NFL Nation: Cody Grimm

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
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Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Cody Grimm.

Analysis: Melvin and Grimm are very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.

Checking in on the Buccaneers

May, 29, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Some quick takeaways from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ OTA (organized team activities) on Wednesday:
  • Safety Cody Grimm said he was sorry about his recent arrest for public intoxication in Virginia. Grimm said he has talked with coach Greg Schiano about the incident and promised it would not happen again. Grimm clearly is fighting for a roster spot and the off-field stuff isn’t going to help him. But Grimm appeared to have a productive session Wednesday, coming up with an interception on a tipped ball and breaking up at least one other pass.
  • Schiano said he’s very happy with the condition left tackle Donald Penn is in this spring. Schiano said when he arrived last year, Penn’s weight was an issue. But Schiano, Penn and the training staff discussed ways to deal with it and Penn’s weight hasn’t been an issue since.
  • Schiano said cornerback Darrelle Revis continues to progress well in his recovery from knee surgery. But the coach stopped short of saying whether or not Revis is expected to be ready for the first day of training camp. Schiano emphasized the goal is to have Revis ready for the start of the season, but said training camp is part of the process. Revis was working with trainers Wednesday, but spent part of the session on the sideline watching his teammates.
  • It doesn’t look like the Bucs plan to bring rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks along slowly. He was getting plenty of first-team work and seemed to hold his own in several matchups with starting receiver Mike Williams. I don’t know if Banks will start ahead of Eric Wright, but it’s pretty obvious the Bucs expect the rookie to be one of their top three cornerbacks.
  • One of the better competitions in training camp should be for the job as the third receiver. It looks like free-agent pickup Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood are the primary candidates. Underwood appeared to have a solid practice Wednesday. He caught a long touchdown pass from Josh Freeman and also had a nice diving catch on a medium-range pass.
  • Luke Stocker appeared to get most of the first-team work at tight end Wednesday. But I think the Bucs are hoping free-agent pickup Tom Crabtree can blossom. Crabtree didn’t get a lot of opportunities in his Green Bay days, but he appears to have some skills as a pass catcher.
  • Schiano said he’s confident his team is following league rules that prohibit contact in OTAs as closely as possible. But he did acknowledge there was one incident last week when a couple of linemen got into a tussle in the heat of the moment.

Escalators and the NFC South

February, 19, 2013
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One of the many reasons the New Orleans Saints are in a difficult salary-cap situation is that six of their players triggered escalators that will cost the team nearly $4 million in 2013.

Kicker Garrett Hartley earned a $1.432 million escalator and safety Malcolm Jenkins earned a $1.25 million raise. The other Saints to hit escalators were receiver Lance Moore ($100,000), tackle Zach Strief ($300,000), tight end Jimmy Graham ($700,000) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson ($195,000).

I’ve also got the numbers on escalators that were triggered elsewhere in the NFC South. In most cases, the escalators were based on players meeting specified playing-time levels in 2012. But, in some cases, the escalators were triggered by playing time in previous years.

Atlanta’s Michael Turner, who could end up being a salary-cap casualty, had his base salary escalate by $1.4 million. Defensive end John Abraham triggered a $1 million escalator. The other two Falcons to earn escalators for this season are defensive tackle Corey Peters ($600,000) and cornerback Asante Samuel ($200,000).

Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy had his team’s largest escalator ($775,000). Receiver Brandon LaFell earned a $700,000 escalator and offensive lineman Garry Williams will pick up an extra $125,000.

The Tampa Bay players to hit escalators were offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah ($250,000), tackle Demar Dotson ($500,000), receiver Mike Williams ($800,000), offensive lineman Ted Larsen ($700,000), safety Cody Grimm ($625,000, which was based on his 2010 playing time) and fullback Erik Lorig ($425,000).

Sean Weatherspoon returning for Falcons

November, 25, 2012
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will make his return Sunday against the Buccaneers after missing three games with an ankle injury.

That should help a run defense that has struggled in his absence. Receiver Julio Jones (ankle) and cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) had been listed as questionable, but they are active and expected to start.

The inactives for the Falcons are quarterback Dominique Davis, safety Charles Mitchell, receiver Tim Toone, offensive lineman Phillipkeith Manley, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and offensive lineman Harland Gunn.

The inactives for the Bucs are cornerback Eric Wright, running back Michael Smith, safety Cody Grimm, linebacker Najee Goode, offensive lineman Cody Wallace, defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo and receiver David Douglas.

Buccaneers could be thin at DT

August, 31, 2012
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to great extremes this offseason to build up their depth at defensive tackle so they don’t face a situation like last season, when they became so desperate they had to bring in Albert Haynesworth.

It doesn’t look like things are working out quite as planned. According to multiple reports, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye has been released by the Bucs and the Chicago Bears already are working to finalize a contract with the veteran. That’s ironic, because Brian Price, who once seemed to factor into Tampa Bay’s interior-line plans, was traded to Chicago this summer.

The Bucs spent decent money ($2 million) to bring in Okoye, a former first-round draft pick by Houston. The thinking was he could at least be a rotational player behind Gerald McCoy and could end up as a starter if McCoy’s injury woes continued. Instead, Okoye was the one with the injury problem. A knee issue forced Okoye to miss a lot of time in training camp and the preseason. The Bucs are off the hook for Okoye's $1.8 million base, but his $200,000 workout bonus still will count against their salary cap.

Roy Miller appears to have earned the starting job next to McCoy. Okoye’s release would leave Gary Gibson and Wallace Gilberry as the apparent top backups at defensive tackle. Gibson played for coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and has bounced around the NFL. Gilberry also has NFL experience. But, given McCoy’s history of injury problems, I don’t see how the Bucs can feel too great about their depth at defensive tackle. I think there’s a decent chance they could end up with another defensive tackle off the waiver wire.

There also are reports that the Bucs have released defensive tackle Frank Okam and safety Cody Grimm, but the team hasn’t made any official announcements yet.

Observation deck: Bucs-Dolphins

August, 10, 2012
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For the first time since October, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won a football game, defeating the Miami Dolphins on Friday night, 20-7.

So what if it doesn’t count in the standings because it’s just a preseason game? We might look back on it in the future and remember it fondly as the start of a successful Greg Schiano era. Heck, even if Schiano’s overall tenure doesn’t go well, what happened in Miami sure was a lot better than what happened in the final 10 games that Raheem Morris coached this team.

Although the starters played only briefly, it’s obvious Schiano has brought some order to a team that desperately needed it. The first-team offense opened with a long scoring drive, the second team followed with an even longer one and the defense got the Dolphins off the field.

Let’s take a look at some observations on the Bucs:
  • Running back LeGarrette Blount, who is trying to hold onto his starting job, got off to a good start. Blount got the start and played well. Blount carried seven times for 30 yards and even caught a pass. Blount also scored the game’s first touchdown, hurdling over a pile at the goal line, but you could make the case Blount should have gotten in on third down if he had followed Carl Nicks with more authority.
  • Doug Martin, the rookie Blount is trying to hold off, also fared well. Martin scored the game’s second touchdown on a short run and did it behind a second-team offensive line that’s not nearly as good as the first unit. Martin’s highlight play came on a run in which it looked like he was tackled. He then spun free and never hit the ground. Martin also did a nice job blocking Cameron Wake on a key pass play to Luke Stocker on the offense’s first drive.
  • Speaking of rookie running backs, Michael Smith, a seventh-round draft pick, had a 74-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.
  • Quarterback Josh Freeman completed 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards while playing only one series. Freeman didn’t do anything spectacular, but he looked calmer than last year. Maybe that was because he had some help from the running game as the Bucs drove 59 yards on 13 plays in seven minutes and 17 seconds.
  • Top draft pick Mark Barron was held out due to a slight injury. Cody Grimm, who had been working with the third team early in camp, ran with the first team.
  • Wide receiver Preston Parker has had a nice camp. But he probably had a few points deducted by Schiano after drawing a 15-yard penalty for slapping Miami’s Richard Marshall after a play ended. Things got worse for Parker in the second quarter when he fumbled a punt return. Yeah, it was raining and the ball was wet, but those same conditions can be present in the regular season.
  • Second-year linebacker Mason Foster and second-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn both put big hits on a Miami back on a running play near the end of the first quarter.
  • Rookie linebacker Lavonte David was drafted in the second round because the Bucs believe he can make big plays. He did. David intercepted a tipped pass in the second quarter.
  • Backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky completed all eight of his passes for 91 yards, but it wasn’t as spectacular as it sounds. Receiver Tiquan Underwood bailed Orlovsky out with a catch on a 44-yard pass that a Miami safety had the angle on but failed to reach out for the ball.
It was a tough day first day of camp practice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It already has been widely reported that wide receiver Arrelious Benn suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for about a month. But, on top of that, cornerback E.J. Biggers also is going to miss some practice time.

A league source told ESPN.com that Biggers suffered a broken bone in his foot Friday.

Both injuries have the potential to cause problems. Biggers seemed likely to be the No. 3 cornerback behind starters Aqib Talib and Eric Wright. There’s not much depth beyond Biggers, and that opens some possibilities in the nickel package if the injury causes him to miss any regular-season time.

The Bucs have moved veteran cornerback Ronde Barber to free safety. There’s been talk that Barber could slide to nickelback and line up with slot receivers on passing downs and Cody Grimm could take his place at free safety in those situations. If Biggers is healthy for the regular season, he gives the Bucs options. If he’s not ready, the Bucs may have to shuffle Barber and Grimm.

Benn’s injury also is significant, even though the Bucs have some depth at wide receiver. Benn was considered to be in the mix to start opposite Vincent Jackson. But the Bucs have several other options with young wide receivers like Mike Williams, Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter.


TAMPA, Fla. -- Before he was even asked a question about his first pick as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Greg Schiano was painting a portrait that probably still is invisible to most Tampa Bay fans.

Schiano had just stunned his fan base -- and probably the rest of the world -- by taking Alabama safety Mark Barron at No. 7. A safety at No. 7? This guy had better be the second coming of Ronnie Lott and Ed Reed put together or, at very least, John Lynch Jr. You don’t take a safety at No. 7, and say you gladly would have taken him at No. 5, unless you think he’s special. Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik definitely thought Barron was special.

“I think he fits into what we do defensively perfectly,’’ Schiano said. “You couldn’t draw it up any better.’’

That probably doesn’t excite you, especially if you wanted the Bucs to stay put at No. 5 and draft LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. And I know there was a contingent of Tampa Bay fans who thought Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly would be a perfect fit after the Bucs traded out of No. 5 and Claiborne went to Dallas at No. 6.

Either of those would have fit the profile of what we’ve come to expect from the Buccaneers, stretching back to Tony Dungy, running through the Jon Gruden era (with Monte Kiffin as the bridge) and right through the ugly final days of Raheem Morris.

But here’s the thing: Those days are over. This is Schiano’s team now.

Unless you’re a die-hard Rutgers fan, you don’t have any clue what a Schiano team looks like. Even if all your Knights are scarlet, you might see some changes as Schiano adjusts to the NFL. He’s not about to publicly share his X's and O's, but he certainly has implied this team is going to look a lot different in a lot of ways. Believe it or not, that might start at safety because Barron is going to be tied to Schiano forever, for better or worse.

“I think our safeties have to be more dynamic than in most schemes,’’ Schiano said.

At 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, Barron is big enough to play in the box and make an impact on a run defense that needs improvement. With 12 career interceptions, Barron also has shown the ability to make plays in coverage.

“He needs to be able to do a lot of things, and he is capable of them,’’ Schiano said.

He’s going to have to cover wide receivers man to man, Schiano said. That’s a change from the days of Kiffin’s Cover 2, when safeties picked up wide receivers only after they got past the cornerbacks and Lynch often played the role of a linebacker. That may not be enough in an NFC South in which Drew Brees has thrown for 5,000 yards in a season and Cam Newton and Matt Ryan can put up big numbers. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s not just an NFC South trend. All around the league, teams are throwing the heck out of the ball.

“Safety has become an extremely important position now,’’ Dominik said.

More important than cornerback? Where the Bucs have Eric Wright, an aging Ronde Barber and a question mark in Aqib Talib?

Obviously, the Bucs think so. Dominik said the Bucs would have chosen Barron at No. 5 if they had stayed put. That means they would have chosen him over Claiborne, who was widely considered the best cornerback in this draft.

That’s a pretty strong statement from a team that has chosen only two defensive backs in the first round in its history and both of those were cornerbacks. There’s even a bit more pure football logic about this pick.

The Bucs had a big need at safety after releasing Tanard Jackson. They were left with Cody Grimm, a possible move to safety by Barber and not much else. Barron fills that need.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron and Jarrett Lee
Marvin Gentry/US Presswire"You couldn't draw it up any better," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of getting safety Mark Barron.
But I don’t think this pick was completely about X's and O's and pure football ability.

I think the selection of Barron was another sign that Schiano is going to do things much differently than in the past. Something obviously cooled the Bucs on Claiborne. Maybe it was that he reportedly had a low Wonderlic score or maybe it was something else.

Schiano said he and Dominik saw sparks the first time they watched film of Barron. By the time they interviewed him at the combine, there was a flame. As they talked about Barron, Schiano and Dominik both mentioned that he was a two-time captain for a team that won two national championships during his stint.

“He fits who we are and what we are,’’ Schiano said.

I get the impression Schiano cares a lot about what guys bring as players, but I’m getting an even stronger sense he cares about what they bring as people and how that can translate into winning. That’s sort of a new concept around here, at least since the Dungy days.

“He fits who we are and what we are,’’ Schiano said.

In other words, the Bucs think Barron can step right in and be a leader on a team that desperately lacked leadership and personality in the Morris days.

“Our coaches are excited to get their hands on him and mold him into a Buccaneer Man,’’ Dominik said.

We’ve heard the phrase “Buccaneer Man’’ a lot since Schiano took over. The problem is we have no idea what the new Buccaneer Man is supposed to be. But now we’re starting to get a bit of a portrait.

With Barron, there’s a face and maybe an outline of a body and a personality. Looks a little like a good athlete, a natural leader and a guy who was asking if there was a way to get his hands on a playbook Thursday night, even though he’s scheduled to fly to Tampa first thing Friday morning.

Maybe the Barron pick doesn’t look so bad -- or blank -- after all.
Mark BarronJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Buccaneers indeed got a defensive back, but it was Alabama safety Mark Barron.

TAMPA, Fla. – A lot of people thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would end up with the best cornerback in the draft. Instead, they wound up with the best safety.

After trading down from No. 5 to No. 7, the Bucs drafted Alabama safety Mark Barron.

That may come as a surprise to those who expected Tampa Bay to come away with LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. But maybe the Bucs weren’t as sold on Claiborne as everyone thought.

They must have been sold on Barron. Not sure this will fly with fans, but Barron does fill a big need. The Bucs released safety Tanard Jackson recently. Aside from Cody Grimm, they have very little else at safety.

I’ll be back with much more analysis on this after we hear from coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik and get Barron on a conference call.

Tanard Jackson starting for Bucs

October, 16, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. – After practicing just three days in the last 56 weeks, safety Tanard Jackson will be in Tampa Bay’s starting lineup Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Jackson was reinstated by the NFL on Tuesday, after serving a suspension of slightly more than one year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Jackson returned to practice Wednesday and the Bucs made the decision to activate him to the 53-man roster Friday.

Cody Grimm, who had been starting at the free safety spot, already is out for the season with an injury. The Bucs had been getting by with Corey Lynch and Larry Asante sharing playing time at that spot.

Final Word: NFC South

September, 23, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Looking back, but not too far. The Saints will wear their throwback uniforms Sunday against the Texans. But New Orleans fans better hope the defense doesn’t turn back the clock too far. The Saints need to play defense the same way they did in last week’s victory against Chicago. Houston has plenty of offensive weapons and the Saints can’t afford to play the way they did in the season opener against Green Bay. It should help significantly that defensive end Will Smith is back after serving a two-game suspension.

[+] EnlargeJon Gruden
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe last time the Buccaneers beat the Falcons, coach Jon Gruden was still prowling the sidelines.
One-sided rivalry. Tampa Bay hasn’t won against Atlanta since Jon Gruden was coaching the Buccaneers. The Falcons have won five in a row. Here’s a little tip for Bucs coach Raheem Morris: Try getting your offense on track in the first half. Josh Freeman can rally his team from a 17-point deficit against a team like the Vikings. That’s probably not going to work against the Falcons, who are a little bit better than Minnesota.

Shooting for 30. The Saints can make some franchise history if they score 30 points against the Texans. It would mark the first time the Saints have scored 30 or more points in each of their first three games.

Revisiting the 1995 expansion. The Jaguars and Panthers both came into the league in 1995. The Jaguars have had more regular-season success. They’re 134-124, while the Panthers are 119-139. The Jaguars also hold a 3-1 advantage in head-to-head play. But the Panthers have reached a Super Bowl and the Jaguars haven’t. I give a big edge to the Panthers in this one because their rookie quarterback (Cam Newton) already has shown he can play in this league. Jacksonville’s rookie, Blaine Gabbert, will be making his first start.

Whatever happened to Roddy White? The Atlanta receiver had 115 catches last season. Through the first two games, White has only 11 catches. He has been targeted on only one throw of more than 15 yards and that pass was incomplete. History has shown that you can’t keep White quiet for long. He and Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib are two guys who like to talk and their matchup could be interesting. But the real key could be if Bucs safeties Cody Grimm and Sean Jones are able to continue the trend of keeping White from getting open downfield.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Sit down with Mark Dominik even for just a few minutes and you’ll quickly hear his theory on why the term “youth movement’’ shouldn’t come with negative connotations.

“Don’t confuse youth with immaturity,’’ the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said. “There’s a big difference between those two things. I’m sure we’ve all met 23-year-olds that act like they’re 28 and we’ve met people that are 28 but act like they’re 23. I feel like we’re a mature, young football team, which is important.’’

Yes, the Bucs, who were the NFL’s youngest team last season, are going to be young again. They have only three players 30 or older and they’re counting on big things from a lot of rookies and second-year players.

But this is a team that won 10 games last season with a lot of young players in key roles, and all of them should be a year better. That experience only encouraged the Bucs to continue with their youth movement and steer clear of making any dramatic moves in free agency. Instead of worrying about regressing, like a lot of fans and media are predicting, the Bucs fully expect to take another step forward.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,’’ quarterback Josh Freeman said. “It matters how well you’re playing and if you have the ability to step up in big situations.’’

Freeman epitomizes what Dominik was talking about. The quarterback is 23, but spend a few minutes with him or think about how he led his teammates through workouts during the lockout and you’d swear he was 28. Or 38.

“It’s about the type of player we’re looking for,’’ Dominik said. “Certainly, the skill level has a lot to do with it. But it’s also very much about the type of player we’re looking for in terms of their demeanor. Plus, I have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff as far as getting guys prepared.’’

The Bucs hit it big when they drafted Freeman, and pickups such as receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount have made quick impacts. That’s part of the reason why they plan to plug rookie Adrian Clayborn in as an immediate starter at defensive end and why they’re willing to put rookie Mason Foster at the all-important middle linebacker position.

“When we talked to Adrian Clayborn and Mason Foster in the draft process, we felt that sense of someone who was wise beyond his years,’’ Dominik said. “It gives you confidence to be able to see a young man who takes his game and his craft seriously and puts time into it and it’s important to him. That's the kind of thing that's important to us. We have a young team that we like very much and we look forward to it growing older together.''

THREE HOT TOPICS

[+] EnlargeGerald McCoy
Brett Davis/US PresswireThe Buccaneers have invested several high draft picks in their defensive line, including the No. 3 overall pick in 2010 on defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
1. Where will the pass rush come from? The Bucs were among the worst in the league at pressuring quarterbacks last season. That’s why they drafted Clayborn in the first round and fellow defensive end Da'Quan Bowers in the second in April. A year ago, the Bucs used their top two draft picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.

There’s a lot invested in those young defensive linemen and the Bucs expect immediate results. Sure, they wouldn’t mind getting some sacks from blitzes by their linebackers or defensive backs, but it’s not like the Bucs have some other pass-rushing defensive end hidden up their sleeves.

Throughout camp, Clayborn’s looked even better than the Bucs thought he was when they drafted him. Bowers, coming off knee surgery in January, hasn’t been quite at Clayborn’s level. But he has looked better than the Bucs expected him to be at this point. At worst, Clayborn will start right away and Bowers will be used as a situational rusher. At best, Bowers might get on the field more than that and show every team that let him slide to the second round that his knee is fine.

2. Can Blount be a complete running back? That’s the hope and the plan, but Blount is a work in progress. We learned quickly last season that he can run between the tackles. He didn’t take the starting job from Cadillac Williams until midseason, but he still managed to rush for 1,007 yards.

Williams thrived as a third-down back last season, but he left via free agency, creating a void. When Blount was on the field last season, it was pretty obvious the Bucs were going to hand the ball to him. He only caught five passes and the team was hesitant to rely on Blount to pick up on blitzes on pass plays.

Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin can do some of those things, but the Bucs have been working hard to make Blount a more balanced player. The coaching staff said he’s now up to speed on pass blocking and he has worked a lot on catching the ball out of the backfield in camp. If Blount can do everything this season, Tampa Bay’s offensive intentions no longer will be telegraphed.

3. Was Freeman’s first full season as a starter misleading? Not at all. He threw for 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions and pretty much carried an offense that had to do a lot of shuffling through a series of injuries.

Freeman took over as leader of the team last season, and he only reinforced that with the way he kept the Bucs together during the lockout. Those workouts only increased his chemistry with Williams, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter and tight end Kellen Winslow. Freeman is capable of throwing for 30-plus TDs and passing for more than 4,000 yards.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

[+] EnlargeDezmon Briscoe
Kim Klement/US PresswireTampa Bay is counting on a big contribution from receiver Dezmon Briscoe this season.
The Bucs had a pretty strong feeling about receiver Dezmon Briscoe when they made the unconventional move of signing him to the practice squad, but paying him like he was a member of the regular roster at the start of last season. Briscoe later earned his way onto the regular roster and has made the Bucs look like geniuses throughout camp and in the first preseason game. The team believes Benn is coming along well after suffering a torn ACL late last season. But the Bucs don’t want to rush Benn. That's why Briscoe could end up starting at the “Z’’ position opposite Williams early in the season. The long-range promise of Briscoe is off the charts because he can play all three receiver spots.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

It’s not so much that the Bucs have been disappointed with what they’ve seen from McCoy and Price when they’ve been on the field. The problem is the two second-year defensive tackles simply haven’t been on the field a lot. The hopes are still high for these two, but Price is coming off a rare surgery on his pelvis and is being brought along slowly. McCoy, who had his rookie season end with a triceps injury just when he was starting to blossom, has missed some of camp with a shoulder injury. Roy Miller is a consistent player and the Bucs don’t mind starting him. But they need McCoy and Price to be on the field and making big plays.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The arrival of Clayborn and Bowers also helps the offensive line. In the old days, left tackle Donald Penn rarely had to break a sweat in practice because he worked against Stylez G. White.
  • There’s concern on the outside about depth in the secondary. A lot of that concern stems from the uncertain situations of cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Tanard Jackson. Talib could face suspension by the league for an offseason incident in which he was charged with aggravated assault, and Jackson is out until at least late September as he finishes a one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The Bucs have no idea what’s going to happen with Talib. If Jackson returns to them, they view it as a bonus. But the team isn’t nearly as concerned with the depth situation as fans are. Coaches are comfortable with Sean Jones and Cody Grimm as starting safeties and think they’ve found quality backups in Larry Asante and Corey Lynch. At cornerback, the Bucs believe E.J. Biggers could step into a starting role if anything happens to Talib, and there’s hope that second-year pro Myron Lewis could succeed as a nickel back.
  • The Bucs like what they’ve seen from Lumpkin during camp and think he might be a reliable backup for Blount. But Graham is a nice fall-back option. He’s been playing fullback, but played tailback earlier in his career. With Erik Lorig getting time at fullback last season, the Bucs have flexibility to move Graham around.
  • Although Foster is expected to start in the middle, the Bucs aren’t going to overload the rookie. At least in the short term, outside linebacker Quincy Black will wear the radio helmet and call the defensive plays. Part of that is because Black will be on the field all the time, and Foster will come out when the Bucs go to the nickel package.
  • Attention, fantasy football players: Consider drafting Winslow. He was good last season, despite missing a lot of practice time with an achy knee. Winslow said the knee feels better than it has in years. He spent most of the offseason working out with Freeman in Tampa and their chemistry should be even better than last season.

Looking at who Bucs should extend

August, 16, 2011
8/16/11
9:15
AM ET
Much to the chagrin of many of their fans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made it very clear they have a plan that involves building through the draft and largely ignoring free agency.

Other components of that plan involved developing the players the Bucs draft and, then, at some point, making sure they keep the ones they want for the long term. Whenever people point to how much salary cap space the Bucs have (at the moment it’s $29.5 million because only the top 51 cap figures count in the preseason and the Bucs have about $14 million in cap room when you count all their contracts, which is how it works in the regular season), the team quietly reminds you that money will be spent.

The implication is that the Bucs are going to extend the contracts of some of their key young players to make sure they never get near free agency. We’ve talked several times about how quarterback Josh Freeman has to be at the very top of that list.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesQuarterback Josh Freeman should be at the top of the Bucs' list of players to offer an extension to.
He’s under contract through 2013, but you could make the argument that Freeman already has outperformed his rookie deal. His average per year pay is $5.24 million. That may sound like a lot to you and me, but it terms of quarterbacks, it’s not great pay.

Freeman’s average per year ranks 24th in the league and he’s below guys like Kyle Orton and Charlie Whitehurst. If Freeman isn’t already a top-10 quarterback, he will be soon.

He’s also the franchise and you want to keep him happy. It’s pretty much a no-brainer that the Bucs should offer Freeman a pile of money and try to lock him up for the long term. But, after Freeman, who else should the Bucs target for extensions?

When I first thought about it, not a lot of names were coming to mind. That’s when I pulled out my list of the contract status for every player on the team and started really thinking about it. Once I did, I came up with a pretty lengthy list. I’ll give it to you in order of importance -- at least in my eyes.

Running back LeGarrette Blount. He’s under contract only through this season and could be an exclusive-rights or restricted free agent until he’s played four seasons. But the Bucs don’t need to play those games. If Blount picks up where he left off last season, the Bucs should lock him up. He’s not quite the franchise, like Freeman, but he’s a pretty important part of the franchise. He’s only making minimum ($450,000) this year and you want to keep key players happy.

Receiver Mike Williams. He’s under contract through 2013. But, like Freeman and Blount, he’s already outperformed his rookie contract as a fourth-round pick. If Williams didn’t have two more years on his contract, I’d rank him ahead of Blount. I think Williams has already shown that he’s going to be a very good player for a very long time.

Defensive tackle Roy Miller. He’s only under contract through 2012 and he’s quietly become a very solid player. We still don’t know if Gerald McCoy and Brian Price are going to be good and we’ve seen signs both might be injury prone. Miller doesn’t have the upside of McCoy and Price, but he’s the one sure thing the Bucs have at defensive tackle.

Cornerback Aqib Talib. Yeah, I said it. But humor me and listen to my logic on this one. I’m not saying the Bucs need to go out and give him an extension immediately. Talib’s under contract through 2012 and he’s got a trial scheduled for next March for his latest off-field incident. Let’s say Talib isn’t punished by the NFL and isn’t convicted by the legal system. And let’s say that he’s a model citizen from here on out. Then, it might make some sense to extend him. The kid is a heck of a talent and there are some important people in One Buccaneer Place who believe Talib isn’t a bad person, but has made some questionable decisions. They also know more about the off-field incidents than we do and they don’t think Talib was the instigator in any of them.

Linebacker Geno Hayes. He’s under contract only through this year. Hayes is a decent, but not great player. But the coaches like him and he’s viewed in much the same way as fellow linebacker Quincy Black. If the Bucs were willing to recently give Black a new contract, I think they’d do something similar for Hayes.

Cornerback E.J. Biggers. A lot will depend on how Talib’s situation plays out. Biggers is under contract through 2012. Ronde Barber's not going to play much longer. The Bucs could have one or two starting cornerback jobs open before long. Biggers has become a very good No. 3 cornerback and easily could transition into being a starter.

Safety Sean Jones. He’s 29 and only under contract through this season. He’s not young and he’s not a star. In fact, he's pretty ordinary. But the Bucs might want to extend him for a year or two. Jones brings stability to the safety spot and the Bucs don’t know if Tanard Jackson will be back after his one-year suspension.

Offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah. He’s only under contract through this season and he’s a nice backup at center and guard. Center Jeff Faine's probably not going to play a lot longer and Zuttah could be his eventual replacement.

Quarterback Josh Johnson. He’s in the final year of his contract. Although he rarely has played, the Bucs like him a lot. But, even if they approached Johnson about an extension, they might not have much luck. Johnson knows he’ll never start in Tampa Bay as long as Freeman is healthy. He’s got some talent and might want to go to a place where he at least has a shot at a starting job.

Safety Cody Grimm. He’s under contract through 2013, but he’s getting paid like the seventh-round choice he was last year. There’s no need to rush. But if Grimm, who is expected to start, plays well and Jackson’s not coming back, then it might be time to start thinking about extending him.

Receiver Sammie Stroughter. Like Grimm, there’s no rush on this one and the Bucs need to see more out of Stroughter, who is under contract through 2012. He looks like he could be a nice third receiver and return man. If he can provide some more evidence of that, he might be a candidate for an extension.

Three things: Buccaneers-Chiefs

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
10:59
AM ET
Three things to watch for in Tampa Bay’s preseason opener at Kansas City on Friday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

The play of Mason Foster. All indications are the Bucs are leaning heavily toward going with the third-round draft choice as their middle linebacker. The rookie has had a nice camp, but needs to show he can do the job in game conditions.

The evolution of LeGarrette Blount. The running back ran for 1,000 yards last season, but the team was limited in how he could be used. That’s because Blount didn’t join the team until late, didn’t start until the second half of the season and wasn’t fully up to speed on plays that didn’t involve him running the ball. The Bucs want Blount on the field more often this season and want to utilize him as a pass blocker and receiver.

How the safeties fare. With Tanard Jackson still suspended, the Bucs aren’t exactly loaded at safety. They have veteran Sean Jones, who is not exactly a ball hawk, and Cody Grimm, who still is recovering from a leg injury. This could be an opportunity for Corey Lynch or Ahmad Black to step forward.

Evening links around NFC South

August, 2, 2011
8/02/11
6:50
PM ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I've spent the day watching the Carolina Panthers practice and doing interviews. Now, it's time to catch up on the headlines from around the entire NFC South.
  • Former Atlanta running back Jerious Norwood agreed to terms with the Rams and he’s not the only former NFC South runner who could end up in St. Louis. Jim Thomas reports, Tampa Bay free agent Cadillac Williams remains on the Rams’ radar. The Bucs have said they would like to bring Williams back. But, presumably, that’s only at the right price and only if they can’t find someone better. According to league sources, the Bucs made overtures toward Darren Sproles before he agreed to terms with New Orleans.
  • The Saints agreed to terms on a contract that will keep tight end David Thomas with the team. This one’s significant. Although second-year pro Jimmy Graham figures to be the main pass-catching tight end, Thomas is an all-around tight end, who can contribute as a blocker and receiver.
  • D. Orlando Ledbetter lays out the scenario on Atlanta restricted free-agent cornerback Brent Grimes, who has yet to sign his first-round tender. Basically, the Falcons have the right to match any offer Grimes receives and would receive a first-round pick as compensation if he leaves. The Falcons also could sign Grimes to a long-term contract.
  • Stephen Holder supplies a refresher course on the rules of safety Tanard Jackson’s suspension. He’s not eligible for reinstatement until Sept. 22 and cannot practice with the Bucs during training camp. Jackson was in the final year of his contract when he was suspended last year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. As a result of that, the remainder of his contract rolled over to this year and the Bucs still have his rights. In the meantime, Tampa Bay appears content to open the season with Sean Jones and Cody Grimm as the starting safeties.

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