely using their practice squad and the waiver wire. It's paid off with running back LeGarrette Blount being the prime example. It doesn't work in every case, but, if you come across a player here and there who can become a starter or at least a long-term role player, it's worth it.

In a few other moves that also fit this pattern, the Bucs placed guard Davin Joseph and defensive end Kyle Moore on injured reserve. They also promoted wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe and guard Brandon Carter from their practice squad.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
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» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Geniuses from New Orleans. I’ve been guilty of it too, but I think the media in general gets carried away with labeling coaches as “geniuses’’ or “gurus’’ like we did with Sean Payton and Gregg Williams last season. They might have been somewhat close to deserving those tags last season, but this season is proving that they’re just football coaches. I still think both are good at what they do, but when you go up against an undrafted rookie quarterback (Max Hall) and you’ve got Drew Brees and you lose, nobody’s going to call you a genius.

2. Jeff Davidson, offensive coordinator, Panthers. I’m the first to put the blame for the unimaginative offense on head coach John Fox. But don’t all the fans who tried to run Dan Henning out of town a few years ago feel just a tad guilty about that now? And what about that supposed “passing camp’’ the Panthers had in the offseason, where the entire passing game was going to be overhauled? Well, maybe they should have used the word “demolished’’ instead of overhauled. If Fox doesn’t make it through the rest of the season, and that’s looking possible, Davidson’s way behind defensive coordinator Ron Meeks on the list to take over as the interim coach.

3. Perceptions that Reggie Bush is a bust. Since the New Orleans running back fractured his leg, the Saints have lost two of three games. Suddenly, the Saints can’t run the ball and they can’t pass it nearly as well as they used to. Yeah, I know there’s a school of thought that Bush is nothing more than a role player. But it’s becoming pretty clear that his role is to confuse defenses and make everyone around him better. The Saints are suffering without that.

RISING

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham
Jason Miller/US PresswireJohn Abraham's two sacks against the Cleveland Browns doubled his season total.
1. John Abraham, defensive end, Falcons. He was supposed to be old and washed up after last year’s lackluster season. But guess what? He’s not. Abraham racked up two sacks against three-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas on Sunday. Abraham delivered a hit that knocked out starting quarterback Seneca Wallace and forced the Browns to put a gimpy Jake Delhomme on the field. In addition to reviving his own game, Falcons officials are also delighted with the way Abraham has embraced serving as a mentor to young defensive linemen -- helping Kroy Biermann and Jamaal Anderson have productive seasons.

2. Redemption songs in the Tampa Bay secondary. Cody Grimm, Sabby Piscitelli and Aqib Talib have seen hard times in the past. Grimm got toasted by Pittsburgh in his debut, Piscitelli took more than his share of the blame for last year’s disaster and Talib was suspended for the first game for an off-field incident. But each of those three guys came up with an interception Sunday and Piscitelli’s pick set up the game-winning field goal.

3. Micheal Spurlock, receiver, Buccaneers. This little guy is showing signs he might be more than just a return man. After Piscitelli’s interception, Spurlock made a great catch on a great throw by Josh Freeman. He kept both feet in bounds long enough and the play allowed the Bucs to kick a game-winning field goal.

NFC South Week 5 decisive moment

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
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» NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

There’s an old saying in the NFL that big-time players make big-time plays. If that’s the case, the baby Buccaneers are growing up fast and big-time players have been sprouting up quickly in a 3-1 start.

No one has grown faster than quarterback Josh Freeman, who wasn’t even playing at this time a year ago. It still is very early in his career, but Freeman is showing he might be capable of doing what no other quarterback in franchise history ever has done. This guy goes out and wins games.

That has never happened in Tampa Bay before. Through different coaching and front-office regimes, the Bucs always seemed to ask their quarterbacks to not lose games. From Doug Williams to Trent Dilfer to Brad Johnson to Jeff Garcia, nobody ever went out and truly won games. The quarterbacks always were asked to try to be careful while the defense did the winning.

But the Bucs are letting Freeman be a gunslinger and it’s working. The latest example came Sunday in Cincinnati. With one fourth-quarter touchdown pass already under his belt to tie the score, Freeman got a huge break when safety Sabby Piscitelli picked off Carson Palmer.

Freeman charged onto the field and threw a rocket to the sideline where Micheal Spurlock also grew up before our eyes. Spurlock made a tippy-toe catch that prompted a replay to see if he actually made the catch inbounds. He did.

That set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal.

Wrap-up: Buccaneers 24, Bengals 21

October, 10, 2010
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 24-21 on Sunday.

What it means: The Bucs are for real. We’re not talking dynasty just yet and they might not even be a playoff contender. But the Bucs are 3-1 and this was their biggest win of the year. Unlike the first two, it didn’t come against Jake Delhomme or the guy who replaced him (Matt Moore) in Carolina. It came against Carson Palmer, generally considered a good quarterback. The Bucs went on the road, fell behind a decent team and had enough talent to come back and win. This one was a major sign of progress.

Injury of note: Center Jeff Faine suffered a quadriceps injury. He’ll be examined and tested more thoroughly back in Tampa, but this one sounds fairly serious. The Bucs likely would slide backup guard Jeremy Zuttah over to center if Faine is going to miss time.

Heroes: Take your pick because there were a number of candidates. Connor Barth kicked the game-winning field goal. Josh Freeman set him up to do it. Much-maligned safety Sabby Piscitelli made a key interception to allow Freeman to set up Barth.

Hindsight: Remember when everybody was freaking out because rookie safety Cody Grimm gave up a big play against Pittsburgh in his first NFL start? A lot of knee jerkers wanted Grimm run out of town. That wasn’t realistic because seventh-round picks aren’t supposed to be immediate starters. But Grimm used the bye week and some coaching and came up with an interception that he returned for a touchdown. There still will be ups and downs for Grimm, but this guy might have a future.

What’s next: If you truly want to measure progress and find out if the Bucs just might be a legitimate playoff contender, start looking to next week. The Bucs host the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Yeah, the Saints haven’t exactly been lighting it up like they did last season, but they’re still the champions and that will provide an excellent test for Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers mailbag

October, 7, 2010
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Let’s start off our weekly series of team-by-team mailbags with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Chris in Harrisburg, Pa., writes: With Tanard Jackson's future in serious question, do you think the Bucs might try and develop Myron Lewis to be their FS in the future? I know a lot of scouts projected him as a FS because that was the position that best fits him. What’s your take?

Pat Yasinskas: I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Lewis switching to safety in the long term because he does have the size and the skill set for the position. But that’s not the kind of change you make right now. It’s too difficult on a rookie to make that switch in the middle of the season. Besides, the Bucs have high hopes for Lewis as a cornerback and cornerbacks are harder to find than safeties. With Ronde Barber nearing the end of his career, there is hope that Lewis eventually can be his replacement in the starting lineup.


Chris in Virginia writes: I saw the link where Cadillac Williams talked about his limited days as a featured back. Looking ahead, I think that the duo of Kareem Huggins as a speedster and LeGarrette Blount as a power back can be very potent and I'm excited to see it in action. Your thoughts?

Pat Yasinskas: I’m curious to see Huggins and Blount in action. I liked what I saw from Huggins in camp and in the preseason. I walked by Blount as he came off the practice field Wednesday and he’s a very big guy. They have the potential to be an interesting duo, but let’s see them in action before getting too excited.


Marques in San Diego writes: So with the bye week through have you heard anything about the starting free safety position. Does Cody Grimm have it locked up? Or does maybe Sabby Piscitelli get another shot as a starter? I've seen Sabby making a lot of special team tackles this season and i think he deserves another chance. For better or worse he does have more experience than our rookie Grimm.

Pat Yasinskas: Every indication I have is that Grimm will remain the starter. Yes, he gave up a big play against Pittsburgh. But the Bucs thought he also did some good things and that he has plenty of potential. He also is a natural free safety. I agree Piscitelli is doing a nice job on special teams. But he’s really not a free safety. He’s a strong safety and pass coverage and ball skills are not his strengths. I think he’s destined to stay as a special-teams guy and backup strong safety.

Reviewing film of the NFC South chat

September, 24, 2010
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Friday’s NFC South chat was filled with some great questions. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

Michael from Warner Robins, Ga.: I was very excited to hear that William Moore will be starting a second straight game. Last week he thumped Derek Anderson and caught one of two possible inteceptions. I have been told that he hits as hard at John Lynch, and the look on Derek Anderson's face reenforced that idea. What are your thoughts about Moore and his abilities?

Pat Yasinskas: Think Moore's a player. Falcons are high on him and have been waiting anxiously for him to get on the field. Now, he's getting his chance.


John from Raleigh, N.C.: Do you really think that Jimmy Clausen is the solution to the Panthers QB problems? He hasn't had much time on the field in the regular season, but when he has been on the field he hasn't looked too impressive. What are your thoughts on Tony Pike?

Pat Yasinskas: Carolina fans calling for Pike already??? Give Clausen a chance. He's not going to save the world. But he's your best chance. You really don't want to see Pike playing any time soon. He's a project.


Christian from Portland, Ore.: Hi Pat - hope I'm not too early to get in. Anyway, what does Cody Grimm's start on Sunday say about Sabby Piscitelli's current status and/or future in the Bucs' secondary?

Pat Yasinskas: Says the Bucs see Sabby as a backup strong safety and special-teams player. Says they at least think Grimm has the tools to be a good free safety. With Pittsburgh's QB situation, he might be able to get through this week and get some experience without really getting tested. Then he'll have the bye week to get some more first-team work.


Greg from Salisbury, N.C.: Everyone continues to call Jarrett a bust. His stats argue that point perfectly. What they don't show is how many of those catches were clutch receptions on 3rd and long. I would love to see the numbers on how many of his few receptions were on 3rd down. When the pass is thrown his way, he catches it. Only pass I remember him dropping was a couple years back when it was thrown behind him by Jake and he nearly made an impossible catch. So I ask, why is labeled such an incredible bust with no turnaround in sight? Give him a chance, he will produce.

Pat Yasinskas: Come on, man. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. But it's year four for him and Panthers started a sixth-round rookie ahead of him last week. I think that says it all.

Here's the entire transcript of Friday's NFC South chat.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers mailbag

September, 23, 2010
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Amar in South Korea writes: So now that we lost Tanard Jackson ... Any chance Jermaine Phillips will be back? He knows the system and is better than what we have on the depth chart.


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.

Jackson suspension a hurdle for Bucs

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
5:34
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The undefeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers just suffered their first loss of the season and it’s a really big one.

[+] EnlargeTanard Jackson
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesTampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson has been suspended by the NFL for the rest of the season.
The team just announced that safety Tanard Jackson has been suspended for at least a year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Jackson will miss the rest of this season and will not be eligible to apply for reinstatement until Sept. 22, 2011. He will not be paid during that time.

Jackson also was suspended for the first four games of the 2009 season for violating the same policy and the length of this suspension suggests he has had at least three positive tests for banned substances.

This is a particularly crushing blow to a team that is off to a fast start and has been relatively controversy free after a tumultuous 2009 season. Along with cornerback Aqib Talib, Jackson formed the core of a secondary that was developing into a team strength.

Jackson, 25, has been viewed as one of the league’s better young free safeties and some members of the organization have said they thought he had Pro Bowl potential. There likely will be a big dropoff from Jackson to whoever replaces him and the options aren’t many.

Rookie Cody Grimm, a seventh-round pick, is listed as the top backup on Tampa Bay’s depth chart. Corey Lynch, a third-year player, is listed as the third-team free safety. Lynch has never been much more than a special-teams player. Grimm lacks experience, but had an impressive training camp and preseason.

Some teams like to say the safety positions are interchangeable, but neither of Tampa Bay’s strong safeties appear likely candidates for a move. Veteran Sean Jones is the starter at strong safety, but he might be the best bet for a move. Jones has some ball skills as evidenced by his 16 career interceptions.

Jones replaced Sabby Piscitelli, last year’s starting strong safety. Piscitelli is not known for being especially good in coverage and he lacks ball skills. It’s also possible the Bucs could bring in a safety from somewhere else, but there aren’t a lot of starting-caliber safeties sitting out there that could step right into the lineup.

One other long-shot scenario would be moving veteran cornerback Ronde Barber to safety. It’s not uncommon for cornerbacks to move to safety late in their careers. But it would be unusual and difficult to make the transition in the middle of a season. At 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, Barber doesn’t have the size of most safeties, but the Bucs do have some depth at cornerback with E.J. Biggers, Elbert Mack and Myron Lewis currently in backup roles.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 28, 2010
8/28/10
10:56
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Time for some observations on the Bucs from their 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

  • [+] EnlargeJosh Johnson
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBackup quarterback Josh Johnson had a decent start in place of injured Bucs starter Josh Freeman.
    The Bucs showed some signs of having a bend-but-don’t-break defense. That’s super. But let’s keep it in perspective. Jacksonville’s offense, minus Maurice Jones-Drew, isn’t going to break any defense.
  • Rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy looked pretty good. He got good pressure on David Garrard on an incompletion in the second quarter. Right after that, McCoy did a nice job running Garrard out of bounds after a snap sailed over the quarterback’s head. That play resulted in a 10-yard loss.
  • Where else might the Bucs get a pass rush from? Believe it or not, Kyle Moore was in Garrard’s face as he threw a second-quarter interception (more on that in just a second). Looks like Moore’s going to have a starting job.
  • On to the previously-mentioned interception. It was made by (drum roll please) … Barrett Ruud. Yep, the middle linebacker made the kind of big play he needs to make to get himself that big contract he wants. Ruud even ran 80 yards after making the grab. Do that in the regular season a few times and Ruud's wish will come true.
  • Return man Clifton Smith, who missed a chunk of last season after concussion problems, fumbled the first time he touched the ball this preseason. Not really a good sign for Smith because the Bucs have other options in the return game.
  • Josh Johnson had decent numbers (9 of 14 for 122 yards) while starting in place of injured starting quarterback Josh Freeman. But I still don’t think it would be a bad idea for the Bucs to pluck a legitimate backup quarterback off the waiver wire before the season starts.
  • Then again, maybe the Bucs are just like the Vikings. After all, they’ve got a quarterback who spent virtually all of training camp hanging out in Mississippi. That’s Jevan Snead, the guy they cut on the first day of training camp and re-signed when Freeman got hurt.
  • I thought the biggest positive for the Bucs was rookie receiver Mike Williams. He’s been making big plays since he arrived in Tampa Bay. It’s great when he can do that with Freeman, but it’s even more impressive that he’s still making big plays when he’s catching passes from another quarterback.
  • The Bucs just gave an injury update on Sabby Piscitelli, who went down in the fourth quarter. The team said he has a mild concussion.

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