NFL Nation: Mike Alstott

The other day, I wrote about future candidates for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor.

We talked about Doug Williams, Ricky Bell, Mike Alstott, John Lynch, Monte Kiffin, Tony Dungy, James Wilder and Ronde Barber. I think all of them should get into the Ring of Honor at some point.

But they may have to take a spot in line. With the death Wednesday of owner Malcolm Glazer, there's another obvious candidate.

Glazer deserves a spot in the Ring of Honor as soon as possible. Although he wasn't always popular with fans, Glazer did more for this franchise than anyone.

When he paid a then-record $192 million for the Bucs in 1995, Glazer was taking over a franchise that was a laughingstock. The Bucs had been bad for most of their existence and there was even talk about the team moving out of Tampa Bay.

Glazer fought a hard battle to get taxpayers to fund a new, state-of-the-art stadium that kept the Bucs in town. He also started changing just about everything.

He put the Bucs in new red and pewter uniforms. He also hired Dungy, who turned the franchise into a consistent winner. When Dungy couldn't quite get the Bucs over the hump, Glazer made a tough decision. He fired Dungy and traded for Jon Gruden.

In Gruden's first season, the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Speaking of Super Bowls, Glazer was instrumental in bringing two of them to Tampa Bay.

There are a lot of candidates with qualifications that make them worthy of the Ring of Honor. But none of them have better qualifications than Glazer.
Tony Dungy has been selected at No. 20 on our Greatest Coaches in NFL History list over on our main NFL page.

I’d like to say I saw this one coming all the way, but I can’t. Truth is, I was covering the Buccaneers for The Tampa Tribune back when Dungy was hired to coach Tampa Bay in 1996, and I wasn’t so sure he’d make it through a single season.

[+] EnlargeTony Dungy
Andy Lyons/Allsport/Getty ImagesTony Dungy laid the foundation for a Super Bowl winner as head coach of the Buccaneers.
The Bucs started 0-5 and eventually got to 1-8. They looked even more hapless than they did in the Sam Wyche years. They didn’t look like a team that was progressing, and Dungy seemed to be sitting back stoically. He didn’t seem all that bothered by the losing, and just kept telling his players his system would work.

I was having serious doubts about whether a nice, soft-spoken guy could succeed as an NFL coach. And, then, I saw magic happen right in front of me. The Bucs went 5-2 down the stretch, and everywhere you looked stars were emerging – Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott.

But the real star was Dungy, and, like a lot of people, I came to understand him a lot better as time went on. I realized what I first thought was a quiet nature was much more than it seemed. Dungy had a sturdy belief that what he was doing was going to work.

He didn’t yell or go crazy on the sidelines, like Wyche, but he had an intense desire to win.

And, before long, he started to win. The 1997 season was a magical one in Tampa Bay. Dungy’s system firmly took hold and the Bucs made the playoffs for the first time in a generation.

A period of unprecedented success followed. The Bucs became playoff regulars. But, eventually, ownership tired of Dungy’s bland offense and a trend of coming up just short of the Super Bowl. Jon Gruden came in and the Bucs promptly won a Super Bowl.

Dungy went on to Indianapolis and more success. No doubt it helped to finally have a quarterback like Peyton Manning.

But, when Dungy led the Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI it was proof that nice guys don’t have to finish last.

Gruden: Brad Johnson deserves respect

December, 7, 2012
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There has been a lot of reflection this week as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their Super Bowl victory.

Many of the players and coaches will be back in town to be honored as the Bucs host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Much of the hype about the event has focused on guys like Ronde Barber, Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Alstott and Jon Gruden, who coached that team.

Speaking of Gruden, click this link and then play the video of him talking about the championship season. The first thing Gruden talks about is how he thinks quarterback Brad Johnson didn’t get the respect he deserved.

That’s an excellent point. Johnson is kind of the forgotten man of that team. That’s understandable because he was surrounded by some big-time names and much of the focus was on the defense. But Johnson quietly had a nice season and gave the Bucs the kind of quarterback play that predecessors Shaun King and Trent Dilfer didn’t.

Johnson led the NFC with a 92.9 passer rating while completing 62.3 percent of his passes. He also set what was then a team record with 22 touchdown passes and, at one point, threw 187 consecutive passes without an interception.

It’s hard for a quarterback to get overshadowed, but that’s exactly what happened to Johnson. As the Bucs celebrate their big weekend, let’s think about what Johnson did that year and give him the respect he earned.

Freeman, Bucs breaking new ground

November, 15, 2012
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Josh FreemanCary Edmondson/US PresswireTampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman is directing the league's third-highest scoring offense.


This really has been true for only five weeks, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most exciting offense in franchise history and they have a true franchise quarterback for the first time.

Start thinking about the history of this franchise because that’s a part of why I feel comfortable making those statements. We’ll run through that inglorious history in just a moment, but let’s start with the past five games.

In that stretch, Josh Freeman, who entered the season as a huge question mark, has established himself as a big-time quarterback. Rookie running back Doug Martin has become such a phenomenon that he finally might have shed that nickname he doesn’t like. And wide receiver Vincent Jackson has turned out to be worth every penny of that five-year, $55 million contract he signed back in March.

In each of the past five games, the Bucs have scored at least 28 points. When’s the last time that happened?

Never.

What’s happened in the past five games has vaulted the Bucs into the league lead in average yards per play (6.21). They’re averaging 28.9 points per game, which ranks them behind only New England (see Brady, Tom) and Denver (see Manning, Peyton). Speaking of Peyton Manning, he’s second in the league with an average of 8.20 yards per pass attempt. Freeman is No. 1 at 8.27.

Martin had a 251-yard, four-touchdown game at Oakland and has turned out to be the “all-purpose back’’ that coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik talked about on the night they drafted him.

Jackson’s leading the league by averaging 21.4 yards per reception. Heck, teammate Mike Williams is second at 18.3.

Heck, if this keeps up, we might be calling Freeman, Martin and Jackson “The Triplets’’, the way Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin used to be referred to in their Dallas glory days. At times, some people got carried away and called the Cowboys’ stars “The Quadruplets’’ because they actually thought Alvin Harper was good.

That’s a perfect way to jump back into the history of offensive football and the Buccaneers. Harper was the receiver the Bucs signed in the mid-1990s to be their Irvin. Instead, the thing most Tampa Bay fans remember about him is that he got part of his finger sliced off in a training-room accident.

For their entire existence, including the good years, the Bucs have been anywhere from dismal to mediocre on offense. They won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson as their quarterback and Monte Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages. They won a lot of games and tasted their first sustained success under coach Tony Dungy ... with Kiffin commanding a defense for the ages.

At one point in the 1990s, Tampa Bay’s bread-and-butter offensive play was having Errict Rhett run into Mike Alstott’s back and fall as far forward as possible. They later upgraded and had Warrick Dunn run into Alstott’s back and actually make a cut or two.

Even back during the first rise to prominence (1979), Tampa Bay was much more defined by Lee Roy Selmon and the defense than it was by the offense and Doug Williams.

Speaking of Williams, he was the best quarterback in franchise history -- until Freeman’s emergence. Between them, the Bucs have trotted out the likes of Steve Young (before he became Steve Young in San Francisco), Vinny Testaverde, Craig Erickson, Trent Dilfer, Shaun King, Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin, Mike Williams, Vincent Smith
Matt Stamey/US PresswireA supporting cast that features receivers Mike Williams (19) and Vincent Jackson (83) and running back Doug Martin makes the Bucs' offense so fearsome.
Although Young, Testaverde and Dilfer had talent, they never had a chance in Tampa Bay because they didn’t have a supporting cast. Williams was easily the best quarterback in Tampa Bay history, but I’m not sure you can call him a franchise quarterback because his tenure lasted from 1978 until he left for the United States Football League in a contract squabble following the 1982 season.

Freeman’s not going to follow a similar route. He’s under contract through 2013, but, after what he’s shown this season, I think it’s safe to say Freeman’s going to be around a lot longer than that. Sometime in the offseason, the Bucs almost certainly will give Freeman a big contract extension.

Freeman has bounced back from the disastrous final season of the Raheem Morris era. He’s turned out to be everything Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said he would be upon their arrival. Schiano and Sullivan said they wanted to build an offense that ran the ball consistently and they wanted to take some shots downfield in the passing game.

That formula’s working. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Freeman leads the league with 19 completions on throws of 20 yards or more. Jackson leads the NFL with 10 receptions on throws of 20 yards or more.

Williams has revived a career that seemed to stall last year. The Bucs plucked receiver Tiquan Underwood off the scrap heap and he’s turning in big plays. Martin is making things happen in the running game and as a receiver and the offense is clicking, despite the fact the Bucs are without injured Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph.

For the longest time, there was a joke in Tampa Bay that the most exciting offense the region ever saw was the “Fun and Gun’’ orchestrated by Steve Spurrier and the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits, who, briefly, were more popular than the Bucs in the 1980s.

Those Bandits were wildly entertaining, but part of the reason they’re so fondly remembered is because the Bucs always were boring -- and usually bad -- on offense.

Until now.

Unheralded Bucs have a lot to love

October, 1, 2011
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Josh FreemanKim Klement/US PresswireJosh Freeman had reason to celebrate against Atlanta, but when will Bucs fans wholly celebrate him?
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you scoured the stands of Raymond James Stadium on any game day over the past few seasons, you would have seen more replica jerseys for guys like Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, John Lynch and Warren Sapp than any of the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If you looked in those same stands, you also would have seen a lot of empty seats. The past 10 regular-season home games (all eight last year and the first two this season) have not been sellouts.

Is this a fan base living in the past?

It’s not quite that simple. In fact, things are on the cusp of changing. When the Buccaneers host the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football," the game will be sold out. So an entire nation will have a chance to view the Buccaneers, who have been in the NFL’s version of the witness-protection program even in their own backyard.

The past 10 home games haven’t been shown on local television, and even fans who go to the games haven’t really had a chance to get to know the NFL’s youngest team (25.17 years was the average age of the opening-day roster) like they knew Brooks, Alstott, Lynch and Sapp.

“It’s a team I want our town to fall back in love with,’’ Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said.

The Bucs went 10-6 last season and are off to a 2-1 start this year, but the speed-dating process really could kick in with the national stage. Once fans really get a look at the Bucs, they could fall in love. Some fans don’t know it yet, but there’s a lot to like about the Bucs.

Let’s take a look:

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Raheem Morris
Fernando Medina/US PRESSWIRE"It's an opportunity to show everybody what they've been missing," coach Raheem Morris said of Tampa Bay's game on "Monday Night Football."
The understated franchise quarterback. Other than cornerback Ronde Barber, the lone holdover from the Jon Gruden/Tony Dungy era, Josh Freeman is the most-well-known Buccaneer. That’s simply because he’s the quarterback, but fans haven’t totally embraced him. They should, because he’s the first true franchise quarterback this team has had at least since Doug Williams, and you could debate whether Williams was around long enough to be considered a franchise quarterback.

Freeman’s physically gifted and already has shown a knack for leading fourth-quarter comebacks. He comes across as a bit shy and soft-spoken in group interviews. But when Freeman, 23, was leading players-only workouts during the lockout, you could easily spot rare leadership skills and more personality than he displays in public.

In the Atlanta game, Freeman stepped outside himself a bit, flapping his wings in what could be interpreted as an imitation of the Falcons’ “Dirty Bird’’ celebration.

“It was good to see him come out of his shell a little bit,’’ running back/fullback Earnest Graham said.

The gregarious head coach. Public displays of emotion aren’t lacking when it comes to Raheem Morris. The guy can talk, sometimes a little more than he should. With the possible exception of Rex Ryan, Morris might have the most entertaining news conferences of any NFL coach. But following Gruden -- who will be in the “Monday Night Football’’ broadcast booth -- and Dungy is not an easy task.

Gruden won a Super Bowl, and Dungy changed the direction of the franchise. Fans still aren’t quite sure what to make of Morris, who remains the league’s youngest head coach at 35. Morris has more public charm than Dungy and Gruden did as coaches. He just needs to keep winning.

The completely unknown portion of "the triplets." When the Bucs started winning last season, that’s the nickname (borrowed from when the Dallas Cowboys had Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith) that was given to Freeman, receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount. Williams and Blount were rookies last year, and both made good first impressions on the field. Williams instantly became Tampa Bay’s No. 1 receiver, and by midseason, Blount had replaced Cadillac Williams as the feature back. Still, there’s been a little apprehension from fans about both of them, and that goes back to their college days.

Blount is most famous for punching an opponent at the end of a game, and Williams was labeled as a "quitter" for leaving the Syracuse football team in his last year of college. But if you get to know them, you’ll see that labels can be deceiving. Williams is the anti-diva wide receiver. He comes across as quiet and humble.

Blount’s a punishing runner on the field, but is gentle off it. When he made his pre-draft visit to One Buccaneer Place, Blount ate his lunch and then went into the kitchen to thank every member of the staff. After last week’s victory in Atlanta, Blount sat in the locker room an hour after the game and told a staff member, "I don’t want to go home."

The big investments on the defensive line. In the past two years, the Bucs have used four draft picks in the first two rounds on defensive linemen. They brought in defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price last year and defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers this year. We’re only starting to see what they can do. Price and McCoy both got hurt as rookies. They’re starting this year, along with Clayborn, and there’s a lot to like.

Price is quiet on the surface, but there’s a depth to him. He’s coming off a rare surgery in which doctors inserted screws into his pelvis, and he's showing signs he can really play. McCoy’s had a gregarious personality from the start, but we’re still waiting to see big results. Clayborn’s outgoing like McCoy and already has made some plays. If this unit can continue growing, the Bucs could have a very good defensive line for a long time.

The new “quarterback’’ of the defense. A lot of fans were upset in the offseason when the Bucs let middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, another holdover from the Gruden days, walk via free agency. They should start getting over that, because third-round draft pick Mason Foster is showing signs he can make more big plays than Ruud ever did. The Bucs were a little hesitant to put too much on Foster right away and started the season by letting outside linebacker Quincy Black wear the radio helmet and call the defensive plays.

By his third career start, Foster had taken on those roles. It might not have been a coincidence that the Bucs went out and had their best defensive performance since the days when Monte Kiffin was running the defense for Gruden.

The Bucs once were beloved by their fans. There’s no reason they can’t be that way again. The parts are in place. The world just needs a chance to get to see and know them.

“It’s an opportunity to show everybody what they’ve been missing,’’ Morris said.

That chance comes Monday night.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Of all the hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of moments Jimmie Giles could have picked as his favorite with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this one’s definitely not the cleanest. It also may surprise you a bit at first.

“Wrestling in the mud with (teammate) David Lewis,’’ Giles said Wednesday as the Bucs announced he will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at a Dec. 4 home game with Carolina.

[+] EnlargeJimmie Giles
Darryl Norenberg/US PresswireJimmie Giles compiled 4,300 receiving yards and 34 touchdowns in nine seasons in Tampa.
The wrestling session happened at the end of the 1979 season, a crucial one for the Buccaneers. Needing a win to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Bucs beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 3-0, in a torrential downpour.

The team that began as an expansion franchise in 1976 and started 0-26 would go on to stun everyone and reach the NFC Championship Game. It was a high-water mark for a franchise that soon would fall back to its losing ways. Giles was with the Bucs from 1978 until 1986 and, by that point, the Bucs were mired in something well below mediocrity.

They spent the latter half of the 1980s and the early and middle parts of the 1990s as a national joke. Actually, there were all sorts of jokes in those days.

“The sign on the ticket window was “Sorry, we’re open,’’ cracked long-time Tampa Bay radio personality Jack Harris, who was one of the guest speakers before Giles took the microphone.

But one of the best things the Bucs have done since starting the Ring of Honor two years ago is that they’ve embraced their past. It would be easy to try to forget it all and skip the whole era before coach Tony Dungy came along and changed the climate and the uniforms switched from orange and white to pewter and red.

That also would be a mistake because there were some good times and good players from those early years. Co-chairman Bryan Glazer made it a point to say the team’s present and future wouldn’t be possible without its past. He’s right.

Lee Roy Selmon and John McKay, the first two inductees, created some magical moments for a young franchise. So did Giles, who played tight end and went to four Pro Bowls while with the Bucs.

“It was Jimmie Giles and some others who helped turn this team around,’’ Harris said. “It was a great era.’’

But a short era. Sooner or later, the Bucs will open the floodgates for their Ring of Honor. That will start when Derrick Brooks goes in, which will clear the way for guys like Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Dungy and Jon Gruden.

It’s not quite time for that yet. Although there was a long dry spell between the 1979 team and the teams of the late 1990s, there are some other guys from those eras who deserve the honor. Guys like Ricky Bell, James Wilder, Paul Gruber and Hardy Nickerson should go in before the Bucs get to their more-recent past.

Then, there’s Doug Williams. He was the quarterback of the 1979 team and, by all rights, he should be going into the Ring of Honor before or with Giles. He’s not. That’s mostly Williams’ fault. He did some great things as a player and left Tampa Bay in a bitter salary dispute with former owner Hugh Culverhouse. Williams carried a grudge before finally returning to work in the team’s personnel department.

Things were good for a few years, but Williams left after the 2010 draft. Williams and general manager Mark Dominik weren’t getting along. Since his departure, Williams has taken some public shots at the Bucs. He’s not going to get into the Ring of Honor as long as that’s going on.

As Giles talked, I think there might have been a subtle message to Williams. Giles was talking about how the Bucs of long ago went through some tough times and weren’t beloved. Giles said that things change with time and that no one should succumb to bitterness.

That’s an excellent point. The Bucs are going out of their way to reach out to their former players. Let the water flow under the bridge.

The Bucs and their former players need to stay above the bridge -- above the pettiness.

Parcells, Bledsoe and the Hall of Fame

February, 9, 2011
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I once heard Tom Donahoe, the former Buffalo Bills president and general manager, call quarterback Drew Bledsoe a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Then again, Donahoe used to say a lot of things.

I was reminded of this when taking a glance at players who will make their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2012.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, who's on the Hall of Fame selection committee and last weekend was elected president of the Pro Football Writers Association, blogged the top newcomers to consider the next few years.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBill Parcells and his former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year.
The lists are helpful in speculating when fan favorites such as Andre Reed and Curtis Martin will get their Canton calls. They both were finalists this year -- Reed for the fifth time, Martin for the first -- but weren't added to the 2011 induction class Saturday.

Perhaps that development was fitting for Martin because his coach with the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be on the ballot again. They could get in together in 2012.

Bill Parcells has been a finalist twice, but not since 2002 because rules for coaches changed. They now must wait five years from their last game to be eligible for induction, and Parcells returned to the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

Is Parcells a Hall of Famer? I know Miami Dolphins fans aren't too thrilled with him these days, but he did add to an already remarkable legacy -- two championships, different teams to the Super Bowl, a few organizational turnarounds -- by guiding the Dolphins from 1-15 to the AFC East title as their football operations boss.

Also on the ballot next year will be Bledsoe, running backs Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber, fullback Mike Alstott, guard Will Shields and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Bledsoe had a fine career with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys and ranks eighth all-time in passing yards. But he was a Pro Bowler only four times and never was first-team All-Pro. Bledsoe was helpful in getting the Patriots their first championship, so he does have a ring. But that was Tom Brady's team.

Dillon also was a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He ranks 17th in rushing yards and never led the league in a major rushing category.

Schottenheimer played for the Bills and Patriots before winning 61 percent of his regular-season games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. His 200 victories rank sixth all-time, but his 5-23 playoff record will hurt.

That group of first-time candidates -- plus the newcomers for 2013 -- bodes well for Reed. There won't be any new receivers for him to box out. He already has jockeyed ahead of contemporaries Cris Carter and Tim Brown by making the cut from 15 to 10 in the selection process the past two years. Carter and Brown haven't.

Gaughan highlighted first-year players for next few classes.

2013: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Michael Strahan.

2014: Running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Rodney Harrison and coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren -- if they don't return to sideline work.

2015: Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackles Orlando Pace and Walter Jones and linebacker Junior Seau.
The league just announced that Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount has been named NFL Offensive rookie of the Month for December.

In the final five regular-season games, Blount led the NFL in rushing yards with 511 on 87 carries (a 5.9-yard average). Blount had a career-high 164 yards in Week 16 victory against Seattle. Blount was an undrafted free agent who initially signed with Tennessee. After he was released by the Titans at the end of the preseason, the Buccanners signed him and he emerged as their feature back.

Blount is the fourth player in franchise history to win an NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month award. Cadillac Williams did it twice in 2005. The only other Buccaneers to win the award were Mike Alstott (1996), Warrick Dunn (1997) and Shaun King (1999).

Live from Raymond James Stadium

December, 5, 2010
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TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m in Raymond James Stadium, where it’s not quite a sea of orange just yet. But that’s mainly because stadium gates have yet to open for the game in which the Bucs will wear their throwback uniforms against Atlanta.

I did see quite a few fans out in the parking lot wearing the orange. Lots of jerseys for Lee Roy Selmon, Mike Alstott and Doug Williams. But the most unique one I’ve seen so far was a Dave Moore (No. 83) jersey here in the press box.

It was worn by friend T.J. Rives, who is part of the Tampa Bay radio crew. There’s a little history to that jersey. It’s an official one that Moore wore back in the day when he was a tight end and long-snapper for the Bucs.

Moore gave the jersey to Rives last year when the Bucs were wearing throwback uniforms for the first time. Rives wore it that day and the Bucs went out and beat Green Bay, so he’s making it a tradition.

I’ll be back with the inactives in a bit.

Ronde Barber and the Hall of Fame

December, 2, 2010
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While digging through my mailbag last night and this morning, there was a sudden rash of letters about Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber and his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’m not sure how or why this is suddenly becoming such a hot issue, but there were about 10 notes about this. We’ll let Michael in St. Petersburg, Fla., serve as the spokesman on this one:
“You and I have 'argued' over this before, but with Ronde Barber recording his 40th interception a few weeks ago, I thought it's worth asking again. I keep hearing that Ronde is not a Hall of Famer, and I just can’t figure out how he isn’t. He’s a high-character guy, has a Super Bowl ring, is the only cornerback with 20+ (26) sacks and 40 interceptions. He’s 40 tackles short of 1,100 for his career, and has seven defensive touchdowns. So honestly, how can Ronde fall short?’’

All right, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, although I’m sure it’s not what a lot of Tampa Bay fans want to hear, but I just don’t see Barber as a Hall of Famer. I don’t mean to bash him in any way. I think he’s had a wonderful career and he, deservedly, is an icon in the Tampa Bay area. He also still is playing at a very high level.

[+] EnlargeRonde Barber and Vernon Davis
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesRonde Barber snagged his third interception of the year against the 49ers, giving him 40 for his career.
All that said, I think Barber very much has been a system player throughout his career. He’s been a perfect fit in the Monte Kiffin Tampa Two defense and wouldn’t have had nearly the same success in a different defensive system. He also wouldn’t have had much of the success he has had if he hadn't spent much of his career playing with the likes of Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

Yes, his interception total is very nice and so are the sacks. But does being the best pass-rushing cornerback ever get you into the Hall of Fame? I don’t think so. It’s a nice talent to have, but sacks aren’t what cornerbacks are judged on.

I have been in the voting room for several Hall of Fame selections, and I know how the system works. I’m going to be very blunt here. The Buccaneers of the late 1990s and much of the early 2000s were a very nice team, but they weren’t the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s or the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s. Those teams won multiple championships. The Bucs won one Super Bowl.

That kind of thing matters more than you can imagine in the voting room. Yet, a lot of Tampa Bay fans automatically think that Brooks, Sapp, Lynch, Barber and even Mike Alstott are all going to get into the Hall of Fame. If the Bucs had won three or four championships, they might be able to get three or four guys in from that era.

As it stands, I see Brooks easily getting in, probably on his first ballot. I think Sapp also gets in. Those were two guys who were truly dominant and changed their positions. But Barber and John Lynch weren’t at that level, and the Bucs didn’t do enough for them to really ride in on the coattails of the team’s success. Alstott, another very nice player and good guy, doesn’t even have a chance.

That’s just my opinion and voters may prove me wrong down the road. But, at this point, I don’t see Barber as a Hall of Famer. Now, if he plays a few more years, keeps adding to his stats and the Bucs somehow win another Super Bowl or two, then maybe that all changes. But as of right now my opinion hasn’t changed.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 15, 2010
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Some quick observations on Tampa Bay after the Buccaneers lost their preseason opener to Miami, 10-7, on Saturday night.
  • Forget the final score. This one was a victory for the Buccaneers. They controlled the game when the starters were in, and even through a long stretch with the second teams playing. It wasn’t until the benches really got cleared that the Dolphins won the game.
  • I thought quarterback Josh Freeman had a very strong outing. He completed all four of his passes, and his touchdown throw to Sammie Stroughter showed how much his patience and maturity have grown. It's also obvious that he has developed chemistry with rookie receiver Mike Williams. Freeman also ran the ball a couple times, which is nice and certainly will help in the regular season. But I’m not so sure it was such a great idea to have him scrambling around on a rainy and muddy night in Miami.
  • Tampa Bay’s defense did something it couldn’t do last season. It got the Dolphins off the field. Geno Hayes busted up a screen pass, E.J. Biggers made a nice play against receiver Brandon Marshall and Sabby Piscitelli came through with pressure on a blitz to force the Dolphins to punt on their first three drives.
  • Backup quarterback Josh Johnson threw an interception and lost a fumble on a sack. But he threw the ball pretty well overall. I’ve questioned why the Bucs haven’t brought in an experienced backup. But I’m going to back off that a bit. Johnson has some talent, and might be able to be effective if he can take better care of the ball.
  • I know the playbook is a lot more sophisticated with offensive coordinator Greg Olson. But there was one moment when I had to laugh out loud as the Bucs ran a play that reminded me of the mid-1990s. Derrick Ward took a handoff and ran straight into fullback Chris Pressley’s back. It was just a one-time thing. But there was a time back in the dreary old days when Errict Rhett taking a handoff, running into Mike Alstott’s back and plowing for a yard or two was Tampa Bay’s signature play.
  • Speaking of Ward, who’s fighting to earn more carries, he looked good at times. He even was having a nice run on a third-down draw play, until he fumbled. Turning the ball over probably will wipe out the rest of the good stuff he did Saturday. The Bucs aren’t going to be a team with a big margin for error, so they’re not going to give a lot of carries to a guy who puts the ball on the ground.
  • Running back Kareem Huggins, who has had a nice camp, continued to impress. This guy’s going to make the roster, but he’s going to do more than that. He’s got a shot at some playing time in the backfield and on special teams.

Best Buccaneers Team Ever: 2002

June, 28, 2010
6/28/10
10:45
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Notable players: LB Derrick Brooks, DT Warren Sapp, S John Lynch, CB Ronde Barber, QB Brad Johnson, WR Keyshawn Johnson, FB Mike Alstott.

[+] EnlargeJon Gruden
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Bucs sent two first-round picks and two second-round picks, plus $8 million, to the Raiders for Jon Gruden.
Analysis: In the first year of the NFC South’s existence, the Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, pulled one of the boldest moves in sports history. The Glazers fired coach Tony Dungy, who was beloved by players and fans and the only coach in franchise history to have any extended success.

They thought they had Bill Parcells lined up as the replacement, but Parcells backed out of the deal. That led to desperate measures as the Glazers overstepped general manager Rich McKay, who wanted to hire Marvin Lewis, and worked out a rare trade for a coach. They shipped four draft picks and $8 million in cash to Oakland for Jon Gruden.

Gruden came in and did what Dungy couldn’t -- he won a Super Bowl. Still relying heavily on a defense built by Dungy and coordinator Monte Kiffin, Gruden was able to infuse a little bit of offense into the Buccaneers.

With Brad Johnson at quarterback and Brooks, Lynch, Sapp and Barber all in their prime on defense, the Bucs were pretty much dominant as they went 12-4 and became the first NFC South champions.

In the irony of all ironies, Gruden wound up facing the Raiders, then coached by Bill Callahan, in the Super Bowl. Although the Raiders had the league’s No. 1 offense, Gruden outdid his former team and the Buccaneers won 48-21.

Most impressive win: A 26-14 victory in Week 3 in which the Bucs intercepted St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner four times.

Research room: Tampa Bay’s defense held opposing quarterbacks to a 48.4 passer rating for the season.

Honorable mention

1997: This was not the best Tampa Bay team ever, but it might have been the most important in franchise history. In Dungy’s second season, the Bucs went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1982. That raised expectations and changed the entire football climate in Tampa Bay.

1979: The Bucs were formed in 1976 under some harsh expansion rules and lost their first 26 games. But with Doug Williams and Lee Roy Selmon leading the way, John McKay took this team to the NFC Championship Game in only its fourth season.

1999: This might have been the Tampa Bay defense at its absolute best. With rookie quarterback Shaun King, the Bucs still managed to go 11-5. The Bucs lost the NFC Championship Game, 11-6, to St. Louis in a game that involved a controversial non-catch by receiver Bert Emanuel.
The Buccaneers just made the official announcement that Doug Williams has left his role as pro personnel director.

The announcement was treated gently because Williams was one of the best and most popular players in franchise history. He played quarterback for Tampa Bay from 1978 through 1982 and rejoined the team’s front office in 2004.

“[General manager Mark Dominik] and I have sat down and talked about my future," Williams said. "After a lot of thought, I felt that it was the right time for me to look at new options. I wish nothing but the best for the Buccaneers."

"I have tremendous respect for Doug's talents and am very appreciative of his many contributions to this franchise over the years," Dominik said. "At the end of last season, Doug and I began a conversation regarding his career. Doug concluded that now is the time for him to make the smoothest transition. Like Mike Alstott and Lee Roy Selmon, Doug will stay involved as a representative of the team in the community."

At very least, this move proves there was some friction in the front office. Williams had interviewed for some coaching jobs in the offseason. There was a report that he had signed a contract extension with the Bucs, but a team source said that never happened. The source said Williams and Dominik hadn’t seen eye-to-eye on personnel matters for a long time.

The source also said Williams’ departure is only a piece of a bigger overhaul in Tampa Bay’s scouting department.
Breakdown: With the Buccaneers building with youth, there probably won’t be any overnight miracles. But look at the first three games on the schedule -- it’s at least possible the Bucs could start 2-1 or 3-0. They’ve got the Browns, Panthers and Steelers and it’s entirely possible Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be suspended for that game. In a bit of irony, Byron Leftwich, who was traded from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, could be starting for the Steelers that day.

The schedule only gets more difficult after a Week 4 bye, but the Bucs could build some momentum with a fast start. It’s a well-known fact the Buccaneers have struggled in cold weather since the franchise started. They’ve got potential cold-weather games in Baltimore and Washington.

Complaint department: The Buccaneers do not have a single game in prime time. Then again, did you really expect the NFL to put a team that was 3-13 last year on national television?

Blackout time?: The Buccaneers have sold out every game at Raymond James Stadium since they moved there in 1998. Keeping that streak alive might have involved some creative accounting last year because there sure appeared to be a lot of empty seats. But the world’s best ticket-sales force might not be able to prevent local television blackouts this year. The Bucs might be able to sell out the first two games against Cleveland and Pittsburgh because a lot of Tampa Bay residents are transplants from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Plus, the champion Saints come to town Oct. 17 and that game should take care of itself. But the Rams are coming to town Oct. 24. I’m thinking the only way that one sells out is if the Bucs are 5-0 and Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Mike Alstott and Warren Sapp come out of retirement and sign with St. Louis.

Buccaneers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM

Gerhart just another running back

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
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INDIANAPOLIS – Toby Gerhart simply says he’s "colorblind."

Gerhart
Gerhart
The Stanford product is one of the more intriguing running back prospects at the NFL combine. The Heisman Trophy runner-up is a rugged, tough runner, who is a yardage eater. It wouldn’t be a shock if both San Diego and Kansas City considered adding the big back to their roster in the early rounds.

Saturday at the combine, Gerhart was asked about being a rarity – a white running back.

“I’m colorblind – I’m a running back,” Gerhart said.

Good answer.

Gerhart said that he found it amusing that he is often compared to “quote white guys.” He said he often hears that he reminds people of former NFL running backs John Riggins and Mike Alstott. However, Gerhart said he has modeled his game after former NFL running backs Eddie George and Corey Dillon.

“I’m a physical runner, but I can give a little wiggle, too,” Gerhart said. “I just want the opportunity to play in the NFL.”

There’s no doubt that is about to happen.

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