NFL Nation: Kregg Lumpkin

Looking at running back scenarios

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
11:16
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After reading this from Calvin over the weekend about whether the Cowboys would pursue Michael Turner, and then this Monday from Mike Jones about the Redskins' running back depth chart, I thought to myself, "That's a good idea. Let's do a post on the NFC East running back situations." So, let's.

Dallas Cowboys

Assuming they move on from Felix Jones, the Cowboys will be in the market for a running back who can spell starter DeMarco Murray and, if need be, replace him when he gets injured. Unlike Calvin, I actually think someone like Turner or former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw would work here. They need someone who's used to carrying the load, since it doesn't appear as though they can count on Murray lasting a whole season. And even if he did, they'd need someone who can replace him for long stretches during the game in order to help keep him healthy. I understand the temptation for a speed back as a change of pace, but Jones was supposed to be that and it didn't work. Why not a veteran grinder who runs with power and is used to playing in a passing offense? Someone like Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar could develop into what they need behind Murray, but it's not a bad idea to bring in someone with experience just in case they don't.

New York Giants

After cutting Bradshaw, the Giants appear set to go with second-year man David Wilson as the lead back and, assuming they re-sign him, Andre Brown as the goal-line guy. Maybe Brown's duties increase over what they were last year behind Bradshaw. And maybe Wilson isn't (a) ready or (b) the right kind of back to handle the running and pass-protection responsibilities in the Giants' offense. They ended the season with guys like Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin on the roster for depth, and they could go back to one or both of them. I imagine they'll give Wilson the shot at the lead-back role, but they'll want to be protected in case he can't handle it. So don't be surprised if they bring a few backs to camp that you've heard of.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles look pretty well set with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown as electric playmakers in the backfield. They also still have Dion Lewis and Chris Polk kicking around for depth. I don't see this as a need area for the Eagles this offseason.

Washington Redskins

As Mike points out in that link up there, it appears the Redskins would like to find someone who can fill in for workhorse starter Alfred Morris on third downs. That could certainly be Roy Helu if he could manage to stay healthy, but to this point he has not done that, and Mike Shanahan will surely want to bring four or more backs to camp for depth and competition purposes. As great as Morris' rookie season was -- and it was fantastic -- this is a position at which Shanahan has a well-known history of trying to stay ahead of the curve. If the Redskins' running game hierarchy is altered in 2013 from what it was in its very successful 2012, it would not be a surprise.

Giants' Bradshaw could sit out Sunday

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
4:56
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This is the second in a three-part series, which will run this afternoon and evening, on critical injury situations in the NFC East as Sunday's games get closer. Part II is about New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who now has a sprained knee in addition to the foot and neck problems that were already limiting his practice time this season, and might not be able to play Sunday.

It has generally been a mistake to believe Bradshaw would miss playing time, and he's earned his reputation as perhaps the toughest player on the Giants' roster. But the knee injury limited him severely in Sunday's victory against the Saints, and it's possible it could keep him out of this week's game in Atlanta. Per Ohm Youngmisuk:
"I am not going to speculate -- because of the toughness of this young man -- on how long it would be," Giants coach Coughlin said. "He is very positive about it and definitely wants to get back as fast as he can.

"I am not going to rule him out of anything. I am not going to talk about the percentages or anything like that. You can speculate on that knowing full well what the injury is."

Obviously, we watch Thursday and Friday to see whether Bradshaw practices. But this doesn't sound good. If he can't go, rookie David Wilson will take over as the starter. But while Giants fans might think that's fine because Wilson ran for 100 yards against the No. 32-ranked run defense in the league last week, it's no certainty that Wilson can hold up as the starter for a full game, let alone the remaining three games of this still-in-doubt season. Primary Bradshaw backup Andre Brown is already on injured reserve, and the only other backs on the roster right now are Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin.

Marshawn Lynch active for Seahawks

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Seattle Seahawks will have running back Marshawn Lynch for their regular-season opener despite back spasms that limited him in practice recently.

Lynch is active for the game. Seattle named the following players inactive: Kregg Lumpkin, Byron Maxwell, John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Golden Tate, Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs.

Moffitt was the starting right guard early in camp, but rookie J.R. Sweezy took over the job. Lemuel Jeanpierre is the primary backup at the interior offensive line spots. He started some last season.

Arizona named cornerback Greg Toler inactive. Others: Ryan Lindley, LaRon Byrd, William Powell, Jamaal Westerman, Senio Kelemete and Pat McQuistan.

Wrap-up: Panthers 48, Buccaneers 16

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
4:24
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Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers48-16 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

What it means: The Panthers are 6-9 and won’t finish last in the NFC South. That’s because the Buccaneers (4-11) clinched that. This is a classic late-season case of one team soaring and another falling faster than anyone could have imagined. The Panthers are going to head into the offseason with tons of optimism because they already have a high-powered offense. All they need is to get a few injured players back, tweak their defense a bit and they sure look like playoff contenders for the 2012 season. Tampa Bay lost its ninth straight game. Coach Raheem Morris made a big deal of “the race to 10 (wins)’’ last year. Looks like the Bucs are racing to 10 straight losses to end this season. Nice progress.

Best record: Peyton Manning’s record for passing yards by a rookie (3,739) had stood since 1998. But it’s been broken now. Carolina’s Cam Newton passed it early in the first quarter. Oh, by the way, Newton also had his 14th rushing touchdown of the season, the most ever by a quarterback.

Best performance by a newcomer: Carolina safety Jonathan Nelson was signed off the practice squad this week due to an injury to Charles Godfrey. Nelson got the start and came up with an interception in the third quarter.

The Morris watch: There’s no question Morris is on the hot seat as his team has fallen apart since starting 4-2. I know there’s a small minority out there who say Morris should keep his job, replace himself as defensive coordinator and make a switch at offensive coordinator. Yeah, that’s brilliant and no doubt would put the Bucs straight into the Super Bowl next season. Actually, it’s ludicrous. It’s like having a refrigerator that hasn’t worked in more than two months and saying, “No need to call a repairman or get a new one because this thing just might kick in at any moment." The Bucs keep taking steps back and the team is in total disarray. There’s also the matter of Morris’ contract, which runs through 2012. If the Bucs somehow were even thinking about keeping Morris, they’d have to extend him because you can’t go into a season with a lame-duck coach (just ask the Panthers how that worked out with John Fox last year). If you do, you run the risk of the players tuning out the coach. Looks like some of that already has happened. It would be awfully tough to give Morris an extension as a reward for the way the Bucs have finished this season. I’m sure the fan base would be thrilled if that happens.

The Rob Chudzinski watch: Chudzinski is the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and his name is getting thrown about as a potential candidate for a job as a head coach. Yeah, maybe the Bucs go out and find a bigger name — and maybe they can’t. But the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, should have been watching this game and saying, “Hmm, this Chudzinski guy is doing a pretty nice job with a rookie quarterback. Maybe we should put him on the list.’’

Blount benched: Running back LeGarrette Blount lost a fumble on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play. He was benched after that and the Bucs went with Kregg Lumpkin and Mossis Madu, before Blount was inserted back into the game in the third quarter. Nice to see Morris using discipline. Then again, it’s probably too little too late.

What’s next: The Panthers finish their season Jan. 1 at New Orleans. The Buccaneers play their final game the same day in Atlanta.
Some observations on the first half of Saturday’s game between the Buccaneers and Panthers with Carolina leading 20-10:

  • Early in the first quarter, Carolina’s Cam Newton broke Peyton Manning’s NFL record for passing yards by a rookie (3,739).
  • The Bucs didn’t come out looking like a team playing to save coach Raheem Morris’ job. Their defense couldn’t stop Carolina on the opening drive. Then, LeGarrette Blount fumbled on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play and the Panthers kicked a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. Tampa Bay’s offense did play better after that.
  • Speaking of Blount, it appears he was benched after the fumble. The Bucs have been playing Kregg Lumpkin and Mossis Madu. Blount is on the sideline and does not appear to be injured. Lumpkin and Madu are playing pretty well. Quarterback Josh Freeman is playing better than he has in a long time. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but Tampa Bay fans shouldn’t think the Bucs have suddenly worked out all the offensive problems. The Panthers are worse on defense than the Bucs.
  • Freeman got sacked by Andre Neblett early in the second quarter. Nobody should be getting sacked by Neblett.
  • A lot of people are saying the Panthers need to draft a No. 2 receiver to go with Steve Smith next year. Maybe so. But Brandon LaFell, who was drafted to be that guy last year, is starting to show some signs he might be that guy. LaFell caught a 91-yard touchdown pass from Newton in the second quarter.
  • Speaking of second-year receivers that might be starting to break out, Tampa Bay’s Arrelious Benn had a very nice touchdown catch in the second quarter.
  • I know fans were booing when Carolina coach Ron Rivera decided to kick a field goal when his team was close to the goal line near the end of the first half. Yep, a touchdown would have been nice, but it wasn't guaranteed. You have to play the percentages and put points on the board when you have a chance.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

November, 16, 2011
11/16/11
10:54
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Josh FreemanCliff Welch/Icon SMIWhile his statistics may not reflect it, Josh Freeman says he's a better quarterback than he was a year ago.
Moments after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got thumped 31-9 by the Houston Texans on Sunday, quarterback Josh Freeman shared this thought with the media.

"I think I'm a better quarterback than I was last year," Freeman said.

OK, are you done laughing yet?

I’ll gladly give you some more time -- and a few statistics. Through nine games, Freeman has thrown 13 interceptions (the second-highest total in the league) and just nine touchdown passes. That comes after Freeman threw 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions all of last season.

And he’s now a better quarterback than he was last season?

This is where the laughing should stop. There’s been nothing funny about Tampa Bay’s 4-5 start because this was a team that went a surprising 10-6 last season and was supposed to be very much on the rise. Freeman’s claim may sound delusional, but it’s not.

I’ll take the Freeman of this season over the Freeman of last season. Seriously.

He’s a year older and a year wiser than he was in his first full season as a starter last year. The statistics don’t show improvement, and I’m not going to suggest that Freeman has taken a big step forward. But I will say I don’t think he’s regressed. The rest of the Bucs have, though, and that’s the problem. Some of Freeman’s teammates, and maybe even his coaching staff and front office, have done the quarterback an injustice and that’s why the statistics and the team’s record aren’t looking very pretty.

Go ahead and put some blame on Freeman. And it is fair to wonder about that thumb injury that had the New Orleans Saints so excited a few weeks ago. Freeman might not look like the same quarterback he was a year ago, but I think that has a lot more to do with the team around him than anything else.

The Bucs found out they had a franchise quarterback last season. But the mistake they made -- and this goes to the coaching staff and the front office -- was that they also thought they found a big-time No. 1 wide receiver and a true feature running back.

That’s Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount, and I have no problem saying each of them has taken multiple steps back from last season. They were two players who fell in the 2010 draft, Williams to the fourth round and Blount all the way through the draft.

There were reasons for that and they’re playing out now. The coaches and front office might have let the performances of Williams and Blount last year go to their heads. Williams and Blount might have done the same thing.

When the rest of the offensive skill-position players were working out together in Tampa during the lockout, Williams frequently was hanging out at his home in Buffalo. He’s back now and playing more like a No. 3 or 4 receiver and no one else has stepped up. His route running hasn’t been precise and he’s tied for third in the NFL in dropped passes. The Bucs lead the league in dropped passes.

But that’s not the only problem. Blount may be the player most responsible for throwing Freeman and the offense completely off kilter. Blount came in and rushed for 1,000 yards in half a season as the starter last year. He did that with Cadillac Williams helping out as the third-down back.

The Bucs let Cadillac Williams leave in the offseason, largely because they thought Blount was ready to become an every-down back. That hasn’t happened. Blount has crippled the offense because he hasn’t shown the coaches he can be an effective pass-protector. If you're one of the biggest and strongest running backs in the league and you can't figure out how to pass block by the second half of your season, it probably never is going to happen. The Bucs used Earnest Graham in passing situations until he suffered a season-ending injury and now they’re going with Kregg Lumpkin.

That’s made Tampa Bay’s offense incredibly predictable. Defenses basically know that the Bucs will run the ball when Blount’s on the field and throw it when Lumpkin’s in the game. That takes away the play-action game and it has made Freeman look bad.

But the fact is, Freeman’s pretty close to the same guy he was last year. It’s just not showing because the guys around him are nothing close to what they were last year or what the Bucs thought they could be this year.

TRENDING UP


TRENDING DOWN


NFC South Stock Watch

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
1:00
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers defensive tackle. He suffered a season-ending arm injury Sunday. This is the second straight year McCoy has had his season cut short by an injury. There will be rumbles that McCoy is injury prone and some people will call him a draft bust. McCoy already was very sensitive to comparisons to Ndamukong Suh, who was taken just before him in last year’s draft. McCoy needs to put all of that out of his mind as he goes through his rehab. When he's been healthy, he has shown some signs he can play. McCoy needs to come back next year and put it all together. Otherwise, that bust label might start to fit.

2. Garrett Reynolds, Falcons guard. Reynolds had won the starting right guard job in training camp. But he had struggled through much of the first half of the season. The coaching staff decided to start Joe Hawley in his place in Sunday’s victory against Indianapolis. Hawley played well and this doesn’t look like a short-term move. Reynolds had his chance as a starter, but those days appear to be over.

3. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers running back. Blount said he was hoping to become more of an every-down back after Earnest Graham went down with a season-ending injury. But that didn’t happen Sunday in New Orleans. The Bucs simply plugged Kregg Lumpkin into Graham’s role on passing downs and Blount was limited to playing mostly on running downs. Blount hasn’t been able to convince the coaches he’s ready to handle pass protections. If he can’t do that by the midway point of his second season, it makes you wonder if he ever will be able to handle that role. Blount also hurt his team with a costly unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

RISING

[+] EnlargeAtlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIREAtlanta wide receiver Julio Jones is becoming an explosive play-maker for the Falcons.
1. Julio Jones, Falcons receiver. The rookie came back after missing two games with a hamstring injury and did exactly what the Falcons envisioned when they drafted him. Jones made explosive plays. He caught two touchdown passes -- one for 80 yards and another for 50. He also got a couple of carries on reverses. Jones wasn’t playing badly before the injury, but the Falcons weren’t coming up with the explosive plays. While he was out, the Falcons reevaluated their offense and it looks like they’re starting to figure out how to maximize Jones’ talent.

2. Pierre Thomas, Saints running back. It’s tough to stand out in a New Orleans backfield that uses a three-man rotation. But Thomas stood out Sunday against Tampa Bay. He had his best game of the season, carrying eight times for 66 yards and a touchdown. Thomas averaged 8.3 yards per carry and also caught four passes for 25 yards.

3. Curtis Lofton, Falcons middle linebacker. With Carolina’s Jon Beason out for the season and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma dealing with a knee problem, Lofton has emerged as the NFC South’s best middle linebacker. He was in on 12 tackles Sunday as the Atlanta defense didn’t allow a point against Indianapolis. Lofton also forced a fumble that led to an Atlanta touchdown.

Thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 27-16 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

What it means: The Saints bounced back strongly from an embarrassing loss to St. Louis last week and also avenged an October loss to Tampa Bay. At 6-3, the Saints remain in sole possession of first place in the NFC South as they head into a big showdown with the Falcons next week. The Buccaneers continued their season-long struggle to be consistent. They never really got into an offensive rhythm, and a defense that played well in the previous meeting with the Saints was dominated. At 4-4, the Bucs have fallen into third place in the NFC South.

What I liked: I used to think it was simply a case of Drew Brees making everyone around him look better than they really are. But I’m now thinking that, as great as Brees is, he’s got a pretty amazing collection of talent at the skill positions around him. The Saints are loaded with running backs, tight ends and receivers, and they can hurt you in just about every way.

What I didn’t like: Tampa Bay inserting Josh Johnson to run a play out of the Wildcat formation on a third down near the end of the first half. It went nowhere and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal. Coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson need to yank that play out of the playbook permanently. You don’t need gimmicks when you have a real quarterback. Although he’s been inconsistent this season, Josh Freeman can make a big play at any time, and he had the Bucs driving at the time they elected to run Johnson. Besides, the Saints were not at all surprised. The Bucs had put that play on film previously, and everyone in the building knew Johnson was going to run.

What else I didn’t like: Running back LeGarrette Blount continues to hold Tampa Bay back because the coaches don’t trust him in pass protection. Although Blount hinted he might be an every-down back this week, he wasn’t. Tampa Bay played Kregg Lumpkin, who is not going to scare any defense, in passing situations. Even when Blount was on the field, he hurt the Bucs. When the Bucs were driving in the third quarter, he was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal. Replays showed Blount was slapping at the facemask of New Orleans defensive end Will Smith. When you’ve got Blount’s history, you shouldn’t even think about slapping someone.

What’s next: The Saints travel to Atlanta next Sunday to play the Falcons. The Buccaneers are home against the Houston Texans next Sunday.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9 (remember, the Carolina Panthers are on bye):

Classic trap game: The Atlanta Falcons are coming off their bye and they’ve got what seems like a very winnable game against the Indianapolis Colts. Assuming they win, the Falcons will play a very big game the following week, when they host the Saints. So it’s not all that difficult to imagine the Falcons looking beyond the Colts. They should be on a three-game winning streak by the time they play the Saints. But you can’t assume anything in this league. If I’m coach Mike Smith, I’m reminding the Falcons (repeatedly) about what happened to the Saints last week when they went up against the winless St. Louis Rams.

Stay in the pocket: When the Buccaneers defeated the Saints in Week 6 in Tampa, quarterback Josh Freeman had his best game of the season. That happened largely because Freeman got great protection. He was not sacked and was under duress only four times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That allowed Freeman to stay in the pocket and he was particularly effective, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions. While staying in the pocket in all his other games, Freeman has averaged 6.3 yards per attempt with five touchdowns, nine interceptions and seven sacks.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Fernando Medina/US PresswireLeGarrette Blount has lobbied to be an every-down back, but that doesn't mean the Bucs are ready to trust him in pass protection.
Every-down back? With Earnest Graham lost for the season, Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount has said he’s ready to stay on the field for passing downs. That may happen some, but I’m not buying into the theory that the Bucs suddenly have decided they can trust Blount in pass protection on a regular basis. I’m thinking we’ll see a fair amount of Kregg Lumpkin as a third-down back and I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs use a six-man offensive line at times with offensive tackle Demar Dotson checking in as an eligible receiver.

At home on the road: Since the arrival of Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, much has been made about how successful the Falcons have been in the Georgia Dome. Well, going to Indianapolis shouldn’t provide too much of a scare. The Falcons also have been pretty good on the road recently. They’re 6-2 in their last eight road games. Since the start of the 2010 season, they’re 8-4 on the road. Only two teams in the NFL have better road records during that stretch.

Sticking with 'The Burner': Although rookie receiver Julio Jones is expected to return after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, the Falcons would be wise to remember what they did offensively in winning those two games. They used Michael Turner and the running game as the focal point of the offense. Turner averaged 130.5 yards in those two games and he also can open lots of doors in the passing game. Since Turner’s 2008 arrival in Atlanta, the Falcons are 25-1 in games in which he has more than 21 rushing attempts.

NFC South Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. The New Orleans offensive line. Drew Brees was sacked six times and the running game never got going in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis. Right tackle Charles Brown struggled mightily and it’s likely he’ll be back on the bench soon because Zach Strief is coming back from injury. But the problems weren’t all due to Brown. New Orleans has some highly regarded players across the rest of the line, but none of them played well Sunday. Guard Carl Nicks had a bad game and fellow guard Jahri Evans also appeared off. Jermon Bushrod has developed into a dependable left tackle, but he wasn’t dependable against the Rams.

2. Jonathan Vilma, Saints linebacker. He has been one of the top players in the NFC South the past few years. But Vilma doesn’t look the same this year. Part of it might be because of a knee injury that’s been bothering him all season. Against the Rams, I saw Vilma miss a couple of tackles he never would have missed a few years ago.

3. Olindo Mare, Panthers kicker. Carolina cut veteran and fan favorite John Kasay to make room for Mare, who landed a huge contract. Mare has kicked well most of the season. But he missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt that would have sent Sunday’s game with Minnesota into overtime. Yeah, Kasay was old and couldn’t kick off, but I don’t recall Kasay ever missing very many 31-yard kicks.

RISING

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay Buccaneers running back Kregg Lumpkin
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRETampa Bay Buccaneers running back Kregg Lumpkin is about to have an increased role.
1. Kregg Lumpkin, Buccaneers running back. He’s 27, but this reserve has all of 14 career carries and has never scored an NFL touchdown. Ready or not, Lumpkin’s about to get an increased role. With Earnest Graham lost for the season to injury, Lumpkin is going to be the top backup to LeGarrette Blount. He also is likely to be used as the third-down back. The Tampa Bay coaches are high on Lumpkin and they better be right because he’s only a Blount injury away from being the feature back.

2. Jason Snelling, Falcons running back. Fullback Ovie Mughelli has been lost for the season with a knee injury. The Falcons did sign Mike Cox and he could be used as the lead blocker for Michael Turner at times. Snelling is the top backup to Turner at tailback, but he has filled in at fullback from time to time. Don’t be surprised if the Falcons decide to let Snelling and Cox share the duties at fullback. At 237 pounds, Snelling might be a little light for a fullback. But he’s a good blocker and his ability to run and catch passes could add a new dimension to Atlanta’s offense if he’s playing fullback.

3. Julio Jones, Falcons receiver. The rookie was off to a pretty good start before missing the past two games with a hamstring injury. The bye week helped Jones get healthy and he returned to practice Monday. I’m expecting a big second half of the season from Jones. Remember, he was thrown right into the starting lineup and didn’t have a true offseason because of the lockout. He seemed to catch on pretty quickly, but this little break has given Jones a little time to really process everything.
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.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 6, 2011
8/06/11
9:27
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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.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
1:12
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

Atlanta’s defense. It really did have a new and much improved look early in the season. But the 31 points allowed in Philadelphia were not a good sign. You have to wonder if it’s the start of a downward spiral. After all, the Falcons probably will be without the two players they brought in to give the defense a new look on Sunday against Cincinnati. They already have said rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will sit out with a knee injury and it appears likely cornerback Dunta Robinson could miss some time because of a concussion.

[+] EnlargeCadillac Williams
Kim Klement/US PresswireCadillac Williams has struggled this season, gaining just 2.5 yards per carry.
Cadillac Williams, running back, Buccaneers. This guy is a fan favorite because he’s shown such courage in coming back from two major knee injuries. That also has made him a favorite of the coaches. But you don’t stay as anybody’s favorite when you’re averaging just 2.5 yards a carry and haven’t scored a touchdown. Sure, you can put some of the blame on the offensive line, but Williams hasn’t hit holes when they’ve been there. The Bucs don’t have many other options, but it looks like they’re going to take looks at two guys they picked up off the street at the start of the season -- LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin.

Sam Baker, left tackle, Falcons. He’s supposed to be the franchise left tackle and that means he’s supposed to protect the blind side of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. Well, it’s not working quite like it was planned. Ryan got sacked three times against Philadelphia and the number would have been a lot higher if he didn’t do such a good job of throwing the ball away when he sensed pressure. It seemed like Ryan ended up on the ground just about every time he dropped back to pass. It’s hard to change left tackles midseason and the Falcons don’t have any real options. But it’s starting to look like left tackle is going to be high on their list of needs for the 2011 draft.

RISING

Chris Ivory, running back, Saints. If you count up all the backfield injuries the Saints have had dating back to the preseason, Ivory would be the fifth- or sixth-string running back. But the undrafted rookie played like a first-team feature back Sunday as he ran for 158 yards against Tampa Bay. That’s going to earn him some more playing time and he’s secured a spot in the rotation even after Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush return from injuries.

Matt Moore, quarterback, Carolina. He’s been named the starter again after losing his job to rookie Jimmy Clausen. With the 49ers coming to town, the Panthers actually have a chance and they need to give Moore a chance. They need to approach this game the way they should have approached the start of the season. They need to rely on their defense and their running game and let Moore be a game manager. He’s capable of doing that. The Panthers, for reasons I can’t understand, asked Moore to go out and win the first couple of games with his arm and that was way too much to ask. Give this guy some support and he just might be adequate.

New Orleans’ defense. The Saints struggled through their first five games, but showed some promise against Tampa Bay. Yeah, make the obligatory joke about Tampa Bay’s offense, but the fact is, it’s not bad. At least the Bucs have a legitimate passing game. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has faced some challenges because of injuries this season, but it looks like he’s getting his group together and there might be more help on the way in the coming weeks. Safety Darren Sharper and linebacker Clint Ingram are scheduled to return to practice after spending the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list with injuries.

How I See It: NFC North Stock Watch

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
11:38
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Backup receivers in Minnesota: Personnel distribution sometimes is a function of individual game-planning decisions, but it sure looks like Bernard Berrian and Greg Camarillo are going to have a hard time getting into the Minnesota Vikings' rotation as long as Randy Moss and Percy Harvin are healthy. Berrian has been a starter since his high-priced arrival in 2008 and Camarillo was acquired this summer from the Miami Dolphins for nickelback Benny Sapp. But Greg Lewis served as the No. 3 receiver in Monday night's game at the New York Jets, and neither Berrian nor Camarillo had a pass thrown his way. According to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, Berrian got 13 snaps and Camarillo was on the field for seven of 62 offensive plays.

2. Fourth-quarter play in Green Bay: ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer pointed out some painful statistics this week: The Packers' offense has scored one touchdown, committed four turnovers and been penalized 15 times in the combined fourth quarters of five games this season. Those numbers are a big part of why they have two last-second losses on their record already, and they don't bode well for long-term success. It's difficult to pinpoint a reason; conditioning, mental toughness and/or general organization are just guesses. But unless the Packers can start building insurmountable leads, they're going to have to find a way to be more efficient at the end of games.

3. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings quarterback: Elbow tendinitis and an ongoing NFL investigation made for a pretty dark week, and they threaten to consume what Favre has said is his final season. The league would like to complete its inquiry as quickly as possible, but there is no formal timetable. At the very least, Favre faces the possibility of an uncomfortable conversation with commissioner Roger Goodell. Discipline, if merited, could range anywhere from a fine to suspension. Aside from that issue, Favre matched the second-lowest completion percentage (41.2) of his career in Monday night's game. It's hard to imagine that tendinitis didn't affect at least some of his 20 incompletions.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesMatt Forte rushed for 166 yards and two TDs on Sunday against Carolina.
RISING

1. Chicago Bears rushing game: In part because of quarterback Todd Collins' ineffectiveness, the Bears ran a season-high 42 running plays in last Sunday's 23-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Starter Matt Forte responded with a career-high 166 yards, while backup Chester Taylor helped run out the clock in the second half. It's hard to imagine offensive coordinator Mike Martz averaging 42 rushing plays per game, especially with starter Jay Cutler (concussion) on track to return to the lineup this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. But the best offense is a balanced offense -- or, at least, one that has demonstrated the promise of balance. It's a maxim that Martz hasn't always lived by.

2. Upper Midwest medical costs: NFC North teams should be pretty close to fulfilling their deductibles by now. An incredible number of high-profile players have already suffered significant injuries, including all four starting quarterbacks. Usually, it's safe to say that the healthiest team wins a division. This year, however, it might be decided by the quality of depth. Little-noticed decisions could come into major play. Example: The Packers lost tailback Kregg Lumpkin via waivers when they tried to sign him to their practice squad last month. Had he remained with them, Lumpkin probably would have been the best candidate to replace injured starter Ryan Grant.

3. Confidence in Detroit: It had been 15 years since the Detroit Lions enjoyed a 38-plus point victory, and by all accounts, last Sunday was raucous at Ford Field. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has already predicted the Lions won't lose another home game this season, and some fans are calling for Shaun Hill to keep the starting quarterback job even after starter Matthew Stafford returns from a shoulder injury. I think we can recognize the Hill-Stafford "controversy" as silly talk, but it's an opinion driven by excitement rather than depression. Three near-wins followed by a blowout victory have the engines started in Detroit.
If you made a list of five players the Green Bay Packers could least afford to lose, would tailback Ryan Grant be on it? That's the question you should ask yourself Tuesday afternoon after the news that a torn ankle ligament will end his season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Grant
Howard Smith/US PresswireRyan Grant will miss the rest of the season after tearing an ankle ligament against the Eagles.
The Packers officially placed Grant on injured reserve and signed rookie Dimitri Nance from the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad, a move that indicates they will push forward with Brandon Jackson as their indefinite starter. Grant is a proven producer who has rushed for 3,457 yards since midway through the 2007 season, but I'm not ready to declare his loss a catastrophe just yet.

Before you hit me with the inevitable "this-is-just-your-Packers-bias" notes to the mailbag, let me explain. I do think there is a significant drop-off from Grant to Jackson, but it's mostly in the sense of going from the known to the unknown. Jackson, as we'll discuss in a bit, has only minimal experience as a feature back dating back to his time at Nebraska. But I put in a call to Matt Williamson, one of our Scouts Inc. personnel evaluators, and what he said made a lot of sense.

"It's definitely a big drop-off," Williamson said, "but I also think this is such a running-back friendly offense because of the passing game they have. You don't need a great player there, and I don't even think Grant was a great player. He's a good runner who is quick to get downhill and very reliable, and those things are more than enough to be excellent in their offense."

Remember, the Packers went through two other feature backs -- Jackson and DeShawn Wynn -- before settling on Grant as their primary runner in 2007. Jackson will get the first shot at this job, but it doesn't mean he is the only option the Packers will have all season.

The biggest question is whether Jackson can, as Williamson said, "handle the punishment of being a feature back." He spent only nine games of his college career as Nebraska's primary ball carrier and has been an oft-injured reserve for three seasons in Green Bay.

"I would worry about him over the long term because we haven't seen him do it," Williamson said. "Over time, he's really been productive at no level. But for the short term, I think they can be nearly as potent as an offense. I would worry about short-yardage situations where everyone knows the run is coming, but this is still a really good offense without Ryan Grant."

Perhaps the biggest issue here is the thin depth the Packers entered the season with. With only two tailbacks on the active roster, they might have to use fullback John Kuhn in that role. Nance, meanwhile, is a 219-pound, between-the-tackles bruiser who I presume will fill the No. 3 role that would have gone to Kregg Lumpkin had the Packers not tried to slip him through waivers earlier this month.

Jackson's lack of history in this role, as well as the Packers' depth situation, could make for a musical chairs approach to filling Grant's job. But if you listen to Williamson, the standards don't need to be high for doing so.

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